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.

I went in trying simply to occupy the crease, block the good balls, leave the wide balls and attack the poor balls. Duncan wasn't too far off a half-century so I was mostly looking to support him. We did quite well, scoring 5 an over for three or so overs but after I got left on strike I got a bit bogged down. Everything was being bowled outside off and while I was conscious of not being off the mark yet I was still happy to leave most of it alone. I seemed to be there forever, but Duncan and I did a reasonable job and probably put on about 20. Duncan got out on 40 and Raja came in and immediately got off the mark. While I was facing I was still just blocking and leaving as there was nothing for me to hit, but it was clear that the bowler was gradually working me out as I played and missed a few before finally deciding to attack - as soon as I did I spooned the ball up high into the air and was caught having faced 15 balls. It was a bit of a silly way to get out, and not a very satisfying innings from an individual point of view, but for the team the runs I helped Duncan and Raja put on were worthwhile. At least my concentration was good even if my footwork was virtually non-existent.

Raja carried on, hitting one memorable 6 before getting out for 17, and Nick Finlay made a useful 21 before one new guy came in at number 10 and hit 32, including an even bigger 6 than Raja's! At the end we had made 226 for 9 after 50 overs. Batting our full allocation was a major achievement as was passing 200 - it really was a good feeling all round for the 4ths and we all seemed to know what our role was, even if I think Sam should have batted me at least 2 if not 3 or 4 places further down the card. Number 6 is just too high for me and given my mindset it probably always will be, although I suppose I could prove a decent opening bat if my technique improves. But middle order? I think not.

We went into the field optimistic that we'd set a target that would stretch the 3rds and that we had at least given ourselves a chance of winning. The 3rds go off to a brisk start but stumbled a little as the went from 68 for 1 to 82 for 4, but once Ali and another club newcomer called Paul had got in they gradually established a position of relative comfort and proceeded to carefully edge towards the line. We had a very good spirit in the field and overall I think we fielded better than the 3rds, and whereas they conceded 28 runs in extras we only gave away 7. I had one sort-of chance, I think, but I don't know because even though I was watching and concentrating I simply didn't pick the ball up. It may be it got lost in the backdrop of a red-brick building behind, but anyway, I can't catch a ball I can't see so I wasn't too hard on myself about it. I don't know if it was actually catchable or not, but it may have been if I'd really legged it. Anyway, like I say there's not much I can do if I can't see the ball.

It was the 35th over before Sam called on me to bowl, and to be honest I almost thought he'd forgotten me. As the runs slowly totted up it became clear we were almost certainly bound to lose and the closer they got the more it seemed to me that there were simply not enough runs to play with for putting me on to make tactical sense. When I did come on it was in quite possibly the worst circumstances possible. On the one hand we had Ali, a canny, experienced left-hander (just about the worst type of batsman for me to bowl at) and at the other end there was Paul, a powerful and solid right-hander who had been my arch-nemesis in the nets throughout pre-season. As if that wasn't bad enough both were very well set and they were only 50 short of the target with six wickets and plenty of overs at their disposal. They had no need to force the issue.

Fuck it. Concentrate, give it a rip and see what happens.

My first ball was a horrendous loosener wide down Ali's leg side, although he moved across a long way to smack it for 4. I corrected my mistake (front arm) and proceeded to bowl much better, with pretty perfect concentration and a fair amount of turn at times, but while I had them sweating a little from time to time they were never seriously threatened. Ali kept most of the strike so I only got about 3 balls at the right-hander (fair dos - it was an effective strategy) while Ali just played it off the pitch. I tried a zooter which floated nicely but was mis-directed down leg for a wide, but my top-spinners were quite effective. I went for 17 in my first 2 overs but was feeling in good nick as I prepared to bowl my third, only to find to my horror that Sam was taking me off!

After they'd knocked off the runs and the match was over I felt pretty depressed to be honest. Many (including Ali) were saying how well I'd bowled, but the major expert on my bowling is me, and I know how well I bowled - it was neither the best I'm capable of, but neither was it too bad. It was acceptable and my concentration was so good I couldn't tell you what field I was bowling to as I was transfixed by thinking about just those things I had to think about. I wasn't too bothered, either, about having conceded three boundaries. What depressed me was the situation was just so totally stacked against me... and I still hadn't got that wicket... and I hadn't got to bowl that third over...

I don't want this to sound like a criticism of Sam, because it's emphatically not. It may be he was waiting for a wicket to fall before bringing me on, then brought me on when it didn't come so I at least got a bowl, and I can't blame him for taking me off after conceding 17 runs and creating no clear chances, or deciding to let some others have a bowl. Overall I think Sam did an excellent job for his first game in charge. Some of his tactical decisions on field placing could be questioned if you were really harsh, but you could say that of virtually any captain at any level at times. Fundamentally though, his leadership of us was extremely impressive for a first go, especially for a guy who's only 20.

Overall, the 4ths can take a lot from this game. The 3rds simply had two batsmen who were patient and got themselves in, and bowlers who consistently challenged us. It was no disgrace to lose and we got our full quota of batting points. We were a united unit, we each batted patiently with a particular role in mind, we fielded well and our bowling was mostly pretty disciplined. We felt like a team, and it bodes well for the future. We just need to carry on as we have since January and we should have a respectable season, as there's plenty of strong players in the team and a good mix too. The 3rds meanwhile are currently top of the league and may have a good shout for the title - time will tell.

Oh, one more thing. After the match I was paid a really nice compliment: Someone said they'd never seen anyone work so hard or improve so much in such a short space of time. It only briefly abated my general grumpiness but it was some welcome encouragement. Lots of the guys at the club give me compliments, and that's great, but ultimately it's results that count...

Good points: Concentration was consistently good at all times in all areas, saw the ball well, was more vocal in the field than in past matches, bowled reasonably well despite trying circumstances.
Points for improvement: Poor shot to get out with, too willing to leave hittable balls, need to develop some reliable shots for balls outside off-stump, fielding could have been a bit more committed, throwing from deep still poor, terrible first ball, need to work on bowling slightly flatter and faster if I'm going to trouble good batsmen who aren't under pressure.

Today's stats: (Stafford 4th XI Vs Stafford 3rd XI, 50 overs each)
Batting: Ct A.Martin, Bd G.Hyde-Farrington, 0 (15bf, 0x4, 0x6 prt: 5th:?, 6th:?)
Bowling: O 2, M 0, W 0, R 17, wd 1
Fielding: Ct 0, St 0, RO 0

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