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.

Pre-season promise

It seems such a long time since pre-season began. It started none too well for me, but after I'd blown away the cobwebs I seemed to be bowling well. My batting was a bit more hit-and-miss, but I thought it was showing signs of progress and I made one or two technical changes which seemed to improve matters. When we moved to outdoor nets there was again a brief period of adjustment but soon I was bowling well again, and having videoed my batting I was able to make a few more improvements to how I go about things, although it mainly showed me just how much work was still to be done. Even so, I went into the season proper with a great deal of optimism...

The early reality-check

...It didn't last long. Our first match was against our own 3rd team, and while my first innings was a relatively long one by my standards (lasting 15 balls), I didn't score any runs, so I was effectively just wasting everybody's time. When I came on to bowl it quickly became clear I wasn't going to get anywhere, as Ali, an experienced left-hander, deftly hogged the strike and milked my bad balls taking no risks with anything half decent. The match situation meant they didn't need to force the issue and they played me very well, and my 2 overs went for 17 runs. Worse was to follow.

Against Aston I was brought on to bowl pleasingly early in the match, but a gusty wind decided to change direction just as I came on to bowl. All my deliveries were pushed onto a full-toss length and after I was mercilessly spanked for 18 runs off my first over, it was hardly surprising I didn't get a second. I may have registered my first not out in our innings, but after the game I was very, very down. I had worked really hard since Christmas and I just didn't see what the point of it all was. For a week afterwards every time I closed my eyes I saw another of my deliveries being slogged for another boundary. It was extremely difficult to motivate myself to practise, and when I did I was confronted with just how crude my bowling still was.

A wicket at last

The 7th May 2011 will forever be marked out as the day I took my first ever wicket, although it transpired it shouldn't have happened at all. We were well on our way to winning the match when at last I was brought on to bowl with just one wicket remaining. Sam hadn't intended to bring me on but Chigsy had pleaded my case and I bowled a decent first over for 4 singles. I just about overheard Sam telling Ryan to warm up ready to replace me, so I pretty much knew my second over would be my last, and frankly I wasn't best pleased with Sam. Anyway, my first ball beat the #11 completely but missed the stumps, my second was hit to a fielder for no run, and for my third I decided to bowl a top-spinner. It landed nicely albeit a little too leg-side, bounced on the batsman and he spooned it up high to fine leg, where my good mate Bob was ready to take a comfortable catch to end the match. I think the pleasure came after, my initial reaction was a deep, deep relief. I let out a loud, visceral yell and ran straight over to Bob to thank him. When we got back to Stafford the guys were very nice, everyone shook my hand and congratulated me. After the previous week's bloodbath I felt entitled to enjoy the moment.

Slow but steady progress

The day after I'd taken my first wicket I had another game and was given a five-over spell. It felt very different, and perhaps I hadn't fully realised how badly the Aston game had knocked my confidence. My figures weren't that special, but it was good experience and it was nice to feel like an active part of the team rather than a bit-part player. The following week I was pretty miffed not to get a bowl against Wooton on the main square, as my bowling in the nets that morning had been very good. The following day I was brought back down to earth as a dodgy ball and dodgier bowling saw me concede 22 off 2 overs. It set up a nail-biting tie involving me rushing to get my pads on to go in for the last four balls, and I'm proud of how calmly I dealt with the situation, nurdling the single needed to get the set batsman on strike for the last two balls.

I wasn't picked for the 4th team's next two home games, and it began to become apparent that when I was picked for away games it was mainly because they needed me to drive players there. Frankly I found that pretty insulting but I couldn't afford to turn down the chance to play. Still, I kept practising my bowling and it seemed to be improving, with a good performance in a friendly yielding a wicket, and I was even chosen for the 3rds for the first time. I bowled pretty well and with a favourable wind and match scenario I took another wicket which turned out to be pretty handy. It felt as if my bowling was reaching a new peak, even if my batting wasn't really going anywhere.

The lost month

Given that at this point I was bowling the best I ever had, and had started regularly threatening wickets, it was, to say the least, rather disappointing that I then went a whole month without being called upon to bowl. True, I had been unavailable for the Sunday team, but I got so fed up of not getting picked for home games then when we played away driving rather ungrateful team-mates to far-flung corners of the county, batting at 10 or 11 and coming back with no overs to show for it. The final insult came in the second 3rds vs 4ths game, where I wasn't picked but was brought on for 26 overs as a sub fielder, only to find that no less than 6 of the guys playing in the match hadn't at that point paid their annual subs, and to date the player I subbed for (who that day had to tend to his dog of all things) still hasn't paid his.

I really was fed up with the 4ths by then. I know brownie points shouldn't count for too much in league matches, but I was driving players, doing the scoring pretty much every match, doing some umpiring and paying my fees promptly, and yet I wasn't getting any benefit in kind whatsoever. When I then played in a friendly where I came on as non-striker for the last ball and then didn't get a bowl, I half-wondered if I'd ever get to bowl again. Needless to say, my early-season motivation had by this point utterly vanished.

I did finally get a bowl away to Aston, but even then the manner of it was pretty miserable. I'd told Sam, and anyone else who cared to listen, just how pissed off I was that I wasn't getting a bowl, and before the Aston game he said "we haven't got much bowling so you'll get a few overs", and I made it pretty clear that if I didn't he could get someone else to drive to the remaining away games. In the event I was once again hanging around in the field waiting for a bowl, even waiting while a junior - who gets plenty of overs for the Under 15s - was allowed his full quota of six overs. Finally with Sam overhearing that they were about to declare, I was brought on to bowl the penultimate over. Unsurprisingly given the circumstances I bowled pretty poorly, they went after me but I did at least take a wicket. Our next game was at home - rather predictably I wasn't picked.

A mixed bag

Thankfully, from here on I got to play every game, and bowled in every game too. Next time out against Wooton I took my best figures of the season, and our best of the match, bowling 4 overs for 11 runs and taking 2 wickets in the space of 3 balls. They came at an important time in the game so I was very happy with that performance, and perhaps it was this that meant I got a regular chance to bowl thereafter. Still, my performances weren't great - in my next three games for the 4ths I didn't take a wicket and leaked a fair few runs. In my defence for the first 2 of those games we only had 10 players and the field settings were set by the captain, not me, and in the third game the ball was very, very wet and the game was already lost. I did take a wicket for the Sunday XI at last, bowling a decent 7 over spell for 56 runs. Still, my bowling didn't seem to have returned to the level I was at before the start of my 'lost month'.

The final flourish

Sadly on tour we were reduced to playing just the one match, although I did get to try my hand at captaincy for the first time. I'm not sure I exactly covered myself in glory and it was clear I haven't got enough experience yet to do a proper captaincy job. Still, my bowling was much improved, partly thanks to having the right field setting, and I took two wickets in two balls to put myself on a hat-trick for the first time. My hat-trick ball was OK but didn't bag a wicket. Once again I ended with our best figures of the match, and in what turned out to be my final league game I was again the best bowler.

In fact, in that last game I finally recovered the form of mid-season, bowling consistently and cleverly - I was on top of the batsmen throughout. A 5.1 over spell for 12 runs tells its own story, and I finally completed my first maiden over. More precious still, my last ball of the season rendered me my 10th wicket, to equal my pre-season target. It was a good way to end.

No comments:

Post a Comment