Body memory is a strange thing. When asked to produce their signature using a broom in snow, volunteers produced a scaled up version of the real thing, even though a completely different set of muscles was involved. When I close my eyes I can feel myself in the position of the forward defensive stroke even though I haven't picked up a cricket bat in ten years.
The forward defensive stroke was the only stroke I mastered. The sports reports would enthuse about Wally Hammond's cover drive or Dennis Compton's sweep, but I was besotted by the forward defensive stroke. I raved about Peter Richardson's 117 at Port Elizabeth. Occupying the crease seemed to me to be the greatest ambition.
The balance has to be right. Up on the balls of your feet, never back on your heels; you take a good stride forward. It takes courage against the quicks. Your natural instinct is to back away; a ball in the face the reward for foolhardiness. The stride should stretch the hamstrings of the back leg. Little back lift, just enough to bring the bat down straight, you lead with your left elbow pointed. Your weight goes forward, your head over the ball, and still. You have watched the ball leave the bowler's hand. You must not blink. Your shin determines the line of the stroke. Bat and pad together. "Bat and pad together!" The instructor's cry. There is the danger. Do not open 'the gate' for the one that nips back. Know where your off stump is. This far forward you won't be LBW. Don't worry about the ball that rises and hits you; it can't get you out and bruises fade. Get close to the pitch of the ball. The closer you are, the less it can do off the seam. Watch for the one swings away. Do not follow it. DO NOT FOLLOW IT! It is missing off stump. He is trying to catch the edge. And then the satisfying 'chock' of leather on willow. Keep soft hands and the bat angled down. The ball is smothered and the bowler frustrated. He will call something rude at you. You don't listen. You look up at him and grin to rub it in.