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.