If Alastair Storie, the cricketer, had encountered Alastair Storie, the sports psychologist, the Alastair Storie story might have been very different.
As a 19-year-old batsman, Storie’s career could not have started more impressively. Thrown in for a surprise first-class debut for Northamptonshire against Hampshire at Northampton in May 1985 he scored a second-innings century which saved his side from defeat. Here, evidently, was a young player with the patience to bat long and the technique to back it up.
But that first match proved the peak of Storie’s playing career. In four seasons – two with Northamptonshire and then two, 1987 and 1988, with Warwickshire – he increasingly struggled with the sustained demands of first-team county cricket. He never reached three figures again and, in 55 first-class matches, averaged 23.24. In 25 games for the Bears he averaged 20.15 with just two half-centuries.
Those figures do little credit to the Glaswegian’s ability. But they vividly illustrate the pressures which accompany a career conducted entirely in public, especially in an era when young players received little or no guidance beyond the nets.
In any sport you have to take the rough with the smooth but cricket is unique because, as a batsman, you can have a bad moment and then a day out of the game to think about it.Alastair Storie
Today, Storie reflects totally without bitterness but with a perspective sharpened by his subsequent move into sports psychology.
“I had a good start at Northants,” he said. “I scored a century on debut and remember the way the game went suited me because we were batting out for a draw and, while I was never the most exciting stroke-player I could grind it out. That Northants team was ideal for me because we had batsmen like Wayne Larkins, Rob Bailey and Allan Lamb who liked to attack, so I could just sit in and defend.
“I got a chance out of the blue and scored a hundred on debut and then followed it with 50 against Warwickshire in my second game. I had a decent first year, but then hit second-season syndrome.
“I felt the pressure of having to prove myself and didn’t kick on. My second season at Northamptonshire wasn’t great but I scored a few runs against Warwickshire, with Gladstone Small in the attack, and David Brown and Norman Gifford saw enough to sign me up. I was thrilled to join the Bears and have Edgbaston as a home ground.
“It was a time when the batting leaned pretty hard on the old guard. Alvin Kallicharran was coming towards the end and Dennis Amiss was still scoring runs but needed support. I was one of the new kids on the block and just didn’t seize the opportunity.
“I think I probably wasn’t quite good enough but now as a sports psychologist I do look back and think I could have done things differently. In the last year of my contract I lost confidence. I buckled, to be honest. I wasn’t scoring runs and sometimes the harder you try the worse you do. I couldn’t get my head round it and, while there were good people around the club, in those days you mainly had to try and fathom it out yourself.”
Storie was to find the mentor he needed only belatedly, at Oxford University. Typical of his unusual life-path – born in Glasgow, moved to South Africa aged eight, shone at cricket then returned to the UK to give it a go as a career – instead of attending Oxford on the way into professional cricket, he studied there having left it.
At The Parks he was coached by former Sussex legend Les Lenham whose wise, if blunt, input arrived too late to salvage Storie’s county career but rebooted his batting to a level where he skippered Scotland for three years.
“Les told me: ‘You’re doing everything wrong,'” recalls Storie. “He said I was set up all wrong – that was interesting to hear at the age of 26!
“Les was brilliant and after he sorted me out and reorganised my technique it was a whole new ball game. It finally clicked when I spent a winter in Tasmania and had a great season. I went on to captain Scotland for three years and part of me does look back and think what might have been, but I am very proud to have played first-class cricket at all.
Batting often wasn’t easy but Dennis Amiss was amazing. I used to travel with him to games and one time in the car he was struggling with a sore neck. He was in real discomfort and I thought ‘there’s no way he’ll play tomorrow’. He did play – and batted all day.Alastair Storie
“I really enjoyed it at Warwickshire, even though I never established myself in the first team. I was given a chance to open the batting but didn’t nail down a first-team spot though, to be fair, it wasn’t easy batting on those uncovered wickets.
“You tend to think of uncovered wickets as 100 years ago but they were around in ’87 and bowlers like Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice used to quite like them. I remember one game against Notts we were watching the rain falling and looking out at the covered run-ups but uncovered pitch and Geoff Humpage saying: ‘I don’t think Eddie Hemmings will be bowling when we get out there.’
“Batting often wasn’t easy but Dennis Amiss was amazing. I used to travel with him to games and one time in the car he was struggling with a sore neck. He was in real discomfort and I thought ‘there’s no way he’ll play tomorrow’ which was a worry because we depended so much on him. He did play – and batted all day!
“I said to him ‘how do you do it? how do you stay motivated?’ and he said he just tried to keep working on something new and keep improving every day.”
Storie, meanwhile, embarked on a career striving to make sportsmen and women the best they can be. He now lectures at University of Stirling and has worked with elite performers in various sports, notably cricket, in which he has worked with the Scotland set-up, and swimming.
“It is interesting work,” he said. “Professional sport can be a lonely place and cricket more than most.
“In any sport you have to take the rough with the smooth but cricket is unique because, as a batsman, you can have a bad moment and then a day out of the game to think about it. If you’re having a bad game in football at least you’re still out there and can try to win the next tackle and do something about it.
“You have to be strong enough to park the bad stuff, whether it’s your mistake or a bad decision that every batter gets sometimes. If you look nervous at the crease, sometimes you can attract bad decisions – my job now is to make sure people don’t get into that narrative. Every sportsman and woman has failures – the best come back from those failures.”