Thursday, 20 November 2014

Stats! 2013 & 2014

Few things sum up the true tragedy of Cricket Tragics quite like our obsession with stats. And on few occasions is this as obvious as the annual Hyde Heath cricket dinner, where each table is garnished with pages of averages from the season just gone. Most years this serves as a brutal reminder of the rank hittability of my bowling, but over the last two years I feel like my averages have been on the up. Sadly the 2013 dinner never quite organised itself, and we were at a wedding for the 2014 instalment. So this is our first sight of the averages from the past two years - put together with great dedication and admirable statistical by Ben Sonley (although the look has been altered somewhat - we're quite pernickety about the aesthetics of spreadsheets...) .

And whaddya know, but things have been looking pretty fine. Leading wicket-taker in 2013, averaging over 40 with the bat in 2013, over 50 in 2014. Ah, life is good. These are the kind of numbers to sustain a man in the long Nordic winter months.

Dotted throughout these spreadsheets are some fine individual performances: Fiddy's 28 wickets at 19 to carry the bowling in 2014; Stanley's extremely impressive first two seasons for the club; and Will Cousins' admirable total of no less than four ducks for the year. One name stands out in pretty much every column though: Shrimpie. What a class act.

Anyway, enough words. Now for the numbers.

Mmmmmm stats.

(Oh, one quick thing: due to the antiquated formatting of this blog we decided to upload JPEGs rather than fiddle around with the tables in HTML. The best thing to do is click on the image and a larger, more legible version should appear. Then peruse at your leisure...)

First up, 2014

And now 2013

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

HHCC vs Ivinghoe & Pitstone

And so, like that, Hyde Heath's 2014 season came to a close with a match almost completely sullied by some of the worst behaviour I have ever witnessed on a cricket field. You know that thing teachers always say – “It only takes the actions of a few to ruin it for everybody” – well, this was a case in point. We've played Ivinghoe & Pitstone for years, and they're a great side. They play the game like us: hard but fair, trying to win, but having a chat and a laugh at the same time. All, that is, except for a few. Unfortunately, one of those few was the opposition captain, and he behaved not like an adult, and certainly not like the captain of a respected club like I&P, but like a spoilt little infant who had lost his favourite rattle.

The irony is, as Charlie pointed out afterwards, that rather than take his rattle away, we had actually returned it to him. He took our largesse not with gratitude but with the kind of attitude that sees fixtures get dropped.

Anyway, enough rattle metaphors: to the tale itself...

It began, as so often, in farce, as by the scheduled starting time of 1pm Hyde Heath had barely half a team. By 1.15, we had nine, and got started. Soon, the oppo were in a pickle, with new boy Anees bowling beautifully (perfect line, decent pace, a bit of bounce and some movement either way). I made a very easy catch look very difficult (caught between my legs at mid-off) before, much to everyone's amusement, Jez pitched up and immediately snaffled a sharp chance at gulley off Anees. Only the ball before, Capper was querying Charlie's decision to persist with not only one gulley but two. Admittedly, it's the first catch I can recall there since the glory days of James Aird.

Soon they were 12 for 3. So far so good.

And then it happened.

Luke ran into bowl, delivered a knee-high full-toss, which their captain bunted back at him to be safely pouched. We all converged on the bowler to congratulate him. At that point, instead of walking back to the pavilion, the batsman (their captain) appealed against the umpire, crying in no uncertain terms that it ought to have been a no ball. The square leg umpire disagreed, but nonetheless, the fellow umpiring at the bowler's end decided, after concerted pressure from his captain, that it was indeed a no ball. In the most spineless display of umpiring you could wish to see, he held out his left arm. “No ball,” he whispered meekly.

Understandable, we were pretty irritated, but Charlie told us that if that was the umpire's decision then we would get on with it. Rattle duly returned.

But that was not the end of it, not by a long shot.

For the rest of the innings, every single time that a fielder made any kind of noise, the batsman, John-boy (as he seems to be known) decided to walk away to square leg and lean on his bat until absolute silence had descended. Ben counted that he did this no less than 43 times over the course of his innings (he eventually made 70 or 80). Assuming each delay used up around 30 seconds, that is 21½ minutes of their innings wasted. As you can imagine it was monumentally tedious for the fielding side, not to mention hypocritical: somehow, “John-boy” was only ever put off by Hyde Heath players (and the occasional plane or distant child). The sporadic din of garbled drivel coming from the his own side seemed not to affect him in the slightest.

It was also counter-productive: we only ended up bowling 32 overs, and that was despite the fact that they didn't bring us any drinks at the half-way stage of their innings. Not that it really mattered: Uzi and I were both expensive (although I finally removed “John-boy” well stumped down the leg side by Capper) and Anees returned to finish things off with a six-wicket haul (including a beauty of a slower ball nicked to Dom at 1st slip). They were all out for 162.

And then the fun really started.

After an excellent tea, the Hyde Heath openers were ready for action. 10 minute early no less. Understandably, “John-boy” was not keen for us to have the extra batting time, but he even refused to allow us to move the clock forwards in order to get on with the game. Instead we all stood and waited for ten minutes, despite protestations from his own team.

Once things got under way, there was time for yet another moment of petulance from “John-boy”. I accidentally hit a drive from the nets onto the field of play. “Sorry!” I shouted. He walked towards the ball, picked it up, and chucked it into the trees.

Unsurprisingly, our batsmen received a relentless barracking from this “John-boy” stationed at 1st slip, and several of his cronies, including the half-witted umpire who had caused the problem in the first place. (Amusingly, this chap fielded down at fine leg for a fair amount of their innings and we actually had a bit of a chat. Much to my surprise, Jez even brought him a glass of squash – thereby conclusively securing the moral high ground for the Heath. It was only when in proximity to his captain that he behaved like an oaf once more). Our umpires – Tim Barnsley, Richard Cousins, and Charlie – were also relentlessly heckled. So much so that Richard stepped in to tell their captain in no uncertain terms to keep his mouth shut and stop questioning our umpires. Cue some fantastic finger-waving antics, reminiscent of Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting all those years ago.

What is funny about situations like this is watching fielding sides get their knickers in a twist. When I came out to bat, they appealed for everything – LBWS when I was halfway down the track and outside the line; caught, when even their own fielders (one of the sane ones) admitted I hadn't hit it – and then got increasingly outraged as none of these ludicrous appeals were given out. It's unfair, they cry! What I&P failed to realise is that Barnsley actually loves giving our players out...

That said, Richard's parting words at the drinks break were hardly likely to pacify matters. And then he got in his car and drove off, leaving us to deal with the aftermath. Thanks Richard!

Fortunately, by the time my batting was needed, we were nearly home. Dom and Henry had laid a solid platform against some high-class bowling and extremely tight fielding. Henry fell clipping to midwicket, but Dom and Shrimpie held firm amid the abuse and built a partnership to break the back of the opposition's total. Dom eventually fell for a well-composed 35, Uzi timed a few blows before getting himself out, and I came in to steal a bit of glory at the end.

All the while, Shrimpie was playing a blinder: impregnable in defence, decisive in attack – his cover drives both elegant and forceful. But it was the mental strength never to rise to the bait that marked this innings apart. Not once did he lose his cool and attempt to whack a few statement boundaries; he simply kept batting until the game was won – fairly comfortably in the end. It was probably the best innings, given the circumstances, that I can remember seeing at the Heath.

Afterwards, like adults, we shook hands with the opposition – all except one. The captain, “John-boy”, had already fled to the pavilion. Then, just as they were leaving the pub, he had the cheek to criticise our tea – despite admitting to having not eaten any of it. So not exactly a trustworthy witness then.

The worst/best thing is that the majority of his team were happy to have a drink and a chat in the pub afterwards: they knew he'd behaved disgracefully, and many apologised to us on his behalf.

If a Hyde Heath player ever behaved like that they would never play for us again. I'll be interested to see how Ivinghoe and Pitstone proceed.

Friday, 5 September 2014

HHCC vs Roxbourne

I awoke on Monday morning with a cricket-ball-shaped bruise on my shoulder and an ear covered in blood: the former evidence of my failure to evade a fiercely struck Capper on-drive while standing at the non-striker’s end; the latter the result of a collision with a tree of fearsome thorniness on the course of my night-lit stumble home from The Plough. But, oh!, such injuries were nowt compared to the terrible damage wrought upon my already battered bowling figures in the course of one final, fateful over. In need of the three wickets that would have secured a great victory, instead each delivery was crunched to the boundary with increasing inevitability. Was it 24 off the over? Or just the 20? I declined, understandably, to check.

Earlier, despite losing the toss, things had started well against a 10-man Roxbourne team. The oppo’s tight bowling and excellent ground fielding allied to a pitch that, while flat, was also a little slow, meant that scoring was tricky – or at least we made it look so. We built a solid enough opening stand, however, until I got bowled for 35. Capper continued on for an important 79 that held the innings together, and as the opposition’s fielding crumbled (hundreds of catches were dropped) a middle order of Jez, Luke and Nick gradually upped the run rate in the closing overs.

Fiddy strikes!
It was great, in particular, to see Nick back on the cricket field after a lengthy injury break and one huge six proved that class is indeed permanent. Even more impressive was an audacious upper-cut off their opening bowler which sailed away for a one-bounce four. On the back of Nick’s hitting, we closed on a solid 200(ish) and repaired to the pavilion for tea, which, in what is surely a first for village cricket, included, yes, CANAPES. True story. Smoked salmon mini-blinis. Take that John Paul Getty.

Perhaps unused to such luxury, neither of our opening bowlers – Ben and Sohail – were quite on-song. With Luke and I also struggling for consistency, Charlie was unable ever really to force the game. Spencer bowled extremely well for three wickets (including a beauty first ball) and Sohail bowled an excellent second spell to pick up another three, but with the pitch starting to slumber and Roxbourne losing interest in the chase, the match began to peter out. Until that final over – from which I feel I shall never recover.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

HHCC vs Bank of England

Back in 2004, Andrew Flintoff gave a piece of friendly advice to West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo: “This game's got a funny way of biting you on the arse,” he said, before continuing, worldly-wise: “I've seen it all mate. Let's see where you are in three years time.”

The irony is that in three years time, Bravo had cemented his place in an (admittedly ropey) West Indies team, while Flintoff, the big man, had just led England to a disastrous 5-0 whitewash against Australia, and been fined for drunken pedalo -bothering. When the teams met next, Bravo performed creditably while Flintoff was nowhere to be seen.

If only Flintoff had realised at the time that his words could also be applied to himself. If only Hyde Heath had realised that too, as we made the most straightforward of run chases somehow into the most nail-biting of farces. Although Bank of England bowled tidily enough, it was over-confidence that nearly did for us. Charlie was so confident that he had showered and changed; I batted like a was still not out from the week before – attempting to drill my first ball back over the bowler's head, missing comfortably, and pottering back to the pavilion.

That, it turned out, was the second dismissal in a hat-trick as Liam got himself LBW first ball; Dom – who had earlier continued his fine recent form with another half-century, and alongside Shrimpie, scored the bulk of the side's runs in another excellent partnership – was the first of the trio. It meant that within just two runs of our target we lost no less than four wickets. It may have been embarrassing cricket but it made for entertaining viewing. I've never seen a changing room laughing so much as the wickets tumbled. There's something hilarious sometimes about inevitability.

Thankfully we weren't chasing many, and it was Charlie's earlier canniness that was to thank for that – especially as several of his batsmen, brimming with (over?)confidence were requesting we “give 'em a few” to make a game of it.

We found ourself in such a position thanks to probably the tightest hour of cricket I've seen from the Heath. The pitch – the same as last week – was a little slow and low but played very true, and we were never going to blast through them. But Sohail was as full and straight as ever, Ben hit that perfect, miserly length, Fiddy found his rhythm, and even my first two overs were pretty tight (obviously the next five were total rubbish). We also fielded brilliantly: Dom made a very difficult chance (coming down over his left shoulder as he ran backwards from mid-off) look easy, while I, ambling forwards from mid-on, made a very straight-forward catch look exceptionally tricky. “I've never seen a thirty year-old look more like a seventy year-old,” said Shrimpie, encouragingly.

Perhaps all those teas are finally taking their toll. Devilled eggs, smoked salmon, chikken tikka wraps.... Mmmmm cricket.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Return of the Mack (HHCC vs Gamecox)

Ah it’s good to be back! I have to confess that, as much as I enjoyed reading the match reports while gallivanting around South America, it was not without the odd pang of sadness: to be unable not only to play cricket each week but also to write half-baked rubbish about it afterwards. I’m afraid this season’s residence in the realms of factually accurate reporting must take a brief soujourn back into vagues-ville, at least for this week.

One number, however, will be etched in my memory for some time: 71 (with a little star after it for good measure). Yes, I scored my career-best, a match-winning (no need for modesty here) unbeaten innings of 71 (71!) that, in partnership with Liam, saw us chase down what had at one point looked like an imposing target of 198 with several overs to spare. “Hell, yeah!” is, I think, the appropriate phrase.

In pursuit of such a total we needed a quick start. And we got one courtesy of an extremely impressive opening partnership of 90(ish) between Dom and Shrimpy. Shrimpy played some gorgeously timed drives, while Dom was typically severe on anything short and/or leg-side. I’ve forgotten how Shrimpy was out, but it precipitated the all-too familiar Hyde Heath collapse. Will Cousins came and went; Wade was given out LBW by Tim Barnsley (which led to a distinctly unedifying dressing room tantrum); and Dom was dismissed for 50(odd) after a firm lofted drive saw the bowler dive full stretch into the air to complete a stunning one-handed return catch.

I came to the wicket at number 6 just in time to see Fiddy and Jez depart for not much. All of a sudden we were 118 for 6. But I managed to hit a couple of boundaries and their captain responded by setting some truly atrocious fields: at one point, their (very) slow left-armer had only two on the off side. With the pitch a belter (thanks Mikey!) and the outfield quickening up in the summer sun, it felt almost impossible not to score runs. Meanwhile Liam never looked like getting out (apart from that one ball where he looked like getting out) and we cruised home surprisingly comfortably.

It was quite a turnaround from the first half of the game. Perhaps it is tea that should take the credit. Chicken tikka wraps were a clear highlight, and it was excellent work by Spencer to spot several going uneaten on the oppo’s table. It showed the reactions of an athlete and great presence of mind to nip over there before anybody else had noticed and bring them back to the Hyde Heath table. If only we’d showed such commitment in the field…

After Sohail failed to turn up, we were left very light on bowling. Ben was tight early on, and returned at the death (in an excellent piece of captaincy from Charlie) to strike immediately, but he deserved more than his one wicket. Spence struggled with his run-up and was a little erratic, and it was left to me and Shrimpy to get through a sizeable chunk of the overs. I bowled ok-ish given the long lay-off and was happy to finish with 2 for 60 or so off 12. It would have been better had I not been hit for two massive sixes in my last over and dropped a fairly straightforward caught-and-bowled chance.

That drop was not the only one. As the batsmen began to accelerate, the fielders wilted and chances began to go down, including a couple of missed stumpings. I forget how many we dropped but it must have been somewhere in the region of four or five. What I don’t forget is Charlie juggling, and then dropping, a nice loopy dolly at mid-off. Always hilarious. As I said, it’s good to be back!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Bogota vs Cali

Long-standing readers of Cricket Tragics (is there any other kind?) will be aware that your erstwhile correspondent is away in South America for the vast majority of Hyde Heath's 2014 season. You will no doubt have missed his heroic exploits on the field, and no doubt the more, his impressive feats of recollection and reconstruction of it, on these very virtual pages.

Our replacements have done sterling work in our absence, and – the occasional barb directed this way notwithstanding – it has been a pleasure to keep abreast of goings-on at Fortress Heath and beyond through the perhaps less jaundiced, and certainly less self-concerned, eyes of Dom and JC.

Men. Cricketers. Heroes.

That said, we note in passing that the last match report on the Hyde Heath website is from 1st June, a whopping 24 days ago. We'd have received at least four or five increasingly direct emails from Mrs Capper by now if such negligence had occurred under our watch...

Anyway, onwards, to more preamble! As already touched upon, and as these same long-standing readers will also be aware, Cricket Tragics, tends to focus on the deeds of the narrator – despite our/my/its/their slightly confusing oscillation between first person singular and plural (and even worse, the third person – see above). So they/you should not be surprised to learn that little will be said about the historic fixture between Bogota and Cali that we were so privileged to have umpired earlier this month. (Besides, it was a boring, one-sided match, and WE ONLY BLOODY WENT AND WROTE ABOUT IT FOR CRICINFO.)

Instead, we'll tell you all about how we got on in the next day's Twenty20 match by means of bullet points and subheadings and things (such flair for the bureaucratic style is sadly missing from HHCC's match reports):

Our ride: sure, the driver was armed....
1. The Arrival
Our ride to the Bogota Sports Club, on the outskirts of Colombia's capital city, was befitting of such a valuable cricketing asset as yours truly: yes, an armour-plated Land Rover laid on by the Ministry of Defence, aka the British taxpayer (thanks Dad!). Fret ye not, however, Bogota is not that dangerous (any more); no, we hitched a list with the British defence attach̩ Рan affable Brummie fellow with an obsession with sporting celebrities and a tidy line in medium-paced outswing.

2. The Venue
You can read more about the club itself in the PIECE WE WROTE ON CRICINFO, but, in truth, it was a weird, soulless place: vast and brick and adorned with silly bits of English memorabilia (Wills and Kate above the mantelpiece: *gags*). Also, apart from the cricketers, it was populated solely by a few very rich fat men and their tennisy wives.

The pavvy: not a patch on the Heath's bucolic idyll. Probably nicer than The Plough though...

3. The Pitch
Matting on concrete. Chances of spin? Zero.

4. The Teams
Bogota vs Cali. Both nice folks by and large, except for the odd massively competitive Australian, but then that can happen to the best of us.

5. The Altitude
2,600 metres above sea level means running anything further than three yards is a nightmare. Even for a well-honed athlete such as ourselves.

6. The Batting
We (Bogota) won the toss and batted first and I came in at 4 (or 5) after a steady (or shaky) start. Wearing borrowed trainers and *gasp* tracksuit bottoms, with a broken thigh-pad and a box slipping down to my knee upon every minor movement, it's along time since I felt this amateurish with the bat in hand. (“Since last season you mean, mate?” “Yup, hilarious.”)

I somehow survived my first ball despite an entangulation of bat and pad, saw off their threatening Aussie quick, and began to really prosper through a combination of gritty blocks, mistimed straight drives, and the odd almighty nurdle. Then I got run out following a mix-up with my partner, despite being forewarned by the umpire that the batsman in question was “a headless chicken”. Oh well. The team made 111 for 7 off 20 overs, my contribution an attritional (some might say counter-productive) 10.

Your correspondent surveys the pitch: flat as a concrete pancake. Lovely Colombian-themed stumps though.

7. The Lunch
Huge plates of burgers and chips were admittedly pretty tasty, but of course lacked the charm and finesse of the Hyde Heath tea: cucumber sandwiches, pakoras, slices of melon, chicken tikka wraps, scones, cakes, scotch eggs... not to mention the bloody tea! No tea. Unbelievable. Fortunately there was plenty of cheap Colombian lager instead.

8. The Bowling
I have it on good authority (I definitely did not just make it up) that nobody has spun a single ball on the Bogota pitch in all its years of use. So even as prodigious a ripper as yours truly (3000RPM as standard) was unlikely to get much out of it. Needless to say, I didn't turn a thing. But I bowled my two overs tidily enough, didn't go for many, and even got the crucial wicket of a man in blue tracksuit bottoms who hadn't ever played cricket before. Bowled leg stump. Oh the glory! Oh the adulation!

9. The Fielding
In customary fashion, I made my presence known in the field by dropping a catch. It was actually quite difficult though – running in from mid-on and diving forwards, I could only get one hand on the ball and it didn't stick. Irritatingly I had just been moved ten yards back by the captain the ball before. You'd never catch Charlie making that mistake...

10. The End
Anyway, it didn't matter. Cali never looked like threatening our total and were all out for 54. Victory! For cricket and for cricket writing too. And the pen remains sharp for August's eagerly anticipated return to Fortress Heath.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Cricket and Empire

Just came across this amazing description of a version of cricket played off the coast of Papua New Guinea:

"Trobrianders played cricket according to a number of rules which departed from the MCC-defined game. These included no restriction on the number of players per team (as long as the sides were even), throwing rather than bowling, a smaller-sized wicket, the incorporation of elaborate dances at the fall of each wicket and feasting at the end of the game (though of course all international cricketers now seem to have their own versions of each of these), and a convention whereby the home side always won."

from Dominic Malcolm's fascinating Globalizing Cricket: Englishness, Empire and Identity

Monday, 27 January 2014

Pages Of... cricket!

In another departure from the hallowed turf of this here blog, we also had a piece published in a fantastic magazine called Pages Of (which, incidentally, is co-edited by Mrs Tragics). It's loosely about trying to explain why cricket is awesome to people who probably don't care, with some half-baked stuff about social history and national identity.

Oh and there's some excellent pictures of Hyde Heath cricketers. Chris, remind me to send you your copies!

Here's the opening bit:

I find it difficult to say when exactly I fell in love with cricket, or indeed why. I remember the first time I really followed the sport obsessively: it was 1997, I was 12, and my father had recently taken me to Lord’s, the “home of cricket” to watch a one-day international between old foes England and Australia. The match has since become famous for the sparkling debut performance of the 19 year-old Ben Hollioake, who died just five years later when he crashed his Porsche into a wall outside Perth in Australia. But for me, it was the series that followed – The Ashes – that marked the origins of my near-obsessive passion for cricket. What is strange is that, recently rifling through an untouched drawer in my childhood bedroom, I came across imaginary scorecards and team selection lists that included players from years before that – players I don’t remember having even seen, live or on the television.

But it’s 1997 that stands out. The Ashes that year was a six-Test series (six matches of five days each, taking place over the course of eleven long summer weeks). It was a rarity then; unheard of now, as the game begins to change irrevocably. What, I think, struck me then about cricket was a sense of slow unraveling not seen in any other sport that I know of. 

To read the rest, buy the magazine!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Architecture of Cricket Grounds

Cricket Tragics recently branched out by having a slightly peculiar piece of writing about the architecture of cricket grounds published in an amazing quarterly magazine called The Nightwatchman. It's published by Wisden and has articles by real writers like Marcus Berkmann, Mark Rice-Oxley, and Dileep Premachandran. Plus, it's made of paper rather than internet.

Naturally, we were pretty excited. Here's the first few sentences by way of a taster:

If, as Nevile Cardus wrote in 1930, “cricket is a game which must always be less than its true self if it is taken...out of the weather of our English summer”, then what are we to make of The Oval as it stands, wet and empty, on a cold November morning? The cynic, or the Englishman, might point out that the wet and the cold are both integral parts of the summer sport in this country, just as likely in August as they are in November. And, indeed, the fourth day of the Ashes test match here was a total washout, with the match ultimately ending in a draw despite Michael Clarke's aggressive double declaration. I was there on the opening day, when Shane Watson made the most of a close LBW escape and some nervy bowling from Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan to post a big and belligerent hundred.

But it feels an age away now, as water drips slow and sad from concrete overhead to soggy concrete underfoot. As an art critic by trade, I'm used to visiting museums and galleries when they're closed to the general public. No hordes of schoolchildren, no frazzled parents, no tired tourists: just a white-walled calm, and the time to stand and look and think. It's quite a privilege. But a cricket ground, on the other hand, becomes a kind of ghost, or theatre of ghosts – an empty arena reverberating around the silence of past events, glories, players, public.

And yet, this emptiness and the absence of cricket starts to focus the attention on the ground itself...

To read the rest, buy the magazine