Tuesday, 6 September 2011

HHCC vs Old Salopians

Match cancelled as Old Salopians (whoevever they are) couldn't raise a team.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

HHCC vs Bank of England

Haha oh dear. What a hilarious match. Never, I don't think, have I seen Hyde Heath – the mighty, noble Heath – collapse in quite such dismal fashion as we did against Bank of England this Sunday. Never though, it must be said, have I seen the Heath fielding such a weakened team – with both the batting and the bowling looking extremely thin, and, indeed, the fielding. But we can come to that later....

Will Cousins defends

First, the main event: 43 all out. Truly dismal. The rot started with a potentially dubious LBW decision against Dom, who had made 13. Henry then played down the wrong line (or received a vicious off-cutter, depending on who you ask) to get bowled. Spencer was also then bowled, missing a swipe at a low full toss, resulting in the tantalising prospect of the two Cousins – Richard and Will – batting together. Despite some stout defence however it was not to last long, and then we really fell in a heap. Matt clipped to mid-wicket, Jez was caught behind first ball and Liam was bowled, also first ball. I strode out as last man (at number 10) needing to survive the hat-trick ball in order to give Fergus (borrowed from the oppo to give us at least a semblance of a cricket XI) the chance of facing a delivery. Sadly it was not to be, as the ball pitched on a length, shot along the ground and I too registered the dreaded golden duck.

My horrible technique

Earlier, stand-in skipper Matt had won the toss and elected to bowl on a pitch that looked like it would offer a bit to the seamer. We needed to take advantage of the new ball, but Jez failed to locate his usual probing line and length, Spence dropped too short too often, and before we knew it, the Bank had 50 on the board without loss. Matt then turned to Dom and I and we exerted a modicum of control, as well as picking up the occasional wicket. I bowled reasonably – and it was good to get a nice long spell – but neither Dom nor I ever threatened to really run through the opposition. Although perhaps things might have been different were it not for our fielding: specifically, Jez dropping not one but two of the all-time dollies (both of them probably as bad as Capper's spill the week before). Cue strop.

Is that a full toss? Probably...

In the end I took four wickets and Jez returned to bowl full and straight and mop up a tail-end in pursuit of quick runs. The Bank finished on 180, a total which turned out to be well, well beyond us.

On the plus side, Sunday saw the first time Hyde Heath had served up a hot tea – a delicious chilli con carne made by Janet – which is definitely something we could look to add to our repertoire, particularly as the cold and grey of September closes in.

The other positive was that at least it was the Bank of England against whom we collapsed in a heap. They're always a splendid bunch and there's certainly something rather nice about getting to the pub before 6 in the knowledge that the next day is a bank holiday. Good old booze – the universal healer.

The Bank dressed as Australians. Note the presence of 'The Don'

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ivinghoe & Pitstone vs HHCC

A scintillating return to form for yours truly this weekend, as I managed to bowl no less than six overs for less (just) than a run a ball. I didn't take a wicket, and in the context of the match that was actually really quite expensive, but hey ho. At least I managed to land a few, and two even turned quite sharply.

The game was away against Ivinghoe and Pitstone, the scene two years ago of Nicko's brilliant unbeaten 90 in a losing cause, and as it's their ground, it means their rules – ie limited overs. Urgh. We lost the toss and were put in, and after Dom was caught behind by their juggling keeper, Shrimpy and Henry put on a monster 2nd wicket stand of 149. It was by no means plain sailing though, on a very green pitch, that not only offered plenty to seamer and spinner alike, but was also slow and therefore attacking shots were hard to time (or at least, that's what it looked like).

After seeing off some accurate and threatening bowlers, both batsman grew in confidence and flourished against some average change bowling. Shrimpy battled away for an unbeaten 74, whilst Capper made an excellent 86, during which both batsmen had to work (and run) hard for their runs, due to both the size of the ground and some clever fielding set by the oppo. Although quite why they insisted on trying to block Capper's non-existent square cut I'm not so sure. Towards the end of our allocated overs, Harry McHugh came in and belted a couple of big sixes in his run-a-ball 32 and we closed on a highly creditable 216 for 2.

At this point, a quick word on ringers. After a fearful rant a few weeks ago about the use of a semi-professional cricketer by Chesham 'whipping' Bois, I should mention the use by Ivinghoe of a ringer of their own. This time, however, it was less of an onfield scandal as an off-field revelation. Clearly threatened by the strength of the Hyde Heath tea, I&P brought in their heavy artillery in the form of a crack tea-making unit. Coronation chicken sandwiches, egg and cress (clearly home-made), scones laden with jam and clotted cream, sausage rolls, strawberries: truly, this is what cricket is all about. And on behalf of the Heath, I urge the use of such ringers by certain other clubs we play against, mentioning no names of course...

Anyway, back to the field (a stone or two heavier). The Heath were very light on bowling, something which can be badly exposed during limited overs cricket. Fortunately, we were saved by three key figures: the first was Jez, our only full-time 'pace' bowler, who took two wickets in his opening over to put the pressure firmly onto the oppo. The second was Ben, who getting movement both ways, and hitting a niggardly length, proved practically impossible to score off, and bowled all his eight overs off the reel for only ten runs, with the one wicket too. (It would have been more had Capper not dropped one of the all-time great howlers).

And the third was Charlie, who deftly juggled his bowlers (I was first change!) and set some well-balanced fields in order to prevent Ivinghoe from ever really settling. Apart from their tall 'keeper, Daniel (I think) who made 70, nobody else was able to get going, especially as Spencer destroyed their middle order with three wickets, including two in two balls. A bit like Stuart Broad, he stopped with the long-hops, located a fuller length, and reaped the rewards.

From there, the match rather petered out – as is the way with limited overs when one team has no chance of winning. The last ten overs saw both teams rather going through the motions and it all became a bit dull (despite Tim Barnsley and Dom Haddock both taking a well-earned wicket) and we all left thanking the Lord that we play proper time-based cricket every Sunday.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Kent vs Surrey, Canterbury

As England began the four days of cricket that would see them pound India into the ground and in the process overtake them as officially the best Test side in the world, I was not at Edgbaston with them. Nor was I at my desk, with the cricket on one screen (praise be to Sky Player) and some token 'work' on the other. No. Instead, I spent the day down in Canterbury with Matt Sims and his cronies from Pett's Wood and elsewhere, watching some turgid second division cricket in the form of Kent against Surrey.

Things started attractively enough as Kent, who won the toss and elected to bat, fairly raced to 80 off 19 overs, courtesy of attractive innings from England hopeful Joe Denly and rotund England once-was Rob Key (whose double century at Lord's I'm proud to say I witnessed first-hand way back in 2004). But from there progress ground to a halt as a succession of Kent batsmen scratched around and then got out as soon as they got into double figures.

When their sorry innings was over, it was Surrey's turn to get off to a flier – closing on 50 without loss after 12 overs, mainly thanks to the aggressive skipper, Rory Hamilton-Brown.

From following the match on Cricinfo, I see that Surrey collapsed in even grimmer fashion than Kent (to the innocuous medium pace of Darren Stevens of all people – any relation, Jez?), Kent set a stiff target of 370 on the back of what must have been a brilliant innings for Rob Key (after his unbeaten hundred, the next highest score in the whole match was 49) and Surrey folded to Stevens again (and James Tredwell, rather hilariously).

Now, you might think that such a day's play would have confirmed all the sterotypes about county cricket being boring and internationals being where it's at etc. Well kind of, but also it did the opposite. I've spent three days at the two Lord's tests this season (and I'm off to the Oval this Thursday) but to be honest, this was by far the most enjoyable occasion. Lord's I love, but only when you do it right – in the Tavern stand with the members and friends, gently pickling yourself in delicious wines, then snoozing off in the afternoon session, before being rudely awaken by people applauding something happening in the cricket. It's so inconsiderate...

But Lord's isn't always so perfect – one day we were over in the Compton Stand, and the view from under the ugly concrete platforms really is an unpleasant one. That and of course half the people at Lord's are dreadful, and there's so bloody many of them queuing and queing to drink themselves senseless. Even when we were in the Tavern, we arrived at 9.30am ( full hour and a half before play) and still couldn't get five seats together – such was the eagerness of the MCC members, or more aptly, such were the numbers of seats block-booked for corporate jollies.

Canterbury on the other hand is a little saggy round the edges, slightly dilapidated – particularly in the brilliant Frank Woolley Stand (not Frank Worrell as I had mistakenly enquired of a bemused looking steward) – and decidedly parochial. But therein lies its (and indeed cricket's) charm. Here, during Canterbury Cricket Week time, are dedicated cricket lovers (as opposed to blazered bankers), happy families, kids (and us) playing cricket on the outfield, bacon baps (for which one doesn't have to queue), and kegs of delicious real ale for £2.90 a pint – the highlight being Harvey's delightful Olympia golden ale, brewed a few miles away in Lewes, East Sussex. It really is a wonderful atmosphere here – one that revolves around the cricket, but doesn't totally rely upon it. What a joy.

HHCC vs Gamecox

An Ex-Chairman writes...

Michael Simkins in his book on village cricket, The Last Flannelled Fool (available from Telegraph Books - any chance of a free copy?) asserted that the game of cricket’s soul abides on our village greens. However, maybe not in the middle of August when our captain is arranging the composition of the side from Croatia, the best batsman is away, camping (enough said), the purveyor of spin and insight is unavailable (also camping [against his will – Ed.]) and everyone else seems to be away with Mummy, Daddy and Ryan Air.

For the first time for a long while, the Heath were a bit short not just from Stanley Burgham making his debut (and a very good one, too), but because of a few late drop-outs. In all honesty, most of the players are very good at phoning an apology, but it must be said there is nothing more frustrating than expecting someone who doesn’t appear and keeps his phone switched off. Anyway, 7 originals plus the aforementioned Stanley, the captain’s brother-in-law and the ex-chairman who only came to report the demise of the mower, made up to a creditable 10. Ben Sonley kindly stood around as eleventh man, didn’t bat, had his tea and left for his radio show at 5.00!

Peter Cox won the toss and inserted the Heath, never a good thing for us. Mike, the groundsman, came back early from his holiday to present a very good pitch and we were off. Shrimpy and Dom looked very good, hitting several boundaries until Shrimpy was out to a “pearler” even Anderson would have been proud of, and Dom followed soon after. To the wicket strode Nick, father of Stanley, and murderer of short bowling. Firstly Liam and then Spencer gave him support as he laid in to their bowling. Liam, one short of his best score, and Spencer with a solid 20, led to the ex-chairman battling to survive up one end, while Nick treated the same bowling with disdain. Maybe by fate, a severe calf injury left him anchored to the crease with a runner but just as brutal. 89 runs with 3 sixes was a great return. Next in was Jeremy who again made the bowling look easy and scored a fine 50. Up the other end, the bowling seemed much more difficult, although 27 not out, gives the senior Capper a better average than junior but slightly less runs (609 less)!

236 for 5 off 37 overs was a good score but the tea was even better. Excellent sandwiches, dreamy chocolate, ginger and fairy cakes, melon, strawberries and sausages, hopefully, would dull the Gamecox’s batting. Thank you ladies.

Down to 9 fielders, young Josh agreed to help us out and later took a stunning catch at mid-wicket. After a fast start from the opposition, Jeremy bowled really well and accurately as did Richard Austin, our captain for the day.

Richard then rang the changes with Liam, David and Spencer all bowling creditably. Gradually the score crept up with a good second wicket partnership and with 6 an over needed off the last 17 overs it could have been a close game. However an excellent catch by Liam and some great bowling by Jeremy (4 for 48), Richard (2 for 40) and Shrimpy, slowed things down and at the end Gamecox were struggling. 209 for 7 and a tense final over saw the game to a close. Actually, after the struggle for players at the start, there was some very good cricket. The fielding was very good indeed with Shrimpy, Spencer, Liam, Dom, Josh and Stanley the main men.

Simkins says “Faith is what’s required in village cricket, faith that the sun will come out, faith that the opposition will turn up (or all of the agreed players for our side), faith that their best batsman will nick an edge (and walk!) and faith that the game won’t disappoint.” This game was, actually, of a high standard, in spite of being a tricky time of year and Josh, Stanley and Ben should be congratulated for making a game out of what could have been a disappointing day.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Longwick vs HHCC

An account in bullet points, courtesy of Richard Austin:

1. Charlie won toss. With light drizzle threatening we agreed a 35 over game and fielded first.

2. Jez and Shrimpy bowled a tight first 6 overs on a difficult wet bouncy track. In Jez's last over Tim B dropped a sitter at first slip. Jez was then immediately taken off (to save his remaining overs for later) but he wasn't best pleased!.

3. The sun came out as Ben and I then came on and kept things fairly tight. Longwick were 76 for 3 after 20 overs (my figures were 7-3-10-3). Henry (cymbals) Capper having taken a sitter off me and having dropped a couple more off both Ben and I; something he admitted he has been doing a lot of lately.

4. Nick and Fiddy came on to bowl as the Longwick middle order started to try to up the ante. Nick took one wicket (unlucky not to get more), Fiddy bowled a horrible long-hop first ball which resulted in a brilliant over-the-shoulder running catch from Harry McHugh (Luke's mate), after which he settled down and bowled much better.

5. With the weather now sunny, Jez and Shrimpy returned to finish their alloted overs. Jez bowled well without much luck although he got an LBW with last ball of innings to finish on 7-1-22-1, with half the runs against him being wides! Shrimpy unfortunately lost the rythmn he'd had in his earlier spell and finished with 7 overs for 38.

6. Longwick ended on 144 for 6 off 35 overs – a testing target but one we were confident of getting, however when we emerged from the depths of the Longwick Village Hall after tea we were greeted with torrential rain – cue abandonment of match and general sense of anti-climax, although I sensed that our openers didn't much fancy going out on a wet-again track (Henry's comment of “That pitch will be an average-killer” might have been a clue!).

7. After standing in the rain outside The Red Lion of Longwick waiting in vain for the pub to open (this was at about 5.15pm and the pub normally doesn't open until 7, but their skipper had phoned up the landlord and asked him to open early apparently), 'bugger this' was the collective sentiment and we repaired to The Plough for much needed refreshment.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Bourne End vs HHCC

Traditionally, the Bourne End fixture is one of the hardest of the year. It's miles away, it's not the most attractive ground in the world, the oppo are usually pretty strong, and – significantly – it's right after tour and everyone is usually exhausted.

But with tour cancelled this year (nothing to do with the London riots I hasten to add – although if the Oval test match gets cancelled I'll be frickin' livid...) it was a chance to show what we at Hyde Heath are made of.

It was also a chance for me to practice what I preach. After a season that's so far featured more opinions from yours truly than wickets (and indeed runs) I had a chance to lead the side in the manner I've espoused on Tragics (thanks to Henry's last minute decision to hand over the baton of authority).

Unsurprisingly I largely failed in my bid to ensure that everyone got a game, as Spence, Liam, Tim Barnsley and myself didn't bat or bowl, whilst even Shrimpie only bowled the solitary over. In part this was clearly my fault as captain, but it was also in part due to some unexpectedly cavalier batting from the Bourne End top order, and some impressively resolute batting from our own.

Bourne End won the toss and strangely elected to bat on a spicy wicket. They came out, as they often do, with all guns blazing, but thanks to some excellent bowling from both Jez and Brad (and some shrewd captaincy I hasten to add...) we swiftly scythed through their line-up. What was so pleasing was the way in which both bowlers hit consistent lines and lengths, meaning that captaincy decisions could focus on how to get the batsman out, rather than how to stop the boundary off the rank ball. This is the fun part of captaincy – working with the bowlers, analysing weaknesses in the batsmen and manoeuvring the troops as appropriate.

And clearly it worked. Jez bowled splendidly – full, with a bit of movement in the air and some bounce of the pitch to finish with 4 wickets, whilst Brad also bowled with some fire to unsettle a couple of their batsmen. He took two, despite a couple of drops off his bowling by Dom (although one of them was pretty bloody tough). With the oppo's top order in tatters it would have been a good time to turn to those who don't get much of a bowl, but with Azhar still in and looking strong (after being dropped by Capper, standing up to Jez) I was reluctant to risk having to chase too many runs – particularly on such a tough pitch.

Then, just as Azhar was removed and I was preparing to loose the second string (by which I mean me) the lower order collapsed in a heap to some impressive bowling from Luke (and a run out) and Bourne End were all out for under 100.

Ordinarily this would have been a cake walk, but the pitch was a tricksy one, and Bourne End had a potent new bowler called Saj. We lost Capper early, yorked by Saj, and it was left to Dom and Luke's mate Harry (batting at 3 after Shrimpy very kindly said he could take his place) to see off the threat. Dom, modelling a new, more upright technique (for which Johnny Capper claimed much credit) looked far more secure than usual, and played the situation extremely well – leaving what he could, blocking the dangerous deliveries and then whenever the bad ball came lashing it to the boundary with customary force.

At the other end Harry took his cue from Dom. After receiving an absolute cracker first ball – that jagged back through his defences and went over the top of off stump – he displayed solid defensive technique and temperament. It was like Trott and Cook out there! Until the lesser bowlers came on and Dom thrashed them all round the park to cruise over the finish line and secure victory by 9 wickets.

A satisfying victory then, in terms of the cricket played, but a less good one for acting upon one's theories. Oh well...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Breaking News...

A copy of CLR James' Beyond a Voundary has just arrived from Amazon. Frick, I'm excited. Apparently it's "the greatest sports book ever written" and I've been meaning to read it for years.

In other news, some thoughts on the Lord's Test will be coming soon.

Plus, the trials and tribulations of supporting Middlesex, by a brand new Tragics contributor.

Don't say we don't spoil you...

Monday, 25 July 2011

Cublington vs HHCC

A glorious day at a glorious ground saw Hyde Heath administer something of a thrashing to an opposition side that never really got going. After Charlie won the toss, we elected to field (as ever) and got off to the best possible start, courtesy of a probing and incisive spell from Jez, who finished up with four wickets to shatter the oppo's top order. Two wickets in his opening over set the tone of the day – one rankly scythed to Charlie at mid-off and one full and straight and missed completely – and, from there, Cublington never recovered.

Of the other bowlers, Brad was a touch unlucky and Luke hostile but perhaps bowling a little too short to take wickets, whilst in the field we also did our best to "make a game of it" with Henry dropping at least three catches of various degrees of difficulties behind the stumps.

At least Charlie made up for it, taking a second catch - this time back-pedaling smartly from a deepish mid-off. That gave Richie one of his four wickets, garnered through a combination of off-breaks and well-disguised arm balls. Your correspondent was once again relegated to third spinner and, sadly for those wishing to make even more of a game of it, didn't even get a bowl on a pitch offering occasionally extravagant turn.

Oh well, Cublington were dismissed for 129 and I got a chance to bat at number 4, albeit with only 20 or so runs needed, after a solid 20-odd from Matt and an increasingly assertive innings from Capper, who finished unbeaten on 80. Naturally I was out for 2 playing over a straight one. What a season 2011 is turning out to be.

On the plus side, check out Cublington's Five Year Strategy. Hilarious. I hope this never happens to Hyde Heath.

Also reminds me of this little gem.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A truly tragic week ahead...

So the first test against India starts today at Lord's, weather permitting, and we at Cricket Tragics are pretty bloody excited.

Not only is this a series (of a decent length) between England and the world's number 1 side, but it also features some great players: VVS, The Wall, Sachin, Viru (if he recovers from injury) and, for England, err Graeme Swann. And we reckon this could be a big one for Ian Bell. Although we have been saying that for years. We just like watching him bat.

Our reporters will be at the Home of Cricket on Friday and Saturday reporting assiduously, so fingers crossed on the weather front. Otherwise it'll just be two days of boozing.

Oh, and if all this wasn't exciting enough, we're also off to hear a talk from none other than former England Captain, curmudgeonly leader of men he didn't like much, atrocious handler of the media turned incisive media pundit, gambler, dodger of bouncers despite a bad back, and all-round bloody hero - yes it's none other than Michael 'Iron Mike' Atherton, talking about something or other (cricket, we assume) at the LSE on Wednesday night.

Here's some little treats for Atherton fans, because it's not just about how many you get, it's how classy you look whilst getting out...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Fire in Babylon

For cricket fans, the release of Fire in Babylon was probably the most exciting piece of cinema news in the past decade or so. Finally, a film about cricket. Sure, there have been others in recent years – Lagaan is meant to be quite good, Out of the Ashes (that one about the Afghanistan team) is apparently excellent, and there’s always the hilarious sounding slasher/village cricket movie I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer – but Fire in Babylon promised something else entirely.

Most cricket films – and indeed cricket books – fall into two main categories: those for cricket obsessives that nobody else could possibly be interested in; and those that aren’t really about cricket at all, but instead use cricket to discuss something else. These tend to appeal to the broader audience but suffer from the problem of not showing enough cricket. Fire in Babylon, however, does both.

For the non-cricket fan it tells of the fascinating and at times genuinely disturbing fight for equal rights that has been one of the defining racial issues of the twentieth century. Some of the footage is truly shocking, both in terms of the violence it contains, and in terms of how recently much of this took place. Frankly, it’s appalling to think how recently racism was still not only acceptable but institutionally approved: apartheid in South Africa only ended in 1994. For context, that’s the year Brian Lara scored 501 against Durham and the year Stephen Fleming made his Test debut. I was 9 at the time. It’s that recent.

What Fire in Babylon does so well is to depict the emergence of the world-conquering West Indies team of the 1970s and ‘80s through the eyes of those that were there. There’s very little narration; instead it’s left to the likes of Michael Holding, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Colin Croft, Andy Roberts and Gordon Greenidge to tell their stories. All are insightful speakers, and the sense of destiny and of being driven on by something far bigger than cricket is genuinely fascinating, if in places it drifts towards cod-spiritual nonsense. The presence of various Rastafarian pseudo-philosophers and contemporary musicians is entertaining, but in places rather clutters the narrative.

One of the other downsides of this 1st person approach is that you only get one side of the story. It would have been good to hear more from the batsmen who had to face these four-pronged pace attacks, and it certainly would have been interesting to hear what Tony Greig has to say about his infamous ‘grovel’ comments all these years later.

This, however, is more than made up for by what Fire in Babylon offers to the cricket fan: cricket. Lots and lots of cricket – cricket at its most brutal and gladiatorial, its most violent, dangerous, confrontational and terrifying. None of which are words one usually associates with the sport. There’s great footage of batsman getting hit, of Viv Richards nearly decapitating an umpire, and of Holding’s silky smooth run up. Much of it is footage I’ve never seen before – and as a cricket DVD obsessive, that’s something rare.

Whilst I love cricket primarily for its nuances – the trickery of the leg-spinner, the delicate late cut, the inspired captaincy decision – there’s no question that, as depicted in Fire in Babylon, cricket is also a thrilling spectacle. Or rather, it was. I always despise those washed up has-beens who lament the birth of the helmet as the death of cricket (what kind of idiot would think that?) but something has certainly been lost from the game now that batting is such a safe and comparatively simple task. Gone is the concept of batting as grim survival. And consequently gone too is the sense of the batsman as brave, embattled hero: from Brian Close to Mike Atherton. Partly because of the pitches, partly because of the workload, and partly, probably, just down to luck, no batsman these days has such challenges to overcome.

Fire in Babylon may be a flawed film – one that’s at times unwilling to take a step back, analyse, and examine complexity or contradiction – but it is a brilliant one. Funny, genuinely exciting, brutal, shocking, and enlightening: a triumph.

HHCC vs Full Tossers

Rained off. On the plus side, it finally gave me the chance to watch the hotly anticipated new cricket film, Fire in Babylon. It's bloody good I can tell you - full review coming soon...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Chesham Bois scandal - some updates

So it turns out that Chesham Bois' ringer was a certain Scott Myers, who at the age of 22 has already played for Essex 2nd XI and is therefore rather good. Here's his Cricinfo profile. Further stats are available on the Essex Cricket Archive.

Chesham Bois' own website jokes, "did he edge the ball or did he not? Who knows!" before going on to conclude, "Only our second win of the season, but very satisfying to win so well." "Very satisfying huh?" Somehow I doubt it...

Nonetheless, after re-reading Monday’s polemic on the correct spirit in which to play village cricket, and after lengthy discussion with various cricketing luminaries, I’ve had some further thoughts on the subject.

1. Perhaps we had it coming.
In 2009 Hyde Heath played 22 and lost only twice. In 2010 Hyde Heath played 20 and lost only 5 times (twice on tour), with a record number of 14 victories for the season. The last two times we’ve played Chesham Bois at Chesham Bois, we’ve won by 10 wickets. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a team got tired of being steamrollered by Hyde Heath.

2. Fielding a weakened team?
In the previous piece I mentioned how at village level captains often negotiate prior to a match about the relative strengths of their teams in order to try to ensure a balanced contest. Perhaps we ought to field a weakened team against opposition who we know to be consistently inferior. Perhaps we could do things like reverse the batting order when we’re only chasing a hundred or so. That would not only make the game closer, but also give valuable experience to the middle and lower orders, and perhaps help to prevent the collapses we see so often.

This of course is easier said than done: it's all very well to say what a captain ought to do or ought not to do, but the balance is bloody hard to achieve. How many matches have we lost after trying to 'make a game of it', thereby taking our foot off the accelerator and then being unable to regain the upper hand?

3. We could have taken it in better grace
It’s all very well to take the moral high ground when a batsman doesn’t walk, but the best way to do so is to continue to play the game in the manner that we advocate – namely, hard but fair, and with a smile and a laugh. Descending into a strop for the rest of the match perhaps doesn’t reflect that well upon us.


None of this is to say that we shouldn’t try to win every game – Monday’s piece explains why if you’re not trying to win, the game quickly becomes pretty pointless. Just that at village level winning isn’t everything: in the same way that a batsman not walking can ruin the day for everyone, so can a very good team consistently thrashing a pretty poor one quickly become tedious.

Basically, what all this shows is that cricket is awesome - by far the most intricate, involving and consistently intriguing sport there is - and that village cricket is perhaps its greatest incarnation.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Chesham Bois vs HHCC

What is the point in village cricket? One might just as well ask what the point is of sport more generally, but village cricket – free from such influences as money – is arguably sport in its purest form. By pure however I don't mean necessarily honest or fair or friendly or 'pure' in that rose-tinted Neville Cardus image of cricket that was always already a myth. I mean 'pure' in the sense of exemplary. People play village cricket for a variety of reasons: as an escape from the children, as an excuse to start drinking at midday, as a way of making friends, getting some exercise, or simply having fun. But almost everyone, at least for the duration of the match, wants to win. That is the point in sport – the assumption when you agree to take part in a game is that you will play by the rules, and that you will try to win. Otherwise there's no point at all.

But there's also the spirit in which a game is played – you play to win, but you play not only within the rules, but also according to that nebulous chimera known as the Spirit of Cricket. The Spirit of Cricket has many grey areas. It's acceptable, for example, to appeal for an LBW even if you kind of know there was an inside edge, but to claim a catch you know not to have carried is intolerable. But the basics are that you want to havea drink with the opposition afterwards and a laugh, and you want them to play you again next season.

And this is where two issues come in: walking, and ringers. In professional cricket you don't walk (unless you're Adam Gilchrist and he only did it when it suited him); but in village cricket you always walk. It's as simple as that, and for two very good reasons: 1. The umpire is not a professional – he's probably a member of your team, maybe your dad, maybe a twelve year-old who doesn't really know the rules, maybe a 90 year-old who can't remember them – and it's unfair to put the pressure fo the decision onto such shoulders. And 2. Because it's village cricket. Nobody's livelihood is at stake. The spirit is as important as the rules, and certainly more important than winning.

And so to the issue of ringers. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with village teams enlisting the help of players who are very good, particularly in the case of Chesham Bois who routinely get hammered by us and therefore quite understandably sought to bolster their usually fairly ordinary XI. Ringers have been used since time immemorial – even HHCC have been known to field the odd one – so it's not that they are a problem in themselves, but rather that they pose two potential problems. 1. is if they are so good that the match simply becomes a joke. Yes, we play to win, but what enjoyment can be taken from a ten man team who contribute next to nothing to their victory? The ideal village cricket match is evenly contested – that is why village captains will often speak to each other to negotiate the relative strtengths of their own XIs: everyone wants a close match.

Problem number 2 is that ringers often play in a very different spirit from the one associated with village cricket – however complex and indefinable that spirit may be. It's therefore the responsibility of the village club to ensure that their ringer plays in the right spirit, something which Chesham Bois singularly failed to do this weekend.

You may by now be aware that Hyde Heath were not particularly enamoured with the oppo this weekend. During their chase, Chesham Bois' opener – who plays Grade cricket in Australia apparently and is currently training with Michael Carberry – was clearly caught behind trying to cut James Shrimpton early in his innings. The umpire wasn't sure and the batsman – guilt etched across his face – refused to walk. It did not go down well. And was made worse by the fact that he proceeded to destroy our bowling en route to a brutal 130-odd, before he was caught on the boundary of Ben Sonley – who bowled extremely well. There was even something of Bob Willis' Headingly '81 heroics in his glassy stare between deliveries.

Earlier, we'd compiled what we thought was a respectable 239 on a pitch with tennis ball bounce, thanks to a painstaking and gutsy 70 from Henry Capper and some seriously impressive lower order fireworks from Nick the Kiwi, Andy Williamson and Bradley Holt.

But it was all to no avail, as the oppo's ringer demonstrated both his class and his infuriating lack of class.

Friday, 8 July 2011

No News is good news?

Fear thee not! We haven't gone the way of the News of the World. Yet. Rest assured, not one but two independent inquiries are being set up to investigate the lethargy of Cricket Tragics in recent weeks. Some say it's something to do with a leaked pot of tea; others cite a series of controversial LBW decisions, influenced by local politicians. We're not so sure.

But be certain, the truth will out. Rumour has it the corruption reaches right to the top...

HHCC vs Ballinger

An ex-Chairman writes...

Ballinger is always a challenge and engenders a fair degree of rivalry. The Heath have been on the winning side for the last few years but Ballinger have more resources to call on and had a strong team. Hyde Heath didn’t have the strongest fielding side either with a positive rush to field at slip for the first over, bowled by us fielding first again. Despite some good bowling their opener, Humphreys, made 81 perhaps with a bit of luck here and there, while the rest of the side made enough runs to reach a total 205 for 8 - increased by a crucial 10 off the last over before tea which seemed to be infringing on overtime!! Perhaps we need a bigger clock! The score was inflated by the fastest outfield we’ve had for some years so it was “gettable”.

An excellent tea as ever from Mrs Cousins and Mrs Barnsley received with thanks by 22 players and 2 dogs.

Our innings started brightly on a tricky pitch with Henry and Dominic putting on 50 before Dominic gave some catching practice. Henry and James looked very composed, with Henry hitting some glorious straight drives. James was a trifle unlucky to be out LBW but Henry kept on going, reaching 81.

Cue a collapse against some fairly ordinary leg-spin bowling. Does it remind you of anything? In spite of suggestions of Warne-like turn (there wasn’t) the next 6 wickets fell for 20 runs, mostly by batsman who should be making appointments at Spec-Savers. From looking like winning, we looked like losing again, until Jeremy and Alastair came together with 9 wickets down. They batted beautifully together and scored 39 runs between them and almost sneaked a win, being exactly 10 runs short! Honour saved. Hyde Heath always enjoy the “third” result and, by 9.00 in the Plough, it was heralded as a definite “Winning Draw”.

One little plea from me about umpiring and it’s not about LBW decisions. I do think it’s very difficult to ask youngsters to officiate and it might be better if they don’t get subjected to pressure from their own or the opposition players, but the decision causing the most irritation is regarding wide balls. It seems youngsters and some older players call a wide for a ball that could be hit “by a normal cricket shot”, presumably because they only watch 20/20 cricket. Bowlers have a rough time as it is and wides irritate! Even worse, it makes retaliation inevitable, “They gave them, therefore I will”. Obviously, be honest in all your decisions but 2 inches outside leg isn’t a wide, even Charlie Samuels can hit those, depending on the definition of “normal”.

Editor's note: Here, here! If people start widing anything down the leg side, my overs will never end!

HHCC vs Phoenix

Note carefully the craft of the spinner: the ball dips from above the eye-line, luring the batsman into an aggressive stroke...

Oh no... wait, it's 6. Again.

An ex-Chairman writes...

Phoenix cricket club was a fixture from the exchange and not a regular foe. They were very pleasant on and off the field but slightly too good for us on this occasion.

Hyde Heath took the field on a very warm and humid afternoon. Despite having most of the top bowlers playing, Phoenix made us struggle in the field. Jeremy had four maidens in a row after a wayward first few overs, but the pressure lifted with some loose deliveries once the opening pair of Jeremy and Alastair came off. It wasn’t a great day to be fielding and their opener and captain made a century off tiring bowlers. One inspiring moment came when Tom Jeffreys produced a snorter to pin his man, LBW; not a typical wicket for our answer to Ian Salisbury. Let’s hope this is the start of a resurgence of form as one must question where the snarl and grunt of previous seasons has gone?

Phoenix took a very pleasant tea, thank you Mrs Shrimpton and Miss Morgan, with 196 runs for 8 wickets, a score made better by a very slow outfield.

Hyde Heath have an uncanny knack when batting of looking at one minute, unbeatable and, at the next, like rabbits. This was a disaster of a performance. After Dominic was stumped while closer to the bowler than his own crease, Henry and James played some sublime cricket. Both have looked in very good form this season and were taking the score along with ease. Henry, then, missed a straight one and James tried out the catching of the deep field.

Normally, the Heath would have batted with some care and either crept over the winning line or held on for a draw. Unfortunately, there was 20/20 batting at one stage. Andrew seemed to have a hot date waiting and Nick was in a bit of a rush too. Spencer, however, made a patient 10 off 31 balls – the 10 being hit off two balls in the middle! Bradley seemed to be playing French cricket with his second ball chipped back to the bowler after Liam, again, was chasing that hot date.

Normally, “9,10, Jack” in the Hyde Heath team bat with more technique than anyone. However, Tom did have a hot date, although with the good manners to wait around for 18 balls, leaving Jeremy and Alastair to hold out for the draw. This they did for 28 balls until Andrew, umpiring this time, remembered his assignation and we had LOST, for the first time this season!

Phoenix played well and deserved their victory, but it was a bit frustrating as Hyde Heath had looked to be cruising in the early part of the innings and looked well set to save it at the end.

President's Weekend 2011 – addenda, errata, etc

Charly fields, Mikey bowls

It's been pointed out that various things were missing from the Tragics report of this year's President's Weekend. Given that we almost always seem to miss out the most important aspects of any match, we're unsure why this seems to have come as any sort of surprise. But anyway, in a concession to our many devoted readers across the world, here are some additional observations:

1. Mike Thompson. HHCC's erstwhile groundsman took to the field of play for the Plough on Sunday, and surprised all and sundry with his cricketing prowess. Who knew? Not only did he take three wickets with his well-flighted deliveries, but proved a thorn in the side of the Heath when batting too. Scoring heavily in the V (although not the usual V, it must be said) his obduracy was only ended by a lethal delivery from a certain leg-spinner on the way to his hat-trick.

2. Charly Capper. The first girl to take the field at the hallowed Heath? Quite possibly. Not content with a stint of dynamic fielding that put many of the menfolk to shame, Charly also batted with panache against the canny talents of Hyde Heath's leading leg-spinner.

3. Tom Jeffreys. Took a hat-trick. Did we mention that? Gosh, he bowled well...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

President's Weekend 2011

Shrimpy defends, shortly before I ran him out...

President's Weekend: the glittering jewel in the burnished golden crown that is the Hyde Heath fixture list. The three-day feast of sporting prowess and booze kicks off with the annual beer festival, which by all accounts was another triumph this year – alas I was reviewing some dreadful hotel restaurant at the time – before the serious action commences on the Saturday.

The President's game consists of Hyde Heath's mightiest pitched against an assembled unit of hired mercenaries and rag-tag cricketing talent – in short, the best of the opposition from throughout the year hand-picked by HHCC's all-knowing President. This year saw us up against a particularly strong side, but as so often with the Heath, we somehow found a path to victory. Playing 30 overs a side, Henry and Dom put on a rapid-fire opening partnership, dominated by Capper at his aggressive best. At one point he'd raced to 16 before Dom had even faced a ball. In uncharacteristic fashion Dom played the supporting role, before being dismissed for 35. This precipitate something of a drop in run rate as James Shrimpton, our usual number 3, was absent, and his strokeplay was rather missed. With the runs drying up, and the overs running out, our middle order threw caution to the wind (and their wickets away) in a rather desperate attempt for quick runs. Fortunately Capper's classy 85 secured a total of around 150, a defendable but also a gettable total.

Fortunately some accurate bowling from Jez and some tight fielding prevented the oppo's top order form ever really getting going. And although once Jez had been bowled out the run-rate started to rise (my solitary over went for more than Jez's entire spell) wickets also tumbled, with Larry's mate Will mopping up the lower order. Ali and Airdy were left to achieve the impossible and despite a few lusty blows it never quite materialised and Hyde Heath won fairly comfortably in the end.

Afterwards, rather bizarrely, we all swiftly departed for home in order to change into black tie and return to the pavilion marquee for a right old shindig in celebration of Hyde Heath's 40th or 45th anniversary. Nobody seemed quite sure which. What was clear is that everybody was feeling more than a little ropey for Sunday's now traditional HHCC vs Plough 20/20 grudge match.

I face up bravely to some vicious opening bowling.

For some reason, I was elected pinch-hitter and opened the batting with Shrimpy. We actually got off to a flier until I ran him out (for scoring too quickly I think). Shrimpy had his revenge though as Nick (no doubt operating under instructions) ran me out shortly afterwards. Oh well. Thanks to some lusty hitting throughout we managed a pretty impressive total (of I've totally forgotten what).

The Plough's chase never really seemed to get going. And yet thanks to a rapid half-century from Capper they actually only needed 10 to win off the final two balls. Fortunately for the glory of the club it was not to be and HHCC remain unbeaten this season. The highlight of the weekend for me? An astonishing reaction catch by Nick at very silly mid-on off my bowling. Not only was it one of the best catches I've ever seen – the ball was hit seriously hard and he was fielding pretty darned close – but it was also the third wicket in a hat-trick for yours truly on the way to a long awaited five wicket haul. Just thought I'd throw that little snippet in there - shame it's in a match that doesn't count for the averages. Balls.

Monday, 13 June 2011

HHCC vs Red Square

An ex-C hairman writes (again)...

NB: The management of Cricket Tragics in no way endorses the denigration of our Editor in Chief's bowling/writing ability (that's his job) nor do we condone the excessive use of exclamation marks in the following report.

This was going to be the first Sunday of the season playing without our leg-spinning all-rounder and usual correspondent Tom. It would be mighty tricky indeed for the mighty Heath to remain unbeaten without their talisman. There was a few suggestions where he could be, ranging from the Hay Literary Festival to “twelfth man” at Lord’s vs. Sri Lanka (probably helping out with Kevin Petersen’s lack of confidence against spinners – a few overs batting against his bowling does seem to cheer people up). The truth, apparently, was a trip to Venice, in the cricket season!!, and possibly for romantic reasons!!! Where is his commitment?

In reality, the mighty Heath appeared remarkably strong in the absence of “our man”. Ali was back to bowl, Bradders returned after missing last week for a family party, Austin had sorted out his child care (by buying a kitten – novel!), Nick from half term and “Senior Pro” Barnsley on day-release.

The Opposition were an unknown quantity, always a worry in case they had 4 nasty fast bowlers. Mishearing the name of the team I thought they were from a pub and, therefore a team of heavy drinkers however a very pleasant and amusing group, complete with strong female support, turned up, based, I believe round a journalistic background. Perhaps a good thing our correspondent stayed at home!

Charlie, back in charge, won the toss and inserted the visitors. Ali bowled very well and accurately, with little luck, while Brad, at the other end was a bit wayward but quick, nonetheless. Jeremy who, unusually, arrived at the ground almost in time for the start, took over and bowled with his usual reliability. 2 wickets for Jeremy and 3 for Ali was a fair return for both of them. After this the batting looked a bit thin and the spinners lined up to finish things off. Shrimpy taking 2 for 9 and Austin grabbing the last 2 wickets at the end of a tidy spell, aided by yet another good catch from Tim Barnsley. 113 all out, in 32 overs was not a high enough score on this pitch which was a belter thanks to Mike Thompson, the grounds-man. Possibly, a few overs from our man in the Gritti Palace Hotel on the Grand Canal might have produced more of a target but there you go!

During the tea interval, courtesy of Mrs Shrimpton and Mrs Haddock (2 choices of melon, chicken tikka wraps, salmon rolls, hot sausages, cheese and pickle sandwiches, 4 different cakes and no tuna in site – heaven and I’m sure I’ve missed something out) who was going to open was a strong topic of debate. Capper and Haddock were the lucky pair and gave a chanceless performance, unbeaten on 114, with Henry on 61 and Dom on 43. An excellent 10 wicket win against a team who were charm personified despite under- achieving on the field.

It’s always difficult when, like Nick Burgham Tim Barnsley and Spencer North, you’ve not bowled or batted and still are expected to pay the match fee. Tim’s catch was a high-light and so, apparently, was Spencer’s. He had to tell me about it in great detail as I was searching for saw-dust at the time. Yes, it drizzled all afternoon but don’t tell Tom.

HHCC vs Ley Hill

Matt Sims brings the carnage.

It's now over two weeks since Hyde Heath drew their first match of the season, at home against Ley Hill, and with the passing of time has come, inevitably, the fading of memory. Fortunately, Chris' excellent photos on the Hyde Heath website have done a little to prompt my hazy recollections of the match. I think the one of Matt's satisfied admiration of his own scorching cover drive is probably my new favourite cricket image. “Dare thee challenge me, bowler?” it says. “I laugh in the face of your bowling, and dispatch it to the boundary with ferocious elegance, thusly.”

Matt's blistering strokeplay came after a very slow start (I think he took 16 balls to get off the mark), and after our openers had failed, he helped to put on an increasingly confident partnership with Shrimpy, who's in belting form at the moment. While these two were at the crease, the target – about 180 – looked eminently achievable. But as so often, the fall of one wicket led to a clatter, and I ended up having to block out the last couple of overs to secure the draw, some 30-odd runs short.

Earlier, I'd been relegated to third-choice spinner (hardly surprising given recent form) as our severely depleted bowling attack toiled hard against an unthreatening but combative Ley Hill line-up. Jez bowled an extremely long and tidy spell, but only managed the solitary wicket, Shrimpy and Rich both bowled well, but I was again expensive (although I did manage a wicket and, would you believe it, a run-out) and the oppo's total was 30 or so above what it might have been. With more seamers at our disposal (no Brad or Ali today) or a less profligate leg-spinner, perhaps it could have been 5 wins out of 5.

Friday, 27 May 2011

50* - The Art of Captaincy

An ex-Chairman writes...

“Captain of Cricket”. Those words take me back to a time when I first realised that the world wasn’t always fair. It was at a time when Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey were the choice for England, but I wasn’t for my school. Probably not surprising as every previous captain was also elected a prefect and that would have been a risk the school weren’t keen on. So instead, I took the role of elder statesman which allowed me to watch, sit back and criticise, something I’ve rather enjoyed in cricket ever since.

The world wasn’t fair for most would-be Captains in English Test cricket at that time anyway. Gentlemen versus Players, the final “Trial” for selection for your country, pitted the “Gentleman”, in other words amateurs rich enough to play cricket for “Fun”, and therefore potential Captains against the Professionals, the artisans who used different changing rooms and often different gates to reach the pitch and never became “Captains” of County or Country, but were paid. Perhaps the school should have paid me; on second thoughts…

Ever since, I have enjoyed watching and analysing why different people encourage a team to very different effect and who becomes a good or even a great Captain of Cricket.

Surely, you need someone to look up to – an Apollo-like figure, athletic, graceful, charismatic and charming, liked by everyone and envied by many? The sort of man one would follow “over the top” against even the fastest, nastiest bowler. Definitely he couldn’t be a bowler, with their muscles, effort and sweaty caps (have you ever umpired and held one of them? No, the cap...) Also bowlers are never the best judge of when to take a rest. He ought to be a good batsman but not necessarily a great batsman, and preferably not an opener as there’s always “business” to deal with during the break in innings. He has to be a great fielder leading by example; indeed leading from the front in everything.

This is where proper cricket differs from real life. In village cricket this last paragraph isn’t enough. The Captain has to buy the first round in the pub and be there at closing time – have long arms and deep pockets. While there on a Sunday evening he may have to rescue the fixture with the opposition, after the “Senior Pro” turned down a blatant LBW appeal, thereby winning the match for us. He has to have sons (or daughters) to fill 10th and 11th places at short notice on Sunday morning, and their school-friends have to be talented cricketers – even better, a daughter with a keen cricketer for a boyfriend, and a wife to make the teas far more than the others. Cunning as a fox and sneaky as a snake could be other attributes brought to the table. But is this all?

Our present captain wouldn’t recognise himself in many of these areas apart from having a delightful and talented family and being a very generous host. Being charitable, his 49 ball nought was the highlight of his batting; his fielding, perhaps, could do with more hands and less legs;; his figure is slightly more portly than portable; and as for athletic and graceful? Hmmm... Cunning and sneaky start to ring bells. Keen? Madly so! But that still isn’t it.

Sitting and watching rather than challenging Father Time allows me to watch and analyse and even criticise – yes, even me! How often would I have moved midwicket a bit deeper or dissolved the slip cordon (this is village cricket!), when something happens which really shouldn’t. A catch taken, a run-out by the team “rabbit” or the last three opposition wickets falling like a pack of cards occurs too often to be chance. How often have I put my list of my fielding placements or bowling changes that I would have made back in my pocket as I realise my mistake? On top of this everyone is encouraged to have a go, if you don’t bowl, you do get a bat and if you drop a catch or score a nought, there’s a comforting word, whatever he may think deep down. As far as batting is concerned, he swears that all the batsmen bat to his plan. I’m a bit dubious but our recent century was apparently scored with a few words in the changing room at tea – again “business”. Who am I to doubt? He defies all the rules of captaincy but he’s really good at it – really good, and it’s me saying that.

Why am I writing this little homily? Well, Charlie has just achieved his 50th Birthday, on Friday the 13th, no less. He deserves congratulations for his birthday and it’s a good time to reflect on what he has achieved for us. Perhaps the special date has something to do with his success. He certainly doesn’t fulfil any formula that I understand, but it certainly works. I feel a bit like the audience member at a meeting of the Magic Circle. “How does he do it?” The point is, it doesn’t matter how or even why. The point is Charlie Samuels is a really good Captain of Cricket – a prefect, however? No.

And back to that Captain of Cricket at school? He certainly made a better prefect than me and he was a nice chap. I still think I would have done a better job. I think he was a bit too nice; you need a bit of nasty there as well. Yes, even Charlie can do that, but usually with a smile on his face. A “gentleman” then, but a bit of a “player” too.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Nasser Hussain vs Shane Warne

While perusing Cricinfo's excellent stats archive (it's called Cricket Tragics for a reason, people!) we came across this list of batsmen dismissed most times in Test cricket by Shane Warne.

Now there are many things one could notice here, but one thing leaped out at us. Check out Nasser Hussain's average against the great spinner: a whopping 47.46, only 0.34 less than a certain BC Lara.

We leave you to draw your own conclusions here (as long as one of them is that Nasser is a bloody hero).

Ravi Bopara's Childhood

An anonymous reader of Tragics has contacted us with this little tasty titbit, concerning why he'd prefer to see Eoin Morgan in the England XI ahead of Ravi Bopara:

"Ravi just strikes me as a troubled child who definitely has class but has flash-backs of being touched up by a dirty foster parent when he is at the crease!"

We just thought we'd share that one with you...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Chesham vs HHCC

Some are born great; some achieve greatness; and some have greatness thrust upon them. Sitting quietly outside the Plough at approximately 1.15pm this Sunday past, I, your ever-so humble (and, of late, with good reason) correspondent, had greatness unceremoniously thrust upon me. And when I say greatness, I do not use that term lightly – no; for what post could be greater, what role more noble and esteemed, than the hallowed captaincy of the mighty, all-conquering Hyde Heath Cricket Club?

Yes, with Charlie away, the gilded baton passed to Henry Capper, who, selflessly and in the interests of this fine and illustrious club, decided that he’d be better off nursing his still-broken finger down at fine leg and would therefore not be in an ideal position from which to marshal the troops. What selflessness! What gallantry! And so I, ever-modest, ever-humble, assumed the crown of leadership.

The toss was lost – no surprise then, as the now subordinated Capper had taken it upon himself to call the toss. Well, what cheek! Anyway, no matter – we were in the field first, as ever, and under my confident, direct, near-imperious leadership (softened of course by the understanding smile, the comforting arm round the shoulder...) things got off to a flier.

Ali found a perfect length immediately to gain some bounce and a little movement either way of a very green pitch, while Jez did extremely well to bowl with any degree of control into a ludicrously strong wind. Soon the opposition were four down with less than twenty on the board, as their talented but inexperienced top order never got going. We never quite pressed home the advantage that we might have done – and, besides, village cricket isn't really about burying the opposition into the ground – but still dismissed Chesham for 118, and that despite a frustrating last-wicket partnership of 40-odd.

I took my first wicket of the season (finally! So what if he was ten?) which was nice, but the highlight of the innings was two excellent reflex catches by senior pro Tim Barnsley at 1st slip. The first was a cracker, taken sharply to his left as the batsman tried to cut Richard Austin's bouncing off-breaks; and the second an excellent juggled, diving effort off Ali.

And then it came to the chase. And although we didn't exactly cruise home with authority, it was never really in doubt, with us batting all the way to 11. Henry anchored the top order with 30-odd, and, in something that is becoming a rather reliable double act, Brad and Spence put on 40 or so (including a monstrous 6 from Brad) to see us home with five wickets in hand. Victory was mine! I mean, ours...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Great Missenden Pelicans vs HHCC

Oh dear, Cricket Tragics really have been letting their readers down of late. We apologise wholeheartedly, but it's been a busy week wading through the usual combination of death threats and fan mail as well as some particularly pointed correspondence from a certain “Disgruntled of Hyde Heath”. Sorry! Please don't cancel your subscription to Cricket Tragics – it's the only way we can raise enough money for our daily diet of linseed oil and scotch eggs.

The other reason is that our esteemed editor seems to have rather mislaid his cricketing form... Yes, 'tis true, three matches into the season and I've yet to take a wicket or score a run. And I'm probably going for about 8 an over. Such stats don't make for good reading or fond reminiscing.

So let's focus on the positives, as professional cricketers like to say, and Sunday's match away at the picturesque ground of Great Missenden Pelicans will stand out in the memory for one reason: an unbeaten innings of 116 by James Shrimpton, his first hundred for Hyde Heath (not counting the one he scored against the Plough back in 2010 – putting on an unbeaten 150 partnership with a certain Tom Jeffreys. Oh happier days of yore!)

Anyway, to the point, and apart from a dropped chance on the deep midwicket boundary when he had about 85, this was as near a flawless innings as you could expect from village cricket. Everyone here has always known that James is a seriously quality player, and this innings was replete with his usual array of dismissive pulls and corruscating cover drives. The difference though was that at no stage did he get bored, over-confident or lose concentration. He just kept going, and dragged Hyde Heath to a comfortable victory.

Earlier we'd dismissed the Pelicans for around 170, with Bradley taking four and Jez two in a very long and accurate spell of swing bowling. Shrimpie also took four wickets to lay down a pretty strong claim for 2011's Outstanding Performance award.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

HHCC vs The Lee

They say that with the truly great sporting teams – and I'm thinking of the 1970s West Indians here, Bradman's Invincibles or Australia under Steve Waugh – it's not about never making mistakes, for that would be impossible. It's about learning from those mistakes and avoiding them in the future. Well if the speed at which that lesson is learnt is an accurate indicator of greatness, then Hyde Heath have just etched themselves into the history books.

Last week you may recall, our middle order crashed horribly in pursuit of an eminently gettable 150. This week, in pursuit of roughly the same target, history looked like repeating itself. But no! Hyde Heath stood firm, and despite a mini-wobble, Ben Sonley played sensibly and James Shrimpton (40*) with customary élan to see the team home with consummate ease.

Earlier, stand-in skipper Bradley Hoult had won the toss and fielded against what was a decidedly youthful Lee XI. To make up for it, it seemed, The Lee decided to opt for some dubious umpiring tactics and wided everything in sight. Jez kept things tight and picked up a couple of wickets, but Brad was a little wayward early on. I came on, and once again got the treatment, although in fairness I did bowl better than last week – I just kept hitting a middle and leg line against a batsman whose one shot was the sweep. Not ideal.

Thankfully Shrimpy wheeled away with impressive changes in pace to pick up four wickets, Jez returned at the end to mop up the tail (and earn him the privilege of buying a jug), whilst a run out accounted for the other dismissal. In between all this I managed to take a catch – amazing! It was a bloody dolly though.

And then it was our turn to bat, and with the top order all contributing it was a walk in the park. Almost literally.

Image credit: Dr Crystal Bennes.

Monday, 9 May 2011

HHCC vs Chartridge

HHCC Academy of Excellence

Apologies for the delay in getting the first match of the season written up. Regular readers have been emailing in threatening to cancel their subscriptions if I don't get a move on, and I had promised that the much-heralded new direction for Cricket Tragics wouldn't alienate our existing audience. Sorry!

And so to the cricket, the long-awaited first match of the season. Surprisingly, the day dawned bright and fair, and Charlie won the toss, and we fielded, of course. I can't remember all that much of what took place, other than rather predictably – after the amazing net sessions, and the promising warm-up match – I dished up a load of old tripe and got panned round the park. The others bowled well though, particularly Brad, who after an understandably rusty first couple of overs, really found his length and some movement back in through the air. Some of his deliveries genuinely looked unplayable and he removed the cream of Chartridge's top order (ie the one guy who actually looked like he might be good).

At the other end I leaked runs like an incontinent mutt and Chartridge took tea on about 150, eminently gettable we assumed, and we were right, just.

At 105 without loss we were cruising. Dom and Henry were batting well, easing smoothly through the gears and run rate wasn't much of a problem. But then it came. The inevitable Hyde Heath collapse. I think we lost 7 for 40 on our way to making an absolute meal of an extremely straightforward chase.

After a series of misjudged strokes, it was left to Brad and Ali to score 6 off the final over, with just two batsman waiting in the pavilion. Ali crunched an elegant square cut, and scarpered a single to level the scores. 1 to win off the final ball, it came down to. Cool as you like, brad played an immaculate forward defensive. And ran. Ali hared down from the non-strikers end. The throw was wild and we were home in some style. Quite what style though, I'm not entirely sure.

A note in passing: I suspect that the reason certain readers have been so desperate for the Tragics report to be published is that instead of loyally supporting the mighty Heath throughout the dying moments of a truly electric cricket match, they elected to pay a visit to the Plough. For shame!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Chinaman - The Legend of Pradeep Mathew

There pretty much couldn't be a more perfect book with which to kick off this blog's foray into the world of literature. It's about cricket, obviously. It's about spin-bowling, which is nice. And the avuncular narrator is an unreliable drunken hack – something that should be fairly familiar to regular readers of Cricket Tragics.

Coming soon after Sri Lanka's appearance in the final of the 2011 World Cup (a tournament that they also co-hosted with India and Bangladesh) and amid accusations of widespread match-fixing made by former Sri Lankan batsman-wicketkeeper Hashan Tillakaratne, this is an apt moment for the publication of Shehan Karunatilaka's debut novel, Chinaman.

The novel centres on boozy middle-aged cricket writer WG Karunasena (known as Wije), his neighbour and friend Ariyaratne Byrd (Ari) and their quest to revive the reputation of fictional mystery spinner, Pradeep Mathew. Having seen him play in several matches in the mid-90s (before Sri Lanka's epoch-defining World Cup victory under Arjuna Ranatunga in 1996) Ari and Wije are convinced that he's their nation's greatest ever bowler. Like a cross between Murali, John Gleeson and Ajantha Mendis, Mathew is said to have bowled a bewildering array of deliveries – a Chinaman, googly, undercutter, doosra, Carrom ball, and several others, including, most fantastical of all, the double bounce ball, which bounces twice and turns a different way each time.

But Mathew is a mystery in more than just the way he bowls. In a highly stratified, divided and corrupt system (Sri Lankan cricket and politics more generally) Mathew riles his seniors, upsets those in authority and never plays more than seven Tests before fleeing to New Zealand in controversial circumstances. So keen are the authorities to airbrush Mathew from history that all official statistics are erased – although, amusingly, the publishers, Jonathan Cape, have set up fake Crikipedia and Cric1nf0 profiles to whet the appetites of stat-mad, internet-savvy cricket fans.

Make no mistake: this is a cricket book. It doesn't – like, say, Joseph O'Neill's much hyped but inferior Netherland – seek to use cricket as merely the means to explore other issues. This is a book steeped in a love of cricket, but a modern, commercial, corrupt, but still magical version of the sport we love. The last few years have seen the balance of power in cricket shift inexorably towards the sub-continent (event the ICC have been based in Dubai not Lord's since 2005) and now we have novel to reflect the times. Not for Ari (or the author) the ever-glowing Edwardian England of the tediously verbose Neville Cardus.

Paedophilia, match-fixing, violence, wealth, poverty, racism, and the complexities of contemporary Sri Lanka are all explored in this dense, sprawling, at times rather confusing work. With so many shifts in time and tone, sometimes it can be hard to follow exactly what is going on and when, but then this is fitting – both to the manic bustle of the backstreets of Columbo, and to the hazy, boozy recollections of our utterly charming, but badly flawed, narrator.

Chinaman is frequently hilarious, genuinely moving in places, and expertly evocative both of Sri Lanka and the intricate complexities of the the slowest, greatest sport ever invented. Like its narrator, Chinaman is flawed, but, in Karunatilaka's deft hands, it works. This is a truly brilliant novel – I urge everyone to read it.

Chinaman is published by Jonathan Cape. It's available on Amazon.

Thursday, 28 April 2011


And so it begins. The Hyde Heath 2011 cricket season sputters into life, with the traditional intra-club curtain raiser. In glorious sunshine, it’s decided that we play a ‘pairs’ match in order for everyone to get a little something out of the day in advance of things kicking off in earnest next Sunday. 8 overs per pair, -20 for every dismissal. Done.

In a slight change of format (to keep things interesting, and reflect the unusual nature of the match) the editorial team at Cricket Tragics have opted for a series of snazzy bullet points. Thus:

1. Fitness
The first outing of the season always makes one thing abundantly clear: I am horribly unfit. But I’m not the only one. Due to the format of the match we were all in the field for nearly 60 overs and, by the end, visibly wilting.

2. The Pitch
Once again, Mikey has excelled. Even with the mower mysteriously broken, the pitch played pretty true, although there was more in it for the bowlers than usual. Given that I managed to find occasionally lavish turn, I’m certainly not complaining.

3. Strategy

Cricket is about strategy. And it’s also about strategy going out the window at the first available opportunity. With the top-scoring pair only posting a total of 34, my batting partner, Richard Austin, and I decided to go for a safety-first approach. Aim for five an over, and keep wickets intact at all cost. Unfortunately Richard failed to receive his own memo and came out all guns blazing. Yes, he hit some sumptuous shots, but in between times he was dismissed three times, and our chance of victory soon evaporated.

4. Fielding
Fielding by and large was pretty poor (although not as poor as some of the umpiring – how long before the UDRS is seen at this level?) but there were two notable exceptions. Firstly, a blinding one-handed catch in the gulley by Henry Capper to dismiss the cavalier Austin and cost us 20 runs; and second, an excellent leaping snare by young Matt, who looks like he could be quite a cricketer.

5. Batting
Shrimpy and Henry both looked very good as ever, whilst Nick and Rich showcased some impressive strokeplay. I scored surprisingly quickly (for me) but the batsman of the day, unusually, was Spencer North, who carried his pair to a deserved victory. If he carries on the season with this new, sensible approach (combined with his natural ability to hit sixes with ease) I think this could be a good year for him, batting in the lower middle order.

6. Bowling
Jez was as steady as ever, I got some serious turn, but dropped too short too often, which is something I’m going to have to work on. Overall though we looked a bit short on seamers (with no Ali, Amala, Bradley, Airdy or Luke) but with the pitch taking turn this early in the season (and several spinners available) we needn’t get too worried.

7. Tea
Tea of course is Hyde Heath’s traditional strength, and the new season kicked off in fine style. Nick’s chicken tikka sandwiches were again the stand-outs, although some egg and mustard sandwiches were another highlight. The samosas were a nice touch too.

8. The Plough
The Plough thankfully remains unchanged. As does our conversation in it. Cricket? Cricket.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Cricket Tragics – 2011 important pre-season information

With the now traditional HHCC season curtain-raiser to take place this Friday (not for nothing is it known as Good Friday) it seems like a good opportunity to keep our many readers up to date with our plans for the season. There's many exciting changes afoot and we thought we should keep you abreast of these things, so the more elderly amongst you don't get to flustered. Change? Yes, we know.

Pre-season training
Net sessions have occurred, and rather unfortunately I bowled extremely well in the last one. Which almost certainly means that I'll be getting my hopes up for a killer season ahead, only to have them dashed against a wall. A wall made of drink, lack of talent, strops, dropped catches, and hard-hitting opposition batsmen. A wall known simply as Cricket.

My goals at the start of the 2009 season (I can't find last year's) were: “to really cement my place as Hyde Heath’s leading leg-spinning all-rounder under 25. So in concrete terms: at least one half-century, a five-wicket haul, and less than three dropped catches. Moderate, but attainable.”

Last year I did score a half-century (two in fact) but neither in matches that actually counted. So this year the aim is to score two that actually matter for the end of season averages.

This year, I'm aiming for two five-wicket hauls, and again, less than three dropped catches. So overall 9and bearing in mind I've aged two years in the last two years) the aim is to really cement my place as Hyde Heath’s leading leg-spinning all-rounder aged 27.

New features
After some extensive reader research surveys and outsourced market analysis, it's become clear that Cricket Tragics has a very niche target audience (of about 15). We've decided to attempt to broaden our readership base – without, of course, neglecting our core reader(s) – through a series of exciting new features. Basically, this consists of writing about cricket-related things outside of Hyde Heath. Yes, it's radical – like when Yorkshire first picked an overseas player – but we feel that now is the time to take the plunge.

The other reason is that we're hoping to start being sent free stuff. Cricket bats, books, match tickets, press trips to India, one-on-one coaching sessions with Shane Warne: if there are any PRs reading this, then Cricket Tragics are very much open to new ideas.

We'll be kicking things off soon with a review of Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka. A copy was sent to us by the kind folks at Jonathan Cape and it really is brilliant. So keep your eyes open!