More obstacles than most for Jonathan to overcome
“IT’S the only time I feel equal to everyone else. For a short time, when I’m on that pitch, nobody gives me special treatment. And that’s the way I want it to be.”
The words above are from 17-year-old Jonathan Tiley. Like many young men and women, he is obsessed with sport.
Cricket and football are his main loves, but it is the game of cricket that he is making strides in.
Jonny currently plays for Mawdesley CC in the Palace Shield Cricket League. He was about to break into their senior men’s sides this season before the coronavirus hit.
A promising off-spinner, he had been invited to train with Lancashire CCC last winter. This of course has been halted indefinitely, until the green light is given to start playing again.
But what differentiates Jonny’s story from the majority of other sports people are the challenges he has overcome to reach this stage.
Born with cerebral palsy, Jonny’s lower limbs and left side have severe movement and coordination limitations. The result is a dominant right side, and means gripping the bat with his top left hand (he is a right-hand batsman) is extremely difficult.
Unable to walk without crutches until he was 11, his earliest sporting memories are of bowling to his dad and brothers from a wheelchair in the garden, or batting on his knees. Jonny described the frustration of not partaking as he would like was excruciating, and jealousy would kick infrequently. This would include watching his brothers and friends run around in the garden, or his hero Graeme Swann taking wickets on the TV.
The summer of 2013 marked a change for Jonny, as he underwent a series of operations to be able to walk and move unaided.
This list of procedures is frighteningly long. Jonny’s femurs were broken and reset, his kneecaps twisted and moved into the correct position, his Achilles were released, and his hamstrings lengthened to the correct size.
His legs are now held together by plates and wires. Botox has since been pumped into his arms four times, in an attempt to give him more elasticity and movement. It would still be more than a year before he could walk unassisted, and the pain as his legs began to set in place was indescribable. The list continues to this day, as he regularly has to attend hospital for further check-ups and smaller procedures.
The initial process took more than six months, and a total of 18 hours operating time. It was one of the first of its kind in the UK, and more than 10 research reports have been written on the process and his subsequent recovery.
After a year of gruelling rehab, Jonny was in a different place. Now able to walk more freely, (or with the help of his walker), he was starting to enjoy cricket more and found he could partake more openly in the back garden games. However, he would still be confined to his wheelchair by the evening. These are issues Jonny still struggles with today. But with a talent for the game, and enthusiasm in spades to match, the back garden dreams became a wonderful reality.
His Dad, Patrick, introduced him to Mawdesley CC, the closest team to his Chorley hometown with a dedicated coaching section for disabled cricketers. To give some perspective, Jonny is classed as a level 3 disability, with 1 being the least affected and 4 the most.
But his cricket skills impressed the coaches enough to put him in the club’s able-bodied U11s team, and amazingly he is still yet to play a competitive game against other disabled players. In a fantastic twist, he would later spend days at school in his wheelchair or with his walker in a bid to be fresh and conserve his energy for cricket in the evening.
He bowls with no run-up, although he is working on potentially bringing one in. His power is generated from his upper body and wrist, and for his quicker ball he has to be careful not to bend his elbow too much.
Batting is a different problem entirely, and Jonny admits this is a work in progress. He struggles to balance, and generating power in his shots is hard, as he can’t move his legs into position freely. When he trained with the Lancashire Disabled Team last winter, the coaches opened his stance and he developed a trigger movement, to try and get more power back into the ball. For fielding, he generally stops the ball with his feet, which any cricketer will tell you is a painful thing to do.
Through sheer perseverance and will-power, bowling has been the part of his game he has been able to adapt.
Following the current state of affairs, none of us will take playing sport for granted again.
For Jonny, it was never taken for granted in the first place.