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.