Tuesday, 1 September 2009

HHCC vs Bank of England

A pretty straightforward victory over the Bank of England touring team on Sunday ensured an enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend for everyone at the Heath.

In slightly chilly and overcast conditions, stand-in skipper Henry Capper won the toss and elected to field. In Jez’s absence our opening attack consisted of Luke Brennan and James Aird. Luke, in particular, bowled as rapidly as anyone on our team has for years. Sticking to a good line and getting some sharp bounce from a hard, flat wicket he troubled all of their top order. At the other end, Airdy bowled an expensive opening over but soon found his rhythm. Two excellent reflex catches by Capper and an inside edge onto the stumps meant the Bank were three down with about 40 on the board and we were into their middle order.

Brad strikes

Brad and I then bowled in tandem for the next hour or so, taking three wickets each to knock over the Bank for around about 140. I bowled probably the best I’ve bowled all season early on, landing it on a good length and getting appreciable turn and bounce – I even landed a googly and it turned! One dismissal was particularly satisfying: the ball pitched on about leg or middle and leg, the batsman played defensively half-forward, the ball ripped across him, taking the edge to be very well caught by Anouj low down at slip. A real dismissal, like on the telly!

Me Bowling

There were a few entertaining moments as I began to tire and drop short. Nick, fielding on the cover boundary, failed to stop a succession of cut shots, much to his own bemusement. Then I slipped a rank wide down the leg-side which Capper failed to stop. The batsmen went for a quick single. Brad picked up at short fine leg and fizzed the ball in. A direct hit! Surely the batsman was out? But their umpire said no, and the ball cannoned away to the boundary. 6 wides then: that’s got to be a first.

Capper batting

After tea, Capper and Shrimpton opened up and put together a solid partnership, before Shrimpy was LBW. Nick then provided the late fireworks with some beefy hitting as we reached the target one down before even reaching the 20 overs to go mark. With Capper in fine form for his unbeaten 74 we probably could have chased 300.

The Bank’s players – as is their wont – then got dressed up in fancy dress. With a theme of ‘something beginning with G’ there were some great outfits – gangsters, gladiators, gays and even God. With singing and dancing until closing time, the Plough didn’t know what had hit it...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Ivinghoe & Pitstone vs HHCC

Back in July when Henry Capper dropped an absolute dolly against Chesham Bois, I wrote “Surely this year’s Cack Award is in the bag?” After Sunday’s loss away to Ivinghoe & Pitstone, that may well have to be reconsidered. I emerged as a serious contender for the award by dropping two (or, according to Richard Austin, 3) moderately straightforward catches at long-on. The sun was at a pretty tricky angle though…

At least I had earlier contributed to the team cause by taking a rather good catch, running and then diving forward at mid-wicket. In a rare limited overs game for the Heath, I had also bowled tidily to record figures of 2 for 18 from my allocated 8 overs – both wickets plum LBW. Capper, on the other hand, reasserted his hold over the coveted Cack Award with a performance of masterful incompetence. Waiting at the Plough before heading off, I received a call to say that he had just woken up, under an hour before we were due to start, in Hackney. When he did eventually arrive, about 30 overs into the match, he kicked off with two terrible throws from the outfield, both leading to overthrows, and was then out, caught at mid-off for single figures. Classy.

Despite all this, the Heath started well. We had the opposition 45 for 5 after they had won the toss and elected to bat. But from here our fielding disintegrated and we allowed them to finish on 174, with their young left-hander scoring one of the worst 50s I’ve seen in a while. In all, we dropped eight catches – Nick two caught and bowled chances (one was admittedly very tough), Dom two behind the stumps (and he failed to collect the ball for a run-out), Airdy one running backwards at point, Jez a sitter off me at mid-on, and of course my two (or three) at long-on.

Our top order then made a meal of the run-chase and before long we were about 35 for 5 with myself and Nick at the crease. We proceeded to forge a partnership of 103, with Nick playing some fantastic shots, none better than a gloriously timed straight six back over the head of their off-spinner. We ran well between the wickets and I simply sought to give Nick as much of the strike as possible. With about 35 needed off 6 (I think) I was bowled for 36, cutting one that kept low and the match was very much in the balance.

Nick then took their other off-spinner to the cleaners, with some clean hitting over mid wicket and with 14 needed off 18 balls surely the match was ours for the taking. But then their opening bowler returned to bowl his last over. He started by clean bowling James Aird for 0, but when Brad struck him beautifully through mid on for 4, we were surely home and dry?

Alas, no. Brad was bowled off the penultimate ball and Jez was then cleaned up first ball, the last of the over. Charlie strode out, needing only to give Nick the strike. Their medium-pacer bowled a clever slower ball, Charlie played down the wrong line and was bowled – another Heath duck. We were all out 8 runs short, with Nick left unbeaten on 93. It was a pretty poor team performance in an exciting match: Nick’s innings was brilliant, and we really let him down.

But we won the Ashes, and that’s all that really matters.

Monday, 17 August 2009

HHCC vs Gamecocks

Apologies to all our many fans for the quietness of Cricket Tragics of late: there’s nothing like a thrashing in the Ashes to quash our enthusiasm for writing. I also had to attend a wedding last weekend and therefore missed my first Hyde Heath match of the season – by all accounts it was an eventful day, with a first-rate strop from Richard Austin and Henry Capper given out LBW by his dad.

But it was good for me to get some time away from the game and the gruelling schedule that all HHCC stalwarts must deal with. I had some time to really think about my cricket and come back stronger than ever. Well sort of. We won the toss (again) and elected to field (again). Austin and Jez kept things tight against a rather shotless opening pair before Jez struck with what was described as the one good delivery of his spell.

James Shrimpton on the attack- or is he caught & bowled?

After a bit, Charlie signalled to me to get loose. As I began to do some half-hearted stretching and think vaguely about how best to disguise my long-hop, Nick bowled a leg stump full toss that was fairly drilled to me close in and behind square on the leg side. First thought: “that’s seriously travelling – get the bloody hell out the way!” Second: “maybe I should make a token effort to catch this”. Third: “Oh Christ, I’ve only gone and caught it!” The poor old batsman didn’t realise how unlucky he was.

But he was about to... After that moment of glory it was my turn to bowl. The first delivery was a gently looping low full toss which the batsman hit straight back at me. I was so excited about the prospect of taking two catches in as many overs that I promptly dropped it. A sitter. Shortly afterwards I bowled the same ball to the same batsman who played the same shot with the same result. Another bloody simple drop. Oh dear. I also missed a fairly simple run out not long after...

Anyway, I carried on wheeling away with surprising accuracy and a little dip and turn. After about ten overs though, I began to wonder if I’d ever get a wicket. Well I did. As Gamecocks began to search for quick runs their shots became increasingly desperate and I finished with 4 for 39 from 15 overs. Bloody exhausted.

So Gamecocks finished with 136 and Dom Haddock and Henry Capper set about destroying their bowling. Haddock was particularly brutal, punishing anything over- or under-pitched on his way to 67 off 40 balls. He hit three sixes, one of which – flat over square leg – was a real cracker. We lost a couple of wickets towards the end but reached the target three down inside 19 overs to seal a comprehensive victory.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

HHCC Marine Tour, Kent 2009

Tour time! This year Captain Matt Simms had declared a marine theme, and recruited an able crew to man the good ship Heath and take on the might of Kent’s cricketing villages. The various vessels arrived in Meopham in time for a spot of overpriced lunch at the aptly-named Long Hop. And then, we were ready to rumble.

The oppo won the toss and invited us to have a bat. For some reason I was asked to open the innings alongside Henry Capper, but the experiment failed when I got a leading edge to cover and was dismissed without scoring. No matter though, as Capper, James Shrimpton and Will Reynolds all registered half-centuries to take the Heath to a respectable 223 off our 40 overs. Will’s peppering of the third man and fine leg boundaries more than made up for a stolid passage in which Ben Sonley ground his way to 12 from 42 balls. In the closing overs the quest for quick runs produced some amusing moments – in particular, ducks from Atif, bowled having a wild heave, and Captain Simms, stumped by a 14 year-old keeper off the bowling of a 12 year-old.

Meopham started brightly, but their hard-hitting, gum-chewing Aussie opener was dismissed courtesy of a stinging return catch by Jez, and the Heath sensed their chance. Richard Austin bowled his allocated overs off the reel and, finding an immaculate length and zipping it both ways off the pitch, finished with the outstanding figures of 5 for 19 to break the back of the Meopham innings. At the other end, Shrimpy followed up his 50 with three wickets and we bowled them out for 103 – our first victory against Meopham at the third attempt. Credit, unusually, must go to Atif (Keith) “Scrappy Doo” Mirza who took a very good catch diving forward to partly atone for his earlier batting.

The marine theme guaranteed some interesting awards in the post-match ceremony. We were all given fish badges, the three batsmen who registered 0 were awarded rubber ducks to wear, and Will was honoured with a Shark Head award for ruthlessly edging the ball behind square all day. Then the evening saw our return to the scene of so much amusement last year – namely Lashings. But, to our disappointment, the outdoor beanbags had been removed – apparently they had gone mouldy, or something. We also forwent the usual expensive dinner in favour of takeaway from a rather insalubrious kebab shop, in which some local crackhead repeatedly asked us about the exact spelling of the word “circumcised”. God bless Maidstone...

The next day saw us prepare to take on the mighty Harvel, who we somehow beat last year (courtesy of a great spell from Ritchie and some excellent batting from Keith Mirza and, um, me...) Anyway, this year we were running rather late, thanks to some poorly functioning alarm clocks and Matt’s erratic navigating. The game was 50 overs this time and we decided to bat first – mainly, as Matt realised, because nobody was really in a fit state to take the field. The skipper opened the batting with Capper and the two of them ground out a really attritional opening stand. At one stage we were 16 without loss from 10 overs. Riveting stuff – so much so that Richard Austin, scoring at the time, had to call for a knife, his pencil blunted by a seemingly endless succession of dots.

Matt’s eventual departure was followed by Shrimpy’s – pulling a long-hop to a diving mid-wicket – and I joined Capper at the crease, our aim to bat until lunch. That we duly did, courtesy of some good batting from Capper and some characteristically tedious blocking from yours truly. Lunch was a delicious curry and that – or my dismissal of last night’s booze into the ladies loos (sorry!) – gave the innings a bit of impetus. I pulled the first ball after lunch for four and hit a few boundaries off their Sri Lankan leg-spinner, but was then stumped for 41 with about 8 overs to go.

That actually worked out rather well as James Aird and Richard Austin then attacked in fine style. Airdy made 40 in double-quick time, including some beefy hits for 6. We finished then with 207. Was it to be enough?

In short, no. But before their innings even started, I was on my way back to the pavilion nursing a cut cheek and black eye thanks to their opening batsmen. As I was placing the bail on the stump, he decided to use his bat to hit the stump more firmly into the ground, and instead cracked me in the face. It bloody hurt, but was obviously rather hilarious as well, so sympathy was pretty minimal. Oh well.

We dismissed their openers quickly, but that proved to be a mistake as Sri Lankan overseas player Dhushantha Ranatunga proceeded to dismantle our bowling attack with grace, timing and precision placement. Airdy bowled splendidly to at least force the odd defensive stroke, but once he’d reached 50, Rana gave him the charge, donked the ball over the sightscreen for 6, and promptly retired.

The remaining batsmen were equally murderous, if less attractive, and myself, Keith Mirza and Ritchie (crocked after yesterday’s exertions) came in for some fearful tap. Keith went at 10 an over and Ritchie’s six balls cost 14, including a hilarious misfield from Keith at fine-leg. The ball was rolling gently towards him, but a couple of young children were accidentally standing in the way. Instead of walking round them and picking the ball up, Keith calmly stood and watched as it dribbled over the boundary for 4. Cue an apoplectic exchange between the bowler and Scrappy Doo. One only hopes the children were out of earshot by that stage...

Anyway, Harvel knocked off the runs in 25 overs, which left us plenty of time for boozing and a game of one-hand-one-bounce. Exactly as last year, Atif demonstrated his poor sportsmanship by continuously refusing to walk. Our catching though was excellent – if only it had been the same in the real cricket.

That evening, disappointed by Lashings’ lack of beanbags, we headed to the Maidstone Wetherspoon’s for some well-earned binge-drinking. Somehow Capper managed to place himself in charge of the whip – even the barmaid asked us why we had entrusted out money with that guy – but a load of tequila later, nobody was too bothered.

Friday then dawned bright and fair and we spent an enjoyable morning watching Australia’s batsmen capitulate against the swinging ball at Edgbaston. Might that be an omen of things to come against Pett’s Wood? Well, maybe.

Matt lost the toss and we were again invited to bat. Capper’s third opening partner in as many matches was Scrappy Doo, attempting to make up for two consecutive tour ducks, which he did, kind of: off the mark with a wild heave that went down to third man for 4, and bowled essaying a similar shot an over or so later. The Heath innings was dominated by 75 from Shrimpton who had earlier run out Capper for 21. The fact that he had told me the over before that a run out might be on the cards suggests perhaps the competition for the batting cup is getting pretty cut-throat this season.

Richard Austin also made a hard-hitting unbeaten 36 down the order, but it was Sohail, representing the Heath for the first time this season, who really caught the eye. His 53 included some seriously meaty blows, none bigger than a massive six into someone’s garden a good 30 yards over the long-on boundary. All of which helped us to a pretty solid 235 all out, and with a strong bowling line-up we were confident of forcing victory.

I opened the bowling from the pavilion end and Sohail and Airdy did the work from the other end. Sohail took 2 wickets, before I got into the action, yorking one of their players. And then, the turning point: a triple wicket maiden for yours truly. The first one dipped quite sharply, turned a fraction and took leg stump, the second was a rank long hop that the batsman miscued straight back at me – caught and bowled. The new batsman managed to keep out a vicious leg-side full toss to avert the hat-trick, but then thumped another half-tracker, this time way down the leg-side, straight to Airdy at short fine leg. Oh dear, what an over.

I continued to dish up a load of twaddle and for a minute it looked like Pett’s Wood might escape with the draw, but Jez came on and took the last wicket to finally dismiss them for 132. A convincing victory that made up for last year’s lacklustre defeat, and meant we finished the tour with a creditable 2-1 win/loss ratio. And so to the pub again; for some final awards, fines, and massive thanks from all to Matt for organising yet another splendid tour.

Monday, 3 August 2009

World Exclusive! The 26.5 yard pitch!

Thank God for the internet, huh? In times of yore, if one’s story was suppressed by mainstream media outlets, the options were pretty limited: you could print your own pamphlets (costly), wear a be-sloganed sandwich-board around London town (and risk being deemed a crackpot) or simply keep schtum. Well not any more!

Cricket Tragics have been in contact with a certain member of Hyde Heath cricket club who has had his story suppressed for nearly 3 years now. It was never published on the official HHCC website due to behind-the-scenes political double-dealings, but now, at last, the truth will out! Cricket Tragics spearheads the fight for freedom!

Reproduced below is the letter that has caused all the trouble.


I would like to report what I believe is a first in the normally not-very-cutthroat world of village cricket.

Early this season, I turned out as is my wont for the village of Hyde Heath in a friendly match against the normally very friendly local village of Chartridge. We lost the toss and the opposition elected to bat on a track which our groundsman had covered with our newly-acquired plastic sheeting (aka “covers”) at 7.30 that morning, displaying a meteorological prescience which would have shamed Bill Fish.

It rained “halberds” as the French say until just before the scheduled start time of 2.00 but we were able to remove our covers and start play on time on a wicket which was dry and bouncy.

Being the first match of the season, there was a certain inevitability that our opening duo who are unplayable by mid-August, should display some rustiness, characterised by an apparent inability to land the ball in the batsman’s half of the wicket. This tactic, apparently intentional, elicited from the opposing batsmen a degree of aggression quite out of keeping with a so-called friendly match.

The bowlers continued to bowl very short, the batsmen repeatedly dispatched the ball to all corners of the lush early season outfield and the score was well into the 20s after only 15 minutes or so. Dissent began to grow in the Hyde Heath camp. Our captain was known to have imbibed injudiciously the previous evening, our 11th man’s fielding revealed that he had never visited a cricket field before, our keeper was taking the ball on the second bounce and our widely acclaimed team spirit was beginning to falter. Matters came to a head when 2nd slip, our self-appointed senior pro, provocatively challenged the captain to “get a grip of his bowlers”.

At this point your humble correspondent, having witnessed proceedings from the vantage point of first slip, reached a trial conclusion: the wicket was too long. Nature has blessed me with a natural one-yard stride and I was able to ascertain by dint of measured pacing that the pitch was not one, not even three but a full 4.5 yards longer than it should be, an excess in excess of 20%!

Imagine: a cold April day, an over-wintered bowler no longer in the first flush of youth seeking to build up to a full 63mph and finding that he is unable to land the ball anywhere near the opposing batsman and then discovering that our Chairman, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist with apparent aspirations to be a pitch inspector, abetted by our normally competent groundsman, had conspired to create a Frankenstein monster of a pitch fully 26.5 yards long.

The bald facts of the case are that we re-measured the pitch, re-drew the creases, allowed the visitors the benefit of their good fortune and hung on for a draw. The deeper and alarming truth is that two teams of professed enthusiasts of the summer game plus two seasoned umpires failed to spot the travesty.

Is this an indictment of the falling standards which beset our society more widely; or was something more sinister at work, perhaps some form of mass hypnosis? Ball-tampering is one thing, but pitch-tampering! How would Darrell Hair have addressed such a threat? The longer-term ramifications are still unclear, but one feels that our beloved game is in peril. This matter is a long way from over.

20 September 2006

Name withheld by the editors of Cricket Tragics

Bourne End vs HHCC

Apologies can only be offered to the cricketing gods for one of the most boring matches I’ve played in for quite some time. With 6 of the team still tired from tour (full report here) the Heath were understandably a little lethargic, and matters were not really helped by a tricksy but sluggish Bourne End pitch and painfully slow outfield.

Charlie won the toss and we elected to field. Airdy, Shrimpton and Jez all bowled well on a seaming pitch, but their top order batted sensibly, keeping wickets in hand in order to take on the change bowlers. Myself, Tim Barnsley and Simon Napier-Munn all went for runs, and although wickets began to fall, Bourne End’s final total of 158 always looked a daunting one given the conditions.

It looked even more daunting when, faced with accurate bowling and excellent catching, our top order completely collapsed. I walked out at 35 for 5, and we were soon 7 down after I ran out Tim Barnsley (I still think it was his fault!) and Spencer spliced one to the slips. James Aird strode to the crease looking confident and we decided to grind the hell out them.

Which, apart from a particularly sweet straight six from Airdy, is exactly what we did. I scored a particularly dreary 5 from 44 balls before being bowled by a full-length away-swinger. Jez was then castled two balls later, and it was left to Airdy and Charlie “The Wall” Samuels to block out the last 4 overs and secure the dullest of draws. Sorry, Cricket!

Friday, 31 July 2009

Finally on the field for the Ashes

Some incredulity greeted the selection of Shane Watson to open at Edgbaston, in view of his 4 ducks in 6 innings opening for Queensland and his Test average of 19.76, but his 62 yesterday (before being dismissed to Onions' first ball today) can have failed to please only the most partisan of English supporters.

With an injury list to rival Andrew Flintoff's in length and surpass it in variety - shoulder, calf, back, hamstring and food poisoning (he mistook it for a heart attack) have all caused him to miss matches - it's good to see him even make it onto the field. Add to that the fact that, at Cardiff, he spent longer signing autographs than any other sportsman that I've ever seen and I wasn't that unhappy to see him milk some pretty mediocre English bowling.

Watson on his usual side of the boundary rope

What remains to be seen is whether he can secure himself an opening or, more likely, top 6 Test berth longer term, injuries permitting of course.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Edgbaston - final preview

Plenty of predictions are being made about Thursday's Edgbaston Test - that there will be problems starting the game (because of a water-logged outfield), problems continuing it (because of the rain forecast) and problems bringing it to a positive conclusion (because the pitch is a bowler's graveyard) - but, after the vast swing in the sides' fortunes between Cardiff and Lord's, it is impossible to know what next to expect this Ashes summer.

My feeling at both Cardiff and Lord's was that England's batting was careless and vulnerable, but they have topped 400 in each 1st innings: no disaster. And one change to a bowling attack that had struggled to take 6 wickets in 180 overs at Cardiff enabled them to take all 20 in 170 at Lord's. Sure, the overcast conditions helped Anderson to swing the ball in the 1st innings but Hughes, Haddin, Johnson, Katich and North all fell to attempted hooks and pulls. A strange series, then, so far.

In my book, the toss is a crucial one: if Ponting, a bad 'Punter' at Cardiff and Lord's, can make it 3rd time lucky and Australia get first use of an Edgbaston featherbed, they may be able to exert some proper first innings pressure on England's batting line-up, with particular question marks, to my mind, lingering over Ravi Bopara (clearly struggling for form in the Lord's 2nd innings), Ian Bell and Matt Prior. Prior's 2 Test centuries have both been scored against the West Indies and both were the 3rd of the England innings; it is one thing playing cameos with a declaration looming, quite another proving yourself a number 6 under pressure.

A similar argument can be deployed against Ian Bell, whose 8 Test centuries have always been the 2nd, at least, of the innings in which they were scored. That could potentially be misleading - accusations levelled at Bell that he has often 'slipstreamed' Kevin Pietersen show a lack of understanding of the differences between their batting styles - but his conversion rate of 8 centuries from 27 fifties (similar to Cook's 9 from 29, contrast Strauss 18 from 32, KP 16 from 31) is a poor one, a statistic that does not lie.

So make sure you're tuned in at about 10.45 tomorrow - if play is to start on time - since Andrew Strauss' flip of the coin could perhaps be a crucial one.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Breaking America?

Several months ago (see my March 26th post), I was excited to read of a planned American Premier League (APL) Twenty20 tournament to be held in New York in October. That particular tournament is now unlikely to go ahead, but the US cricket association has, unlike the APL’s organisers, received backing from the ICC (cricket’s main governing body) and is now in search of suitable partnerships to bring about the event.

Watch this space (as ever!), but don’t hold your breath even if sponsors and broadcasters are found. As Mike Atherton explained in a particularly fine Times column back in April, cricket’s best chance to become the big American sport came in the mid-19th century, when it rivalled baseball for popularity with clubs in 22 states. Once the rules of baseball were formalised in 1857 and the game spread to the South in the 1860s' Civil War, however, it grew rapidly. In 1905, the Mills Commission – set up to ascertain baseball’s origins – established the myth that it was a purely American invention, rather than evolving from (English) rounders, and it has been the US national sport ever since.

Cricket, by contrast, was marginalised and kept alive primarily by English, Indian and West Indian expats. Businessmen such as Sir Allen Stanford have attempted to create a market, but there has been little or no success as yet. In Joseph O'Neill's novel, Netherland, the dodgy Trinidadian entrepreneur, Chuck Ramkissoon, dreams of staging an international tournament in New York, but it remains a dream or, in O'Neill's words, "a metaphor for the boundaries of American perception." It is no accident that the hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, often termed the great American novel, has a business connection with the man said to have fixed baseball's 1919 World Series.

Turville Park vs HHCC

Good Lord, it’s nearly the end of July and time for our first away match of the season. How would Hyde Heath fare more than a hundred yards from The Plough? Well, reasonably well actually. The opposition were Turville Park and their ground really is beautiful (apparently it’s Jeremy Paxman’s favourite) - it was just a shame the weather was so glum.

Hyde Heath’s skipper for the day was Matt Simms, no doubt easing himself back in to the job before the challenges of Tour. He won the toss and, following in the footsteps of all the Heath greats, elected to field.

With overcast conditions and a brand new cherry we expected early wickets and, despite a rather depleted bowling attack, we were not disappointed. Jez bowled beautifully – he was accurate, canny and extracted just enough movement to trouble all the batsmen. His 5 wicket haul broke the back of the Turville innings. And there were some memorable dismissals: he set up one quality-looking player with two in-swingers before getting one to hold its line and clip the off-bail. Another batsman was completely deceived by a slower-ball off-cutter, which then darted back to bowl him through the gate.

At the other end James Shrimpton provided excellent support and was unlucky not to take more than two wickets. As so often, I came on at the end and picked up a cheap tail-end wicket - a nicely flighted leg-break that lured the batsman into the drive, turned a bit and lobbed to gulley. Before you laugh though, this fellow wasn’t just some hapless 10 year-old. He was probably about 75, and utterly shotless.

We then made a meal of chasing the target of 95, with Dom, Will, Tim Barnsley and me all perishing to pretty average shots. At least Tim had anchored things with 24 before top-edging their leg-spinner to cover. Shrimpy continued his good match with a sensible innings, without which the Heath may have struggled. His driving off the back foot was particularly brilliant, combining technique with some serious power.

Controversy came when Anooj was struck on the boot before he’d scored. I, umpiring at the time, had no problems with giving it out, but he was less than impressed. Oh well, a beer later and all was forgotten (I hope!) So the Heath scraped home by two wickets. Next stop, Tour!

Australia's Edgbaston selection

For the first time in quite a while in an Ashes Test build-up, Australia are wrestling with more difficult selection quandaries than England, who can only wait upon the results of Andrew Flintoff’s various painkilling injections (if Flintoff isn’t fit, Stuart Broad’s batting definitely puts him ahead of Harmison, though he is an almost certain pick anyway). The Australians, by contrast, have serious question marks over the two great success stories of their series win in South Africa, the prodigy Phillip Hughes and the man of that series, Mitchell Johnson.

Johnson’s radar went completely awol on the first morning at Lord’s, putting Australia on the back foot for much of the rest of the game, whilst Hughes has had some problems on that back foot against deliveries into the body from top fast bowlers such as Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and, err, David Wigley of Northamptonshire. Johnson’s travails are the more worrying, especially since his yips continued at Northampton, where he went for nearly 6 an over and took just one (tail-end) wicket. Hughes did score second innings runs and has, as far as I’m concerned, had only one bad match at Test level – having scored Test runs against the likes of Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn, he can't be that vulnerable against the short ball.

If the Australian selectors choose to back Johnson, though, it would be quite a risk to do so as part of a 4-man attack, which makes Shane Watson that bit more likely to play in the top order (probably in Hughes’ place). If Stuart Clark (23 overs, 4-74 at Northampton) replaces Johnson, the team will probably remain otherwise unchanged. I’d definitely make that change, mindful of Clark’s vice-like hold over Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss in 2006-7, but Tim Nielsen has remained bullish in backing Johnson. Surely they won’t actually keep the same team, though? Let me know your thoughts!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Pen portraits - Shahid Afridi

Photos of Shahid Afridi at the crease tend to show the vast follow through of his bat over his shoulder, its arc often sufficient to lift him a little off the ground. The power of the village blacksmith is twinned with a surprising litheness of foot that takes the scythes of his bat beyond the merely agricultural and gives them the mark of the trained assassin. And he bowls well too. A bewildering variety of leg breaks and his trademark quicker deliveries, all delivered with a frenetic action that wouldn't be out of place in a school playground.

This last image neatly captures an aspect of Afridi's appeal. Born in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border - his tribe is a powerful one - he first burst onto the international scene at the age of 16 back in 1996 with this spectacular 37-ball hundred against Sri Lanka, the fastest ever in internationals, and has retained the boyish exuberance in his game ever since.

It can't be easy knowing that you're unlikely to better something you achieved at 16 (though he has also hit a 45-ball hundred against India, also on youtube) and Afridi has been a bit of an enigma ever since, not helped by the constant infighting surrounding Pakistani team selection. It is testament to the man management skills of the late Bob Woolmer that, as Pakistan coach, he was able to coax the best out of Afridi in Test cricket, with consecutive centuries against India in 2006 following fine performances against England that winter - in the 2nd Test, he scored 92 at over a run a ball and took 4-95.

Yet that Test also saw him incur a ban following his bizarre decision to scuff up the pitch with the world's TV cameras watching. More than once he has announced and then rescinded his retirement from various forms of the game and he often seems to have strange ideas about where his strengths lie. In the last year or so, he decided he was primarily a spinner and best used down the order in one-dayers - when he was moved up to No.3 for the semi-final and final of the Twenty20 World Championship earlier this summer, he promptly produced match-winning 50s. The striking thing about his innings in the final was quite how measured it was, quite how carefully tailored to the match situation, quite how un-Afridi.

Is this, then, to be the beginning of the mature phase of Afridi's career? For the moment, characteristically, he's keeping us guessing, taking a fortnight's leave instead of playing in the Sri Lanka Test series. That, though, is one reason that 'Boom Boom', as he's known, is so exciting: you never know what's coming next, boom or bust.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Lord's - some photos and a very little history

The next stop in this Ashes series that you may just have heard about lately is Lord's, the 'home of cricket', which, since you ask, is St John's Wood, NW8. In the spirit of evangelism, I thought that I might put a few photos of the ground up and maybe even write a little bit about it to try to give some idea of what all the fuss is about.

The pavilion in pre-season serenity

Cricket has been played on this pitch since 1814, when the wine merchant and entrepreneur Thomas Lord moved the Marylebone Cricket Club, or MCC (formerly of Dorset Square, NW1 and White Conduit Fields, N1), to St John's Wood.

The MCC, founded in 1787, had shortly after established a Code of Laws for the game of cricket (as it did for lawn tennis just under a century later), very necessary in view of the sums aristocrats of the time were gambling upon it. It became and remained for a long time the game's central administrative body as its laws were adopted throughout the country, the empire and the world (though attempts to break the American market continue to meet obstacles).

In view of this history, it is perhaps not surprising that the club built up quite a reputation for stuffiness, refusing until 1997 to allow women to be members or to enter the pavilion. Its 20-year waiting list means that, in some respects, it can be slow to change and that its members are prone to wear the club's colours of red and gold as much as possible when finally accepted.

He was wearing the tie too

Yet the MCC is now very forward-thinking in its support for and tours of emerging cricketing countries around the world, from Argentina to Afghanistan, the latter one of the most notable success stories over the past few years. And at one end of Lord's itself stands the rather space-agey media centre, built for the 1999 World Cup.

The media centre, a magnificent viewpoint

And, though it is rather a cliché , it is this combination of tradition and modernity that makes Lord's such a magnificent venue for cricket. The teams make their way out from the pavilion through the Long Room, filled with paintings from cricket's centuries of history and the members' applause, and are greeted by the media centre, the advertising hoardings and a chanting crowd 30,000-strong. The familiar slope of the pitch remains even as ever more inventive strokes, such as Kevin Pietersen's switch hits, are played upon it.

The only problem for tomorrow? Touring teams tend to rise to the occasion: the Australians have not lost there since 1934.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cardiff review, Lord's preview

As those of you following the Tragics on Twitter will know, I was happily (though anxiously) amongst the spectators in Cardiff on the first and last days of the opening Ashes Test - one of the more swiftly snapped up of my girlfriend's date suggestions.

Broad sunshine swathed Test cricket's newest ground, picturesque and filled to capacity, as the Welsh Assembly's £3.2m bid for the match was rewarded by a finish as fine as any of those in the famed 2005 series (especially reminiscent, with roles reversed, of Old Trafford). The controversy surrounding Cardiff's selection as a venue ahead of the more established Test grounds in Durham and Manchester was largely forgotten as a well-organised week was capped by Paul Collingwood's defiant, intelligent innings and unexpected heroics from England's (or Britain's) last pair.

Paul Collingwood after his 1st innings dismissal

An enjoyable couple of days, then, and England's best of the match, but worrying nonetheless. Australia's attack was without Brett Lee or Stuart Clark, their two most experienced bowlers, and few difficulties had been anticipated from Nathan Hauritz, the off-spinner with a first-class bowling average of 45.84. Yet England's batting line-up compiled not one century in two innings on a benign surface, whilst watching 4 Australian batsmen of the 7 who came to the crease reach three figures. Admittedly, Ben Hilfenhaus did deliver the best performance of his short Test career, maintaining a tight line and getting good movement, and was definitely underbowled on the last day (15 overs to the less impressive Johnson's 22), whilst Siddle provided bustle and short-pitched menace and Hauritz steadily grew in confidence after a nervy first 5 overs.

England's batsmen, however, got out to some pretty ordinary shots. Enough has already been written about Pietersen's horrific sweep when set in the first innings, but too little about Prior and Flintoff perishing to expansive drives against the new ball late on the first evening, after their partnership of 86 had just about wrested back the initiative. Prior's dismissal in the second innings, attempting to cut an off-spinner on a sharply turning pitch, was also frustrating: so many of his runs have been scored against the West Indies (739 in 10 matches, as against 396 from his other 9) that it is doubtful whether he is a sound option at No. 6 against better sides. Strauss looked very composed in each innings, before indecision (against a Johnson short ball) and a poor decision (to cut at Hauritz twice in a row) cost him. He needs to stamp his authority on this series with the bat sooner rather than later.

As concerning as the batsmen's failure to capitalise having played themselves in (the first 10 English batsmen reached double figures in the 1st innings) were the workings over that Bopara, in the 1st innings, and Pietersen, in both innings, received. Bopara was understandably very scratchy after being struck in the gullet by a Siddle lifter, but Pietersen was exceptionally jumpy, even for him, at the start of each innings and looked all at sea right through his 20-minute stay on the final morning, the result, very likely, of a more fragile ego than he lets on. My confidence in Cook to improve his 32% conversion rate of 50s to 100s - as he must - remains slight.

Ben Hilfenhaus in his delivery stride on the final day

In my view, then, there is certainly a case for lengthening the batting order for the livelier pitch at Lord's and including Bell at No.6, where he has had some success. This decision may be forced upon England if Flintoff is injured, but should arguably be embraced regardless. The problem with that, of course, is that one cannot rely on Flintoff's body holding up as part of a 4-man attack. Perhaps, as Mike Atherton suggests, England should be prepared for life without Flintoff: after all, since the 2005 Ashes, they have won 12 of 25 Tests without him and only 3 of 23 with him. It is hardly likely that they will be this ruthless though.

Although Monty Panesar will surely be left out for the Lord's match, it is very difficult to make further predictions as to the bowling line-up in view of the doubts over Flintoff's fitness, Harmison's temperament and Broad's role. Either Harmison or Flintoff is needed to provide the steepling bounce that seems likely to account for the phenomenon Phillip Hughes (Stuart Broad was misused in attempting this), although it is just possible that Onions may remain ahead of Harmison in the pecking order. Anderson and Swann must surely retain their places, whilst the selectors will be unwilling to drop Broad after one bad match in a fine summer.

Which leaves me with Broad, Swann, Harmison (or perhaps Onions) and Anderson, with Bell's inclusion depending on Freddie's fitness. For the Australians, the selection is comparatively straightforward and the same team will line up at Lord's, health permitting. I'm dreading Mitchell Johnson's rediscovery of the inswinger that made him man of the series in South Africa and was conspicuous by its absence in Cardiff. England's best hope is for Strauss to find the form and the mettle he showed this winter.

Do let us know what you think about the selection, particularly on the bowling front...

Monday, 13 July 2009

HHCC vs Chesham Bois

A pretty clinical victory for Hyde Heath this Sunday, apart from one notable exception, about which more later. The opponents this week were local rivals Chesham Bois – some readers might be interested to note that I was born and raised in Chesham Bois, as was Dominic Haddock and Nick’s father-in-law lives there, but, in all honesty, very few are likely to care too much.

Myself and Henry Capper turned up rather late – courtesy of an irritating little TfL fellow named Andrew – and Hyde Heath were in the field, so I can only assume that Charlie had won the toss. We put together a strong all-round display – James Aird was again the major threat early on but Jez was unlucky to finish wicketless after beating the bat with great regularity. Airdy was also unlucky not to have their opening batsman LBW for single figures – especially as he went on to hold the visitors’ innings together with a hard-working 89.

I was given a 10-over spell by Charlie and, with the wicket turning quite sharply, managed to take two wickets for 39, including, as so often, a 14 year-old number 11. At the other end Simon Napier-Munn was swinging it both ways and bowling with great accuracy. He picked up three wickets, including two in two balls, but our one bad moment of the day cost Napes a fourth. He bowled the ball, the right-handed batsman chipped it in the air straight to short wicket – a gentle little underarm lob. Capper – gloveless thanks to his criminal ticket-avoidance activities earlier in the day – somehow, to general amazement, shelled it. Wow. Surely this year’s Cack Award is in the bag?

So, only 154 for victory, and a solid opening partnership – 41 for Capper, 39 for Richard Cousins – did the bulk of the work. But with the target in sight, Hyde Heath decided to jazz things up with a little middle-order wobble. It was left to James Shrimpton with another excellent innings of 46 not out and Jez to see us home.

While all this was going on there was also apparently some cricket going on in Cardiff. Congratulations to Paul Collingwood, James Anderson and Monty Panesar for securing the draw. Check out the Cricket Tragics live Twitter coverage of the nerve-jangling 5th day. Sadly, England are looking pretty toothless right now. And I can’t see things changing that much before Lord’s, a venue where England haven’t beaten Australia in a Test since 1934.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Cricket Tragics on Twitter

Cricket Tragics’ very own Tom Cameron has somehow bagged himself tickets to the first day of the long-awaited 2009 Ashes. And guess what? He’s only gone and joined Twitter to keep you folks up to date on all the action.

Check it out here: http://twitter.com/Cricket_Tragics

Cricket Tragics on Twitter – now that’s what I call new media-tastic.

Monday, 6 July 2009

HHCC vs Ballinger

And now the big one: old rivals Ballinger arrived at the Heath in what was being billed by many as the clash of the Titans. We were taking this one so seriously that some of the team even had net practice on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Preparation of the highest calibre.

Charlie was back to captain the side but for the second week running we lost the toss and were asked to bat. Their openers bowled tidily but we made a reasonable start before Capper was bowled by a good one and Haddock played one shot too many and was caught (I forget where) to end an innings that some were reffering to as ‘flighty’. This paved the way for James Shrimpton to play his finest innings of the season so far, an elegant but hard-hitting 75. He almost single-handedly held the Hyde Heath innings together with a series of brilliantly timed cover drives and flicks through mid-wicket.

Support came in patches, but when Shrimpton was dismissed the innings began to falter until James Aird and Brad Holt came together for an entertaining pre-tea partnership. Aird – whose 34 came of just 17 deliveries – was instrumental in getting the Heath up to a defendable total of 212. For those of you interested in such matters, I was feeling decidedly sketchy for most of the day and got caught behind chasing a wide out-swinger for 4.

Nick bowling to a 14 year-old

When the Ballinger openers came out, we were surprised by the fact that one of them was only 14. We might have assumed we’d get him out quickly but it was not to be. They put on an opening stand not far off 100 and suddenly our total didn’t look so big after all. The Heath were looking uncharacteristically flat – the bowling tidy enough, but the energy levels in the field well down on the usual standard. Several catches went down, including a complete shocker where Charlie and I each left the other to take responsibility. The bowler – Jez – was distinctly unimpressed.

But Brad eventually got the breakthrough and then it was over to James Aird. Coming after his entertaining innings, he bowled with hostility and control to tear through the Ballinger middle order and return figures of 6 for 16, his best for the Heath.

Bowled him!

With two wickets needed and four overs to go, victory was within our grasp. Torn between recalling Brad or yours truly to try and grab a wicket, Charlie opted, to my surprise, for me. When the bastman charged down the wicket and got stumped it looked like an inspired decision. But in the end we couldn’t quite force the final breakthrough, and the match was drawn with Ballinger 9 wickets down. Both teams had played some good cricket (and also some rubbish cricket) so perhaps, in the end, a draw was the right result.

Monday, 29 June 2009

HHCC vs Southwell Ramblers

It had to come to an end some time. Yes, Hyde Heath lost their first match of the season, and I’m ashamed to say it was under my captaincy. Whenever they’re given a bit of a pasting, the England team generally talk of “taking positives out of the game”, and it's true that one often learns more about the game of cricket from defeat than from victory. It was certainly interesting drowning our sorrows in The Plough and attempting to see where it all went wrong. I wonder what England Captain Andrew Strauss – who, rumour has it was watching our match for a brief period – would have made of it all.

In truth, it went wrong right from the start. I lost the toss and Southwell Ramblers skipper Tim invited us to bat first. From memory, this is the first time that we have had to bat first all season, and the different pressures involved in setting a target seemed too much for our batsmen, who perished to a succession of decidedly average shots. Haddock was the first to go, with a leading edge high to mid off, and Capper, today at no. 3, was bowled attempting a horrible sort of sweep to a full pitched delivery. It’s a testament to the strength of our batting line-up that we have managed to compile big scores despite the recent poor form of our main batsman. But not today.

It was good to see James Aird back with us, but not so good for me to have to give him out LBW without scoring. He was plum. Napier Munn was then also LBW and the two Richards – Cousins and Austin – departed in quick succession. When Atif was caught for 0, our innings really was in tatters. I came out at number 9 with the score (as far as I can recall) 48 for 7. A right old mess. Southwell then brought the spinners on, and for a brief time, Ben and I managed to steady the ship. I was timing the ball well and feeling pretty good, until drilling a return catch to be dismissed for 26. It was the kind of half-shot – torn between a full lofted drive and finding the gap along the ground – that characterised our dismal batting display. The tail wagged a bit, but we were finally dismissed for 125, and it was never going to be enough.

Me getting out

When our turn came in the field, I decided that short spells were the way to go. We had a lot of bowling and I wanted to give everyone a quick burst to see who would be most likely to produce the killer spell that we so desperately needed. Jez took a wicket in the opening over and Richard Austin bowled superbly from The Plough end to take four for 15, including Southwell’s two star batsmen. At 50 for 5, they were in trouble and we were well in the game. I then made a double bowling change, replacing myself with Airdy and Richard with the off-spin of Atif. In retrospect, as Richard Cousins pointed out, it was here that our momentum was lost. Neither bowler had played for some time, and Atif in particular struggled to find the right length. Airdy bowled well, but with his extra pace and a fast outfield, boundaries were coming, and we couldn’t afford them.

Richard Austin strikes as Jez looks on

And yet, it all could have been turned round in an instant when their young batsman chipped the simplest of return catches to Atif. Somehow, unbelievably, he dropped it, and our chance to break the partnership had gone. Jez returned to remove the same batsman but by then the score was 115. We sensed the possibility of something special, but in reality it was too little too late.

So what did we learn? Firstly, if catches win matches, then shocking drops have a demoralising effect on the bowler and, indeed, the whole team. But in reality we lost the match because nobody in the top six got over 20. Being part of a performance like that, it’s clear why we always field first. But in a way that merely compounds the problem. If you always conceal a weakness then there’s never a chance to rectify it. I think some strategy is needed: a clear definition of the role of each batsman when we have to set a target. But first, a proper net session might not be a bad idea.

Monday, 22 June 2009

HHCC President's Weekend

There are various ways to prepare for a game of cricket. A pre-match net perhaps, or some gentle fielding practice. I’m ashamed to say however that the Friday night before the President’s Day match I did not spend brushing up on my technique or studying video footage of the oppo. Nor indeed did I attend the Hyde Heath Beer Festival, which was by all accounts a triumph. No, instead I went a-boozing in glamorous Hackney until approximately 8 in the morning. Somehow I made it to the Heath on time (despite various self-induced transport difficulties) and at 12.30 we were ready to rumble.

President's XI

The President’s XI (for those of you who aren’t aware) is an invitation XI – effectively the HHCC President Robin Richards selects the best eleven cricketers that Hyde Heath plays against. The side was a strong one, captained by Robin’s son and ex-Heath skipper Ali. We would need to play well.

Hyde Heath CC

Charlie won the toss and, as ever, elected to bowl. Fielding definitely occurred, but thankfully I took little part in it. Jez and Nick bowled well early on and we took wickets regularly. I’m afraid to say I can’t remember too much of what went on, except for the odd moment every now and again, which I shall attempt to recount now: Hugh (who you may recall made 50 against us last week) was dropped badly by the usually safe Napier Munn at mid-off. It was a howler, and we prepared ourselves to pay for the mistake. But only a few balls later he absolutely creamed an off-drive drive straight at the same fielder. Somehow Napes held on. The ball was seriously travelling and never got more than 6 inches of the ground. It was a wonderful catch, but even better was to come.

Much to my surprise, when I came on to bowl, I did rather well. Driving properly through my action, I was accurate and getting some turn. In – I think – my fourth over however it started to go wrong. Or right. The first ball was horribly wide. But the batsman – Ollie Haddock – reached for it and drilled it towards cover. Four runs. But no, Nick the Kiwi leapt salmon-like and with two feet off the ground caught an absolute screamer. Two balls later I dished up a wide long-hop which was cut to point, where Will took it diving forward. Three great catches and some LBW decisions in our favour and the President’s were all out for 111.

Ali Richards to Matt Simms...

For some bizarre reason I was asked to open the batting alongside Capper, and so tottered to the crease hardly able to even see. With such a low total all we really needed to do was bat sensibly, but when Capper was caught and bowled by Ali, it looked like we might make a meal of it. Fortunately I decided to bore the opposition into submission. Finding able allies in, first, Matt Simms and then Simon Napier-Munn, I eschewed all stroke-play in favour of dead-bat forward defensives and terrible running between the wickets. There were a couple of memorable shots – a solid pull through mid-wicket off Tim Nutman, and later a straight drive down the ground off Ali, but in truth it was pretty gritty stuff. Anyway eventually it did the job and we won by 7 wickets. I finished unbeaten on 46. Mark Richardson would have been proud.

My boring innings

Sunday of President’s Weekend usually involves a six-a-side tournament, but with several teams dropping out we decided to play a Twenty 20 match, with ten(ish) per side. One team was made up of players from Hyde Heath and the other a composite side featuring five from Yeading Cavaliers alongside Capper, Jez, Nick and myself. We lost the toss and were asked to take the field. The Powerplay saw us bowl accurately and field poorly. Shrimpton (Hyde Heath skipper for the match) took full advantage, racing to 30 before getting himself out. Hyde Heath’s middle order then struggled as Jez applied the squeeze from one end and I dished up a load of old rubbish at the other. Somehow I took 3 wickets, thanks to a brilliant running catch at long-on by Nick (after he’d put down a sitter at the same position the previous delivery). Father and son Danny and Charlie Samuels then batted sensibly to get the Heath up to 145, a very defendable total.

We (Yeading Heath?) then lost Capper early (again) and really struggled to score at any kind of rate against the pace and accuracy of Brad Holt and a visiting fellow called Willis (no, not that one). But Yeading skipper Leather joined Jez at the crease and they began to forge a partnership by picking the gaps and running hard. With 70 needed off ten, it was anybody’s game. But then an expensive over from leg-spinner Jay and two poor ones from Will turned it our way, and eventually we romped home with almost 3 overs to spare. Jez finished unbeaten on 45 and Leather on 41.

So it was certainly a cracking weekend, and hopefully lots of money was raised so for the club. We’re still unbeaten and with no away matches until mid-July, it’s looking like being a record-breaking season.

Monday, 15 June 2009

HHCC vs The Misfits

Ooooh dear, well that was a little bit of a shocker. The Little Missenden "Misfits" were the oppo, and despite winning the match, it was an average day for Hyde Heath and a particularly terrible one for yours truly. Three pre-match pints may have calmed the jitters caused by a Saturday night of two hours sleep but they did little to improve my already meagre cricketing ability.

Last year the Misfits had trounced us by ten wickets but this season saw them arrive at Fortress Heath with a severely depleted side. With a tail starting at three, all we really needed to do was prevent a large opening partnership. When Jez removed their right-handed opener LBW early on, victory was pretty much assured. Their left-handed opener (and skipper) Hugh made a hard-working half-century, but wickets fell regularly at the other end. Off a shortened run, Bradley bowled accurately with pace and movement both ways, whilst Nick produced a probing opening spell and was unlucky not to take any wickets.

Fortress Heath

When a kid of about 10 walked out to bat in their middle order Charlie put me on to bowl and I duly dispatched him LBW. But thereafter I failed to threaten against two other children of 11 and 13. As the game drifted, we dropped catches and began to look like a rabble in the heat. Charlie put down three, Ben one (albeit a tough one), Capper at least one, and I flinched out of the way of an absolute dolly. Sorry, cricket! Eventually Jez returned to bowl some wides and take some wickets. He finished with 5 wickets and the Misfits were all out for 130.

When we overheard their captain saying to his troops "Listen lads, we only have one bowler" we assumed we’d chase the target down with ease. But like most village teams, the Heath have a habit of making a meal of small totals and we really tried hard to lose this one. After two early wickets, Shrimpton and Will Reynolds looked assured at the crease, both striking the ball cleanly. But when the former was controversially given out LBW by Jonny Capper for an excellent 43, our middle order wobbled.

Samuels was clean bowled for a duck and Nick got a good one that nipped back, so I strode out at number 7 feeling surprisingly confident. On came their 11 year-old leg-spinner (who I had singularly failed to dismiss), Will got a single and I took guard against him. The first ball I faced was tossed up and drifted gently a foot or so outside the leg stump. I propped forward, the ball spat past the outside edge and took the off bail. Oops. I felt like Mike Gatting, but less fat and less good at cricket.

A few more wickets fell as we neared the target, but combining sensible defence with some brutal shots through the covers, Will saw us home with an unbeaten half-century. So it was with relief and no little surprise that we sat watching England bounce India out of the World 20/20. It was almost enough to make me forget my humiliating day. That is, were it not for the continued reminders from my supportive team-mates...

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

In Defence of Twenty20

I am, as most are, worried about the impact that the T20 phenomenon will have on the longer form of the game... however as I work from home and have recently acquired Sky Sports I feel I should share some optimism about what I have seen.

Watching a game develop in front of us, it is clear that the international teams are still finding their feet in this format of the game, field settings and balance of teams are still a work in progress. I find it fascinating to be able to watch the development of ideas and tactic in this form of the game, for so long has 50 over cricket become formulaic (and in my opinion dull) it is with real pleasure that one can watch on to see the steady development of crickets newest toy.

It is still not clear how best to set your fields in the first 6 over of these T20 games, some teams opting for fine leg and third man to be back and bowl full and straight, while others prefer to pull their length back and have one man square of the wicket and fine leg in the circle.

It is still not clear what types of bowling are the most effective in this format. Our domestic T20 league seems to point to the fact that spinners/ slow bowlers are the key to success, but some of the international teams have proven to the contrary perhaps due to the higher class of batsmen compared to the domestic scene finding the more gentle pace easy to attack. But in this shortened format it has been fascinating to see how some international batsmen just don’t have the skill or ability to get after the genuinely fast bowlers; anyone who watched the NZ Vs South Africa game last night would have seen that Guptill and Broom (both Kiwi internationals) were clearly not up to panning the Saffer quicks out the ground and succumbed quickly
trying to do so.

Seeing novel bowling methods has also been of interest, whether it be Broad coming round the wicket bowling wide yorkers across the right-handers, the ever increasing array of slower balls or the continued emergence of Mendis finding genuine confusion is a more useful tool then genuine turn. It has been touted round that T20 is a batsmen game, but from the games I have watched it is more often inspired bowling and fielding displays that have won games rather than big knocks (Gale not included).

A fairly obvious point about T20, due to its shorter length, means one or two big performances from a side can result in a victory. Although that leaves many feeling a bit hollow, I think it is great to go into contest between any two teams knowing that the game could be turned upside down by early wickets or an explosive first 6 overs.

Not many of us will forget the Netherlands game too quickly (I had the joy of being there live!) but it can’t be a bad thing for the game to see an increased competitiveness between all sides and I am sure the Broad final over must have been a catalyst to many a chat over the resulting weekend – often for me with people who I would not usually consider to be big cricket fans.

I must stress again that I would not want to see T20 cricket to eat away at any of our beloved Test match cricket, as the longest form of the game is the true test of skill and where I hope all future cricket stars will make their names. But I feel with the cricket calendar getting more and more hectic, and players complaining of burn out, this format could lighten the work load on our players while still filling up the stadium and create that cash for the county grounds. This could also create a great opportunity to promote the women’s games having a women’s match as a prelude to the main event.

We all know that T20 is here to stay and it seems as if it is only going to increase in its frequency. I just hope that it is at the expense of the 50 over format rather than Test cricket. There are 7 scheduled one day games between Australia and England after the Ashes this summer. I would assume that we will all remember the result of the Ashes, but wonder how many of us will recall the outcome of the 7 match series. It’s not Test cricket but I encourage you all to give T20 a second chance, not just as a cheap thrill but as another spectacle of this great game, and one is forcing players and coaches to think as deeply and innovatively as they have done in any format.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

HHCC vs Full Tossers

Another captaincy opportunity for yours truly, and another afternoon of deft decision-making and inspirational leadership. I won the toss and elected to field, despite only having a team of nine. How hard is a 2 o’clock start, people?

Apart from the absence of Atif (where has he been this season?) this was probably a full-strength Hyde Heath line-up, with enough skill, power and chutzpah to make any opponent quake. With a six-man bowling attack I always had plenty of options – something that came in handy as Kiwi Nick insisted on pitching consistently short and getting flogged through mid-wicket. He did manage to remove their opener though (sharply caught by Haddock off another long-hop) and produced some probing deliveries thereafter.

Me bowling to some old man

With Jez picking up wickets quite regularly at the other end, I turned to the gentle seam-up of HHCC newbie Ben Sonley. He proceeded to bowl ten accurate and incisive overs to pick up the excellent figures of 3 for 25. A hostile spell from Luke Brennan brought two wickets and I cleverly brought myself on to finish the innings off in style – or more accurately, three full tosses on the trot.

So we only had to chase 131 for my third victory out of three. But with the pitch playing a little unusually courtesy of some mid-afternoon rain and the light beginning to fade, it was no foregone conclusion. Their opening bowlers insisted on a short-pitched strategy and Capper and Haddock did well to grind their way to 37 without loss. At that point, with the Heath in a position of calm authority, the heavens opened.

With thunder and lightning encircling the ground the match was sadly abandoned and hands were shaken. Then we all crammed into The Plough to watch England beat a lacklustre Pakistan to ensure their progression to the next round of the 20/20 World Cup.

Monday, 1 June 2009

HHCC vs Ley Hill

So after the glories of last Sunday, I came crashing back to earth on another beautiful sunny day in leafy Bucks. Such is the nature of the fickle art of leg-spin: one week you feel like Shane Warne, landing every ball pretty much where you want it, and turning it square. And the next, it seems as if you’ve never bowled before in your life – the ball seems to weigh a tonne, it sticks in the hand, and your action goes to pieces.

Anyway, enough of my travails. What about the rest of the match? Well, as usual Hyde Heath fielded first, and with a depleted bowling attack (why do our frontline bowlers never turn up?) we dished up a load of old drivel. Ley Hill’s almost shotless openers somehow managed to rack up a hefty (but tedious) hundred partnership (helped no end by around 28 wides). Luke Brennan came back with a good second spell, bowling with pace and better control, and Jez picked up two wickets in his last over, one courtesy of a brilliant running catch by Henry Capper on the long on boundary.

So at tea, we were set 208 to win the match. Given the belting track and our strong batting line-up, it looked like a stiff ask, but by no means impossible. We needed a good start. And we didn’t get it. Ley Hill’s 17 year-old quick rattled through our top order with pace and bounce. Capper went in the first over, popping a catch to mid on; Shrimpton miscued a pull to mid off, 2 balls after one of the most sumptuous lofted cover drives you could wish to see. Then Dom Haddock was bowled by a slower ball yorker, and Will Reynolds had his off stump pegged back first ball.

Fortunately, just as we were staring down the barrel of an ignominious first loss of the season, their quickie who had taken all four wickets was taken off – something to do with young players only allowed to bowl six over spells I think. Our experienced middle-order pairing of Tim Barnsley and Simon Napier-Munn took full toll. Barnsley made 44 and Napes 68 – the highest score of his career. He started off in calm and orthodox fashion, but as the required rate rose to around 10 an over, the cross-batted shots became more frequent. Everything seemed to come out of the middle though, and 10 an over was hardly a problem. At one stage it looked like we might be able to chase the target down.

Unfortunately the loss of these two experienced players put the brakes on. I came out with 30 required from 3, but the return of the opening bowler dried up the run-rate. We finished 190 for 7 and the match was drawn. On a hot day, it was a tame end to a good game, but with most of our bowling attack missing, I think we did well to challenge against a strong Ley Hill outfit.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

HHCC vs KC (not Nomadic Medics)

After last Sunday’s fixture against Great Missenden was called off due to rain it was back to the hallowed Heath for a match against KC, a last minute replacement for the Nomadic Medics. We won the toss and – in glorious sunshine – decided to take the field.

Despite testing opening spells by Jez and Kiwi overseas player Nick, the opposition built a solid opening partnership. So Richard Austin came on at The Plough End and immediately removed their left-handed Sri Lankan opener courtesy of a neat catch at first slip by Anouj. But further inroads were not forthcoming. With Jez beginning to tire in the heat, the captain turned to yours truly, most probably with a sense of foreboding.

But it turns out that it was the oppo who should have been worried as I proceeded to claim career best figures of 7 for 55 off 13 overs. The first wicket, if I do say so myself, was a classic leg-spinner’s dismissal: it pitched middle and leg, with a bit of dip, the batsman came forward to defend, was beaten by the turn and the ball clipped the off-bail. Magic! Of course, as is the way with leg-spin, some of the wickets were less impressive than others. One was a long-hop top-edged to deep square leg, another was LBW off a low full toss, but hey ho... Generally, I was pretty happy with my control, got enough turn to be a consistent threat and everyone fielded well.

So KC were all out for 170, a total that, on Hyde Heath’s pancake-flat wickets, was never really going to be challenging. We reached the total for the loss of 1 wicket. Capper and Dom Haddock both made aggressive half-centuries and we all walked over to the Plough for some well-earned binge-drinking.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Reader Competition!

There's really nothing like a spontaneous game of cricket, whether you're in the shadow of Everest or being watched by herdsmen in Kabul.

In celebration of this universally acknowledged truth, Cricket Tragics is launching a competition to find the very best photos of hastily contrived fixtures in unusual circumstances: whether they're taken indoors or in the back garden, underground or at altitude, we'll be publishing the finest of the photos you send in - there may even, at the judges' discretion, be prizes.

A couple of pics from my latest sortie will hopefully get the ball rolling. When I'm bowling, as you can see, the field soon spreads...

Monday, 11 May 2009

HHCC vs The Lee

Well, what a cracking win that was. My second match as captain of Hyde Heath (our usual skipper Charlie Samuels was away watching football or something) and the match was a belter. The team I was presented with was distinctly below par – we were missing three first choice seamers, Atif’s bemusingly effective off-spin and our number 3 batsman James Shrimpton. Indeed, so light on bowling were we that I had to churn out 12 overs of increasingly lethargic leg-spin. Took a reasonably respectable 2 for 50 though.

The Lee were our worthy opponents and thanks to some solid batting at the top of the order they managed a reasonably intimidating 207. Despite our limitations in the bowling department we actually did pretty well. Tim Barnsley rolled back the years to take a couple of wickets and Jez (our only front-line medium pacer) overcame a mediocre start to take the crucial wicket of their main batsman, although it was via a pretty terrible LBW decision.

With the pitch playing hard and true there was always a chance we could get the runs, especially if we got off to a reasonable start. Henry Capper made 62 in an innings that alternated between glorious on-drives and fortuitous edges through the slips. Together with, first, the rotund Richard Cousins and then HHCC new boy Anouj, Capper put together a solid platform from which to launch.

Or not. When he top-edged a full-toss, Hyde Heath did what they do best, and wobbled. So out strode the skipper (that’s me!) to the crease. With about 100 needed off the final 20, run-rate was never really issue and Jez and I batted sensibly to bring the target ever closer. With only single figures needed to seal a famous victory came a moment of controversy, and one that could only happen in village cricket.

Their left-arm spinner delivered the ball. It was slow and loopy and inviting the drive. I missed it. Overbalancing slightly I left the crease before turning round to see that the keeper had dropped it. I rather lost interest and made no attempt to get back to the crease, instead going for a bit of a wander down the wicket. Their keeper eventually picked up the ball and whipped of the bails. Capper – the square leg umpire – had also neglected to stay alert and rightly said that he couldn’t give it out because he hadn’t been watching.

What to do? The oppo were maybe being unsporting and I was certainly within my rights to remain at the crease. But as skipper of the noble Heath I had to think of the glory of the club. With only 7 runs needed and 3 wickets surely the match was all but ours? Well, given that 9, 10 and 11 probably had a combined average of 5, we could easily have lost it. Weighing all this up, I’m pleased to say that I did the right thing: tucked my bat under my arm and trooped back to the pavilion. I clearly did right by the notoriously fickle gods of cricket, as two overs later, Jez launched one through the covers to seal a memorable victory.

The real winner then was cricket (and of course Hyde Heath).


Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Ashes plan or horses for courses?

To anyone following the build-up to today's England team selection for the first of the two upcoming Tests against the West Indies, that selection will have come as a surprise - neither Ian Bell, nor Michael Vaughan (around whom speculation has centred) made the 12-man squad, nor even Owais Shah, with Ravi Bopara preferred for the No. 3 berth, whilst Steve Harmison was passed over in favour of Durham teammate, Graham Onions, and Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan.

What is unclear about the selection, however, is how far it signals England's Ashes intentions. A top 7 of Strauss, Cook, Bopara, Pietersen, Collingwood, Prior and Broad may look adequate against the inexperienced West Indies attack, but it is surely a little lightweight to face the Australians. At No.8, Broad was a luxury, but, at No.7, he will shoulder run-scoring responsibility; Bopara scored one century against West Indies at No.6 (after being dropped on 4), but coming in first down against a top bowling attack on pitches with some life (Lord's aside) is quite a different matter. Putting two players in 'make or break' situations inevitably pressurises the rest of the batting line-up.

The 5-bowler selection may be a reflection of the difficulty of forcing a result at Lord's (the last 6 Tests there have been drawn), rather than a statement for the summer, although it's worth remembering that the team for the final Windies Test of the winter had the same balance. If this balance works well in the first Tests, it could well be kept for the summer, especially if Flintoff returns at No.7.

Whatever the side's balance, players I'd regard, at this stage, as inked-in Ashes certainties are Strauss(c.), Cook (reluctantly), Pietersen, Collingwood, Prior (with reservations), Broad and Anderson. With Swann or Panesar as the main spinner, this leaves 3 further places up for grabs: 2 batting and 1 bowling if England are being conservative, 2 bowling and 1 batting if caution is thrown to the wind, and one of each if Flintoff is fit.

The brusque message sent to Bell and Harmison, the most notable 'snubees', is that they are going to have to make themselves impossible to leave out between now and July, rather than simply returning to 'their' spots in the team. Bell, in particular, repeatedly puts being dropped down to a 3-month loss of form, rather than a failure, over a longer period, to do justice to his talent by scoring match-dictating centuries under pressure.

In the race for Ashes places, it's all to play for, which is just as it should be. Since Andy Flower doesn't have the luxury of a settled team, the best he can do is to stimulate competition for places and hope that the results will follow. It'll be interesting to see which players react best.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

In search of an IPL team to support

At the end of my last post, I began to ponder which team I'd be supporting in the second season of the Indian Premier League - a bizarre 8-franchise event pitching together teams composed of the world's best current players, the cream of India's up-and-coming crop and some from the 'Seniors' Tour'. As it enters the second of its five weeks in South Africa - complete with cheerleaders, mid-innings commercial breaks and the venomous (and hugely popular) Fake IPL Player blog (supposedly the work of a reserve for the Kolkata Knight Riders) - I am still none the wiser.

I was initially quite excited at the prospect of watching Kevin Pietersen turn around the fortunes of Bangalore Royal Challengers, who came 7th of the 8 teams last year and were widely ridiculed for picking a 'Test team', with a batting line-up including Rahul 'The Wall' Dravid and Jacques 'What's my average now?' Kallis. Not only was I very sorry that Pietersen was not England's captain for longer (I always fancied he could have emulated Viv Richards as a captain as well as a batsman), but I've also long felt that the best Test cricketers adapt their games best to the shorter formats - Dravid was one of the leading run-scorers last year and is currently 6th in the list this year. The problems with supporting the Challengers, though, are that Pietersen will be returning to England soon and I am unable to do anything other than enjoy the sight of Jacques Kallis' face as his bowling is hit around the park. They're also now bottom of the table.

Besides, the 'Royal Challengers' sobriquet is pretty poor really. In fact, half the teams have 'Royal' or 'Kings' as part of their name - a bit of a dearth of creativity in the marketing department, surely? By the 'name criterion', the Kolkata 'Knight Riders' are also a non-starter, I'm afraid, much as I like Chris Gayle and enjoy as I do the row brewing between John Buchanan and anyone who plays for him. If they'd been the 'Night Riders', I might have been intrigued..

The Delhi Daredevils are the only team to manage a vaguely decent name - hitting the jackpot (comparatively speaking) by being alliterative and appropriate to Twenty20 - and they seem to have assembled a team made for this format: Gambhir, Sehwag, De Villiers (scorer of the first century in this year's competition) and Dilshan are four of the most in-form batsmen in the world (in all formats), while Daniel Vettori is the world's best Twenty20 bowler and a fine captain. They have Owais Shah and Paul Collingwood in reserve, not to mention Glenn McGrath and Twenty20 sensation, David Warner. All this probably makes them the favourites to win the competition, which might well lose them my support, I'm afraid...

Which brings me nicely on to the underdog appeal of the Rajasthan Royals, or Team Warne, who won last year on a shoe-string budget (well, it's all relative - see here for a look at who was worth the spend last year). After losing Shane Watson, the Man of the Tournament last time, and Sohail Tanvir, its leading bowler, to the Pakistan-Australia series in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, things aren't going so well, with the Graeme Smith-led batting yet to fire (and Swapnil Asnodkar a shadow of last year's buccaneer). Dimitri Mascarenhas is doing marginally better than Warne with the ball (as things stand), but both have been trumped by the 18 year-old Indian left-armer, Kamran Khan, until recently, like me nowadays, predominantly playing tennis-ball cricket. Plucked from nowhere, he epitomises Rajasthan's lure - I wonder, though, whether liking them is a sign of my inner curmudgeon failing to embrace the IPL on its own terms, sticking two fingers up to its big-spending fantasy team ideal (in the first season, Rajasthan were actually penalised for not spending enough!).

As such, I'm going to need to look further afield and avoid curmudgeonliness in that respect. I'm not charitable enough, though, to overlook Chennai Super Kings signing Matthew Hayden. The Deccan Chargers have Adam Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs as their scintillating opening pair and are currently leading the way, after finishing bottom last year. Pragyan Ojha, an Indian slow left-armer, is proving one of the bowlers of the tournament so far, and Fidel Edwards' slingy action is highly effective in the death overs.

But Lasith Malinga, playing for the Mumbai Indians, is a more exciting slinger than Edwards and has been thrillingly unplayable thus far. And you can't beat the old masters, Jayasuriya and Tendulkar, for an opening pair. Sentiment and Sri Lankan exuberance, then, might just swing me Mumbai's way.

I've not quite persuaded myself yet - I'm still rooting for Rajasthan in their current run-chase against Delhi - but I'm certainly excited at the feast of cricket on offer. Hopefully, the more I watch, the less confused I'll be - I'll keep you posted...