Monday, 9 September 2013

HHCC vs Goodwill Wanderers

A win! A bloody win. After a joyless August, the (no longer) mighty Heath registered our first victory since July 28th. With Abbots Langley dropping out on the Thursday, much conferring took place and it was finally agreed that Goodwill Wanderers would be the day's opposition. And what an aptly named cricket team - for they proved a most entertaining bunch, full of abuse directed (as it should be) relentlessly towards their own players.

But before we get to the report proper, first, an apology. Last week's match report was written after a very boozy evening and I'm afraid it all got a bit Mark Nicholas in places ("Stephen Harmison, with a slower ball, one of the great balls. Given the moment, given the batsman, and given the match…" Yep, sorry about that one, chaps.) So this week, a review in strictly rigorous fact-based fashion:

1. Hyde Heath fielded first. (I can't remember if we won the toss.)

2. We bowled. Ben sent down a very tidy opening spell to pick up one wicket; at the other end Spencer picked up three, but was expensive in his second spell. Ateeq took two (or one) and I took one.

3. I bowled the best I had in some weeks but proved expensive as one of Goodwill's batsmen made an inexplicable 60 or so, in which he looked like he might get out any second but periodically timed the ball, much to our surprise.

4. Sohail bowled well, although his figures were ruined by a sole death over that cost 16, and Goodwill finished on an eminently threatening 179 (later upgraded to 180 for reasons that never became entirely apparent).

5. My fielding was ghastly.

6. Tea was belting, with jam and cream bedecked scones the stand-out performance in a strong all-round display.

7. After being horribly dropped offering one of the simplest caught-and-bowled chances you could imagine, Dom proceeded to compile a second consecutive half-century, and along with Capper, finding form after a couple of low scores, put together an increasingly authoritative opening partnership of 120 that effectively sealed the match. Both timed the ball well, with Dom particularly strong on the cut, and Capper timing the hell out of it off his legs.

8. Jez and I then came in to steal some glory with a few boundaries against a demoralised opposition (who have clearly never witnessed a Hyde Heath collapse before).

9. We went to the Plough.

10. The end.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

HHCC vs Roxbourne

The pattern of the 2013 season continued this Sunday at home against Roxbourne, as Hyde Heath again fell just short of victory, with the absence of several key players increasingly keenly felt. On the plus side, it was an extremely enjoyable and competitive game, thanks almost entirely to a quite brilliant innings from Dom Haddock, who pitched up at Fortress Heath having only just returned – engaged, no less! – from glamorous Copenhagen.

With most of the team slow to arrive, the mighty Heath were forced to bat first and the makeshift opening partnership of myself and Capper got off to a poor start, when after a couple of well-times strokes, Henry was bowled by a gently away-swinging yorker. Jez, at number 3, and I steadied the ship – although it turns out there is such a thing as too steady, and after a rather painful 11 off 40 balls (dropped three times, never looked like scoring any runs) I was finally caught behind having a horrible swish.

Thereafter, our middle order stuttered and all looked grim, until Dom rocked up, played himself in carefully, before accelerating through the gears. At first he made himself comfortable, judging the pace of the pitch and the bowlers; then he pushed the singles hard to irritate the fielders, bowlers and captain; before really cutting loose in the final overs. It was probably the best innings I’ve seen Dom play – placing the ball perfectly and running hard, or drilling it through the gaps for boundaries, he made a mockery of line or length or fielding positions.  In the final two overs, there was a sense of inevitability about his batting that echoed Michaels Hussey or Bevan at their best. Whatever field was set, whatever the bowler bowled, Dom placed it where he wanted – for a scampered single to keep the strike, or in the gap for yet another boundary. It was pretty amazing stuff.

Given useful support by Ben, Angus (who injured himself trying to keep up) and Stanley (who played one glorious stroke through the covers) Dom was able to drag us up to a relatively respectable 150ish thanks to his unbeaten 65 off 47 balls. Especially impressive as he was about 12 off 30.

Unfortunately, from there our lack of bowling was exposed. I opened and picked up a couple despite bowling dross (the wickets came from a brilliant stumping by Capper and a quite extraordinary one-handed catch low down by Spencer at cover) whilst, at the other end, Spencer picked up three, bowling with more height and pace than usual. But he probably bowled an over too many, and despite being 7 down , the oppo cobbled together a sufficiently significant partnership to take them over the line. It’s rather been the story of our season – just a bowler or batsman (or both) light.

How we could have done with Richie Austin.

Monday, 26 August 2013

HHCC vs Bank of England

Veronica Hartley presents the trophy to the two captains.

As bad light prevented England from what would have been an historic 4-0 series victory over the old enemy, Hyde Heath marked our own long-standing fixture with a touching tea-time ceremony in memory of the man who originated it, Brian Hartley. A couple of hours later, and the newly inaugurated Brian Hartley Trophy (a rather nice silver tankard) was held aloft by the captain of the Bank of England, as we recorded our sixth loss of a disappointing season.

Chasing an arguably below-par 165, the Bank cruised home with 3 overs to spare thanks to a monumental effort by one of their young batsman who saw them home single-handedly with one of the most clinically inevitable centuries I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness. We didn’t bowl badly – I was reasonably accurate, as was Sohail, Spencer was steady, and new man Usman bowled with pace and swing away. We did probably have attacking fields for too long (Usman still had two slips, a gulley and a backward point when he was past 70), and I think we could have tried a few more bowlers. Charlie was limited by the attack at his disposal, but Sohail should have bowled more than just 6 overs, and I probably would have given Dom a couple just to see what happened on a stodgy wicket.

But in the end it probably wouldn’t have mattered: he was simply too good for us. To underline the chasm between him and the rest of us (by ‘us’, of course, I mean ‘them’), when his hundred was brought up, the Bank’s total was only about 120. When he hit the winning runs off Charlie (batting and bowling in the same match for the first time in years) the next highest score was just 23.

I, Block

Earlier, we’d got off to a poor start as Henry cut the fourth ball of the opening over straight to point. Dom and I then steadied things with a careful 50-run stand. It was slow going, but the opposition bowled accurately, found a little swing, and the pitch made all but the rankest of long-hops difficult to time. As we began to grow in confidence, however, Dom skied to mid-off and I gloved a silly sort of late cut / dab shot to be caught behind for 38. After doing all the hard work I was bloody fuming.

The customary clatter of wickets which followed was halted by Matt Sims, who played several rasping shots through the off-side, and Usman, who – despite some ropey calling – looked very solid for his 50. On a pitch with a bit more pace, he could be very dangerous.

There was one moment of genuine concern when one of the Bank’s fielders slid round the boundary to avert a four, collected the ball and hurled it in, only to buckle and remain on the ground. It turned out he’d inadvertently slid along the rubber matting surrounding a new children’s climbing frame that had earlier this season been placed inside the boundary by some half-conscious dunce. The poor fellow in question was taken to hospital with a cut so deep that witnesses said they could see bone. Fortunately, although hobbling visibly, he returned to the ground later in the day. But it’s about time somebody moves that bloody thing.

Anyway, enough local-issue griping. In the end we scrabbled up to 165, which I thought was probably just about enough. With their young centurion in the ranks, however, I think they could have chased many more.

PS. I've been told off for neglecting to mention tea. It was excellent. And there was bloody loads of it! Which is almost as important.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Bourne End vs HHCC

So apparently that old adage about London buses also applies to half centuries. You wait over a decade for one to come along, and then suddenly it's two in consecutive innings. Yes, after my long-awaited maiden 50 against The Full Tossers two weeks ago, 50 number two was registered immediately afterwards, away at Bourne End. If the first was painfully slow, this was a much freer affair – flowing even, with several fours and even a six – although I did benefit from two or three lapses in the field – not drops exactly, more a kind of lethargy that prevented the oppo's fielders from even bothering to attempt to catch the ball. Perhaps the same lethargy overcame our spectators who failed to acknowledge the momentous landmark until after I was dismissed, top edging a pull, for 52. No claps, no jugs people.

Batting at three again due to absences – have I nailed down this pivotal position? Where will Capper slot into the order when he returns? – I came to the crease after the openers had made a calculatedly aggressive start to our chase of 220 in 40 overs. After playing one of the most sweetly timed lofted drives you could wish to see, Dom was extremely unfortunate to be given out caught of his forearm by Ben Sonley, and left the field absolutely fuming. He's subsequently emailed me to say that he has a rather large bruise half way up his arm where the ball hit!

At the other end Shrimpie “had the dog” after several catches were dropped off his bowling and Bourne End captain Azhar had capitalised by depositing a series of increasingly fast, flat deliveries into the nearby field. After smiting several glorious sixes himself (“Do you reckon I can win the sixes cup in one innings?” he asked as I came out to bat) he essayed one big hit too many and got himself stumped.

Strangely, the run rate didn't drop that much as I found an able ally in young Olly who batted extremely sensibly – blocking the good stuff and capitalising on anything legside – and the partnership began to grow. It was by a distance the most I've enjoyed batting: the pitch was a minefield, and the opposition's battery of “quirky”-actioned spinners were turning it square and finding occasionally laughable amounts of bounce. Olly was sconned twice in an over, one was called a wide so high did it bounce over my head, and I have a cluster of bruises on my ribs from a succession of off-breaks that spat off a length. But I felt confident judging the length and there were sufficient bad balls to keep things ticking. Thank god they didn't have any genuinely fast bowlers – Sohail would have been lethal on that pitch. At the half-way stage we were 100 for 2 and very much in the game.

When Olly and I were eventually dismissed, Jez and Spencer kept our hopes alive with a quick-fire partnership, but their dismissals exposed our inexperienced lower-middle order (comprising Gwillem (sp?), Angus, Ben and Liam). And as the run-rate began to escalate, the wickets tumbled, our innings rather tailed off and we eventually fell short by 20 or so.

Earlier, we were so short of seamers that I opened the bowling, picking up two wickets – one to an excellent reflex catch by Ben in the gulley. But it was nothing compared to Liam's quite brilliant snare to get rid of their dangerous number four, who I'm pretty certain has scored runs against us in the past. The batsman was lured into a false drive against Ben, who like those battalions of Gloucestershire medium-pacers in the early 2000s (Mark Alleyne, Ian Harvey, James Averis, Jon Lewis, Mike Smith... any others, Ali?) found a niggardly length to record our most economical figures of the day. The ball in question flew high over Liam's head at point. Backpeddling rapidly, he kept his eyes on the ball, leapt backwards and somehow caught it one-handed. An absolute screamer.

Inexplicably, Liam decided to make up for this moment of brilliant by shelling two much more straightforward catches – one at long-on and one at backward point. Those moments proved crucial, as thereafter the wheels rather came off. Spence dropped one in the deep after having run in too far off the boundary and Angus got nowhere near two that were arguable catchable, as the bowling was put to the sword. Even more inexplicably, I actually took two catches – one pretty well-held inches off the ground at deep backward square leg. But, increasingly lacklustre in the field, slow between overs, and lacking much bowling, we were incapable of preventing Bourne End's late innings acceleration, despite good spells from Ben and Dom. In the end we got closer than might have been expected, but not close enough.

Oh, and before we conclude this week's match report, special mention should go to the makers of Bourne End's tea. Well-made sandwiches were supplemented by an absolutely belting chicken biryani – heated up in the pavilion and served in 22 separate tupperware boxes alongside a cooling yoghurt and mint sauce. Yum! Perhaps it was the curry that contributed to all those runs. Ahem. Sorry.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Carpenter's Arms vs HHCC

A brand new fixture, courtesy of the conference (how much conferring actually takes place, I'll never know) saw Hyde Heath cricketers travelling all the way to the village (town?) of Harpenden and its rather charming environs, to do battle with the Carpenter's Arms CC, inside the very pleasant grounds of a well-heeled boarding school.

Winning the toss in a limited overs match, Charlie decided (eventually) to have a bowl. Things started badly as Jez rediscovered his wide problem, but at the other end, Spence bowled with accuracy and a bit of movement with the new ball to pick up three wickets and help disguise the fact that, for a limited overs game in particular, we were pretty light on bowling. Replacing him, I then picked up two further wickets (to fairly average shots) to leave the Carpenters in need of some rebuilding.

Fortunately they were able to do so thanks to a talented left-hander, and, off another batsman, one of the worst dropped catches I've ever seen. Shrimpie, whose bowling has really picked up in recent matches (the very quick and the very slow deliveries now supplemented by a good stock ball that has a bit of loop at decent pace and still grips a fair bit off the surface) enticed the batsman into a poke outside off stump. The ball looped gently - no more than a little under-arm lob - straight to the hands of the man stationed at 1st slip. Inexplicably, however, the ball went not cleanly into his hands, but clunked into his thumb and thudded to the floor. A moment's pause for bafflement. The realisation that it had truly happened. Derisory laughter all round.

And the culprit? Um, yup. Sorry chaps.

On the plus side, this enabled me to pick up another three wickets (two to fairly average LBW decisions) to make it five in total. Two jugs in consecutive weeks. Good lord.

Furthermore, that the opposition were able to recover to post 164 (still well below par on a flat pitch with a fast outfield) meant that Henry was able to record his first hundred of the season, putting some fairly average bowling to the sword - strong as always through the legside but also playing the occasional back-foot forcing stroke through the offside. In his slipstream, Dom made 30-odd and Shrimpie chipped in with a few, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was that. Another win for the mighty Heath.

HHCC vs The Full Tossers

Another wicket for Shrimpie

A great week for sporting patriots (an Ashes thrashing, some rugby, that tennis fellow, some other stuff) reached what was universally acclaimed as its apotheosis on the hallowed turf of Hyde Heath last week, with a long-awaited maiden half century from your humble correspondent. Long-awaited, it must be said, in more ways than one: for not only is this something like my 14th season at the club, but it was also one of the most painfully tedious innings that Fortress Heath has had the misfortune to witness in some time.

Batting first after losing the toss, we lost Matty fairly early, before I (batting at three due to several absentees) and Shrimpie put on a hundred or thereabouts for the second wicket, of which I contributed about 12, or maybe 15, certainly no more than 20. Shrimpie was at his best, timing every shot perfectly and manipulating the ball into gaps with ease. I was leaving elegantly as ever, and playing and missing with real flair. The crowd surely sensed something special...

Once Shrimpie was out for 60-odd, played on (I think), Heath newcomer Mike (a friend of Shrimpie's form Lacey Green) proceeded to demonstrate what an asset he could be for the club with some powerful hitting and judicious defence on his way to an impressive debut fifty. Meanwhile, I pootled along, increasingly hot and exhausted, but really nailing the odd forward defensive. Strangely, I also hit my first six ever (a rank full toss obvs) and then somehow I had 50, before being caught (rather brilliantly in fact at long-on) attempting to hit another. Oh well.
I actually caught one

Of more note, perhaps, than my non-existent strokeplay was the occasionally fractious dialogue with the opposition, The Full Tossers. At the half-way stage of our innings they had only bowled 18 overs, and the more quickly Shrimpie scored, the slower the over-rate seemed to become. Whether or not this was a deliberate policy, there certainly did seem to be a lot of field changes (possibly to counter my vast array of strokes) and things did get more than a little frustrating - to the extent that words were exchanged and threats made. But we all kissed and made up shortly afterwards, as it should be with village cricket. By the time of tea, they'd bowled a perfectly respectable 40 overs, so all was well.

After some smashing cucumber sandwiches (thanks me!) it was back out in the blazing sun. Ali bowled his usual immaculate line and length and Shrimpie varied his pace and found some turn, and soon their top order were in tatters. Shrimpie took five wickets (of which I managed to catch one at midwicket) and by drinks, with no other bowlers used, the draw was the only option for the Full Tossers. From that point, it was a case of trying to winkle out the remaining wickets, with short spells for myself, Liam, Tim Nutman (making a welcome return to the club) and others. Despite a rare run out by me (bullet arm? Err, rubber bullets at best), we were unable to take that final wicket, as their captain bravely came out (in jeans, after having earlier retired hurt) and blocked out the final over. A four-jug draw, therefore, and very easily they went down too.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Richard Austin

Richie batting

It's difficult really to know what to write, if anything at all – especially on a flippant little cricket blog such as this. But it would be wrong, I think, not to mark the tragic event in some small way. To readers of Cricket Tragics, Richard Austin will be known as a classy batsman, one-time excellent seam bowler before turning cannily to off-spin, an endlessly thoughtful strategist of the game, and a funny and warm-hearted individual, who was always good company in the pub and whose entertaining writings graced these pages from time to time. Of course, his life involved much more than simply cricket (as it does for all of us) and it is his partner Lynne and young daughter Rosie with whom our greatest sympathies must lie.

But it is through cricket that we knew Richie, and so through cricket that we will remember him. The club held a minute's silence for him before our last match and we are privileged to be hosting refreshments in the pavilion after his funeral this week. I'm sure our warm and varied memories of Richie will live long into the future, and many a glass will be raised in his name. 

The last time I saw Richie was in the Plough after we'd been thrashed by Great Gaddesden at the end of June. He was wearing his superhero t-shirt from the Kent 'Invicta' tour of 2010, during which he played a starring role with both bat and ball. It brought back some great memories of his highest score for the club (a dashing and extremely attractive 80-odd). Richie was one of those naturally talented cricketers, who could change a game single-handedly with either bat or ball. He was always a pleasure to watch, to chat to, and to play alongside – whether sending one of his signature pull strokes scorching to the mid-wicket boundary, finding extra bounce off a good length, or, in recent years, deceiving batsmen in the air with his flight and drift away.

Richie bowling

Richie was also a great thinker about the game, and always had a strategy or a plan of some kind up his sleeve. His attention to detail was to the fore when he produced a piece of analysis on the exact measurements of a 6 hit by Sohail in 2012, using Google Earth to compare it to a similar blow struck by the same batsman 3 years earlier. Only Richie would have gone to such lengths for a blog read by about 12 people.

Some of his ideas were less successful than others, however, and it is one such instance that is still one of my favourite things ever to have happened in my years at Hyde Heath. Back in 2008, away on tour at Harvil, Richie was bowling close to his very best, getting the odd one to bounce and really zip through. Frustration growing after repeated plays and misses from the batsman, Richie requested that the short leg be moved to second slip. Much to the bowler’s unconcealed annoyance, the captain, Matt Sims, refused. But what should happen two balls later? Richie pitched one up on middle and leg, the batsmen tried to flick it through midwicket, instead chipping it straight to myself, at the disputed short leg position, where I just about held onto a very straightforward chance. Magic.

Richie was an excellent cricketer, but the great thing about village cricket is that actually talent doesn't really matter very much at all. Richie was a pleasure to play alongside and to know and to call a friend. He will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

HHCC vs Great Gaddesden

Me bowling

Scorchio! The hottest day of the year so far (probably) saw an under-strength Hyde Heath XI brushed aside by the might of Great Gaddesden, although, whilst the eventual winning margin of around 80 suggests a thrashing, we did have our moments, and with a bit more luck/application/talent, could well have pulled off something special. Alas, it was not to be.

Missing several players meant that Jez assumed the gloves behind the stumps (as 4th choice keeper? 5Th?) and our bowling attack featured no less than four spinners with just the one seamer (Mike Perera, playing his first match for the Heath and his first game of cricket in a decade). On a divine track for batting (flat and easy-paced – nice work My Duck!) we were always going to be in trouble unless a) somebody bowled like a genius, or b) the opposition were terrible. Unfortunately, neither came to pass, as a succession of spinners – Nick bowling off-breaks, Shrimpie, Richie and myself – all singularly failed to do anything dramatic.

Like a thoroughbred horse, GG (geddit?!) got off to a flier, with Mike's extra pace proving much to the liking of their top order. With a few more matches under his belt, he'll be an excellent addition to the team (his batting – brief but wristily brutal – could also come in very useful) but this time proved expensive. He was given especially harsh treatment by their hard-hitting number 3 – at one time a talented fast bowler who had trials with Derbyshire, but reduced to bowling spin (and thrashing us round the park) by cruciate ligament damage. He hit one biggest sixes I've ever seen at the Heath, and at one stage we had everyone on the boundary against him. It may have been a negative tactic, but it worked, as he drilled my first ball – the trademark wide long-hop – to Shrimpie at deep cover. Class.

Jez encouraging the troops...

Shrimpy and I were then able to slow things up for a time, but we both probably bowled too many overs (24 between us) and it might have been worth giving Stanley or Atif a whirl. I struggled to quite find the rhythm of previous matches, but finished with four wickets, which could easily have been more in Gaddesden's eventual total of 220. Jez, you may be interested to hear, did an excellent job behind the stumps. He dropped a very tough chance of me, and missed a tight stumping chance when he got carried away with a caught behind appeal, but he did take a good catch off my bowling and gave away only 2 byes (or was it 1?) in the whole innings.

Tea of course was a highlight – Atif's pakoras and chicken tikka of particular note.

Then Shrimpie and I strode out to open the batting against, *gasp*, a woman! We negotiated her opening spell and that of an ok medium-pacer at the other end, and were just beginning to build something that could have been significant when I decided to play a pull-shot (last seen: 1998) and got myself bowled. Urgh. It was the best I've ever felt batting, on a flat pitch, against not enormously challenging bowling. That half century is never going to come...

That led to a bit of a collapse as Atif was run out (your correspondent was diplomatically looking the other way so cannot say for sure which of Shrimpie or Atif was to blame) before new player Mark was beaten by their Derbyshire spinner, who was turning it both ways (albeit slowly off the pitch and with a discernible change of wrist position). From there, most of our middle order got starts, with Shrimpie, Mike and Nick all scoring between 20 and 40 at decent pace, but we were losing too many wickets. When Charlie came out to bat at number 11 with 12 overs still to block out, it never looked likely. Jez settled things by having a heave at the widest delivery you could possibly imagine, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

HHCC vs Chesham

It's been a slow start to the season for Cricket Tragics in more ways than one. I missed the third and third matches of the season; the second - away against the Lee - mostly involved eating, drinking and watching the rain; and when I finally do get to play in a full-length match, it takes me the best part of a week to get round to writing about it. But it's wort the wait.

Critics of this blog (of whom there are none) often point out how much the emphasis is on my own exploits rather than those of the rest of the team. "Cricket is a team game," they say. To which I reply: "History is written by the victors! Or, in this case, the writing about the cricket is mostly about the person writing it because he's not that interested in what the rest of the team are up to, and, besides, can rarely remember much of it unless he's directly involved." A pithy retort, I'm sure you'll agree.

But not this time! No, this time, the writing is all about me, for a reason: because I actually did the cricket quite well. A sunny day dawned bright and fair at home at Fortress Heath, and, with Charlie winning the toss, we found ourselves fielding against two technically sound young Chesham openers on a flat, slow pitch. Luke and Sohail both bowled with pace and accuracy but there were no demons in the pitch, nor inside the heads of the opposition, and they were happy to build a careful opening stand.

At this stage the skipper turned to yours truly - usually the moment in each innings when the batsmen's eyes light up and the run rate rockets. But modelling a new run up (actually sort of nearly a run, rather than the geriatric shuffle of yester-season). I bowled reasonably accurately and even got a bit of turn up the slope. The odd over was expensive but I was given a rare extended spell. It was all rather enjoyable despite being made made to wait a long time for a wicket. But as Chesham looked to up the run rate, batsmen began to come and go in a hurry. In total, I bowled 16 overs for 70ish runs (still a bit expensive) and took 6 wickets, of which no less than 3 were excellently stumped by Dom Haddock (two fairly wide and turning wider, and the other pushed down the leg-side).

In between all this excitement, I even took a catch - probably the best catch I've ever taken, running forwards from short fine-leg, then diving full-stretch (or that's what it felt like, it was probably more like an uncoordinated tumble) to grasp it just off the turf.

Luckily I made up for all of this by helping to run Jez out after our top order had failed to show the same discipline as Chesham. After our chase of Chesham's 195 had ground to a halt in a flurry of poorly executed heaves, Jez and I were calmly blocking out the remaining overs. But then Jez called, I hesitated, we both hesitated, Jez ran a bit and stopped, I ran a bit more and stopped, and then we decided that the best course of action was evidently to have a meeting in the middle of the pitch to discuss whether there ought to have been a run or not. I was sent on my way, before being called back by a very selfless Stevens. Unfortunately Charlie was out to a good one a few balls later and the team had registered a second home loss of the season.  

Friday, 22 February 2013

Guess who's back?

February: it's dark, cold and beginning to snow - which makes it an ideal time to start thinking about the season ahead. This Sunday sees the mighty Heath reconvene after a well-earned winter's rest for the first pre-season practice of 2013.

Sadly, we're not jetting off to Mumbai to acclimatise to turning pitches and boisterous crowds, but to the indoor nets of the Beacon School. There is a slight problem with pre-season net practice at  the Beacon and that is that the indoor nets are so bouncy as to turn ropey long-hops into vicious bouncers and all shots apart from the cut completely unfeasible.

Unfortunately, what this means is that for the first match of the season our bowlers invariably dig it in half-way down a water-logged pitch and get dispatched to the boundary, whilst our batsman loiter on the back-foot as if it's Day 1 at the WACA, only to get comprehensively bowled by one that fails to rise above the ankles. Ah, the joys of village cricket.

It's customary a this time of year for me to set some personal targets for the year ahead, but looking back over the past few seasons, they are always the same (score a fifty, don't bowl dross, don't drop too many) and I always fail to meet them, so this year, like a public sector middle manager, I'm going to make my targets far more achievable: play the cricket sometimes, win some of it, do ok sometimes, drink at the Plough, turn up to the Beer Festival.

Oh and I'm vaguely thinking of getting my bat made lighter, in the vain belief that this will rectify my horribly creaky technique.

2013: it's going to a cracker.