Schofield the misfit wants to fit in

Life on the outside: Leg spinner who was once England's great hope is rebuilding from his roots

Chris Schofield was 21 when he played two Test matches for England. The long, anxious search for a leg spinner seemed to be over. The world was at his wrist.

Chris Schofield was 21 when he played two Test matches for England. The long, anxious search for a leg spinner seemed to be over. The world was at his wrist.

Five years on and Schofield has just started the season with his home-town club of Littleborough in the Central Lancashire League. It is a beautiful setting, where league cricket is played at its hardest. But it is not what Schofield craves. The world, however, has now turned its back on him.

He is desperate to be given another chance in county cricket, to re-establish himself, to try to fulfil the potential of the bright young thing he was as one of the first 12 players to be awarded an England central contract. At 26, it should not be beyond his reach, but the queue has not yet started to form.

"It's just being given the opportunity to make an impact," he said. "I just want to bowl a lot, get a lot of overs under my belt. It's obviously been difficult."

Occasionally, there is a note of desperation in his voice matching that of his desire to get back into the big time. On Wednesday, Schofield's compensation will be settled for his unfair dismissal by Lancashire. He won his case at an industrial tribunal last month, when it was found that the county had failed to meet their obligations as an employer by letting Schofield know that he was in danger of the sack.

By the time they got round to telling him at the end of the 2004 season, without apprising him in the meantime, it was too late for him to secure another county. The worry for him now is that it is too late for good, that he will never get beyond Littleborough again.

There are several reasons why it has come to this. Mostly, it has been the old conundrum. He has not had enough bowling, and he has not been bowling well enough to get enough bowling. He wishes now he had moved counties when he had the chance. But Littleborough, where he has always lived, and Lancashire were too much of a pull.

The departure from Old Trafford of his mentor, the former Australia leg spinner Peter Sleep, coincided with the arrival of Muttiah Muralitharan. They were both setbacks. "I think Murali's arrival was the main problem. Straightaway I felt the ball had been taken out of my hand and put in his," Schofield said.

But he can bat more than adequately, improvising like mad most of the time, and he was among the best half-a- dozen fielders in the professional game.

Schofield concedes that he has played a key part in his downfall. But the stories about his failure to co-operate and his cockiness are becoming fanciful. He looked genuinely shocked to hear that, according to popular legend, he is supposed to have given Shane Warne the flick when the great man appeared to dispense some advice.

"Like in any working environment, you can rub people up the wrong way," he said. "There are a lot of personality clashes, you're not going to get on well with everybody, and there are a lot of people who may not like the things I do, maybe things I do on the pitch, a bit of sledging, the way I act in the field, my cockiness.

"My batting is very unorthodox and if I do try a reverse sweep and get out, that doesn't go down well all the time. When I'm bowling I might try something different instead of trying what the captain asked me to do, say bowling one-side-of-the-wicket leg spin for five overs. I'll try to bowl a flipper or a wrong 'un if I think I can get a batsman out, and if it doesn't come off, that can rub people up the wrong way. The margin of error is small."

Plenty there on the charge sheet, placed there by the man himself. It can also be added that Schofield has never shaken off a reputation for being a difficult personality. His mates at Littleborough would deny it. They speak of his shyness, and they have known him all his life.

There is also a question mark against his ability to do it in the big time: a fragility masked by his abrasiveness. In the county seconds he took all before him, scoring runs, taking wickets, but for two seasons he never looked the part in the Championship. He would say that was because he was never given a proper long spell; Lancashire would say they simply did not dare to. The truth is something in between.

The man who, more than anybody, propelled Schofield into the England set-up was David Lloyd. Now a Sky commentator, Lloyd was the England coach when he almost picked Schofield for the Fifth Test against Australia in 1998-99. The boy was 20, and had played two games for Lancashire.

"It didn't go beyond discussion, but I was serious," said Lloyd. "Here was one talented boy. It hasn't worked out so far, but he's one of the few English lads who has the art of leg spin. I think he has lacked guidance and coaching. Forget about his batting, it's his bowling we want to be talking about.

"I think he would definitely be worth a punt by a county, but you would need somebody to work with him all the time, an ex-leg spinner. It's the hardest thing to do and he'll need a tough, strong coach as well. The fact is he could bowl brilliantly, and win you three Championship matches a season."

That he was picked too soon for England is now not in doubt. Schofield probably knows it. Although he scored a half-century in his second and last Test match - reaching that landmark for England before Andrew Flintoff - he did not bowl in the first of them, and was sweaty-palmed with apprehension by the time he was thrown the ball in the second. He did not take a wicket.

He never got back into the international frame. There was an A tour to the West Indies, where he finished as leading wicket-taker, and a spot in the inaugural Academy intake, where he did not cover himself in glory. He claims he did not see enough of Terry Jenner, the specialist leg-spinning coach, and while he thought he was following instructions he was criticised. "I think looking back there was a breakdown in communication all round."

Perhaps Schofield did not work as hard as he should have done, perhaps he was let down by others. But it would be an enduring shame if nobody, in Lloyd's words, now took a punt on him. England are just as far away as ever from finding a leg spinner, and they might remember that there is only one Warne.

"I've grown up," he said. "It's been a difficult six months but hopefully someone will come in. I realise I've got to do what they want me to do and then some more."

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