- Review: Don Bradman Cricket 14
Bat like Bradman couldn't
I haven't played cricket for too many years than I care to admit, but I'm happy to reveal that this was the first cricket game I'd played since the genre-defining Graham Gooch World Class Cricket for the Amiga in the early 1990s.
Many of you reading have probably never heard of the Amiga, and maybe some of you don't know who Graham Gooch is either. But I can tell you that in 1990-something, the pair's alliance to my 12-year-old mind was as tantalising a prospect as Don Bradman Cricket isn't 20 years later. That isn't to say this is a bad game, but it does reflect how dedicated gamers - not old-skool joystick wagglers in their 30s - clearly demand much more from their entertainment nowadays. Gaming got hard.
Then, Graham and I would spend hours locked in a tussle between my joystick and bat and ball. There was only one serviceable shot for batsmen: a thrashing square cut, regardless of length. And it was possible to hook every delivery for six, including yorkers. In many ways it was before its time; hooking a yorker then is the equivalent now of the Dilscoop, arguably with greater finesse (if even greater luck).
Don Bradman Cricket 14, I quickly learned, was a lot tougher to master than its older forebear, so difficult in fact that, as of writing, I have only just left the nets. It's as though Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower have morphed into a Super Zimbabwean coach; hired Joel Garner, Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan to hurl balls at my face; and told me not to go home until I can convincingly play a forward defensive three times in succession without losing a stump, a finger or my pride.
Unfortunately there was no tutorial the first time I was locked, scared and alone in the nets - it did appear after I petulantly rebooted though. The paper manual gave instructions on the controls, but annoyingly for someone of my infantile concentration span it still required a lot of toing and froing from manual to controller to work out how to a) move your feet in line with the ball b) choose a proper English defensive shot, the type designed to deflect nuclear attack in the Cold War and adopted lovingly by Mike Atherton (a cricketer in the 1990s, kids) c) execute said shot either i) defensively or ii) aggressively or iii) poorly, but the shot was chosen and you've got to execute your skills at the end of the day, in the right areas.
At some weary point, I had mastered something approaching a passive-aggressive forward defensive: nervously lunging forward at precisely the moment the ball had safely passed my right ear. This was roughly proportionate to the gutless methods I employed in real-life, too. Back then, I had two shots in my 13-year-old locker: a forward prod, which was more of an act of faith than a plausible cricket stroke, and an exquisite leg-side glance. The latter rarely got aired unless the bowler was either forgetful or kind, so the former was in constant use regardless of line or length. "Time it, Will!" my coach, Pat Rogers, would roar unhelpfully. Timing a cricket shot, I realised, was an exercise in monastic patience: it would happen eventually in its own time, by forces other than my own. In other words, luck and chance would cause the ball to spring off my bat, not my skill.
And so it was with Don Bradman Cricket. I bedded in for a serious net session with Duncan and Andy. The right-paddle deals with the shot you want to make - forward for a straight drive or defensive, left for anything through midwicket or square-leg, and right deals with the off-side. So far, so straightforward. Until a bouncer comes and your reflex is to play something defensive, and the ball scuds into your temple. Disappointing graphics here; not a drop of blood despite remorseless attacks to the cranium which would make viewers of Casualty wince.
Bowling is where the fun train pauses. Not only are you tasked with controlling the amount of seam or spin, never mind your run-up (when to take off, and for how long. Hello, no-balls), but you also act as the fielder and occasionally keeper. To bowl, you pull down on the right stick, cross your left big toe, pull up quickly on the right stick while also moving it left or right (to determine the line of delivery). There's no doubt some people will master this but only after hour upon hour of cross-eyed gameplay, the like of which some will revel in but not all.
So let's re-enact the first delivery I bowled as a spinner, with Nasser Hussain on comms. "What he's done here is he's gone and chosen your stock ball. Right? No hang on, David, close your gob Sir Ian, because this is an important point. He's chosen your stock ball, your leg-break, and he's delivered it." Indeed I did, Nass. Except it was fired down the leg-side and nurdled, rather too powerfully for comfort, to fine-leg who did the fielding. Except, I did the fielding. A dialog box popped up. Freezing time and totally ruining Einstein's favourite theory, I briefly became a supreme deity: I could control the fielder (indeed, it expected me to), or move him, or order him to throw it to the keeper. Or the bowler. Or someone else. I'm sure this level of Sim-like control is appealing to the tragicricket gamer nut, but this level of complexity - with all the ensuing myriad options in what the X button actually does - was too much for my feeble mind. This is the 21st year of me following cricket and I'm still a bit shaky on the LBW rule from around the wicket.
There are all sorts of game types, from casual (a five-over thrash) to a full Test match, but this game requires dedication and an understanding wife, husband or flat-mate. If you can afford the time, then the batting in particular is both challenging and rewarding - and a lot of fun - and if you manage to late cut the spinners without spoon-feeding the slip cordon, you're a better bat than me.
Will Luke is a former assistant editor of ESPNcricinfo and not very good at computer games