Thursday, 29 December 2011

Pad comparisons

For reasons that escape me I have arrived at the point where, ludicrously, I own no less than four sets of batting pads. Since they are each in their way rather different, I thought someone somewhere might benefit from reading my verdict on each:

Monday, 12 December 2011

Googly/flipper/run-up news

I know there's a post on here somewhere where I boast having bowled my first googly, but the fact is that was a fluke and I haven't managed one since, not that I've been able to bowl since season's end anyway. I think I'm now finally getting to grips with how it's done. I should warn casual readers that what follows may be rather technical and repetitive, and hence rather dull...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Capacity isn't everything

I rejoiced in the news today that the Marylebone Cricket Club have decided against major redevelopment of the Nursery End of Lord's. Reading report after report of the proposals the question kept springing up in my head - WHY? Why irreversibly spoil the beautiful vista from the pavilion end? Why move the Real Tennis court underground? Why - and this was the biggest question - does the MCC need this extra £100 million? The answer to all these questions seemed to be "to maintain and enhance the reputation of Lord's as the pre-eminent cricket ground in the world", but I am pleased that in the end people have realised that pre-eminence is about more than simply how many seats the ground holds, as this is to miss the point entirely.

If you have ever been to Lord's, you will know that it is sacred ground. To travel there is to make a pilgrimage to cricket's holiest place, and to sit in the stands as play takes place can feel almost spiritual. It is to worship at the high temple of cricket. If Lord's is to maintain its status it is THIS experience that must be preserved, and ultimately the best way to guarantee its future as a Test venue is to guard this atmosphere jealously, as then touring teams will forcefully demand the right to play there.

On those happy occasions when I have been blessed with the offer of a 'members and friends' ticket from my father's MCC-member friend to go to Lord's my chosen vantage point has been the Warner Stand, and from here the vista is almost entirely devoid of anything that is not part of Lord's Cricket Ground, and all the better for it. It is a little oasis of calm in one of the world's busiest cities. The tree-line behind the Media Centre is a huge asset to the atmosphere of the ground, and while I wouldn't mind too much if higher stands were built at the Nursery End, the idea of having four large tower blocks - however beautifully designed - looming down on the pavilion just leaves me cold. The MCC is often held up as a pretty stuffy organisation but for once I am only too happy to stand on the side of stuffiness. There is a place for muscular modernity, but Lord's isn't it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Winter blues

It's been 81 long, cricketless days since I last donned my whites and took to the field of battle. It's getting me down. It's very unfair of the Sun to waste 6 months favouring the Southern hemispere - firstly because there's less landmass down there, and secondly because the populations of what land there is only go and squander it all by organising a criminally truncated 2-Test series between two of the great teams* in cricket.

Anyway, you'll have noticed there hasn't been any new posts here for a little while, and that's because a) there's very nearly nothing going on in my own cricket career, and b) commenting on what cricket there is currently taking place around the World seems a little silly, in view of the many excellent professional and amateur cricket writers you could have been reading instead of wading through my ramblings.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

What's wrong with playing on?

Reading the paper yesterday, a familiar sight confronted me - the cheeky grin, the huge hands, the massive forearms that speak of prodigious power. The green shirt was unfamiliar, but it was unmistakably the one and only SK Warne, coming out of retirement for another turn in the spotlight.

There seems to be a consensus that great sportsmen should choose to retire at the top and never come back, for fear that they may sully their legacy. I think this is poppycock, especially in the case of a World-class leg-spinner.

Sure, it holds true for people whose sport involves a certain amount of risk such as boxers and racing drivers, and certainly Jackie Stewart was right to stop when he did and not go back, despite having a few years left in him, but in the case of Michael Schumacher, 7 times a champion and now pootling around in an uncompetitive Mercedes, the sport is reasonably safe now, Schumacher seems to have a smile on his face and Mercedes seem happy, so I don't understand those who think he should have stayed with his pipe and slippers. F1 is better for having him back.

Why shouldn't sportsmen carry on in the sport they love? As long as they remain in decent physical shape, quality spinners don't get worse with age, and many get better. CV Grimmett was dropped from Tests on the grounds of age several years before he stopped playing, and by all accounts he was bowling better than ever in that period. Warne's last three or four years in Test cricket were his best, not just in his results but in the holistic quality of his bowling, taking wickets with the intelligence that comes from experience, allied to the incredible spin he always had. You don't lose that level of skill.

Further to that, T20 is a perfect format for a wily old spinner - not too arduous, and rewarding accuracy and subtlety - both key aspects of what made Warne's latter years so successful. Add to that that Warne gets to play at the MCG in front of his beloved Victorian faithful, and everyone's a winner.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Winter reading

The winter months seem cruelly long for a cricketer, and they're all the longer if, like me, you're a devotee of Test Match cricket and no amount of ODI yawn-a-thons will quite fill the gap left between the end of August and the middle of January by some idiot of a scheduler. So, the only thing to do (short of setting out for the southern hemisphere, which I can't afford) is settle into a comfortable chair with a good book.

As such there's a towering pile of cricket books for me to get through over the next few months, even before I get the inevitable extra book or two for Christmas. Here's a little list of what awaits me:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

New stripes

With last Thursday's Special General Meeting following the presentation evening the previous Friday, this week could be said to be the point at which the 2011 season properly ends and next season begins. A Special General Meeting sounds a little bureaucratic and pretty far removed from anything that happens on a cricket field, but it is in fact the meeting at which we as a cricket section choose our captains and committee for the coming season.

The presentation evening was a good night, with everyone having a good time. I took my girlfriend along and she enjoyed getting to know all my team-mates. Each captain in turn gave their review of the season and selected their player of the season. I got an honourable mention as "most improved" for the 4ths, while Shaun got the award (quite rightly) for his batting and keeping. I had a little cameo on the microphone as I gave a brief review of the tour, and it seemed to go down well. There was a little bit of fun at the end as we had a "True or False" game (there's several rounds, each round you each guess true or false. If you're wrong you sit down and the last person standing wins) where two of the questions involved me - firstly did 4th team captain Sam register more ducks this season than me? (he did) and secondly did Wilko take more wickets than me? (he didn't).

Thursday, 20 October 2011

"Let's have a warm hand..."

A couple of weeks ago I was in Waterstone's, inevitably browsing the cricket section of their selection of sports books, when my eyes alighted on a table of gifts and I spotted something that every spinner should have: hand warmers. They're very clever thingies. From having studied chemistry I'm sure it's some sort of reversible reaction that's highly exothermic one way and endothermic the other, with the upshot that when you press a little clicker inside the pouches, the gel quickly crystallises and heats up. Once they've given their heat off, you pop them in a pan of boiling water for five minutes, the crystals dissolve back into a gel and once they've cooled down they're ready to go again.

I first became aware of them when Steve Smith used them in the Australia 'A' game against England at Hobart (they were hidden in his pockets but they showed up on HotSpot). Next to a wet ball, I can't think of anything more debilitating for a spinner than cold fingers, so they should be a nice little gadget to keep in my kitbag for those "multi-jumper" match-days.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Prayers to St Parasceva

Today is the feast day of Parasceva of the Balkans, the patron saint of spinners.

Yes I know, they probably meant people who twist fibres together to make yarn, but there is no patron saint of cricketers, at least not yet, and there are a fair few spinners who would look rather silly praying to the patron saint of athletes, myself included. As such, since Parasceva is listed as the patron saint of spinners, and I'm a spinner, she's my patron saint.

She is described as an "ascetic" saint, and ascetic is derived from the greek word askēsis, which means practice, training or exercise. "Originally associated with any form of disciplined practice," says Wikipedia, "the term ascetic has come to mean anyone who practices a renunciation of worldly pursuits to achieve higher intellectual and spiritual goals for himself." Given the time and sacrifice it takes to develop a decent leg-break, that's pretty apt for a leg-spinner if you ask me...

Not being a Christian myself, I'm unfamiliar with exactly what one does to celebrate a saint's feast day, but I'm given to understand that emulating some aspects of the saint's life is the done thing. Since Parasceva was known for having given her expensive clothes away, I'm going to take a bin bag full of clothes to a charity shop today. And I've got a little prayer ready:

Oh pious St Parasceva, as your parents could not comprehend your charity, so I pray that my captain is more understanding of my own generosity. I humbly ask you to pray for me as you pray for all spinners. Assist me by your intercession that I may face batsmen long on ego and short on sense, and that, through application of what talent God has given me and what skills many hours of dedicated practise has honed, I may offer unto the heavens a ball most fiercely spun and accurately pitched, so that I may swiftly and mercifully dispatch them on their way. Amen.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

No more Brigadier Block

If there's one aspect of my game that has disappointed me this season, it's my batting. I did manage 8 not outs in 17 innings, which was satisfying, but ultimately I only scored 18 runs in total, my highest score was a paltry 5* and my only real contribution was to help the other guy score.

Now I'm not totally disregarding the value of that role, but having thought about it a bit more, I think I need to be honest with myself and admit that it's a bit of a cop-out by me. Hang on in there, block everything, help the other guy score and then I can protect myself from ever finding out just how ineffective my own batting is. It's safe, and it's weak.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Long-term ambitions

It's well established that setting achievable goals provides a useful spur to improved performance, and this year's target of 10 wickets certainly helped me to take those 10 wickets. My other two targets - 100 runs and 5 catches or run-outs - weren't met, and for different reasons: I didn't make 100 runs because that target was far too ambitious for my level of experience, and I didn't contribute 5 wickets in the field because I was never in a position to do so. Even if I'd taken every catch I was presented with this year, I'd still have only taken 3 catches! The targets I've been thinking of for next season are a bit more open ended - a bowling average of under 32 (my waist size) and a batting average of over 9.5 (my shoe size) - and I think they're realistic, but I think it may also be helpful to set out a few long-term aspirations that go far beyond next season. Some of them may be a bit far-fetched, but as long as they focus my mind on the future they may be of some use.

So lets start with the most outlandish ones first...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Season reflections, part 2

Having gone through my experiences as a cricket fan this year, I now turn to how I look back on my season as a player. With 21 matches played it was a pretty full season for me, and it was a very up and down affair right from start to finish.

I've undoubtedly made a lot of progress since last year, but still feel somewhat unsatisfied with various things, particularly my batting. 18 runs in 17 innings is pretty poor in anyone's book, even if I was not out no less than 8 times. Also despite a my bowling figures ending up showing a decent strike rate, my economy rate of over 7 was a real barrier to my captain bringing me on to bowl, which meant I often got a chance only at the fag end of the innings, which meant the batsmen had a go and I went for runs. It was a difficult cycle to break out of.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Season reflections, part 1

Looking back on the 2011 season, what will I remember best in 20 years time? I suppose taking my first wicket will be prominent, as will the car crash that was the game before. However, I'll leave all that for another post, and keep this post to my memories of following cricket rather than playing.

It's been a momentous year, that's for sure. England came back from a memorable winter during which they retained the Ashes for the first time in my memory, and off they went to the World Cup, where they avoided the kind of drubbings they have suffered in recent tournaments, but never really played their best. Somehow we managed to beat South Africa, tie with eventual winners India, and lose to Ireland. It really was rather a peculiar performance overall.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Pre-season training starts here

Yesterday officially saw the end of the season, as Stafford CC 1sts and 2nds played their last games, and rather pleasingly both of them won relatively comfortably. Stretching out in front of me, however, is a vast barren landscape of four and a half cricket-less months before winter nets starts up again in February.

However I don't want to let that time go to waste, so I'm going to try to get into a schedule of training so I'm in as good a shape as possible by then. If I'm able to I'm hoping to go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but at the very least once a week on Thursdays, so as to mimic the rhythm of net sessions we've had this season.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Season statistics

Here's a fairly comprehensive run down of all my stats for the year.

All 21 matches:
Batting - Innings: 17, Not Out: 8, Runs: 18, Balls faced: 88, High score: 5*
Average: 2.00, Strike rate: 20.45, 4s: 1, 6s: 0, Ducks: 5
Bowling - Innings: 16, Balls: 298, Runs: 358, Wickets: 10, Best bowling: 2/11
Average: 35.80, Economy: 7.21, Strike rate: 29.80

Friday, 9 September 2011

A premature end

I've just been informed that tomorrow's match has been called off, so that's it: my season's over.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Mission Accomplished

With just two matches left before the end of the season, both on the home artificial surface where my place in the team has been anything but certain, I went into the weekend with a simple goal: Get the one wicket I needed to make it 10 for the season and thus achieve my principle goal set way back in pre-season. After what I regard to be my best bowling performance of the season, I did just that.

I went into the game knowing that I'd never taken a wicket on that surface before, so I had a good long think about how I should approach the game. My biggest problem is that it's slow, doesn't turn much and bounces quite high, meaning any ball on my normal length with probably bounce well over the wicket and right into any reasonable batsman's hitting zone. As such I decided, following the example of countless Australian leg-spinners on their bouncy wickets over the years, to make heavy use of a back-spinning ball so as to reduce the bounce and threaten the stumps more. Before the game I warmed up majoring heavily on my zooter, as my flipper isn't good enough yet, and also giving my leg-break and top-spinner a go, and hearteningly the zooter seemed to be coming out pretty well.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

A captain's performance, at least with the ball...

After much organisation by Duncan and myself, we finally departed for Stafford CC's first tour for about 20 years on the 24th August. Sadly despite the best efforts of our hosts our first fixture at Thornbury CC was washed out as first a large downpour engulfed us about 20 minutes before the scheduled start, then further rain arrived later just as the ground was getting agonisingly close to playable. Our hosts saved the day though with tremendous hospitality, and we had a competitive drinking game to settle "the battle of the knot", as incredibly their logo is the same as ours due to a former Lord Stafford's strong ties in the area.

For our second fixture, however, our hosts were not so accommodating. To be perfectly blunt, it seemed they simply couldn't be bothered with the fixture, had left the wicket uncovered as it rained hard the night before and when we turned up they rather curtly told us the fixture was off. This despite Thursday afternoon seeing by far the best cricket weather of the tour. We went via a well-lubricated pub lunch to a local bowling alley, and after starting with two strikes in a row I think I finished about 5th or 6th out of the 17 of us.

So on Friday it was all or nothing, and thankfully our hosts Bishopston CC were outstanding in their efforts to get the game going. The wicket was probably no better than it had been the day before, damp and sticky, but the ground was beautiful, set in the middle of a retirement village with a large, expertly-manicured outfield. Since rain was expected we decided on a 20/20 and started half an hour early, and as had been agreed before the tour I was to captain the game, my first match in that role. I arranged with my opposite number that they should bat first as I felt this way my bowlers and fielders would be more likely to be sober and we'd get a full game, and although it wasn't a popular decision in the dressing room (I think the balance of opinion was about 10 to 1, you can guess which way) I stuck my guns and we went out to field.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Blinded by the light

Stuart Broad seems to have had a dramatic return to form, and this weekend I have too, with my best ever bowling figures - and they could have been even better.

We were playing Wooton at Waterhouses, which is very much a bowler's wicket - last year we were all out for 57 when 80ish would have been competitive. Today it was a little less sticky than last year although it was still slow, low and occasionally lively and the outfield was still VERY slow. After a slightly fraught journey to the ground thanks to some truly hopeless navigating by my team-mates, we won the toss and chose to bat, although I thought that may have been the wrong decision as it was sunny and the wicket could only get better.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A few new bits of kit

In the past few weeks I've been on something of a spree, buying the odd thing here or there to either replace worn items (such as batting gloves) or else to upgrade to something a little more to my liking.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Sheer joy!

I was going to write a post utterly jam-packed full of bitterness at the way that, yet again, my captain didn't pick me on Saturday and gave me no explanation as to why, but I can't. Not today. Headquarters is a-buzz and packed to capacity, England have a very good chance of taking first blood against the best side in the world, and Tendulkar is at the crease hoping to make his century of centuries. The 2,000th Test is proving to be worthy of the title and my heart rejoices at just how magnificent it is to be a lover of cricket on a July day such as this. Test Match Special is blaring out of everything in the house capable of producing sound, if the atmosphere at Lord's is even 10% as good as it sounds it must be mightily impressive, and I'm making some pretty large sounds of my own every time an appeal goes up! It's lunch, we're six wickets from the win and we've got the best bowling attack on the planet. There's simply no way I could be in a bad mood today.

Monday, 18 July 2011

One good ball

Saturday's game was a strange affair for me, I could have sworn we'd be rained off but in the end we managed a completed game. We were up against Aston on the ground at Alleyne's School, and when we got there the cover was still on and the wicket hadn't been mown, so it was a good half an hour after the scheduled start before we were able to get underway. I half-wish the game had been rained off.

Aston's leading batsman was back after being suspended, apparently because Aston paid him to play in a strictly amateur league, and he reached his century pretty quickly, scoring at more than ten an over. As the innings wore on past the drinks break and we edged ever closer to declaration territory I wondered if Sam was ever going to bring me on to bowl, and with a typically bizarre rationale he told me I'd come on once Jamie, one of the juniors in the side, had completed his maximum six overs. As we were in the middle of a match I relented from explaining to Sam that Jamie gets plenty of match overs in the U15s, and that 6 overs is more than Sam's given me all bloody season, and I did a truly outstanding job of not showing how absurd I thought this whole situation was.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A long-overdue update

I must confess, the fact I haven't updated this blog in a month is not a coincidence. I've had a bit of a mid-season slump for a variety of reasons, so let me go through each one in turn:

Poor captaincy - I'm afraid Sam hasn't really done much to inspire me of late, and while the jury's out on his ability to lead men, I think it's fairly clear he struggles to understand what it takes to captain spinners well. It's now over two months since he called on me to bowl in a match, which is strange considering that on that occasion I took my first wicket. Granted, against Porthill I did tell him not to bowl me as my shoulder was playing up, but the game at Onneley was a classic of the genre. He brought Azar on to bowl who proceeded to deliver an awful over that went for 18 runs. Sam said he'd bring me on later but wanted to give Azar a chance to find his rhythm. Azar bowled two more overs before, with the 9th wicket falling at the other end, Sam told me to warm up. It turned out the opposition only had 10 batsmen so the innings was over and I hadn't got a bowl. This wouldn't have bothered me so much if Sam hadn't been in quite such a rush to take me off after I went for 18 in my first over earlier in the year, but then Azar bowls seam-up... Saturday was another strange example, as I was left out of the team but was asked to act as sub for most of the innings for a player who had to go home to sort out his dog. The question has to be asked - if I'm available all afternoon and he isn't, why is he in the team while I'm not? Of course the usual caveat applies to Sam - he's still only 20 so I don't want to be too hard on him, in overall team terms the league table shows he must be doing something right.

Other spin options - I must be honest and say that in most conditions there are better spin options available to the fourths. Harry, who you may recall I was watching with interest in pre-season, has turned out to be a very good bowler of leg-spin, with at least two five-fers at a reasonable economy rate. It's hard to believe this is his first year of bowling leg-spin, and if that wasn't enough he's also an excellent lower order batsman and fielder. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted that Harry is doing so well, and it's great for the club to have a promising young leg-spinner developing at such a rate, but sadly (for me at least) he's been keeping me out of the team. He's now been called up to the 2nds so hopefully he'll be able to make the step up and establish his place there, but then there's Amar, a reasonably good off-spinner who takes the odd wicket and rarely bowls badly. He's very much a containing off-spinner and this probably suits the captain's temperament better than my "buy a wicket and don't haggle too much" style.

Annoying club-mates - I'm sorry to say a small number of the other guys at the club have had a very negative impact on my enthusiasm and motivation, as they seem hell-bent on winding me up at every available opportunity or are at least uninterested in how their behaviour affects my mindset. I don't mind people having a bit of a laugh, but when things are pursued well beyond the point where it has gone from being funny to being just plain tedious I must admit I am less tolerant. Karl for example seems determined that whenever I bowl at him he will, as a matter of routine, come down the wicket to take the ball on the full. Every ball. Now Karl is 2nd team standard, so I doubt he learns too much from it, and I learn precisely nothing - it's just a waste of my time and effort bowling at him. Likewise by the time it comes around to my turn to bat all too often some of the better bowlers (who I've bowled at when they were in) have gone over to use the slip cradle so I don't get to face their bowling. Add to that all the general chatter that goes on during nets, which disrupts my concentration pretty regularly, and I struggle to make the most of what precious few hours of net practise I get.

Injuries - My body has started to fail me in a couple of ways, firstly it was tendinitis in my right shoulder which required a bit of rest, and since then my right knee is struggling to cope with the stress it is subjected to as I follow through. This latter problem is now the principle limiting factor on how long I can bowl for, so sooner or later I either need to strengthen the knee or change my action.

Diminished effort - For all these reasons, I have to say recently I have not been working on my bowling as hard as I should. Given that I haven't been getting a bowl in matches this is a classic downward spiral that leads ultimately to my bowling suffering terribly. In the last few days I've started to really force myself to put in the full amount of practise hours, but it's a real struggle to stay motivated when I'm bowling badly and it would be all too easy to just jump in the car and go home.

So, where do I go from here? I suppose I just have to reboot and start again trying to get back to the work rate, enthusiasm and motivation I had at the start of the season. My fielding has continued to consistently improve although I'm still not yet at a level I would consider good enough. My bowling has plateaued a little in its overall quality although I am making progress on my flipper - I've got a decent action and now just need to develop some consistency and control. My Batting has also plateaued and I'm afraid I really need to go back to the Janet and John level and work back from there if I'm to make any real progress.

I do definitely have a game at the weekend, and as mentioned above Harry is now in the 2nds while other bowlers have gone on holiday, so I should get a few overs. It's against Aston, the same team I had a disastrous game against earlier in the season, so I shouldn't struggle for motivation. My mindset is simple: F*** 'em. F*** Aston, f*** the captain who never picks me, f*** my annoying team-mates and f*** my fragile shoulders - I'll show them...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

My first wrong 'un

Apologies that I haven't been updating the blog much lately, I've been rather too busy playing cricket to actually write about it. Anyway, two major landmarks to record today - I bowled my first functioning googly today, and also my first off-spinning flipper.

I've been worried about my googly. I've tried bowling it and it just never seemed to work. Either it'd come out as a top-spinning leg-break, or else it just wouldn't come out at all. I wondered whether my low arm made it impossible for me to bowl one, as I seem to be able to get the action from hand to hand. Anyway, I finally managed to bowl one today and I can remember it feeling distinctly different to how I imagined it would. It didn't turn much, but the main thing is it DID turn. It WAS a googly.

As for my flipper, I've tried bowling a few in the last couple of weeks and it's getting somewhere, and tonight somehow they were all coming out with a little off-spin on them. I wasn't trying to put it there but they were useful balls so I started trying to do it deliberately and it seemed to work OK. Hopefully with a bit of work they should be properly ready by the start of next season, and might even be useful this year if I've run out of alternatives.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A mad rush

Saturday was my first match on Stafford's main square, which I've been looking forward to for some time.

The couple of hours before the match seemed to bring one minor annoyance after another, as first the guy I'd offered to give a lift to the ground decided he wanted picking up half an hour later than agreed, then the traffic in town was a nightmare, and then once I'd arrived I helped take the covers off before Sam gave me the job of collecting the subs. While I was doing so everyone else was mucking about and I ended up getting hit on the foot by a cricket ball - not hard enough to injure but just enough to annoy. All I had wanted was to turn up nice and early and get some bowling practise in but more and more things seemed to be getting in the way.

Bugger it. With all but two players having paid up I left the subs behind the bar and went for a bowl. As it turned out I was bowling pretty well, with lots of turn and that feeling of command I get when I'm bowling well. The opposition turned up so I made sure they could see a few really hard-spun leggies that turned miles, and I was feeling good.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

OK, so the headline actually relates to the 1st team's new pro, a slow left-armer, but it made me giggle and I do get a mention later on in the article...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

What a difference a week makes!

Well if last week was the worst I've ever known so far, this was definitely the best. I finally got that wicket I've been working so hard for these last 16 months, I got my first run of the season, the 4ths got our first win of the season, and I played two enjoyable matches against two teams who were both wonderfully friendly. It could not have been more different to last week's match.

Saturday's game was against Church Eaton, and while it had been raining quite heavily on Friday night and Saturday morning, we got to the ground and found the wicket a little damp but not too sticky, and the game was on. We lost the toss and were put into bat, I went out to umpire and although we lost the first wicket early on and then continued to lose them at regular intervals we were humming along nicely with Sam's brother Dan making a very impressive 54 not out. I myself was batting at 11 and came in with three and a half overs to go and the score on 181, but sadly after what was by all accounts a very solid block to the first ball I couldn't repeat it and the second ball beat the bat and ripped out middle to end the innings.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Blown to smithereens

Today was, quite simply, the most frustrating day I've ever spent on a cricket field. I got to the club pretty early hoping to have a bowl to make sure everything was working right, but whenever I went to use them someone else got there first for some throw-downs. Fair enough, they're not my personal nets and if the visiting team players want some throw-downs before their match I'm not in a position to stop them.

When I finally did get a net to myself it wasn't working brilliantly. There was a huge gusty crosswind, the same one that's been blowing across the nets and wickets pretty much all week. By coincidence I was reading another part of Philpott's book only the night before where he criticises any spinner who doesn't take a mental note of which way the wind's blowing as soon as he arrives at the ground. At least that's one mistake I didn't make, and I said to Sam that if the wind stayed the same I'd prefer to bowl from the far end so the wind drifted the ball towards leg. It turned out to be a rather big if...

Friday, 29 April 2011

"It's not deep enough..."

...That was Donald Bradman's response to the opinion that all coaches should wear concrete boots and be chucked into Sydney harbour. After last night I can see what he means. A single piece of advice, delivered by a well-meaning coach at a fatal moment, caused my bowling to fall apart almost completely last night. And when my bowling falls apart, my batting and fielding are sure to follow soon after. I won't say any more about last night, it really is best forgotten...

Anyway, today half a dozen of us pitched up at the club at 2 and had a bit of a net. After last night's problems I was keen to get it out of my system and get my rhythm back. I wasn't totally successful but it was at least passable. When I got to bat the guys gave me a good half an hour, trying to get my feet moving to the pitch of the ball, and by the end of it I was doing pretty well with some really solid blocks. It was great to get more than the regulation 10 minute net and I'm really grateful to the guys. By the end of it I was knackered and bathed in sweat - I even had to take my helmet off half-way through because I was getting so hot and bothered.

Having taken my pads off, had a rest and a ciggie and mopped all the sweat off my brow I went over and got ready to bowl. One of the guys said "Come on mate, lets see what you got" and I bowled. It's not the best ball I've ever bowled, but it wasn't too far down leg and I did get a good rip on it. Duncan came down the wicket to smash it away, but it dipped under his bat, turned and went straight onto the top of middle stump. Not bad first up! To be honest it was just what I needed to get my confidence back. Later on after we'd finished and the juniors pitched up at 6 I bowled for a time and did exactly the same thing to one of them.

Tomorrow's opponents are Aston, not terribly popular amongst Stafford folk as they nicked a few of our players a year or two back. Sam's said he's going to bat me further down the order, 8 or 9 probably, but I'm not too interested in how I get on with the bat. I want that wicket.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Getting back on the horse

I had a pretty infuriating weekend, and on Monday night I had a bowl in the nets while there was a match on and it was the most incredible waste of time. The wind was wrong - gusting and coming from the worst possible direction, there was people mucking around in the next-door net, there were people milling around, I couldn't concentrate and I was just getting really pissed off because whatever I tried my bowling was terrible. I really was in an industrial-strength grump over the whole thing, not so much a loss of confidence as a deep frustration.

Then, happily, later that night I picked up my copy of The Art of Wrist-Spin Bowling and after an hour or two's reading I'd got my mojo back. If a man like Philpott, who was good enough to bowl leggies at Test level, is telling me I'm approaching things the right way, then that means more than any number of "well bowled"s from non-leggie club-mates. That book really is incredible, so clear, so supportive, and so enthusiastic about leg-spin and - crucially - leg-spinners. I let Dunc borrow my copy over the winter and I've only just got it back. In future I'll guard it with my life!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

No runs, no wickets.

Yesterday our season finally started, and while afterwards I felt a little down about how I'd got on, nevertheless the 4ths as a whole had plenty of positives to take away from it despite losing by six wickets.

We lost the toss and were put in to bat, and we did an extremely good job overall, getting to drinks with 100 up and just 3 wickets down. Unfortunately once I had to go and pad up the quality of scoring in the book deteriorated somewhat so I can't tell you what exactly the situation was as I went in to bat, save that the first four batsman had scored 76 between them, Duncan was well set in his late 20s and a fair few byes had been given away so it was probably about 115 for 4 when I went in with 20ish overs remaining.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

This is it then - over the top...

It's 1am on Saturday morning. I had hoped to be asleep in bed hours ago, but I can't sleep. I can't stop thinking about tomorrow's today's game.

It's been a year, three months and twenty-two days since I first started this blog, and since then I've been working my bollocks off to be a better cricketer. I still have a long way to go before I've reached the limit of how far I can improve, but with a few matches last season and a pretty intensive pre-season preparation I'm now in a position to do two things I've never done before: perform well, and under-perform.

Last year was all very well but it simply didn't ultimately matter to me or anyone else whether I was out for a duck, or bowled a wide, or committed a misfield, as that was only to be expected. This season I'm in a position to score a few runs and take a few wickets, and while the technical aspects of my fielding hasn't significantly improved to my knowledge, my increased understanding of the game means I should be better able to anticipate when the ball will come to me, thus I should also be more effective in this area.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Putting my best foot forward

I made a couple of interesting discoveries at nets tonight, one relating to bowling and one to batting.

My bowling was the same as ever, some wonderfully tricky balls, some OK deliveries, the odd wicket and a few sprayed wide. The sprayed balls were largely the result of a loss of concentration, as the nets are pretty well attended and it can be pretty hard to focus at times - having to start your run-up from outside the line of the net doesn't help. Hopefully in a match I'll be better able to concentrate and this should remove some of the poorer deliveries.

I batted half-way through (Hyacinth got the gig today) and the coach was observing. After a few balls he came down and asked about my trigger. I explained how I was using it to prevent myself from backing away and he said it was a good idea, but he suggested I move my left leg first rather than my right so I don't get caught in a closed stance, and try to make some more positive movements forward and back. I tried it a bit and it seemed to help quite a lot, with more of a feeling that I was able to come further forward. It wasn't bullet-proof by any means, but it was a definite improvement. I wasn't trying to hit out, and again I was quite happy to leave balls, but by the end I felt I was seeing the ball well and able to try and drive the ball, and although my upper body messed things up a bit it was promising. Anyway, the really good thing is all winter I've made steady progress with my batting, and I've still got room for improvement.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Bowling, bowling, bowling...

We went out for lunch today so for only the second time since pre-season training began I missed nets. However, with the weather as it was I popped down for a solo session at about 5:30 this evening and I must have bowled for over two hours.

There was a certain amount of extra motivation today as our first match next Saturday is the most local of local derby games: Stafford 3rd XI against Stafford 4th XI. Last night, following the 3rds' first game - a straightforward win against a weak side - a few of the 3rds and 4ths (including your humble narrator) went out on the town for a curry and a fair amount of alcohol. As you can imagine, there was a fair amount of mind games and kidology going around. There was also a fair few compliments for my bowling including from Ali, the 3rds captain, although to what extent this was another part of the mind games is anyone's guess! Anyway, compliments are neither here nor there - all I need to do is spin the ball hard and land it on the spot. Do that, and the rest will take care of itself...

Friday, 15 April 2011

A turning point...?

No video for you this time, I thought I'd just go and have a normal net without the hours of editing afterwards. As usual I started off with some gentle standing-start bowling drills in an empty net, but wasn't totally satisfied with how everything was feeling. Sure enough when I started bowling at batsmen it wasn't clicking and I was bowling some really poor balls - wides, long-hops, full-tosses and none of them with much rip. Anyway, I persevered with only modest improvement until it came to my turn to bat.

After the summary failure that was my slog-athon on Sunday, I decided this time to just play my own game, i.e. defensively - block the good balls, leave anything that was neither hitting nor hittable, and only try to attack the really bad balls. Sadly the guys bowling at me were, to be frank, rather inaccurate and I probably left more than half of the balls I faced. I only hit out at a couple, was bowled once and gave away only a couple of catching chances.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Hitting out, getting out...

Another weekend, another net. This time it was pretty much a 4ths-only affair as the 1sts and 2nds have both started playing matches now. Indeed, I did the scorebook for the 1sts on Saturday as they kicked off with a friendly match against Newport.

For once I wasn't one of the first to pitch up, but since only one net was in use I had a chance to practise on my own for a bit. I went through the standing start drill to begin with, then moved on to normal bowling. I was doing OK, I suppose I've raised my sights a bit so occasionally I feel my bowling isn't quite on the mark when it's still leaps and bounds better than what I would have considered acceptable in February. Anyway, I bowled a few at the batsman before getting my pads on and going in. Again I had he camera running, so you can see for yourself. Order of the day was to try to smack every ball:

Thursday, 7 April 2011

"It's just so tempting"

Nets this evening was fun, got another bruise for the collection, and got a fair few stumpings too!

I got about 15 minutes worth of solo bowling in before my net was taken over by others, but it wasn't coming out quite as I'd like. I got padded up and went in, with the personal brief of remembering that left-right trigger and playing with a defensive mindset. Here it is ball-by-ball:

Monday, 4 April 2011

On the pull

Yesterday's nets was a bit of a strange one. I turned up ever so slightly early and started bowling to an empty net trying out a new run-up (more below), then when 3pm turned I got my pads on since there were plenty there but no-one padding up. It turned out to be an inspired tactical move as only myself and Sam (and two in the next-door net) got a bat before the heavens opened. For the first time I had a camera rolling so here's the highlights and lowlights: (should you wish to, you can see the full unedited 'innings' here)

In contrast with last Sunday, where the second ball cannoned into my left ankle, this week as you'll see I played the shot of my fledgling cricket career. It was lovely, a low front-footed pull shot, hit powerfully and safely through mid-wicket. It happened so quickly and effortlessly. Happy birthday to me. Smack. Middled. Four. "Fetch that and bowl me another..."

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Leg-spin action - 2011 edition

After the World Cup final finished (well done to India on a great win, by the way) the weather was so lovely I thought I'd pop and have a bowl for an hour or so, and took the camera with me. Here's the result:

Friday, 1 April 2011

The joy of an empty net

The juniors had the nets this evening so I was limited to using them before and after they did. I could have bowled at the juniors but didn't want to waste their valuable practise time with a load of wides so just watched what was going on, how people were batting and bowling and so on. There's one U17 who bowls leg spin and after watching about a dozen of his deliveries I had a word as he was too side-on coming into his delivery stride. There's also an off-spinner who I was watching closely as his pivot is the best I've ever seen, just absolutely perfect.

Anyway I had about half an hour before they finished their fielding drills and I started off with the standing start drill, then tried bowling a few stock balls and then started mucking about trying flippers and off-spinners and the like. To be honest I perhaps should have been more disciplined but I was curious to know what level I was at with those deliveries as I haven't been able to try them out while I've had a batsman at the other end. Lets just say I think I'll be sticking to my tried and tested leggie / top-spinner / zooter trio for the foreseeable future...

Oh no, not again...

Today was our first outdoor nets of the year, and after all that's gone on in the past few weeks I'm afraid it was a huge let down. I bowled terribly, batted terribly, and my catching was as every bit as terrible as ever.

I don't know what it is about the outside nets. They're slightly smaller than the nets we use indoors so maybe I have some sort of subliminal claustrophobia or I lose my frame of reference, but today my bowling was, quite simply, abject. After bowling maybe two bad balls in an hour on Sunday, this evening the equation was reversed as I only bowled two or three balls of any real quality. One was an absolute peach, and I knew when it came out of the hand that I'd hit the third-finger sweet spot, with my good mate Duncan spooning the ball up for a dolly of a caught-and-bowled that even I could have taken. But still, the simple fact is if it had been a match I would have been taken off long before that delivery, with wide after wide (and some pretty big wides at that) and my previously immaculate length having totally and utterly deserted me. It was miserable. To be honest, it was absolutely heartbreaking.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ice ice baby

After that rather nasty blow I took on the ankle this weekend just gone, I'm pleased to report that it's nothing serious and it seems to be sorting itself out remarkably quickly. It's about a day and a half since I got hit, and after spending yesterday struggling to even walk, right now my ankle is up to about 90-95% of it's normal range of movement and the pain is virtually gone save for the odd twinge.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

In the wars but undefeated

Today's nets were probably my most encouraging yet. My bowling was exeptionally good, and my batting was, to use a cliché, "gritty", but pretty effective. Sadly they were also the most painful yet, as you'll find out below...

I really was exceptionally pleased with my bowling today. As far as I can remember there were only two (yep, just two) bad balls, and plenty of played-and-missed, nailed-on stumpings and a few catching chances. My line and length throughout was absolutely superb, and I think it's safe to say it's the best I've ever bowled at a batsman over a sustained period. It all felt so wonderfully natural. I'm feeling pretty confident about getting a regular bowl on merit now, and pretty confident of taking my share of wickets. I'm over the moon, to be honest.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Steady progress

Nets today was another good day for me, my bowling in particular feeling very solid and pretty consistent. I've definitely hit on a good trajectory as time and again I'm consistently beating the batsmen in flight. It's giving my confidence a big boost to know that I'm bowling mostly good balls and my wayward deliveries are slowly disappearing. People are beginning to notice my improvement and hopefully Sam will be able to have confidence in what he'll be getting if he brings me on to bowl.

There was one batsman who seemed to be smacking everyone about and I couldn't find a way to beat him, but looking at the field I tend to imagine setting (see the diagram on the left, if it's not clear enough click on it) I doubt he would have scored too many, and his singles would have got him off strike anyway. I did get him to edge one to or possibly just over the slip. Most other batsman appeared to be having real trouble dealing with the way I flight the ball so like I say, I'm pretty confident that given enough time in the middle to establish a rhythm I can do a decent enough job and, most importantly, TAKE WICKETS.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Double Plus Good

Finally today, everything felt right. It feels as if I'm beginning to get the hang of this ridiculously technical sport. OK, it wasn't perfect, but for once I came away satisfied with both my batting and my bowling.

As usual, I started off bowling, and in fact I asked Sam to give me the last batting slot so my bowling wouldn't be interrupted. One thing which helped was that I didn't face any left-handers today, but while that's still a question mark I should focus on the positives. My bowling was a little wayward at the start, but in a short time I found a decent length and was bowling a lot of dot balls and possible singles. As usual the batsmen were out to slog, but I still think my imaginary field would be a very effective one in the middle.

Monday, 7 March 2011

At least my inconsistency is consistent

Apologies for the lack of updates lately, I missed nets last week as my dad turned 60 and we had a family day. I've finally finished the post on nets the week before last, and that's below this one. As for nets today, rather frustratingly while my batting was much better than last week, my bowling took a dip. Why I can't get them both to improve simultaneously God only knows, and it's rather a pain.

So first, the bowling. I suppose I'm being hard on myself, as I was bowling a reasonable length from the start and feeling fairly rhythmical, but the end result somehow failed to satisfy. Again, I was lacking spin and not feeling that "flick", something I'm becoming increasingly concerned about as I'm simply not turning the ball as much as I could last year. My top-spinners do dip and my zooters do float, but I'm not detecting any drift from my leggies. For once I was disciplined enough not to venture outside these three variations, but the batsmen didn't seem to be in any way uncomfortable. At least my mental field settings seem to be fundamentally sound, and in the middle it probably wouldn't have been anything like the run-fest it looked like.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Curate's egg

I don't really know how to describe nets today, I was just about good enough not to be especially bad, and just about bad enough not to be especially good. I suppose on balance I'm a little disappointed that I haven't continued my recent improvements.

My bowling was OK as it goes, I was bowling a reasonably decent line and for once it was my length that was wayward to begin with. I have to confess I was very tired even before nets began, so maybe my concentration wasn't what it should be. My run-up was still a big mess! One guy was hitting out so I started throwing in top-spinners and zooters and managed to stitch him up good and proper with a ball even the most average keepers could have fashioned a stumping out of. A decisive victory for me!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Diagnosis of Leg Spin disorder

Chippyben, a regular partcipant in the spin bowling section of the BigCricket forum, recently posted this and it's so brilliant I couldn't help but share it with you:
Leg Spin Disorder

A disorder that has elements of a mania and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sufferers have an overwhelming desire to make the batsman look stupid. They have trouble defining cricket from real life. Nothing pervades their thoughts as much as the dilemma of how to put the most possible spin on a cricket ball. All round objects must be picked up and spun. Sufferers feel an overwhelming need to bowl and refraining from it causes mental anguish similar to that of a drug dependence.
Sufferers can bowl alone for hours in a seemingly monotonous task with ever increasing determination until dark or exhaustion overcomes them.They often come away dissatisfied and already planning the next session. They seem to prefer this solo bowling.
The most severe cases can involve googly syndrome. A mania inside a mania where sufferers become so obsessed with one aspect of leg spin bowling they fail to be able to perform any other leg spin deliveries and becomes seriously frustrated.

Recognising the Disorder

- A distant stare whilst making strange contorted movements with the wrist
- Constant acting out of the bowling action, no matter the environment
- Spinning any object that comes to hand


There is no known cure. The only relief is a perfectly flighted leg break that drifts a little before biting sharply, turning and clipping the off bail. Unfortunatelythe relief is only temporary and may result in increasing obsession.
The disorder is worsened by poor and unsympathetic captaincy which can result in a feeling of isolation and for them to seek comfort in their fellow sufferers.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A Mushroom Cloud Laying Motherf***er

It had all started so well...

I got to nets slightly early this week. One of our local rivals has the nets for the slot before ours, so after a couple of minutes they left and I had time for two or three practise balls before the first batsman had padded up. My bowling today showed some steady progress on last week. I bowled a good, more consistent line, got more spin and the batsmen were playing me with more respect. A new run-up seems to be emerging, but it wasn't consistent. One encouraging thing was that even though my last few steps were a bit tangled I was still bowling reasonably straight, so maybe the accuracy is coming, and perhaps some of the work I've been doing in the gym is starting to pay off in terms of my muscles working in a more co-ordinated fashion. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the progress I'm making with my bowling so far, so fingers crossed I should have some good overs to contribute this season.

I had a bat towards the end of the hour, and again it seemed mostly promising. I was trying out a backlift I'd been working on during the week and it seemed to help a lot with my timing. I wasn't bowled once (if you discount one which dribbled off my thigh-pad and bat back on to the stump) which is pretty much a first. Again my leg glance seemed to be my best shot, and given this perhaps I shouldn't look to leave quite so many leg-side balls. I did bat pretty seriously, no silly slogs, but the one really black mark was that my footwork was, not for the first time, virtually non-existent. I'm finding it extremely frustrating but it wasn't for lack of trying, my legs just don't seem to react fast enough. Anyway, despite rather more edges than I'd like I am continually improving how often I manage to get a good hit on the ball. With my pads off I went back to bowling for a little while, but with about 5 minutes left I bowled a very nice ball and decided to call it a day on a high note.

Then we had our fielding session, and the wheels came off a bit.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Encouraging signs...?

I was back at Blessed Bill's for nets today, and came away feeling heaps better than I did last week. Firstly, my bowling was much better, with the ball coming out reasonably well, landing in the right areas most of the time and on occasion I was putting the batsmen in trouble. I'm not bowling as well as I can, but for some reason it was much, much better than last week. I felt as if I was taking my time more and bowling in a slower and more relaxed way, so maybe last week was a temporary reversion to the same problems I started with last year, trying to bowl too fast and too flat. I still struggled badly against left-handers, so that's definitely something I need to work on. Another potential dark cloud is that there was another leg-spinner bowling today who looked pretty handy, so maybe I've got some pretty stiff competition!

The coach asked us to have a think about what we were aiming at when we bowled, to which I replied that I could tell him straight away - I first look for where I want to plant my back foot, then change focus to where I want the ball to land. He said I ought to work on not having to do the first part, but it seemed to affect my rhythm so I went back to my tried and tested method. It may be that I can sort this out when I practise on my own, but in these nets I can't afford to waste too much time on it. My run-up does need a lot of work, as since I junked my original run-up I haven't yet settled on a replacement - I just walk in and improvise.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Back in the nets, back in the side netting...

This afternoon we had our first net session after the winter lay-off, with two slight changes on last year: firstly, we had a coach present, and secondly, we only had an hour of nets instead of the two hours we had previously. This latter situation meant there was no time for me to have a bat, which is rather frustrating, although I do understand that new players needed assessing and with it being the first session we had a higher turn-out than I expect we'll have in later sessions.

Another thing that was frustrating was my bowling. Virtually every aspect was frustrating. For some reason I was spraying down the off-side, pretty much the same as I had been doing at the start of last year. It kept on happening and since I couldn't have a camera rolling I only have other people's opinions to go by - and to be honest I'm not sure if they properly understand what I'm trying to do. Phil, a great guy, was trying to be as helpful as he could and from his feedback it seems I was bowling with a bent arm and/or getting too front-on too early. I tried my best to figure it out but it kept happening.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Pre-season preparations

Apologies, my blogging this Ashes series has been absolutely non-existent. Of course, you didn't need me to tell you how well England played, and having stayed up every night for a couple of months I've been suffering from a fair amount of "jet-lag". Anyway, nets start at the end of January as a new season beckons. It seems I've spent all winter looking forward to it, when I've not been up at all hours watching cricket.

Over the winter I've done a fair amount of reading, and have now read all three of C.V. Grimmett's books - Taking Wickets, Tricking the Batsman and Grimmett on Cricket - as well as books by two more of yesteryear's great leg-spinners - I'll Spin You a Tale by Eric Hollies and 10 for 66 and All That by Arthur Mailey. The latter two have rather less to say about the technique of leg-spin but are both entertaining and interesting reads. Mailey's description of the day he bowled Victor Trumper with a Wrong 'Un has a fun counterpoint in Hollies' description of his dismissal of Sir Donald Bradman, again with a Wrong 'Un. Mailey has rather more sympathy for his victim, which probably says as much about the batsmen as it does the bowlers!