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...

Before the match the opposition captain came out with a whole load of nonsense as to why three of our players shouldn't be playing. Poor Sam was told he had an hour to find replacements, including replacing himself, or the captain would contact the league and claim it as a forfeit. We checked the rules, he was talking total bollocks, and one of our guys who'd known him previously, and who's normally an incredibly nice guy, went over and, within earshot of his whole team, shouted "Oi {name}! stop being such a ****ing ****, you ****!" That put an end to it. The whole match had a horrid atmosphere about it, as Aston and Stafford really don't get on.

So at last we lost the toss and were put in to field. I was on the boundary again, concentrating reasonably well and to start with I didn't get much trade. When I did I seemed to be fielding pretty solidly but then one ball came rolling along the ground, I got down to it with my hands right behind the line, but somehow the ball brushed the outside of my left hand and deflected off for 4. I wasn't pleased. I threw my hat to the ground and started swearing relatively quietly to myself. Then it happened again, almost exactly the same thing and with the same result. I don't know what on earth was going on, whether the outfield (which is as bobbly and horrible as they come) was to blame or if I wasn't watching the ball right into the hands. I really blew a fuse second time around - it was so frustrating because both times I'd seen the ball early, got in position in textbook fashion and the ball just seemed to travel through me somehow. If I'd known what I was doing wrong it wouldn't have been so bad.

Anyway, I calmed myself down pretty quickly (I seem to find that a lot easier in matches than when I'm in the nets) and to my surprise and delight Sam called me on to bowl as early as the 20th over. The match wasn't going well and he needed me to fashion a breakthrough. Bob set the field, and this time I did have a look and it was almost exactly as I'd have set it, and I measured my run-up, tossed the ball from hand to hand a few times and got ready to bowl. My first ball reached the batsman on the full just on his pads, and he spanked it into the air in the direction of Bob, who was at deep square leg. It didn't quite carry sadly, but my reaction when the ball was in the air wasn't "Catch it!", it was "Hang on, I didn't bowl that there..."

As I turned to walk back to my mark I realised exactly what had happened - the wind had changed. After blowing across the wicket pretty much all week, suddenly, just before I started bowling, it turned into a tailwind right behind me, which had blown what felt a perfectly reasonable ball that extra yard further. It wasn't a small wind either, slightly gusty and about 20 mph, and when you only bowl at 40 mph that's a pretty significant complication.

I aimed a little shorter for the next ball, but again it was pushed onto a full-toss length, and again it was dispatched to the boundary on the leg side. The next one I tried to bowl a top-spinner to get some dip, but again it was a full toss. Again it was picked out of the weeds. Finally I got the fourth ball on a length, but it would ordinarily have been a dragged-down log-hop, and on this occasion it was simply dragged wide. The next ball was a zooter, and somehow it landed on a good line and length and the batsman had to block. Could it really be that with that wind I was getting dip with a back-spinner? Probably not - my zooter action is slightly different and the trajectory was pretty flat. I bowled two more to finish the over, for 18 runs in all, and when the umpire finally called "over" I couldn't help but mutter "thank **** for that" as I retrieved my hat. "Take a rest mate" said Sam, and after that onslaught I was only too happy to comply.

Again, like last week, despite the impossibility of the situation that faced me I was pretty happy with my execution. I was bowling balls that, ordinarily, would have been pretty good with a less unfavourable wind. Even with the wind I had played around and found a solution of sorts eventually, and I hadn't lost my concentration or got down on myself despite the runs I was haemorrhaging. But why did the wind have to do that to me? Why did it have to change at that exact point in the game? I suppose one thing I could take a positive from was that there could nearly have been a catch off the first ball, but I don't think that's too much down to me as it wasn't at all the sort of ball I was intending.

I went back to my mark on the boundary and nursed my wounds. Guess what. In a couple of overs the wind changed back. It almost felt as if it had done it deliberately. The match went on but one of their batsman got on a real roll, smacking poor Sam for a number of simply HUGE sixes, and after 32 overs they declared on 299 for 3. I had my tea but was pretty quiet. We didn't have any proper umpires so Sam said I should do it as I'm pretty even-handed and that he'd bat me down the order but wasn't sure exactly where. As I strode out for my first experience of umpiring, there was a bit more nastiness as two brothers, one who plays for Stafford and the other for Aston, had to be physically restrained from coming to blows. God knows what it was about but it just added to the barely credible atmosphere which hung over the whole game.

I think I did reasonably well as umpire, don't think I miscounted any overs and there wasn't too much for me to do to start with. There were plenty of clearly not out appeals but two required a decision. Firstly Sam's brother Dan was struck on the thigh and it looked very, very close. Something told me not to give it (probably going down leg), so I didn't, but he may have got away with one there. James then got one that pitched on middle and leg and looked like it was going to hit leg. It was another close one and I took my time before deciding I had no reason not to give it and lifted my finger. The other controversy was wides, as there were two young bowlers, one in particular, who did seem rather wayward and given that crosswind I suppose that's not surprising. I seemed to be giving loads of them, but while I may in retrospect have been a little harsh on one or two balls, I didn't give any that I didn't sincerely believe at the time were wide as per the laws.

At the drinks break I handed the coat over to Bob with us five wickets down. Sam told me I was batting at 11 and I wandered over to the clubhouse for a toilet break. When I got back barely three minutes later I had the following exchange with Sam:
Sam: "Come on mate, get your pads on quick - you're next in"
Me: "You what? I thought you said I was batting at eleven?"
Sam: "Yep, you are..."
Me: "Ah..."

I had just about got my pads, thigh guard and box on when the ninth wicket fell. As I walked to the crease I just couldn't stop giggling, the whole situation was just crazy. The order of the day was just to cling on, but my first ball for some inexplicable reason looked like one I should be leaving. The ball swung in, and would have sent the bails flying if it hadn't been deflected right off the middle of the edge of my bat, which I'd hardly moved. My giggling increased somewhat but I managed to block the next three balls. Between overs my partner said "we're just batting it out mate, just got to stay here until the 70th over" and I had a look at the scoreboard. We had 41 overs to go! I had a bit more of a giggle, then I put a straight face on and said to myself "Right, you fancy being night-watchman - here's your test match. Just hang around." Sadly five balls later my partner got out so I was left Not Out on naught. We'd lost by 169 runs.

For me the most traumatic part of the day came after the game. I couldn't believe my bad luck, but at the same time was wondering what I could have done about it. The way I bowl has the advantage of giving away very few long-hops, but I simply cannot at present bowl shorter on command. It's either on a length or a little fuller, and that wind could not have played into this weakness with more pinpoint precision. Manu suggested I could have bowled from further back, and that could well have been a useful tactic, but sadly I didn't think of it at the time. I went out on the town with a few guys to drown my sorrows, and it worked to an extent.

When I finally got home in the wee small hours, I was on my own and finally it all got to me. I was absolutely livid, and I allowed myself to really properly lose my temper to flush all the frustration out. Why had the wind changed? Why had it only changed for a relatively small amount of time, which just happened to coincide with my turn to bowl? Why had the elements conspired to mock me in this way? How am I supposed to get anywhere when these things seem to keep happening? How could I have worked any harder at my bowling? When will I finally get the rewards my considerable effort deserves?

Well it's clear to me that I could not reasonably have put any more effort into my bowling than I have done and am doing. I've made massive improvements in the last few months, and in the two matches so far I have bowled reasonably by my standards but circumstances outside my control have conspired to give me no chance whatsoever. I'm not sure how much more of this I can take, and I've told Sam that if I don't get a wicket next week he'll have to drop me, as on the one hand I would probably be a nervous wreck by that point, and on the other there's no point picking someone who can't bat or field unless they can take wickets and go for less than 10 an over, especially when there's a queue of promising youngsters who could be brought in.

To be honest, I'm not far off being a nervous wreck now. I really, really wish I could just erase this whole week. All day I've had a weird cricketing version of shell-shock - it seems like every time I shut my eyes I see another ball being cracked for four. Still, I've always been well aware that to be a leg-spinner I've got to accept the fact that I'll have plenty of bad days, so I'll just have to absorb it, keep working and just focus on those things that lie within my control. If the Gods are against me, there's nothing I can do about it.

Good points: When bowling remained calm and focused despite extremely trying circumstances, didn't get out.
Points for improvement: Need to acquire the option to bowl shorter, fielding was at times very poor, played the first ball very badly.

Today's stats: (Stafford 4th XI Vs Aston 1st XI, 50 overs each)
Batting: No.11, Not Out, 0 (4bf, 0x4, 0x6 prt: 10th 5)
Bowling: O 1, M 0, W 0, R 18, wd 1
Fielding: Ct 0, St 0, RO 0

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