New improved Udal pitches up for England after 10 years of trying

Hampshire spinner has matured, relaxed and learned a little from Shane Warne along the way. David Llewellyn reports
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The Camberley man has most certainly improved. His off-spin earned him 44 Championship wickets in the summer at a hugely impressive and extremely miserly 18.90.

On its own that is probably not enough to warrant selection by one's country, but he has, by his own admission, grown up.

"I've matured as a cricketer and as a person," confessed Udal as he prepared to leave for the winter tour to Pakistan. "I've enjoyed my cricket, I have relaxed a lot more. The mistakes you make at 34 you don't worry about as much as you did when you were 24, that's been a key reason why I am relaxing and enjoying my cricket."

But he also admits that as an off-spinner you need a little something extra to take abroad with you, especially to a country such as Pakistan where the pitches might turn, or might not.

"You keep reading different quotes from Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, and other people saying the pitches are going to be fast and bouncy, or that they are going to be turners, but I just don't know, it's all mind games."

What he does know is that he does have a secret weapon. In the past Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq had his "doosra", his magic ball which turned away from the bat when bowled with an off-break action.

While Udal does not have quite that potency, he still thinks his "slider" can be effective. And that is thanks to Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne.

"Warney has helped me develop my bowling a little," admitted Udal. "A lot of it is the mental side of things. The higher you go in cricket, the more the game is played in your mind. It's a case of little chinks in the batsmen's set-ups and other little things that Warney has helped me with.

"They are things that a genius can see straight away but a mere mortal struggles to pick up. That has been a lot of the difference really.

"And last summer we worked with his mentor Terry Jenner, just throwing a couple of balls to each other and so on, I still can't believe what he was doing with the ball.

"Terry told me just to try whatever felt comfortable. So I stuck with this delivery, which some people call a slider, I suppose that's the technical term for it.

"It is still not coming out perfectly every time. But we'll see, hopefully it will work as well in Pakistan as it did for the last couple of months of the English season.

"The slider is supposed to go straight on or just slip away a little bit. It is supposed to click on, and in an ideal world the ball will come off the pitch fractionally quicker than a normal off-break, in theory it will go straight on and the batsman will nick it to slip. It's happened a few times this season."

At least Udal know what to expect in Pakistan, and an easy time is not what he anticipates. "I went to Pakistan with England A in 1995, it didn't go particularly well for me, the umpiring decisions did not quite go my way. But then I was 25 and I didn't really know myself, I feel a lot more confident going there now than I did 10 years ago."

Right now though he is only just coming to terms with his selection, some 10 years after touring Australia where his participation ended before he had a chance to make his Test debut.

"I did not expect this second chance to come along after such a long time," he said, "but I am very pleased that it has. I never gave up hope, but you sort of think, 'well at 36 it's probably gone', but thankfully my name came out of the hat, so I was very pleased.

"I would not have cared where the tour was, just to be picked again is an enormous honour, so I am looking forward to it."

Even so the realisation that he, a player in his cricketing dotage, is heading off on an important tour with a very real chance of winning his first cap is taking its time to register. "It has only now just started to sink in," he says.

"Only a couple of days ago it was just slowly starting to get there, but now it's a reality. And there is a sense of surrealism about it until it actually happens. But yeah, I'm starting to get my head around it now."

And he needs to because things, as he recognises, have changed a lot in the last decade. "The gatherings that we have had at Loughborough have been brilliant," explains Udal, "but everything has changed so much in the 10 years since I was last involved with England. Amazingly so.

"The fitness levels for one, are astonishing. I managed to hang on to their coat tails last week by the skin of my teeth. It's been very different. It's been great and so professional. Everything about the organisation and preparation has been amazing, it's really surprised me."

Now all Udal has to do is surprise a few Pakistani batsmen, and raise eyebrows among the doubters for the right reasons.

Shaun Udal: Life and times

* Born 18 March 1969, Cove, Farnborough, Hampshire.

* 1990 A right-arm, off-break bowler and right-hand batsman, he makes Hampshire debut against Sussex and takes six wickets in the match.

* 1992 Given Hampshire cap.

* 1993 Hampshire Player of the Year.

* 1994 Makes international debut. A steady performer for Hampshire, he is drafted into the one-day squad for the Texaco Trophy matches against New Zealand - making his debut alongside Darren Gough.

* 1994-95 Gains a place on the Ashes tour. However, a torn side muscle forces him home early.

* 2002 Hampshire Player of the Year.

* 2003 Handed a three-year ban from club cricket after being found guilty of violent conduct while playing for his club, Camberley, in the Surrey Championships.

* 2005 Wins C&G Trophy with Hampshire.

* 2005 In September, 11 years after first being selected, he is once more given an international call-up when named in a 17-man squad for England's tour of Pakistan. The arrival of Shane Warne at Hampshire has revived his career and turned him into a much more attacking bowler, and he continues to make valuable runs in the lower order.

* First-class averages: Bowling 32.25; Batting 23.42.

* He says: "I've tried not to stand still in the last two years. Shane Warne has made a big difference to me. It's not just his bowling. His cricketing brain and his passion have rubbed off on me, too." (Shaun Udal, September 2005).

* They say: "Shaun Udal is an experienced spinner and based on his performances this summer we felt he merited inclusion ahead of other candidates such as Gareth Batty, Richard Dawson and Graeme Swann." (David Graveney, chairman of selectors, September 2005).