The Indian summer keeps burning brightly for Shaun Udal.
Udal, the king of the spinners
The Indian summer keeps burning brightly for Shaun Udal. He was supposed to have had his belated, and richly-merited, moment in the sun way back in 2006, when he bowled England to victory over Sachin Tendulkar et al in Mumbai. He was 36 at the time, and playing his fourth - and apparently final - Test match. Yet he still does not seem to comprehend the ageing process. Three years on, he refuses to give in to the dying of the light.
"I'm bored of pre-seasons, but I am not bored of playing," said Udal, who will lead Middlesex in their Emirates Airline ProArch Trophy campaign this week, even though he officially retired before the start of last season. "It is my 23rd pre-season, and I am not so keen on the fitness tests anymore but I can't wait to get out playing again." Udal will celebrate his 40th birthday tomorrow. It may have to be a quiet one, as his Middlesex side play the UAE national team in their Trophy opener in Sharjah the following day.
He gives the concept of late bloomer a new meaning. Not content with debuting on the international stage well after most players would have wisely given up hope, Udal has now been handed the reins of one of England's most successful yet, currently, underachieving county sides. Furthermore, he has become a sought-after property in the shorter form of the game which is supposedly the young man's domain.
In concert with Murali Kartik, the Indian left-arm spinner, Udal's slow-bowling has provided the bedrock of Middlesex's success in the Twenty20 arena. He was part of the long-list of English players ahead of the latest draft for the lucrative Indian Premier League, yet withdrew in order to commit all his energy to the greater good. He said: "I pulled my name off because, after Middlesex had given me the captaincy and extended my contract, I didn't feel comfortable with leaving them. I took my name off before the list got shortened."
Middlesex are England's Twenty20 Cup holders, but the mantle has proved to be a harbinger of doom. At the start of the winter they went to Antigua to compete in the Stanford Super Series, which has since suffered a dramatic demise and an avalanche of criticism. The county were also due to compete in the new 20-over Champions League in November, which was eventually postponed due to the attacks in Mumbai.
"We were due to be at that hotel, the Taj, but it was bombed the night before we left," recalled Udal. "We had to be at Heathrow Airport at 8am the following morning, and it happened at 10pm that night. It was called off, but it was very close." Ten years after he first toured with England, Udal was given his first Test cap while on tour in Pakistan near the end of 2005. He recalled being struck by how stringent the security measures were surrounding him and his teammates at the time. Udal therefore watched in disbelief at the scenes of horror which were played out in Lahore earlier this month.
"I don't think anybody could foresee what was going to happen," he said, in reference to the attacks on the Sri Lanka team, including their English assistant coach, the former Middlesex wicket-keeper, Paul Farbrace. "You always felt on your guard because there was heavy security around us at all times. "You always felt uneasy with a police escort too and from the ground. "I remember thinking, 'We are only cricketers, why do we need all this?' It has been proved that it was needed, which was disastrous.
"At the end of the day, we are just cricketers, not political pawns. It is crazy what has gone on in the past month." firstname.lastname@example.org