Chris Waters – Rallying round as Shaun Udal faces his toughest test

Shaun Udal celebrates victory with the trophy after Middlesex win the Twenty20 Cup Final against Kent in 2008.  Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Shaun Udal celebrates victory with the trophy after Middlesex win the Twenty20 Cup Final against Kent in 2008. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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THERE is no more inspiring figure in cricket than Shaun Udal.

The thought struck me while listening to The Tuffers and Vaughan Cricket Show this week on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Former England bowler Shaun Udal: Struck by illness.

Former England bowler Shaun Udal: Struck by illness.

Udal, the former Hampshire, Middlesex and England off-spinner, was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the progressive neurological condition whose symptoms include shaking, slow movement and inflexible muscles.

The 50-year-old spoke movingly about his daily battles with an illness that famously affected the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

What I found particularly moving and inspiring was when Vaughan asked Udal what constitutes a good day for him.

Udal’s reply was along the lines of “when I can write my name properly without my hand shaking”, something that most of us simply take for granted.

I have never met Udal – affectionately nicknamed ‘Shaggy’ – but he is clearly a highly popular man, the sort who gives more to life than he takes from it himself.

Chris Waters

But there was no hint of complaint in Udal’s voice or suggestion of bitterness.

Rather, the brave and stoical manner in which he spoke was uplifting in the extreme, as was his hope that by speaking publicly about the condition he can help to raise awareness.

I have never met Udal – affectionately nicknamed ‘Shaggy’ – but he is clearly a highly popular man, the sort who gives more to life than he takes from it himself.

A quick glance on social media reveals just how much the “cricket family”, so to speak, have been quick to rally round, with messages of support pouring in from far and wide on Twitter in particular.

From Darren Gough, the former Yorkshire and England fast bowler: “Mate, you’re a champion. All the best pal and see you soon.”

From Jack Brooks, the former Yorkshire pace bowler who last year joined Somerset on a three-year deal: “Horrible news pal but good luck with the treatment and for the future.”

From Jack Russell, the former Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper came: “Shaggy stay strong. We’re all with you mate. If we can help in any way just give us a shout #topman.”

And from Michael Clarke, the former Australia captain with whom he played at Hampshire: “Unbelievable team man that I loved playing alongside. One thing about Shaggy that people might not always see is his toughness. He has the fight in him to beat anything. With you all the way legend.”

Even those from other sports have sent their best wishes, highlighted by this from the former Southampton and England footballer Matt Le Tissier: “Best of luck with the treatment ledge. Shout if you need anything.”

Fortunately, Udal, who played four Tests and 11 one-day internationals, has always confronted a challenge head-on.

It was his willingness to keep fighting which saw him recalled to the England squad in 2005 – 11 years after his previous international appearance.

Udal’s finest hour came at Mumbai in March, 2006, when he claimed the scalp of the great Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar during a four-wicket burst that helped England to a 212-run victory that squared the series on what proved to be Udal’s last Test appearance.

He will need to draw on all of that determination now for what he describes as his “toughest test”.

“I’ve just got to get on with it,” he said.

“I can’t think negatively and get downbeat because it’s going to affect my chances of recovery and progress.

“It’s the toughest test but I’ll face it head on, tackle it, and, with the support of friends and family, we’ll keep it under control.”

Finally, he added: “It’s a bit of a shock, but there’s always someone else worse off and you have to cope with it and move on.”