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.

I bowled my first ball, it came out pretty well and landed roughly where I'd aimed it, perhaps a touch full and maybe a bit slow but still acceptable for a first ball. The Master Blaster took a swing and the ball went high towards the boundary, clearing it by a few metres - but only a few. "Let's see you do that again" I said, and my second ball was a gain just a little loose, but not that loose, and again it was dispatched agonisingly just over the boundary, and again a third time to make it 3 sixes in a row. What a start to my bowling season... Even so, I wasn't flustered, I'd bowled three reasonable balls and the batsman had, to give him credit, hit them hard. My fourth ball dipped on him and left him in two minds, ending safely in the keeper's hands for no run, and my fifth ball drew the batsman forward to defend and just missed the edge of his bat, to which I appealed in the manner of an enquiry as I wasn't totally sure he'd missed it rather than a full-blooded appeal because I thought he'd hit it. My final ball was pretty well-deliverd and the batsman just managed to snick the ball for a single.

Now, the important thing to note is that at this point I was not in the least bit bothered about the runs. The batsman had made 19 runs, but he'd been taking risks and I'd found a rhythm and started to bother him with the last three balls. I was bowling well, and from a technical point of view it was probably the best opening over I've bowled, pretty tight with good spin, some movement in the air and landing in the right area.

Dan walked over and said "Take a rest mate." Are you kidding me? Are you f***ing kidding me? I erupted. I was so angry. I'd waited three weeks to be tossed the ball, I'd finally been given it against a powerful batsman who'd just about got his eye in, I'd bowled a decent over and had him in trouble, and I'd been taken off. "I can't afford to lose control of the runs" said Dan. Then why in God's name did you bring me on? If I'd had a gun on me, as much as I do like Dan I probably would have shot him dead there and then. It was such an utterly, utterly naive decision and the absolutely worst possible way for me to start the season.

Captains, listen up and listen good. A wrist-spinner is by his very nature walking a bit of a tightrope with his action and he's always going to be a bit wobbly for his first few balls - if you bowl brilliantly from the start you're either extremely good or extremely lucky. It does take a few deliveries to find your length and get used to how the ball feels coming out of your hand, especially if it hasn't come your way in the field recently and you're tossed what is, to you, an entirely alien ball. Even then there are unknowns - Is the wicket turning? Is it bouncy? Is it fast? Is the ball moving in the air much? You can't really know any of those things until you've bowled two or three balls. If a wrist-spinner is going to get taken off every time his first couple of balls get hit he may as well not be in the team. It's ridiculous. Absolutely unbearable. Wrist-spinners simply can't operate under such circumstances, it totally undermines their confidence in themselves and their captains and leaves them preoccupied with all sorts of negative thoughts that only serve to distract them from the business at hand and make them bowl worse. Moreover, such treatment will make them nervous every subsequent time they come on to bowl - exactly the time when they need to be clear-headed and relaxed - and can in the more medium-term sap the motivation a wrist-spinner desperately needs to put in the hours required in practise if they are to learn, develop and maintain their skill. If your priority is to keep it tight, don't bring a wrist-spinner on to bowl a new spell unless he is 100% perfect, which virtually none of us are. If you want us to buy a wicket we'll probably get it, but be prepared for it to cost more than you budgeted for. Simples.

After that the innings passed in a bit of a blur. I do recall having another brief flare-up as I couldn't quite stop a ball that passed to my left, then a few overs later the batsman played a shot in my direction, I involuntarily thrust my right arm in the air and a cricket ball magically appeared deep in the palm of my hand. This was very peculiar, and it did take me a moment to realise I'd taken a catch, my first ever in any cricket match, and by all accounts quite a good one too. I wasn't really that happy about it, I was still too angry about being taken off. In years to come I may look back on it fondly but for now it's just something that happened in a game best forgotten.

Dan brought me back on for two overs towards the end (just when the batsmen were hitting out for runs), but I just couldn't find my rhythm again. I was too frustrated to think clearly and suss out what part of my action was letting me down. My first over of the second spell was just appallingly bad, 22 runs coming off it - a new 'personal best' - including no less than 6 wides. It didn't help that there was now a left-hander batting, but my length, line, my whole thought process fell apart. Having been taken off when I shouldn;t have I was now not taken off when I should have, but at least my last over did go a little better - just the 13 runs. There were a couple of balls which the batsman just walked past and missed, but for who knows what reason the umpire gave them both not out. Maybe they were, but they shouldn't have been - when a batsman comes down the track and misses it really ought to be game over for them. Apparently one of our fielders had wandered in front of the square-leg umpire...

Anyway, the innings ended with Leigh having put on 283 for 5, a pretty formidable total after 40 overs. Ali and Scerri opened but sadly Scerri came back rather quickly having wafted at a wide one, so in went Dan with some support at the other end for once. He did OK, making 23 before being bowled, but we were beginning to fall behind the rate a little. Anil, one of the new guys, came in and played some lusty strokes to make 31, which sent Kampi in to join Ali, who was going well and looked good for a century.

Of all the juniors, Kampi is the one who most impresses me. He's a lovely lad with a great attitude, a sense of humour, good hand-eye co-ordination and textbook technique. He'd taken a wicket with the ball - I always think of him as a mini-Sobers for his ability to bowl slow left arm, chinaman or seam up and bat as well - but after a few nervous innings for us last year I really wanted him to get some time in the middle, especially in combination with a player of Ali's experience. They batted well, in spite of the mutterings from those waiting to bat that we needed to up the rate. If Ali could have scored quicker runs he would have, but I was perhaps the only one watching prepared to contemplate that it was the bowling, not the batting, that was sending the game the opposition's way. Ali holed out for 119 with two balls left and we ended on 236 for 4 - 47 runs short.

Good points: A solid first over despite punishment, a good reflex catch which should boost my confidence.
Points for improvement: Totally lost composure after being taken off, very poor bowling second time around.

Saturday's stats: (Stafford 4th XI vs Leigh 1st XI, 40 overs each)
Batting: did not bat
Bowling: O 3, M 0, W 0, R 54, Econ. 18.00
Fielding: Ct 1, St 0, RO 0
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Sunday's game was away at Whittington on a nice little ground with a clubhouse just a few weeks away from completion, where last year I was not out in a tied match. The wicket felt rock-hard but looked very strange, and as I was sent out to umpire our innings I quickly saw what a strange wicket it was. Quite often the ball landed with no bounce whatsoever, it just shot along the ground - not every ball, but at least once or twice an over.

The team was a bit of a strange bunch, including two guys I have literally never seen before. One Cell and Ravi opened the batting, and while Ravi got out relatively cheaply One Cell batted really well. A couple of their bowlers took two wickets in two balls, and shortly after the drinks break I was taken off umpiring duties as we were 7 wickets down at that stage.

I padded up and got ready to go in, but I had a bit of a wait. Sam was as usual doing his usual hit-and-hope job and despite some wobbles early on seemed to be going well. Nick went in ahead of me and put on a few runs before Sam was bowled, and having umm-ed and ahh-ed about it during my wait I strode to the wicket resplendent in cable-knit jumper and cricket cap, the first time I've batted without a helmet since my school days. It didn't last long though, I faced two balls wide down the off side which I left alone, then next over Nick got bowled and we were all out for 171. It seemed a decent total at the time.

Out in the field not a great deal seemed to be happening, but as the drinks break approached I was aware that, somehow, we hadn't yet managed a wicket, which did seem rather strange. Clearly the wicket had either got much better or their batting was more well-adapted to the conditions, and a strong breeze across the wicket hadn't helped our bowlers to find their lines.

I was brought on just before the drinks break and didn't really bowl my best. For some reason the umpires weren't keen to give wides and no-balls, so I got away with a few, but in my three over spell there were a few encouraging signs. I moved one of my fielders and the next two balls went straight to him for no run, I had one ball that just missed the stumps by an inch, but that was a bit of a freak ball - looped up only to lose all vertical momentum after pitching, leaving it rolling forlornly back along the ground. If it had only bounced it would have been a half-decent stumping chance too.

If I hadn't already had a weekend to forget, what happened next really took the biscuit. I looked behind me to see Ravi and Nick at long off and long on, so I told Ravi to stay right on and got Nick to come in about 10 paces, as I'd had a couple of catches drop short of long-on on the same ground last year. Almost the very next ball was hit high over my head, going right where I wanted it. "CATCH!!!" I shouted as I looked back, only to find that Ravi had come in a few yards, as the ball hit directly on to the short picket fence at exactly the place I'd told Ravi to stay, not only losing me a wicket but costing me another 6 runs.

Mercifully our opponents didn't seem to bother with the bowling analysis so I was spared the further anguish of seeing my figures once the game was over, but it felt like at least 20 off my 3 overs. All that was left was to see, with the scores level, whether one of the unbroken opening pair could hit a 6 to bring up his hundred, which he duly did. I imagine this is why I got away with those wides...

Good points: Fielded solidly on the whole.
Points for improvement: Bowling quite loose, must learn to field better off my bowling.

Sunday's stats: (Whittington Sunday XI vs Stafford Sunday XI, 40 overs each)
Batting: No.11, Not Out, 0 (2bf, 0x4, 0x6 prt: 10th 0)
Bowling: O 3, M 0, W 0, R 21, Econ. 7.00
Fielding: Ct 0, St 0, RO 0

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