Friday, 20 December 2013

Winter fever

It's getting to that time of year where the season gone and the season to come are equidistant, both seeming to be a long way away. It's right about now that my winter fever starts to bite, and so it was a couple of days ago I found myself practising shots and dusting off the Neville Cardus. I also picked up a second-hand copy of John Arlott's "Rothmans Jubilee History of Cricket 1890-1965", which I'd seen in the market a few times but never before quite felt the urge to purchase.

There's a bitter-sweet quality to reading Cardus in winter. I'm reminded of everything I love about cricket while at the same time painfully aware of its absence. One would have thought my thirst would be somewhat quenched by having the opportunity to bowl a few balls at the juniors over November, but that's never the way with this kind of infatuation.

Monday, 16 September 2013

An acrimonious weekend

The season is over and, as is now traditional, it's about time I updated my blog after rather a long break. So, we need to talk about Saturday, because it was a classic of its type.

I was rather non-plussed at having not bowled the previous week at Onneley & Maer, so further to that I was, shall we say, just a tad peeved to receive the following text on Tuesday:
Hi m8 sorry 2 say haven't picked u this Saturday, we needed a keeper as Harper couldn't play so had 2 swap u, hope u can still cum down n support us with it bein last game”
So if Matt Prior broke a finger and had to miss a game, Swanny would also have to miss out? Hmm, I don't quite see how that immediately follows. Dropping me from the last game of the year is annoying enough without feeding me what is patently a cock-and-bull story of an explanation. I don't know what the real reason was, and I don't really care. There's a basic lack of candour about that message that I can't help but find pretty insulting.

Guess what turned up in my phone a few hours later?
Sorry lads just 2 let u no this Saturday game has been CANCELLED, Oakamoor can't get a team, please still cum down to the club 4 sum drinks 2 celebrate a gd season”
Played 18, won 2, drawn 1, lost 15. Presumably “gd” does not, as you would initially assume, represent a somewhat superfluous shortening of “good”, but instead stands for “gigantically disappointing” or some similar combination. It must do, after all, if that's good, what would be bad? Anyway, a couple of days later he's asking if I'm available as a friendly match had been arranged with a team called Enville and someone had dropped out since Tuesday. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Washed out. Twice.

Well it's fair to say this weekend was a bit of a waste of time. In essence, I drove a very long way to and from two opposite far-flung corners of Staffordshire to spend two afternoons watching wet grass stay wet.

Moddershall first. Our motley bunch slowly assembled at the pavilion under unpromising skies, apart from Pete who was going straight there, and Andy who was late due to some minor domestic crisis. The first two cars set off while I awaited Andy, and we got to the ground at about half one, while Dan and Sam, who had got a bit lost, arrived about 15 minutes later. Never having been to Moddershall CC before I found it a lovely ground, two grass squares, a good clubhouse, a small pavilion for the second square and most important, a very nice cup of tea. The drizzle through which we'd driven on the way wasn't in evidence at the ground itself, but while the outfield seemed fine there were parts of the square and run-ups that had had just a little too much overnight rain to render them playable at the appointed hour. A half-hour delay was decided upon, so we waited.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Taking the helm

Chigsy's ill so tomorrow I'll be skippering the 4ths. It'll be the 4th match I've captained, assuming the weather isn't as advertised, and so far I have the rather unfortunate record of played three, lost three. To be fair, one was a tour game, and in another I only had 8 players to play with and we did surprisingly well. It's 1:30am as once again I can't sleep. I'm not sure I'm cut out for this captaincy lark as every time I do it I find myself endlessly agonising over what decisions I'm going to make.

My biggest headache tonight is batsmen as, to be perfectly frank, we haven't really got any. I don't know where they've all gone, but we've been batting-light all season and tomorrow I'm in charge of 11 players none of whom have ever scored a 50. I do have a couple who can hit a ball, but that's not batting. They're like a prizefighter who packs a mighty punch but who simply can't box. If I open with them, I risk us getting off on entirely the wrong foot, and if I don't open with them, then with who? One thing I have decided is that I won't be batting at 11 this time, as it gives me no chance to meaningfully influence the innings.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Overs remaining

Our first home fixture of the season on Saturday saw an all too familiar tale. The formula so far this season has been to win the toss, bat first, lose nine wickets before the drinks break, creep just beyond 100 and then wonder why the team batting second aren't chasing the game too much. Only three of our partnerships made it to 20, and none got to 30. To be honest I'm pretty fed up with our batsmen giving their wickets away so cheaply. Maybe they've been watching too much IPL and are labouring under the impression that all innings only last 20 overs nowadays.

As for my own cameo, I came in with 25.3 overs left and the score on 89 for 9. "We must stop meeting like this" I said to Jamie, as for the third time in three matches we prepared to see to what extent the last wicket stand could rectify matters. Jamie was keen to stay on strike and I was happy enough to let him, so I saw out my first three balls without any real trouble. Jamie was batting pretty well and hit a few boundaries, I meanwhile was taking wild swipes at anything pitched safely outside off (and missing) and solidly defending the few balls that threatened the stumps.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A chat with another of Bosanquet's disciples*

Bernard Bosanquet
After the match on Saturday I sought out Greg, a 1st team leg-spinning all-rounder who's new to the club this year. I'd seen him around a fair bit as he's also coaching the juniors, but I thought it was about time we introduced ourselves properly. I'd faced him in the nets on Thursday and was very impressed - he perhaps wasn't bowling at his most accurate but he bowls at a good 50+ mph and turns the ball plenty enough for that speed. Added to that I'm not sure I've yet seen him without an engaging smile on his face.

So I bought him a pint and said hello. He'd obviously noticed me as the 'other leggie' at the club, and had some nice things to say about my bowling. Neither of us had had a great day with the ball, so after some mutual comiseration we soon got onto technical aspects, talking about coaching in general, his difficulty bowling zooters and me probing him about exactly what a wrong 'un feels like to bowl. It's the first time I've spoken to someone who can actually bowl one, so it was great to be able to get a first-hand account. I hope we have plenty more of these chats over the course of the season.

On Sunday the 1sts had a cup game, which I didn't watch, but now wish I had - looking at the scorecard Greg took 5 for 25 and made 41* with the bat! Remarkably he's only 18, so who knows what level he may one day reach if he continues to make progress.

*the term "Bosanquet's disciples" is to be found in Arthur Mailey's excellent autobiography "10 for 66 and all that". If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it!

Monday, 29 April 2013

More bowling

Well it seems videos of my bowling are like buses...

Now I should explain this was filmed shortly before junior nets was supposed to start up, so there were a handful of the U17s essentially doing all they could to put me off, up to and including riding a bicycle around behind the net, leading to a few of my dodgier deliveries.

Excuses aside, this wasn't really my best bowling session, although there was the odd ripper and one zooter that swung (rather than drifted) quite a distance in towards the stumps.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Hard lines

To Aston where, for the seventh competitive match in a row, I ended up on the losing side. Aston is a curious little club, rather new and as a result rather unpopular with neighbouring clubs such as ours whose players they have recently pilfered. They're a good side with an even mixture of experience and youth and always a tough fixture. The weather forecast was decidedly unpromising, but when we got to the ground the sun was out and the wicket pretty firm.

We lost the toss and were inserted, and were a wicket down off the second ball. Dan and Sam batted reasonably and Azar was astonishingly good, making a stylish 39. However, four ducks later - including three wickets in a single over - it ultimately came down once again to Jamie and myself at the crease having only just crept past three figures. Jamie wanted the strike and I was only too happy to give it to him. I had to see of the final deliveries of a couple of overs, which I did with relative ease, before Jamie was bowled for 15, leaving me stranded on 0*. We'd made only 112 and, criminally, had a full 14 overs of the innings left unused. Again...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Practise, practise, practise...

I've bowled rather a lot this week, as my weary frame would attest. It's funny how over the winter you can forget all the little niggles that bowling creates, then have it all come flooding back in the space of a week when you start doing proper work on it. My two "go-to" issues are a soreness in my left knee and an inflamed tendon at the front of my right shoulder. They've been pretty constant companions over my last three seasons playing cricket, and I imagine I'll have them for as long as I continue bowling. Oh well, neither is likely to be fatal.

Anyway, I have got quite a few bagfuls under my belt this week, a couple of hours each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and while I don't exactly expect to rock up on Saturday and take all ten, every little helps. So much for my "new bowling style" though, I recorded myself on Friday and looking at it after the style's the same, just a bit more refined. The run-up's straighter, the whole action is smoother and I am now bowling a little quicker. The key elements I'm still struggling with are front arm, position I bowl from and concentration.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

It happens to the best of us

I was looking around YouTube and found this rather unusual piece of footage of Shane Warne:

It's so strange, usually all you see on YouTube is his standard big-turning rippers knocking over some hapless batsman, accompanied by suitably sycophantic, cooing commentary as the great man once again shows he's the greatest leggie who's ever lived. And he undoubtedly is. But here we see he is still just a leg-spinner, and like us all he does get walloped from time to time. Kinda reassuring, don't you think?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A mixed affair

Thanks heavens, the cricket season is here again. A beautiful sunny day greeted us as we travelled to Keele to play Porthill, now moved from their old Scot Hay 2nd ground due to over-greedy landlords. The old Scot Hay ground was invariably a pudding when I played on it, while Keele tends to produce a fair amount of shooters, so even without a sticky wicket we were in for a tough time batting-wise.

I was in an optimistic mood, albeit outwardly appearing a little grumpy; I'm always a little grouchy when I haven't slept the full eight hours, and I rarely get the full eight hours the night before the season starts. Certainly the previous evening I'd done some good work in the nets, before and after coaching the juniors, and considering how little practise I've done on my bowling so far this year (maybe 6 hours I would estimate) I was bowling pretty well, especially later on.

Friday, 19 April 2013

A video at last

I know it's been ages since I posted a video of me in action, so here's the latest. Can you see any progress?

Wish I'd done more filming later on, I started bowling really well. Maybe I'm subconsciously trying not to reveal my secrets to any opposing batsmen who may be watching, but I never seem to catch my best bowling on film.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Back in the office

Apologies again for the lack of new posts, I seem to be drafting them but never quite get round to finishing and publishing them. Anyway, two more up for you to enjoy (if "enjoy" is really the right word).

Anyway, I'm all too aware that our first match on 20th April is fast approaching and I need to get my bowling sorted out. More specifically, what I need to do is bank the hard work that allows me to stand at my bowling mark and relax, safe in the knowledge that I'm as prepared as I reasonably can be. And safe is the key word; if I've done all I can, psychologically the bad days don't play on your mind.

So tonight I rushed down to the club to catch a couple of hours' bowling practise before the sun went down. I started off just trying to nail down a half-decent line and length, trying not to take off any speed. It's a problem I seem to have had the last two seasons that I start off pre-season bowling 40ish mph then slow down to 30ish mph to achieve accuracy, and I really need to push through that and get some control without losing the speed. One thing I'm working on is changing the timing of my action so my front foot lands just as my bowling hand is reaching the top of its arc; it's not an element I'd been aware of before but it does make a big difference to the speed, and referring to some footage of Warne and MacGill they both do it. Seems I've been missing out!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

"New balls please"

So the season edges ever nearer, and it seems that just in time the weather is set to improve. It has rather sneaked up on me, and I must admit to feeling horribly under-prepared. Outdoor nets starts this evening, and will be only the second time I've batted this pre-season. Meanwhile my bowling's had precious little work done on it, Partly due to weather and also due to a week missed when I travelled to France. I did take some balls with me and tried to practise on a beach nearby, but it wasn't much use as the firm-looking sand nevertheless gave way every time I landed in my delivery stride, throwing me off balance.

Anyway, I am where I am. Nothing for it but a crash program of practise, so I've mad my one cricket kit purchase of the winter - some new balls. Perhaps I've mentioned it before, but all the balls I've had up to now have had a nasty habit of growing legs and wandering off, and of the wayward spinner's over's-worth (eight) I bought for practise last year, only one is still in my possession. I even lost one ball to a small child, who protested so strongly that it was in fact "MINE!" (i.e. "his") that I decided losing a ball was worth it to avoid explaining to his parents why he was crying so loudly. Anyway, this year things will be different; if anyone wants to "borrow" a ball (n.b. inverted commas), they will have to have one of my older balls. If they want a nice shiny one, they can bloody well buy their own like I did...

I've again bought eight 'Readers County Match' balls as these are as close as I can find to our specified league ball. I've had a variety of Slazenger, Dukes and Morrant balls before and there's a surprising variation in the size and feel of the seams.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Forgetful fingers

Another week and I'm afraid it is again my sad duty to write a depressing post about things having gone wrong, or to be more specific, not having gone right. Bowling in the nets today I again had the same problem as last week, not quite as bad but debilitating nevertheless. It essentially consists of my fingers having forgotten what it is they're supposed to be doing in releasing the ball. Everything else is fine, but the ball just seems to slip out of my hand without that feeling of rip just as I release the ball. Its such an annoying problem, especially as normal nets with batsmen is almost the worst place to work through a resolution. Given an empty net and a bag of balls I could probably get it sorted in a single evening, but as it is I've lost two weeks.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A professional attitude

There has inevitably been a great deal of controversy over Australia's decision to drop four players from the Test series in India for not preparing an assignment given to them by their coach, and unsurprisingly much of the reaction has been negative, regarding the actions taken as a clumsy and counter-productive overreaction. While this is an understandable response, and one that I shared initially, after reading this article by Brydon Coverdale I found my mind entirely changed.

If you want to save time reading the article, it boils down to this: These are highly-paid sportsmen doing a job, and this doesn't stop when they leave the field. They had ample time to complete a relatively simple task and failed to do so, and it is inconceivable that professional sportsmen could go four days without thinking about ways to improve the team's performance for the time required to complete the task. If they still couldn't think of anything, "don't know" would have been an acceptable answer provided it was an honest one. If they couldn't get this done then right now they are not serious enough about playing Test cricket. "You're a grown man with your own brain and you get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to play this game. You're a professional. So why haven't you acted like one?" It's a very persuasive argument.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Take 2

After a couple of weeks off while my toe recovered I restarted my pre-season preparations about a month ago and while no one session was worth blogging about I thought I'd briefly write up what's been happening.

As for the toe, the swelling has mainly gone and once some of the goo had found a way out of the side of the toenail it's stopped being painful. I can't be quite sure yet how damaged the nail is but at present it doesn't look like falling out, although it is a rather repulsive shade of purple and will be so for a long while yet until it grows out.

I've had three net sessions since I returned to action, and the first two were very promising indeed. The toe didn't cause me any problems and I was bowling well with good form, a slightly faster and flatter trajectory, good spin and turn and above all a good shape. I've been attempting to incorporate a few technical elements into my action, fiddly little things like the way my toes are pointed and how I rotate my torso, and it seems to be working really well. If I can bowl like this all season and get some good solo practise in the next few months I should have a bumper year, as I can say without too much equivocation these two sessions constitute some of the best bowling I've ever done.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Another frustrating lay-off

Well it seems I'm fated to forever suffer minor injuries whose inconvenience is out of all proportion to their actual severity. You may recall I had a cricket ball hit my toe while batting last week. I thought initially it was just a bruised toe, and the toe itself seems nicely back to it's more normal colour with virtually none of the purple that developed in the first day, but the nail is now a concern as it is painful and discoloured. I won't say I've been in agony because that would be wrong, instead I've got just enough of that consistently low-level pain to keep me awake at night, as the pressure under the nail refuses to go away.

Having rung my old friends at NHS Direct yesterday (0845 46 47, I know the number off by heart now...), they suggested I had it checked, so off to the surgery I popped where I was lucky enough to take advantage of a cancellation. Having taken off the carefully modified shoe and sock (with toe sections cut away to put no pressure of the toenail) he took one look at it and his face did the medical equivalent of a plumber tut-tutting at a stuttering boiler. "Ah, so we've got a subungual haematoma" he said.

After confirming how old the injury was, he said that since by now the fluid under the nail had coagulated there was, essentially, nothing to be done other than wait for it to sort itself out, and in the meantime to stay away from any opportunity to have the nail bashed again. Actually I didn't need him to tell me that last bit. Furthermore, it may be the case (and I suspect it is) that the nail has broken inside the toe, in which case I will have to wait for the broken part to grow out and the nail to fall off and regrow itself. This regrowth can apparently take over a year, so I have no idea (and have yet to speak to anyone who does) at what point it will be possible for me to get back to cricket, and at what point the toe will feel right in terms of sensation.

So in addition to the weeks of discomfort, lost sleep and prolonged grumpiness this entails it would appear a large part of my pre-season prep has been kiboshed by a single delivery. At this point I can't even comfortably put on a pair of cricket boots, let alone run in to bowl and put pressure on that toe, especially since that toe plays a part in my bowling action that is quite literally pivotal.

Pissed off? You're darn tootin'.

Friday, 1 February 2013

First day back

Sunday saw the first indoor nets of 2013, and my first injury of the year, but more of that later. In the meantime, an explanation is required. The reason I left my blog virtually untouched for so long until now was simply that there didn't seem to be much to write about that was positive and interesting, so I didn't bother. I did play a lot of games last year but overall it was rather a downbeat season as my bowling never fully recovered from the broken finger enough for me to be bowling well, and I suspected that if I poured out the grumpiness within my head here, the act of assimilating it into prose would lead to it increasing. Anyway, now I get to start again with a clean sheet.

Just to catch up a little, Phil is now captain of the 4ths this year, our 4th official Captain in the 4 seasons I've been at Stafford, but at least he's been around for a few years and I know him well. He was the only candidate after I decided against having a go myself, because I did captain two games last year and still don't really feel up to it on a full-time basis. I've had a pretty cricket-free winter so far, lacking the obsessive reading of previous closed seasons, but I did get CB Fry's very entertaining autobiography for Christmas and recently bought Gideon Haigh's book "On Warne".

So on Sunday it was rather fun for the first net to sneak up on me. I'd almost forgotten about cricket and felt refreshed and ready, as opposed to the rather jaded feeling I sometimes have had towards the end of previous seasons, and much to my surprise my bowling action was reasonably well-organised right from the start with excellent turn and a really beautiful shape on only my second ball. I was bowling faster than normal and a little fuller than I intended, so my only concern at this stage is whether I may be repeating a previous mistake of slowing down the ball to land on a length rather than keeping the speed and dragging it down a touch more to find the target. Anyway, it felt pretty good overall so I'd rather not get bogged down worrying about technical aspects at this stage, I did get a few "wickets" and it seemed to come pretty naturally.

 As for batting, well it's hard to say. I did start off quite solid but as the stint went on it got worse, and I think it was more to do with bowlers finding their target than anything I was doing differently. I hit one or two nice shots and showed some decent blocking too but I was - as ever - clueless against out-swingers and not moving my feet far enough to meet the wider deliveries. Unfortunately I had to abandon the net a little prematurely when I rather foolishly chased a leg-side yorker, which struck my left big toe flush and on the full. A small amount of swearing ensued and I limped rather forlornly out of the net to inspect the damage, which appears to be some deep bruising but nothing more serious. It's swollen up a bit since and wearing shoes is a little painful, so until that goes away I'm out of action. Rather frustrating but what can you do.