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...