‘I try to keep positive but it’s hard when there’s no cure’: Former England spinner Shaun Udal on his battle with Parkinson’s disease, powerful social media posts… and love of Bazball
- Shaun Udal shares his experiences to raise understanding of Parkinson’s
- The former off-spinner, 54, was diagnosed with disease four years ago
- Loss of former team-mate Shane Warne tested his resilience to the limit
Shaun Udal is resigned to never fulfilling his last great cricketing ambition.
‘I can’t contemplate even playing a game now,’ said the former England, Hampshire and Middlesex off-spinner who, four years ago, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
‘I can’t hold the ball because my hands would shake so much I’d be bowling long hops and full tosses even more than I used to!
‘I could probably bat for a bit to be fair but my ambition since being diagnosed has been to bowl properly again in a game before this gets too bad. I’ve yet to achieve that. I did have a couple of nets a couple of winters back and let’s just say they didn’t go too well.’
Udal, now 54, opens up in a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense way about the condition that has changed his life.
Shaun Udal (above) shares his experiences to raise understanding of Parkinson’s
The former England spinner found the transition to ‘the real world’ difficult after retiring at 41
He talked frankly and courageously to Sportsmail when he was diagnosed — receiving the news through the post — in 2019 and it is no different now this cruel disease with no cure has taken a stronger hold on him.
The good news is that he is suffering a slow progression of Parkinson’s and is still able to lead a reasonably normal life. The bad is that once he closes the door of his house in Basingstoke at night, the pain and loneliness, even with a loving and hugely supportive family around him, can be close to unbearable. ‘It is the loneliness of it all really because no one else can help you get out of this,’ he says. ‘If you break a leg you know you will recover and be up walking again but this is a lifetime thing and it’s not going to get any better.
‘It can be difficult for people to understand so that’s why I put out social media posts and will continue to do so. I know there are worse diseases out there but this is pretty horrible. Your mind is still active but your body can’t do what you want it to any more.’
Those social media posts are powerful and have touched so many within cricket whom this hugely popular character counts as friends and also those outside the game who do not know him.
Nothing is held back. He is not seeking sympathy. It is just Udal’s way of raising understanding of Parkinson’s and seeking empathy with other sufferers.
‘It’s so nice to hear from other people who have got this problem,’ he says. ‘They message me and it makes me think I’m not on my own. That’s why one day at 3.30 in the morning when I was in pain and couldn’t sleep I decided to post a video to show people I’m not making it up. I was red in the face from trying to get myself out of bed and I thought, “Sod it, I’m going to put a post out there”. I got so many responses from that and that won’t bring a cure but it will help people understand that it’s a real thing and how quickly it can affect me.
‘It does bring me comfort to share these experiences. And the number of people from Hampshire, Middlesex and the cricket world who keep in touch or drop me a line every now and then is phenomenal.’
Udal found the transition from a playing career which brought four Test and 11 one-day international caps and an outstanding domestic record to ‘the real world’ difficult after retiring at 41.
But on top of his diagnosis at 50 came the loss of his mother to Covid, his younger brother who died suddenly and a man who was like a brother to him in his former Hampshire captain Shane Warne. They were devastating blows that tested Udal’s resilience to the limit.
‘Mum went a couple of years ago and we couldn’t say goodbye because of Covid and then I lost my brother unexpectedly,’ he says. ‘Then when Shane went… I still can’t believe it. I’ve still got his number on my phone and I look at it sometimes and think, “Come on mate, ring me”. But it’s not going to happen.
‘Parkinson’s can be stress related and when you’re stressed that’s when the shakes become worse and the muscles hurt. The less stress the better and I have to keep active for my own sanity as much as anything.’
The light is that the good days still outweigh the bad even though he says the bad ones are catching up.
The devastating loss of former team-mate Shane Warne tested Udal’s resilience to the limit
‘I’ve got a lot of great family and friends around me and it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ll just keep going.’
Udal is thoroughly enjoying watching the modern-day England team and gets to both the Ageas Bowl and Lord’s to catch up with old colleagues.
‘England have been incredible to watch, haven’t they?’ he says admiringly. ‘They have revolutionised Test cricket and I don’t say that lightly.
‘Twenty20 and the Hundred are valuable additions to the game but Test cricket was in danger of being forgotten and now everyone is talking about it.’
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