Josh Bohannon punches back as Lancashire take the lead

Lancashire289 for 3 (Bohannon 142*, Wells 59) lead Gloucestershire 252 (Harris 67, Dent 52, Higgins 51*, Hasan 6-47) by 37 runs

Josh Bohannon made the fourth century of his first-class career and the Gloucestershire bowler, Jared Warner, was a little responsible for it. In the 13th over of the morning’s play, Warner struck Bohannon a painful blow somewhere near the adductor muscle, little knowing that on each of the previous occasions when the Lancashire batsman has reached three figures, the achievement has been prefaced by him taking a painful thump on some part of his body.

Indeed, over the past year, Bohannon has been hit in many places – hand, gut, balls – and once the initial agony has abated, it has rarely been good news for the bowler. Such blows galvanise a steely nature that has had to cope with many such shocks. None of which would be a scrap of use, of course, if Bohannon did not possess an abundance of talent, a quality that was made plain when he hit a quartet of fours off Ajeet Singh Dale in the first 11 balls he received.

Then again, there is more to batting than talent; that has been true since John Nyren kept his inn. Bohannon has learned to keep his emotions in check; he now relishes calmness to a degree unimaginable earlier in his career. He grasps the nature of cricket more clearly and regularly pays tribute to Lancashire’s sports psychologist, Lee Richardson, and the county’s assistant coach, Carl Crowe, for helping him to achieve that valuable state.

“The acceptance of failure is part of understanding the game,” he says in the current issue of The Cricketer magazine. “In the same way, you are sometimes not playing all that well and yet you fight your way to a hundred. Understanding both those things has been vital for me. But then if it’s your day, make it your day. I’ll always have that competitive edge and that fire but learning to control my emotions is one of the biggest things I’ve had to do. I’m definitely a lot calmer now, particularly off the field, than I used to be.”

That tranquility was clear in Bohannon’s technique today, especially during the long periods when Gloucestershire’s bowlers did not make it easy for him. Immediately after reaching his fifty off 106 balls he was becalmed in runless torpor for 28 balls, particularly by Ryan Higgins, who allowed only four scoring shots in his first 14 overs. The left-arm spinner, Zafar Gohar, who dismissed both Luke Wells and Steven Croft, also offered a proper examination and frequently bowled over the wicket to frustrate the right-hander.

Bohannon has the mental toughness to cope with such things and there is a gorgeous tempo to his batting at the moment. He gives the impression that he will be able to cope with whatever befalls him, including dismissal. Given that most batters’ innings end in some variety of failure, that latter preparedness is significant. But he is also content to wait for his opportunities to attack. Dale quickly discovered that bowling short on Bohannon’s middle stump was not a wise ruse while Zafar found that his very occasional loose deliveries were cut with some savagery. As a result, the 25-year-old dominated the century stands he shared with Wells, who made a pleasant 59, and Croft, who contributed 34 useful runs.

Yet while batting became a more straightforward exercise for Bohannon as the day drifted into afternoon, it was never easy. Higgins whacked him in the abdomen early in the second session and was utterly confident he had Lancashire’s best batter caught behind two overs later. Richard Illingworth didn’t agree and the Shire’s players were aggrieved, but Bohannon batted on. Once such occasions would have roused his ire but he is a different cricketer and a different bloke now.

“When I was growing up, failure was never really an option,” he said. “Whether I was playing cricket or football, I felt that if I failed, then I hadn’t succeeded. But I now understand the game a little bit more. I can be batting beautifully and still get out to a very good ball. After I’d talked with Lee and Carl, cricket became a game again and I felt like I was a kid playing with my mates.”

That reference to Bohannon’s childhood is also significant. He was brought up in Farnworth, a town near Bolton, which he admits is not the poshest in Greater Manchester. “It wasn’t rough in the sense that people were getting shot but you had to learn to defend yourself,” he told the magazine. “Maybe I was so aggressive earlier in my career because I’d grown up in a place where, if you showed any weakness, you just got battered. It wasn’t Alderley Edge.”

Nevertheless the town boasts two fine cricket clubs and Bohannon joined Farnworth before its junior team folded and he moved to Farnworth Social Circle at the age of 11. There he learned the basics of the game and was welcomed into Lancashire’s age-group programmes. He had so much to learn but eventually revealed both the humility and hunger necessary for success.

With the help of wise coaches and fine clubs like Ormskirk in the Liverpool Competition, he has made himself into one of the best batsmen in England. He is more than ready to play for England and might well do so this summer. Yet he will never tell you that it has all come easy. That’s the point. As he left the field this gorgeous evening it was pleasant to see Gloucestershire’s cricketers line up to shake his hand. But they were congratulating him on more than they knew.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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