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...