Ormond the unlikely spearhead

Absences have made the likeable fast bowler's claims stronger. Stephen Brenkley speaks to him
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Jimmy Ormond burst on to the scene by running through the Australians. In short order he dispatched Taylor, Slater, Ponting, the younger Waugh and also bothered himself with a couple of smaller fry called Healy and Julian.

Four years, two months and nine days later he bowled in a Test match for the first time. Perhaps the most surprising feature about the gap was that so few observers were jumping up and down and shouting about a remarkable selectorial oversight.

It was probably still more extraordinary that having played a solitary game for England last August, when he failed to dislodge many of the same rampant Australians, as figures of 1 for 115 in 34 overs testify, his winter tour place was unquestioned and unquestionable. Ormond was part of the set-up.

In explaining the long wait after his 6 for 54 for Leicestershire in June, 1997, Ormond said last week: "People were always questioning my fitness, which I think always held me back, but then nobody ever saw me. I don't know if I should say this but Leicestershire aren't a fashionable county, maybe you don't get the coverage."

Having been noticed at last – "picked almost by default", as he happily agrees – he cannot begin to explain why suddenly he should have become such a shoo-in for the winter tour. "I haven't really taken it in. It's hard to comprehend as even before the Test match there wasn't much talk of me playing."

Ormond's cause was undoubtedly helped by Darren Gough's decision not to make himself available, and Andrew Caddick's subsequent withdrawal has made it a strong likelihood that he will share the new ball with Matthew Hoggard. With one cap each they had better draw on all their experience.

Ormond is an immensely engaging fellow with a lightness of personality not always associated with fast bowlers. There is a connection between this and the languid approach to the game he once possessed. Indeed, he concedes that those critics might have had a point.

"I never really understood what the fitness thing was all about until three years ago. A new club physio showed me how I should look after myself and the penny dropped. I suddenly realised 'I'm not quite fit enough to be doing this'. I learned quite quickly how to bowl but turning professional you have to learn how to bowl every day of the week. It completely takes you over, it's cricket, cricket, cricket and you don't realise what it's doing to you. I would certainly have started training earlier if I knew then what I know now, not getting on the treadmill but strenghtening my core."

But with Ormond, it is not simply the training, it is the sense he conveys that cricket is only a game, a laugh with your mates. This is healthy, of course, but in the modern world it is not necessarily designed to win either matches or friends in high places. But only a small-minded idiot could contradict him.

"Let's be honest, it's not a real job, you can't take it too seriously, it's here to be enjoyed. I'm competitive, I like to win and I do take it seriously but you've got to be a fool not to enjoy it. You've got to make it fun. Those who have said that I have sometimes gone too far might be right as well."

None of that should be mistaken for shortage of effort. At 24, Ormond seems to have deduced what he must do once he crosses the boundary rope. This will not lead to sledging or much staring. He does not think he would be any good at it and a glimpse at the good-natured face tells you he had better come up with an alternative.

He will, in the oft-used phrase of England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, bring something else to the Indian party. Apart from being able to bowl rapidly enough and swing the ball late, Ormond has also developed his off-spin well enough to bowl it regularly. It still rankles that when he did so at The Oval last August against Australia he did so loosely. In India, it will be crucial that he is tight.

He is a Midlands lad who played his first game for Corley (on the M6 near Coventry) when he was nine, wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms. He was 15 when he realised he could bowl faster than his pals, 16 when he was rejected by Warwickshire, 17 when he made his debut for Leicestershire's first team, 19 when he dismantled Australia. He is leaving Leicestershire this winter.

There has been no great split but he indicated that the team who won the Championship twice in the Nineties had broken up. His time had come to go. He likes the idea of living in London for a while and Surrey is an obvious choice if talks work out. A change of scenery is driving him away from Grace Road rather than cash. He does not see the pitch as one of the greatest stretches of fast-bowling real estate.

Ormond has changed his style over the past five years. The Ormond run-up has gone from 24 paces down to 10 and back up to 14, where it will probably stay. "My best five or six years should be now. I have learned a lot about the game, about my game. Bowling at good players takes a lot of discipline."

India is a tough place to start. If Jimmy Ormond can do it there it is not too fanciful to hope that the next time he dismantles Australians it will be in a Test match.