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!