Monday, 21 May 2012

Finger update

The swelling on my finger was still evident today so I rang NHS Direct for some advice, and the nice lady who spoke to me said that a trip to A&E might be in order. After a fairly lengthy but not unreasonable wait, my finger was seen to by a doctor who, after the odd prod and squeeze here and there - "Does this hurt? No... Does this hurt? No... Does this hurt? YES!!!" - sent me for an X-ray. Three X-rays and a short wait later I was told they suspect there's a small fracture just above the joint that was dislocated, but that otherwise I should retain full function in the finger once it's healed. I've got to see a specialist on Monday, but for now I'm out of action for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Adding injury to insult

Well if last weekend was frustrating, this weekend took the biscuit. We were up against Aston, and as with last week we had the relatively new innovation of a warm-up before the game. After a bit of gentle running around playing catch we moved on to an exercise where one person would lob the ball up in the air for an oncoming fielder to catch. I had already set off to catch a ball when Dan, keen to make the exercise a little more challenging, started telling me to touch the ground before catching the ball, which threw me enough to not quite get my hands under it, resulting in a dropped catch and an unusual sensation in my right hand.

As I looked down I was somewhat perturbed to see the little finger on my right hand pointing in a highly unorthodox direction. Having never broken a bone or dislocated a joint in my life I really didn't have the first clue as to what had happened, except that whatever it was it wasn't healthy. I couldn't move the finger at all, not because it hurt too much - it just refused to operate. It was extremely distressing to have a part of my body reduced to the status of Associate Member, but Ali soon surmised that it was dislocated rather than broken, and said I could either go to hospital or reset it myself, warning me that it would be painful.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Be careful what you wish for...

This weekend was, not to put too fine a point on it, a disaster. I hardly know where to start in describing the sheer frustration welling up inside me as I think back on it. A full month into the season I did at last have the ball thrown my way, only to have is snatched back in a manner which left me absolutely hopping mad. So sit back and enjoy one of PC's trademark rants...

The day didn't start brilliantly. I was warming up in the nets when Ali and Dan called me away to make sure we knew what we were doing is setting up the pitch, and after less than ten minutes I went back to the nets to find some thieving bastard(s) had stolen two of my balls. They must have known they were mine, I'm the only person who goes around with a bag of 8 - make that 6 - identical balls, specially chosen because they closely resemble the balls we use in the league. I am becoming extremely tired of the rather 'Marxist' view some people in the club seem to have towards other people's property.

So anyway, the game got underway with the opening pair starting solidly and continuing solidly. Indeed, they were into the 90s before they were parted. In came a guy with a retro Duncan Fearnley bat who to be fair had the talent to match the master blaster image as he set about smiting the bowling to all parts. Dan then brought me on to bowl and I set about placing my field with only one variation from normal being that Ali went on the leg-side boundary when I would probably have put him at slip.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Steady progress

I went down to the club on Tuesday for a bowl, oblivious to the fact that the under 15s had a game on. No matter, a few distractions aside I managed to get through a full-ish programme. At the moment there are four things I'm working on and in general it seems to be going well and I'm probably bowling as well as I was at the end of last season. The spin is still there, the flight is still tempting, the accuracy is reasonable and I may even have got a touch faster. Here are the four things and the reasons for them:
  • Straighter run-up - easier to concentrate on target area, less energy wasted and less stress on knees from over-rotation.
  • Higher leap - more energy transferred into the delivery, easier to get into a more side-on stride
  • High front arm - Less tendency to throw the front arm away, better balance, initiates a more repeatable shoulder movement.
  • Higher bowling arm - less variables so better accuracy, slightly more speed, more adaptable for more advanced variations i.e. Wrong 'Un/Flipper
A father of a couple of our senior players, who must have played a bit in the past, came in for a bat and once I'd found my rhythm I was regularly getting him all crossed up, with plenty of stumping and catching chances as well as a few mis-hits, and he said afterwards that he thought I bowled a really tempting length, exactly what I'm aiming for. Just before I finished for the evening, bowling on my own, I started bowling really consistently and produced some really beautiful deliveries.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A long way to drive for fielding practise

I suppose after the weather issues last weekend I should be happy to have played two matches this weekend, but in all honesty I'm feeling pretty low. Two matches, both at charming little grounds in obscure corners of North Staffordshire, but I faced a total of three balls, and bowled none. The consolation that the last competitive ball I bowled took a wicket (last year) is beginning to wear just a tad thin.

Saturday's game was against Porthill Park, but played on their Scot Hay ground - a nice if slightly tatty ground half way up a large hill near Newcastle under Lyme. In classic fashion a few drop-outs in the club left us a man down before we'd even started, and we turned up to find a large rectangular pudding had been inlaid into the ground where the wicket should have been. Dan was of a mind to bat first, but a few of us (including me) persuaded him that with the sun out the wicket could only get better so we'd bowl first. In the end we lost the toss and had to bat anyway...

Friday, 4 May 2012

Back on the physio's table

I'm sure it will surprise no-one to learn that my match last weekend was called off well in advance due to the rain, as in point of fact the ground we were due to play on was actually flooded. This has given me a little more time to work on my bowling, or at least it would have if it wasn't for the very sudden and unprovoked onset of a massive pain in the left side of my neck. As such I wasn't able to do any bowling on Monday, which was unbelievably frustrating as the appearance of a strange bright orb in the sky, which I seem to vaguely remember is more properly called "the Sun", made it the best day for bowling in a month or so. It was so frustrating to have to let such a perfect day go to waste.

So on Wednesday morning back I went to Bluebell, my physio, where once again Nicki knew exactly which bits to press to make me grimace. I don't want to make it sound like torture because she's very good, but it does feel like with a deft little press of her thumb here or there I would pretty quickly fold under questioning. My neck seems to be responding reasonably well, but I'm not feeling 100% yet so this weekend's match against Porthill could be tricky - not only am I out of practise, I'm also a little hampered, which is far from ideal for my first match bowling of the season.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Putting the hours in

I'm not sure if all this rain is good or bad for me at the moment, on the one hand a few matches called off early probably serves to help me get my bowling fully grooved before I'm called to bowl in a match, but on the other hand I can't get much practise in if it's constantly pouring with rain. Last night the weather was dry so I took full advantage with a marathon 2 1/2 hour session, after which I felt pretty limp as you can imagine. My rhythm's coming back but I'm still far too prone to the odd wayward delivery, too many short, full, or wide ones to really be reliable. The spin's there, so there's enough dip and plenty of turn, but I'm not feeling right overall. Happily my attempts at coming round the wicket seemed to work surprisingly well, so I may use that as part of a three-card trick to left-handers - two or three sliders from over the wicket so they think I can't turn it much, then come over and bowl into an area quite wide of off-stump with maximum turn back to hopefully disturb the furniture.

I got the camera out and the results are interesting. Not only am I bowling with a much lower arm than I thought, I'm also in much more danger of back-foot No Balls than I ever imagined. I also filmed some variations, which perhaps was a waste of time when I should still be focusing on getting my stock ball grooved. My top-spinner was curiously unreliable, as it's been OK for the most part this winter, and it's still more of a bouncy leg-break than a genuine pure top-spinner. My slider was decent enough if a little slow. My flipper's definitely coming along, even if I still can't really trust it, so I'm going to start practising it more frequently than I currently do. Wrong 'Uns  were a total waste of time and energy, not surprising given how low my arm is, although my current attempt at a wrong 'un seems to quite often turn out with pure topspin, so I may adapt it as that. I need to get my arm a lot higher if I'm to crack the wrong 'un, and being such a big admirer of Mailey I won't really feel like a proper leg-spinner until I've got it in my armoury.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Nice weather for ducks

The season has arrived, along with, it seems, all that rain we should have had over the winter when the nets were shut. Oh well, at least the 4ths managed to complete a game on Saturday.

This was the first match under Dan Haynes's captaincy, and there was a little controversy over his (thoroughly sensible) no alcohol rule. There was also a great deal of speculation as to what his "big announcement" would turn out to be, and we were all surprised to hear that apparently he'd been in touch with Sky Sport's Cricket AM show, who appear to be interested in having us on the show at some point. I'm told they're going to get me on the speed gun, but if I break 35 mph I'll die of shock on the spot. It's not a show I watch, not having Sky being a severe impediment, but it sounds like fun.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A new season dawns

Well that went quick! Later today I kick off my season with a league game against Leek & Moorlands, quite a tough first game for us. My own preparations haven't been perfect as the good weather came in March but the outdoor nets weren't open until April, but I have been gradually finding a rhythm and a length, albeit that my long-hops and full-tosses are endangered rather than extinct.

This feels like quite an important season for me. I made a huge amount of improvement last year so I need to carry that on if I am to really make a decent fist of this cricket thing. If I can't then it would appear that I will have found my level. I need improvements in all areas of the game - bowling, batting, fielding and last but not least captaincy.

My bowling of late has been so-so - I do feel a little undercooked but it's hard to bowl when it's pouring with rain. My stock ball is reasonable and my top-spinner is coming along nicely, my zooter isn't terrible but my attempts at a wrong 'un have all failed - they just come out with top-spin on, if they come out at all, so I'm still very much "LB" rather than "LBG". I did try a little bit of conventional off-spin but they were worse than my wrong 'uns. I've been concentrating hard on getting my front arm high and ruddering the action, and it seems to be a good improvement although it has caused soreness in previously untouched muscles. It's allowed me to straighten my run-up a touch so hopefully I'll be a little less vulnerable to back-foot no balls compared to last year.

I really don't know where my batting will be, I have at times felt a significant improvement in winter nets but there's still some pretty fundamental kinks in my technique to be ironed out. Maybe I can finally reach the lofty heights of double figures. Time will tell. I haven't had much fielding practice, but helping out with the juniors last night involved a lot of catching, so that's boosted my confidence a touch.

Of course all this is immaterial if, as forecast, the heavens piss on us from a great height this afternoon.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

You really can't grumble about a girlfriend who buys you a massive cricket-themed cake and the latest copy of WISDEN for your birthday, and it did make the discomfort of turning 30 on Wednesday a little more bearable. WISDEN 2012 is as usual a great read, and I'm heartened by the brief mention of club spinner Jim Eyles, who took his best bowling figures at the age of 72. So there's hope for us all.

As next year marks WISDEN's 150th edition they're holding a competition for people to write a piece on any cricket subject and the best one gets printed in the great book. There's no way I'm going to let an opportunity like that go begging, although as yet I'm a little unsure as to my topic. I've got until the end of November though, so there's no great rush...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Forty days and forty nights

The blog's been quiet of late as last week we didn't have nets, and this weekend just gone I wasn't at nets because I was on a coaching  course (of which more later). Anyway, our fixtures are up on the website now, which can only mean the season is rapidly approaching.

To be exact, it's now exactly forty days to our first game of the season, a cup game at home against Leek & Moorlands 2nds, who are a pretty tough side. Adding it all up, assuming I were to be available (and get picked) every Saturday and Sunday, played both friendlies we have lined up and two of the three tour games, I could potentially play 40 games this year. I think it's unlikely I will, and in addition to one Saturday game I'll have to miss I'm pretty much decided to only be available (at most) for the away games on Sunday. Even so, that's quite a full season.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Getting away from it all

I've had a few things on my mind lately so nets last Sunday was purely about isolating myself from the real world for a couple of hours and having fun. As such my batting was pure village stuff, and my bowling wasn't as focused as usual although it wasn't too dreadful.

When I arrived only Amar and Scott were there so I lead them in and padded up, with just their off-spin to face to begin with. Amar, whose ready smile, beard and patka inevitably lead to him having the nickname "Monty" among those who can't be bothered to tell the difference between right arm off-spin and slow left arm orthodox, was bowling at me for the first time and he's a much better bowler than I previously gave him credit for, pretty quick with a bit of turn and a change of pace, and Scott's not bad too, so I struggled to hit any but the looser balls well although I largely protected my wicket until Shaun turned up bowling quickish seam-up yorkers. I did try charging down the wicket a couple of times to Scott and both times it resulted in a spectacular failure to hit the ball, but I had a good giggle about it at least. I've got to start somewhere with it. I really have got to start playing the drive more often, but I wasn't concentrating as hard as normal so I'm not going to beat myself up about it this week.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Willow weep for me

My new bat arrived on Thursday, hopefully my last for a while. If I'm honest buying it was pure retail therapy, as my grandmother is rather unwell at the moment and I needed something to cheer me up. If that was ultimately the goal then it worked. Unwrapping the packaging, opening up the very swish bat carrier it came in and seeing the bat for the first time was a nice tonic. I'm very impressed by Aedos, they've been very helpful, eager to make sure I'm satisfied and they seem to have come into the business with the right ideas. The stickers, and the whole brand identity, is pitched pretty well I think - not too fussy, not too dull, just a quiet kind of eye-catching.

Also given that the person who gave me my love of cricket was my old Latin and Classics teacher, I suppose it's inevitable that I should be drawn to a batmaker whose products are named after Greek Gods. My bat is a model called "Zeus Limited Edition" (in my case an edition of one) but I prefer girls' names for my bats, and amongst the leading contenders this time is Athena - a daughter of Zeus, "shrewd companion of heroes and Goddess of heroic endeavour" according to Wiki. Well I'm neither a hero nor are my endeavours particularly herioc, but lets not let too many facts get in the way of a good story. She's also the patron of Athens, so perhaps given the state of the country of which Athens is the capital right now this could be taken to represent a sizeable chunk of money wantonly and unnecessarily spent...

As for the bat itself, Ollie at Aedos said it was a "good 'un" and he wasn't wrong - eight straight, evenly spaced grains with virtually no flaws. To be honest it did look a little strange at first; I'm not used to seeing pale willow with no oil on, and it was so highly polished it almost looked like it was made of plastic. The first backlift and swing through felt very nice though, and I'm amazed how much wood they've managed to leave on it - certainly it looks a lot heavier than it actually is. Perhaps they found a particularly light cleft of willow? They seem to have reduced the weight mainly in the top half of the blade with the bottom half still full of meaty goodness, but unless you picked it up or really took a good look at it you'd think it was a perfectly normal bat. (photos are below the fold)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A(nother) new bat

Like the 24 carat mug that I am, I will shortly be taking delivery of my fourth bat with still weeks to go until the start of my third season in senior cricket. I'm just doing my bit to help small businesses in these difficult times...

Regular readers of the blog* will have read about my frustration in not being able to find a light bat. I got into a conversation on Twitter with the great guys at Aedos Cricket about why this was and they said it may be possible to make a special light bat for me. I umm-ed and ahh-ed about it for a while but eventually I weakened and decided to go for it. Seriously though, this is absolutely, positively the last bat I'm going to buy for at least the next, ooh... 12 months or so.


Sunday, 19 February 2012

Tonk it like Trumper

For whatever reason nets today (someone said the traffic was particularly bad) was only attended by six of us, and while I'd sooner have a few more turning up for the sake of the club, for me this was one of the best sessions I've had as far as my batting's concerned, and I didn't even bat in the nets!

I'll deal with the bowling pretty quickly. It wasn't great again with the odd great ball but very poor consistency, Although I did find that I was pivoting up and over my front foot a lot better, especially on the good balls. I suspect it's more likely to be indicative of a good action in other parts of the body rather than the initiator of them, but it's good to get a sense for what it feels like and hopefully when I ramp up my outdoor practise I can really nail this part of my action.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Steady progress

Third net of pre-season today, with plenty of positives and the odd reality check - all in all a very useful session. As I was one of the first to turn up, I padded up and went in first. I like batting either first or last, as it means my bowling doesn't get as disrupted and allows me to concentrate on one thing at a time. Kieran was there today, and while I'm sure he'd admit his not the world's best bowler, he's a switched on guy and his bowling is consistent and pretty well thought out, a bit like the Tim Bresnan of the third team. There was also an off-spinner I haven't seen before - it seems he's down here at Uni and wanted somewhere to practise.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

One year on

While it's nice to have a few people reading the blog and get some welcome feedback every now and then, this blog is, and always was, predominantly for my own benefit so that I can remind myself of everything that's happened in relation to my cricket 'career'. Today I've had a look through my posts from pre-season last year, reading them for probably the first time since I wrote them, and the similarities and differences are rather interesting.

Firstly, I can see plainly how fragile my confidence in my bowling was last year. I had yet to lose my bowling 'virginity' by taking a wicket, and it's really no wonder now I look back that I found the first two games last year such a struggle mentally. I'm a lot calmer this year and even though I'm not bowling very well yet I have much more faith that it will eventually sort itself out, resulting - so far at least - in a lot less fruitless frustration. I think this year I have a much more realistic impression of my strengths and weaknesses, where last year I consciously hoped for the best but subconsciously feared the worst.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A few good shots and the odd jaffa

The second week of pre-season came after I'd spent most of the week in bed with a nasty cold so I wasn't expecting too much. Much of my upper body and arms had been aching quite badly at the start of the week and I wasn't sure if I'd be fully recovered in time.

Bowling was again a bit of a problem, although I seem to be getting closer to isolating what the problems are. Firstly last week I had probably reverted to "catapulting" rather than "windmilling" my arm, hence the soreness in the front tendons of my shoulder after last week's nets, and other than that there are problems with my hand and wrist in terms of positioning, movement and feel. Unfortunately that's not a quick fix - I've just got to bowl a lot more and figure it out, and pre-season nets is no place for that kind of work. It's too busy, too loud, you have to wait your turn and thus lose any rhythm and bowl at a pretty slow rate, and the batsmen at the other end are just a distraction as far as I'm concerned. If I had an empty net I could probably fix this in about half an hour, sadly I don't so it may take several weeks.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

First day back

Sunday saw the first nets of our pre-season preparations, and as usual I didn't get what I was expecting. What was I expecting? Well I was expecting to be a bit rusty, but I wasn't anticipating quite the level of problems I encountered with my bowling. In short it was abysmal. I started off in the third net, which was empty at that point as not that many turned up on time, and right from the off it didn't feel right. The ball wasn't coming out of my hand correctly, the feel wasn't there.

As they were only the first few balls bowled after four months off I wasn't too perturbed, but unfortunately as the hour went on I just didn't make any progress. I was as bad at the end as I was at the start, and when I say bad, I mean BAD. There was simply no consistency whatsoever, some balls would fly into the roof of the net, some plopped out of my hand and landed at my feet, the odd ball didn't even end up in the net at all, and any balls that did actually go the distance were usually well wide down the leg side and far too full. It was a nightmare from start to finish.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

On light bats and manky boots

My ongoing search for a bat-maker who makes a full-size bat lighter than 2lb 7oz is still ongoing. I've looked up every bat manufacturer I could find, and I found at least 36, but as yet I haven't seen one that says anything other than something along the lines of "our hefty bats have monstrously large edges, a middle the size of a planet and when you walk out to bat with half a willow tree under your arm the fielding side will have no alternative but to face up to the sheer inadequacy of their own respective manhoods and spontaneously burst into tears". I exaggerate, but we all know that's what they're trying to infer.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Two great leg-spinners, two anniversaries

Something momentous happened twenty years ago, but it didn't seem so at the time. On this day in 1992 a scruffy fat kid was first given the ball and asked to bowl in International cricket. First up he got spanked for four runs. Two days later he took his first Test wicket, completing figures of 1 for 150.