'English Murali' Maurice Holmes eager for another county chance
Precocious talent Maurice Holmes, dubbed the 'English Murali', has bowled at every top international team in the world. When bowling at Sachin Tendulkar, the focused starlet, who remains deeply respectful, sees him as "just another man with a bat". The New Zealand players were so impressed that they grilled him to find out if he had any Kiwi ancestors. Somehow, Holmes - who left Kent in 2009 - is now without a county.
MAURICE HOLMES has a list of admirers as long as your arm.
India captain MS Dhoni was so intrigued after seeing him bowl that he wanted to be talked through his variations. He then asked him back into the nets to show him. England captain Alistair Cook approached Holmes in a bar in Barbados to talk cricket and told him "we've got an English Murali here - you should come to Essex". Marcus Trescothick saw Holmes during a trial at Somerset last year and wanted him to sign.
With 67 international hundreds and 170 fifties between them, Trescothick, Dhoni and Cook can't be a bad judge of a player.
But the 22-year-old, who left Kent to work with Ashley Giles at Warwickshire, is now in the wilderness.
The wiry-wristed twirler is England's very own mystery spinner, with an action akin to that of Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan and with more variations than James Tredwell has strands of hair.
But in 2011, Holmes, who has wrist joints that spinners could only dream of, was reported for a suspect action. He has never, in a match, been called for chucking – but he hasn't played a first-class game since.
The ECB hauled him into Loughborough for testing. Despite not flexing his arm beyond the legal limit, during the height of a hot summer, they suspended him from all forms of cricket.
"I was first reported at the start of May, in 2011, in a Pro40 game. The second came at the start of July and I was called in for tests a couple of weeks later – but I don't think the right procedures were followed," the well-spoken Holmes, who's now studying at the College of Law in Birmingham, recalls.
"When it came to the tests, unbeknown to me, they had footage from me bowling in May. Apparently I was bowling differently in the tests. I was a young bowler who has made changed to his action after hearing I was reported. Of course it'll be different.
"The action itself was the same – it was the gather before bowling that they said was different. They also estimated the speed from the video and said there was three to four miles per hour difference. I was suspended from cricket, at a time when the tracks were going to turn, with no explanation from the ECB.
"I said to the PCA (Professional Cricketers Association) and Warwickshire that this wasn't right, and they gave me a retest. By that time my seven-month contract with Warwickshire had ended."
The retest came too late. Warwickshire didn't want to take a gamble on their mystery man for 2012 and Holmes was county-less.
"In the retest I bowled my off-breaks first which they said was fine – but they had speeds they wanted me to bowl at. If I didn't, they said it wouldn't count," Holmes said.
"My doosra comes out a bit slower and when I bowled it, although they said it was legal, they said it wasn't fast enough. I was trying to fling it down as quick as possible and was in there for an hour. It's not what I do during a game. There was no allowance for the doosra being slower."
Eventually Holmes won his very own fight for bowling freedom – but the problems remained.
"The press releases sent out by the ECB were very misleading and they've admitted as much to me," Holmes said.
"Now I'm free to bowl in all levels of cricket, all of my variations. They said 'you can play' but they didn't put out any kind of press release saying I had never failed any test. I've never once been called throwing."
Holmes has been a regular net bowler for all the top international sides.
When asked who he has had in trouble, mystery spinner Holmes laughs "you name a batsman and I'll tell you a story about them". He has the doosra, the teesra and more. He hadn't heard of Muttiah Muralitharan when he started playing at Tonbridge School aged 16, but within a year he was being labelled the English Murali. These skills were the perfect example of natural talent, honed in the garden against his younger brothers Leo and Oscar.
The problem, though, is that his past is making counties think twice about taking a punt on him.
Holmes has had more blows than most – but he's not about to give up on his dreams.
"A lot of coaches will have an issue with bowlers who have had problems in the past. They may think 'he may well do that again' but I'm fine to bowl," he said.
"I was 18 or 19 before the Ashes in 2009 and Andy Whittall, my old school coach, spoke to Andy Flower and got me in to bowl at them in the nets.
"I wouldn't say any of them particularly read me or picked me out the hand especially well and I managed to get a few of them out. Why do English batsmen struggle against people like [Saeed] Ajmal? Because they don't ever face them.
"Who doesn't want to see bowlers who bowl doosras and have all the variations? India and Sri Lankans are incredible in producing them but we have none."
Holmes bowled at Alistair Cook at a Lord's practice session in 2009 and met him again out in Barbados on a pre-season tour. He told the talented youngster to call Essex if he ever needed any help.
So, in 2012, he did. Holmes went to Essex, Somerset and Worcestershire but things weren't happening for the Kent lad.
He said: "It's funny looking back at it. The England captain remembered me and came up to me and told me I was one to look out for. He had time to help and said 'if ever you fall on hard times, give us a ring' – so I did.
"I went to Worcestershire as Steve Rhodes knew about me and Somerset too. Marcus Trescothick was impressed but it just fizzled out.
"Ambitions and dreams don't evaporate that easily. A lot of what happens now is dependent on how compliant the ECB will be. Am I a risk? I don't think so. There's footage of me ragging it square in the tests and I'm well under the limits in terms of throwing it."
Holmes played last year in the Kent League for Sevenoaks Vine. It's a far cry from taking on the challenge of Dhoni, Tendulkar and co.
But Holmes isn't done yet. There's still hope that one day he will be England's Murali – and not just the English one.