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.