Sunday, 29 August 2010

A magnificent England performance - allegedly

The spot-fixing allegations hanging over the fourth test have left me feeling all sorts of emotions one should never have to feel in connection with a Test Match. I have to express them somehow and here's as good a place as any...

To play in a Test Match is the greatest honour a cricketer can have bestowed upon him. He has the chance to measure himself against the very best of his contemporaries, and these measurements are precisely chronicled in order that that cricketer can be evaluated alongside the rest of the chosen few who have reached this elevated status since the very first Test Match took place in 1877. A Test Match is just that: the ultimate test of a cricketer's ability. You owe it to yourself, and to the great game of cricket, to channel every fibre of your being into giving the very best performance you can at all times. But for some people, who were born with natural ability and have worked hard to hone their skills to the fullest extent, it seems like being a Test cricketer becomes an entitlement. This is understandable, but what is inexcusable is when they get to the point where they see it as their own plaything, to be played around with as they see fit.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

...And you thought Pakistan were out cheaply!

Today's match was probably one of the shortest I'll ever play. We weren't even at the ground before it all went pear-shaped - first we were one short and then 2/3rds of the way there one of the guys I was taking in my car realised he'd picked up the bag of someone playing for the seconds who is about half a foot shorter than him. We found the ground and the Captain Jo took the guy back to Stafford to make sure everyone had the right kit and since we now only had eight players actually present and ready to start we decided we'd have to bat first if we won the toss, which we did.

It then rained a little for ten minutes or so on an uncovered wicket that was probably already quite damp, but eventually we got underway and as I was in at No.5 I began to leisurely put my pads on in the dressing room. I was about halfway through this when the first wicket fell, but when I emerged we ticked over a few runs before I went in at 25 for 3. My partner was on 16 and going reasonably well, but somehow I felt a little flustered.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Playing tomorrow

It looks like I'm in the team for tomorrow's game with Oldfields Cheadle 2nds, against whom I played earlier in the season, picking up my first ever golden duck as we won by 7 runs in an exciting, high-scoring game. Looking at it today there's nothing like an England middle-order collapse comprising one golden, one silver and two bronze ducks to make me feel better about my own performances with the bat... I'll probably be available for the match next week as well, but can't be sure I'll play so I'm approaching tomorrow as if it's my last match, hoping to end the season on a high with a solid all-round performance so that I can go into next season looking back on how much I've learned and developed this year.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Trying to get my leg over

After the comments I got on the video I posted last week I've been back in the nets tonight working on the pivot around my front leg. I dispensed with any meaningful run up, just walked into the delivery stride and bowled, trying to swing that right leg round and seeing what happens. I had my target positioned on a length slightly on leg-side but I wasn't too fussed about hitting it.

Obviously with a whole new method of delivery I wasn't expecting much in terms of accuracy and I was right not to, but I was surprised at how much faster I was bowling, without really trying to, and how even with this extra speed I didn't lose any spin. Most of my balls are still too shiny and new to be naturally conducive to turn but on occasion the older balls that are a bit roughed-up seemed to spin further than I've ever managed before - one in particular turned about two feet! I was bowling pretty flat though, something I've certainly never been guilty of before, so I'll need to get a bit of the loop back at some stage if I'm going to get proper drift. Previously I've been looping the ball too high so I need to find a happy (i.e. effective) medium. All in all though it was a promising start and after a winter of work on it I'll hopefully be in a very good state come next season.

This evening I've given "Virginia" and "Hyacinth" some TLC, as I doubt I'll play more than one more match this year and want to make sure they're ready to go in the loft. I took the tape off, a very messy procedure involving scraping all the sticky goo off, then I've given the faces and edges a sand down and a coat of oil to keep the moisture in. I also rounded off the front edges with a knocking-in mallet, something I should probably have done ages ago as the many edges and nicks had been leaving dents. Anyway, all in all they're both looking in good nick and should be back for more next year.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Game on

I try not to spend too much time talking about "serious" cricket on this blog, but you have to say today's play at the Oval has been remarkable.

Out of action

A matchless weekend for me, unfortunately, as I simply can't see how my knee will take it. If I am feeling up to it I might pitch up at the club just in case, as I'm told a fair few players might be at the V festival down the road. I seem to remember at the last match one guy saying "How many people are going to be at the V festival next week then?" getting the response of "Erm, a few hundred thousand probably". "No you imbecile, I meant how many people from the CLUB..."

Also nets last night was a no-show from me as firstly I was engrossed by whether Alistair Cook would survive the evening, then it was raining, and then my girlfriend was on the phone. My previous post seems to have garnered a few comments from the leg spin sages at the Big Cricket forum, so next time I get the chance I've got some pointers as to where to go from here. As my action stands my run-up does seem an unnecessary waste of effort, so I'll just concentrate on the delivery stride, particularly the pivot round my front foot, lifting my right leg up and round, and swivelling my my shoulders, and see about putting a run-up on once I've got that sussed.

I've also been playing around with my grip. I'm not even close to thinking about properly bowling a googly, but I have been trying to get my hands right around the loop and was having great difficulty achieving anything beyond a topspinner. It seems as if it's my grip that is stopping me, as my normal grip has the seem angled so that the centre of the seam is outside the tip of the third finger. This seems to naturally favour backspin over topspin, and perhaps this is why I find zooters relatively simple compared to what others seem to find. I've been playing around with it and have been trying a more orthodox grip with the seam straighter up and while the sensation of spinning it is slightly different it should do the trick in terms of making topspinners easier, and then when the time comes making a googly possible. I'll keep playing around with both grips and see what happens.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A new video at last

Finally I've got round to filming myself bowling in the club's new nets. Some days it seems that everything works perfectly and I can get 5 out of 6 landing on a good line and length and turning nicely. Today was not one of those days...

I've still got the dodgy knee and I was using ten shiny brand new balls which absolutely refused to do anything, while the eight older balls did get a little bit of turn, especially the two Kookaburras. Anyway, here it is:

Every time I look at my action it seems more comical. There's something wrong with the delivery stride, it just seems far too laid back. It's not as if I'm not trying but I was looking at my first video and noticed I had a much, much faster arm speed. I know a spinner should find a natural pace and stick to it, but I'm not sure I have found mine just yet. Maybe once my knee's better I'll have to try a shorter, faster delivery stride and see if I can control it.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The magnus effect... WOW!

I can't resist sharing this video, it's the perfect demonstration of the Magnus Effect at it's most powerful. The pitcher is using a light, aerodynamically tuned ball used as a training aid to help young baseball pitchers learn to curve the ball.


What started unpromisingly turned into a match to remember for me today, as for probably the first time I felt at ease at the crease and got some respectable runs on the board.

My first match for the Sunday side was also their last of the season, and with relegation in the bag everyone was just out to play their best and have fun. Sadly the main square was too soggy to use so we had to play on the astro wicket, which has seen some huge scores this season. We started off fielding and to be honest it was my most disappointing performance so far in the field. In my defence my left knee was aching badly from all the bowling I've been doing in the nets, which affected my running rather a lot and the firm ground only made things worse. Also my contact lens (I only need one) just wouldn't stay put which was another unwelcome distraction.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A sticky wicket

And so at last I was back in action today, playing at Waterhouses against Wooton. The ground was a really beautiful place situated on the edge of a village with houses on one side and farmland on the other. We got there just in time after a trip round some winding B-roads with Phil and Dunc riding in my car, and after some initial confusion were told that we were batting.

Now clearly I'm still pretty inexperienced so today was my first experience of a properly sticky wicket. Uncovered, and after a few days of rain, it was not only a little muddy but also two-paced, with one end offering bounce and the other just being a bit dead. The Captain was facing first up and was bowled for a Royal Duck, which would prove to be probably the key moment in the match, as it turned out to be a horrendously low-scoring pitch. As well as the sticky wicket the grass in the outfield was rather long meaning anything that bounced more than once was unlikely to make the boundary.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Oh bother

No nets tonight as it's pissing down. Just as well I got some practise in last night. I'm down as 12th man for the 4ths again on Saturday, and as you can imagine that doesn't exactly fill me with glee.

A bit more retail therapy

My veins are throbbing with the endorphins of hard cash spent. It may be a little strange to be shelling out so close to season's end but never mind that.

My first purchase was an old copy of Clarrie Grimmett's "Getting Wickets". £30 seems a lot for a beat-up old paperback but Wisden describes it as "one of the finest of coaching manuals, which should be reissued and distributed to every school and club in these monotonous times of pace, pace and more pace" so hopefully there should be plenty of food for thought in there. That's my gentle reading over the close season sorted then.

Bowling tonight

Thought I'd pop to the club for a bowl this evening. The under-17s were there so I asked the coaches if they minded me bowling in the vacant net and they said they'd rather I bowled at their batsmen. I bowled one ball which sprayed wide into the side-netting, and they said I'd better go in the empty net after all... I didn't bowl it wide to make a point, but that was why I wanted the empty net in the first place!

I was working on two things - firstly where I focus my attention during my run-up, and secondly how I pivot round my front foot. Overall the results were encouraging, and almost every ball where I felt I was properly concentrated landed roughly on the right line and length with a fair amount of turn. If I can bowl like that in a match I'd certainly have nothing to be ashamed about. I bowled for about an hour in the end before running out of steam.

The issue of where I look during my run-up puzzles me, but it's clear to see what works. My run-up now works as a left foot skip, then two paces where I get low and push back up to jump into the final two delivery strides, and if I keep looking at my target throughout my accuracy just goes. If instead I look decide on my target as I prepare to bowl, then glance down at where I want my front to land during the little skip, then focus back on my target during the final four steps I can land the ball on a good line and length at least 90% of the time.

I suppose what I'm doing is first anchoring the direction of my run-up so that I arrive in the same place in the same way, then determining where to channel that movement as I release the ball. On one occasion I forgot to look at where I was planting my foot and got my my legs tangled slightly on the third step, resulting in a ball sprayed wide to the left. Anyway, I feel I'm now back to the same level of bowling I was at before my lay-off, if not slightly better, even if the ball doesn't seem to be coming out of my hand quite as well.

Again I'll have to wait a bit before I know whether I'm playing on Saturday. I was offered a game on Sunday but it's not really convenient for me so I had to turn it down. To earn some brownie points I've agreed to do the scorebook for the Barmy Army charity match on Friday afternoon. I'd better remember to take a propelling pencil with me this time as using a Biro last week was less than ideal.

Monday, 9 August 2010

A little gentle bowling

This evening I was at a loose end (for once) so I popped down to the club and bowled in the nets for about an hour. The club was deserted so it was just me, a setting sun and a couple of dog walkers. Rather frustratingly, every time I bowl I seem to discover a new combination of things sodding up my consistency. I wasn't bowling at 100% on account of the lurgy tonight, but felt much more up to it than I did on Saturday.

There were a couple of things that I was looking at today, the first being the position of my left arm as I prepare to deliver the ball. As I've said in relation to my batting stance, I'm right hand-right eye dominant, meaning that the conventional bowling style of peeping round the front arm can sometimes mean I cover my dominant eye. However the way I use my left arm is critical to ensuring I'm balanced on delivery, so adjusting it could be problematic. Then there was the usual thing of remembering to get my head moving in a steady horizontal fashion as I deliver the ball. When I remember to do this I usually feel the main difference in my action in my legs and feet, and interestingly I was reading in Bob Woolmer's Art and Science of Cricket where he was saying that much of the spin comes from the pivot round the front foot, so perhaps this has added benefits as well. Finally I found, rather weirdly, that if I focus relentlessly on the area I want to bowl into it's not as good as if I split my focus into two steps, first for the first step or two focusing on where I want to place my feet as I deliver the ball, and only then switching my focus to where I want the ball to land.

What do these all have in common? Well, it seems they're all about balance and repeatability. I seem to be having a lot of problems with balance, both when batting and bowling, and my balance has never been exceptional which probably has something to do with the problems I had with my ears as a child. At least with bowling I get to premaditate my movements, so it should be less of an issue.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Saturday on the sidelines

I arrived at the ground just after noon on Saturday and had to hang around a while before I found out if I was playing or not. I went and bowled in the nets for about half an hour or so, again with a net to myself while everyone else got on with it next door, and the results were a little improved on Thursday night despite my illness seeming to have got worse. Then eventually everyone turned up so I was left without a game. I volunteered to do the scorebook, but was still a little disappointed not to be back playing. The captain has a system now of people who played the previous match getting priority for places, so I can't complain.

Ultimately it was probably as well that I wasn't playing as with half of the second innings left my flu got worse and I had to hand the scorebook over and head home to nurse a nasty headache. Fingers crossed I can overcome this flu and get a game next week, as there's only four matches left to go!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Take it easy, fellas!

Pakistan 37 for 6 at lunch on the first day at Edgebaston. I do wish our bowlers would take it easy - I've got tickets for Sunday and at this rate I'm wondering whether the match will still be in play...

UPDATE: This is just silly now. England have missed out on two wickets, the first a dropped catch and the second an LBW overturned by the DRS, and both times I've initially reacted with frustration, followed immediately by relief. At this rate I'm in danger of failing Norman Tebbit's Britishness test!
(Norman Tebbit said the test of Britishness for second generation Indian and Pakistani immigrants was who they supported when they played England at cricket) 

UPDATE: Pakistan all out for 72. Bollocks Oh good...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Outdoor nets tonight

I went to Nets tonight for the first time in ages. The club has upgraded its nets from a single small cage over a section of grass to two larger permanent cages with an all-weather surface. It has its good points and its bad points, the good points being that the higher roof means I can give the ball some proper flight, the surface is much more like that which the 4ths play their home matches on, and because there's two nets I had one all to myself this evening with no pesky batsmen to distract me. The bad points would be that the surface doesn't seem to offer as much to spinners, the carpet ends right on the start of my run-up, which seems to upset my balance a bit, and the cage extends right up to the bowling crease, meaning I don't have an unbroken line of sight between the start of my run-up and delivery.

My bowling was not too bad considering I hadn't bowled at all for two months. I was bowling at a target - a section of rubber car mat cut to a small square and arranged like a diamond - and while I wasn't hitting the target with any regularity, there's never really been a time so far where I have been able to do this consistently. I was struggling a little with various things - balance, rhythm, focus, etc - but overall it wasn't as bad as I had feared, even if I'm not really confident of my ability to bowl a decent over with few wides.I did try an over of flippers but I'm concerned that my "proper" flippers would be no-balled because of my arm bending. I'll have to get the camera on it and see but it doesn't feel right. The "Baffler" seemed to work pretty well though.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A long layoff

So, it's been a while... In fact I'm afraid to say it's a full two months since I last played. The reason for this? Well, it's complicated.

What stopped me playing to begin with was that my girlfriend and I had a rough time in June, which was pretty much entirely my fault, and since we usually only get to see each other at weekends I had to get it sorted out which meant I was never around on Saturdays to play. Then in July she had a very busy and very important time work-wise and I wanted to be as helpful as possible so that again meant being away at the weekends to lighten her load, and hence no cricket. That's not by any means a complaint, but for the purposes of this blog this is why I haven't been playing.

Anyway, I am available this week so I'll just have to wait and see if I'm selected to play. We're playing Ashcombe Park who are currently top of the league, and since my last match it seems the 4ths have only won one game in my absence. Just sayin'...

Seriously though, I've hardly done any practise since my last match, and it does concern me that I'll probably have gone backwards while everyone else in the league will by now have worked themselves into a fair bit of form. The 4ths only have five matches left this season, and I'll probably be lucky if I get to play in three of those, which is a bit of a shame. All I can do is play and see how I get on.