Don't miss sights beyond the boundary, Amiss tells tourists
Sunday 06 November 2005
Amiss was 29, approaching 30, when he and the England team arrived there in February 1973. He had first played for Warwickshire 13 years previously when he was 17, he had appeared in 12 Tests of the 50 England had played since he was first picked in 1966. His top score had been 56 and he had been dropped again on the first leg of the winter tour in India.
There was nothing for it. Amiss had to be a hit, and quickly. In the event, he was a smash. "I don't know why, confidence I suppose," he says now. "I'd never thought, 'Crikey I won't be an England player'. They obviously thought I was an England player, I just needed to break that barrier of getting a hundred.
"I suppose it was all a bit much, every time I played I was in knots that I wasn't doing it, and I was always questioning myself about whether I had the temperament to do it."
Given all that, Pakistan might have been the last cricketing place on earth for a man who needed desperately to prove himself there and then to do so. But two crucial things worked in Amiss's favour. He had been to Pakistan with England Under-25s six years previously and had performed extremely creditably. He also found the true, unhurried pitches to his liking.
"Low, slow; if you bowled quick you could still get it through and it turned, but to get in on those wickets was wonderful. Suddenly you proved to yourself that you could score hundreds in Test cricket."
In Lahore he made 112, in Hyderabad 158 and in Karachi 99, where the match was regularly interrupted by student riots and eventually curtailed by a dust storm to leave the series tied at 0-0.
Thirty-two years on, Amiss still talks about that tour with relish, not only (maybe not even) because of the runs but because of the experience.
"I loved going to the subcontinent," he said last week in his office at Warwickshire, where he will retire as chief executive next April. "We were only dabbling in curries then, and it tended to be fried egg and chips for breakfast, lunch and evening meal. Gradually you realised their food was lovely; obviously it's a different diet, but it's exactly the same for their players when they come here.
"The heat takes a lot out of you and you must look after yourself, but we had lots of team meals, played a lot of bridge and had Saturday-night clubs with charades. I remember on a later tour to India we had the Mikes, Brearley and Selvey, who were Cambridge graduates who started to come up with Keats poems and stuff like that which none of us could bloody get. We were all right on Bambi, but Keats did the dirty on us."
There was more time then, time to enjoy the country but time to get bored as well. Amiss said that he and his mates were intent on absorbing it all. "There was a genuine desire to go out and see the country. We were invited out often to see this or that temple, and to people's houses for supper. It was a wonderful experience in every way, part of the cricketing experience but part of life's experience as well. It broadens your outlook. I also came back looking forward to an international career."
Amiss's genial demeanour is at odds with the manner he went about his cricket. He fretted perpetually about his method, his technique, how he stood, how he gripped the bat, where his head was. You name it, Amiss had a theory for it.
As he sat there gently reflecting, it was impossible not to make the comparison with another hugely promising Warwickshire batsman of this era, Ian Bell. Maybe he can learn from Amiss. "I told Belly when he got his pair at The Oval that he had some catching-up to do. I bagged 'em twice against Australia."
For a magical 18 months between March 1973 and August 1974, Amiss lived up to all the expectations. In 35 innings in 20 matches he made 2,140 runs at an average of 71.33 with eight hundreds including the monumental, match-saving 262 not out against West Indies in Kingston, which alone will forever mark him out as an outstanding batsman.
Then along came the Aussies, led by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1974-75, and life was never quite the same again. He came back, made a double hundred against West Indies, played until he was 44 and scored 102 first-class hundreds in all. But something had changed forever. "Your confidence takes a knock. You wonder if you can come back."
Amiss has spent a lifetime in the game and is now chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board's cricket committee. His enduring legacy is likely to be helmets. He wore the prototype, a fibre-glass motorcycle helmet, "which could stop a double-barrelled shotgun at 10 yards."
If he has a regret it is that he did not score more runs against Australia - 305 at 15.25, which is truly wretched for a player of his quality. "I was always changing things because I believed there was a perfect technique for every bowler, but there isn't." You hoped Bell was listening.
"I tinkered too much, which gets you out of kilter," he went on. "It certainly motivated me, but I wonder if I'd do it now. Maybe I would. But I've had a great life and a great career, been really privileged." He will be forever grateful to Pakistan.
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