Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Every team has one

So everyone’s understandably cock-a-hoop as we’re five-ninths of the way through a heady spell in which Caldy are collapsing from 28-0 to 38-9 thanks to some typically opening day batting and surprisingly safe hands in the field.

Well, at least ten of us are.

One of our number still isn’t happy; his attention drawn to the architecture of a house overlooking the ground. “Bloody modernism… a thing should look like the thing it looks like…rubbish…”

Monday, 20 April 2009

Pre-season build-up...

Well, here we are again.

Ian Bell’s already scored more runs than the entire Worcestershire side and almost as many as I made last season in his hopefully fruitless quest for a Test recall, it’s 2 days until the start of the LDCC season and despite a few worries along the way, I’ve made it into the 4th’s XI for the trip to Caldy on Saturday, a year and a day since turning out in the 5th’s inaugural game at the same ground on one of the coldest days on which a cricket field has been graced; a day when I discovered I could bowl inswing in three jumpers, though only with the assistance of a gale blowing across their exposed lower ground. One of those days you’re glad you’re crap at slip.

A week ago the long-range forecast read an ominously familiar 6 degrees Celsius, feels like 2 degrees, thanks to a brisk northerly but it looks like we could have one of the more meteorologically pleasant opening days for some time – last year both Sefton’s grounds were underwater (though the umpires still refused to call off the 1sts’ game until 4pm) – as even Caldy, precariously close to the Dee estuary, looks like it should make double figures with the promise of plenty of sunshine.

After 3 months of scraping ice off windscreens and traipsing through drizzle to net indoors on the bounciest tracks this side of Perth, turning to the traditional damp April greentops should cause enough challenges for those of us who’ve bothered getting a bit of practice in.

Fortunately for the 4ths, most of the top 6 are the other side of 50 (this week’s average age is around 38) and would be as likely seen in the Ukrainian gymnastics team as working on their game so they’ll still be ready to prop onto the front foot and jog the long singles, whilst the interspersed under 35s who’ve still not given up hope of that County cap, or at least another go in the 3rds, have been working on their back foot shots very nicely since the second Wednesday in January. Which will be pretty much useless until at least June.

But expectations are still high for a glorious return to the top flight; the skipper’s kept faith with the same experience which couldn’t avoid the drop last term and we’re ready(ish) to prove we still have some worth.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

and so it begins.....

The first text came through at five to nine on Wednesday: “Game on Sunday at hightown 4 Hazo”. In the next hour I received 8 more asking me to play on both Saturday and Sunday. I should be flattered – I was barely playing two years ago.

This is it – what we’ve been looking forward to for the last six months and I can’t wait. The last text I received from the 4th team captain probably best summed up best what it’s all about – “Do you have Adam’s number? The one who doesn't like ham?” Let battle commence.

Notes from Winter

The onset of the season brings to an end the endless phoney war of winter nets. So what did you learn?

1) That you are really unfit

This might suprise you but none of us are getting any younger or fitter. Yes, many of us have played darts all winter but how many have us have gone running? How many have joined a gym? How many of us gave up smoking properly?

Needless to say the answer’s not many. I’m 31 and these days getting fit means waiting for injuries to heal and drinking lager instead of bitter. Remember the quicker you move the quicker you’ll hurt yourself.

2) That you are still making the same mistakes

How many times did you get out last season playng the same awful shot? The across the line pull? The wafting cut? The ridiculous reverse sweep?

These shots are part of our make up and we need to all accept them as part of us. We wouldn’t be the same without them. No matter how many times you’ve resisted playing these shots in the nets you know that given the earliest opportunity that’s how you’re going to get out this weekend. Accept it and let’s move on.

3) Nets are useless and lie to you

What a joy it is playing on these fast, true indoor wickets. How many times did that nice half volley get cracked through the covers? How many times did those attempted bouncers sit up nicely waiting to be pulled to that imaginary boundary? How many times did you complete your marathon 8 minute innings with a feeling of smug satisfaction and a thought of “yes I really can bat”?

Fast forward to a freezing cold April afternoon at Caldy and you’re playing on pitch that is a cross between runny poo and Formby Beach. The 50 year old slow lobber runs in, the ball pitches on a length, you play your extravagant off drive approximately 8 years too early and you turn around to see the ball roll against your middle stump. Nets lie – don’t ever forget.

I’ll leave you with a quote from recently retired former England batsman Ed Smith. Like me he’s an English graduate. Unlike me he went to Cambridge and once scored three hundreds in a week.

“Don’t think it will be easy tomorrow, imagine it will be difficult; then at least you will practise getting into the right mental state.”

The inevitable nasty game

So, the cricket season is finally upon us with much creaking of joints and burning of uncovered heads.

Even in the leagues of third-team cricket, sooner or later the unpleasant game rears its ugly head. For some reason the nastiness that is often apparent in lower-league cricket seems much worse that at higher levels, and people who are in all likelihood pleasant enough off the pitch can turn into, for want of a better word, complete bell-ends on it.

Unpleasantness can stem from several sources: a long-standing club rivalry; accusations or suspicions of cheating (potentially widespread as teams umpire over their own batsmen); deliberate go-slow tactics or blocking, tantamount to negative or tactical play (especially evident when clubs field two teams in the same division); excessive or intimidating appealing and sledging; or simply sheer spite and meanness of spirit.

Some teams revel in their unchallenged ability to marry all of the above elements and wear it as a badge of pride. Fisticuffs have been known to result during and following games.

It may surprise those who have never been on a cricket pitch that the worst antagonists are rarely chippy and mouthy youngsters, but fat middle-aged men.

These types seem to derive enormous satisfaction from such verbal confrontations, in what can only be some kind of cricketing equivalent of small-man syndrome.

In Test Cricket – where careers, fortunes and the highest glories in the game are at stake – mental disintegration is an accepted part of the sport, and however unpleasant it's understandable.

On a small, bumpy pitch in the lower leagues the only explanation can be that the exponents of sledging simply enjoy being unpleasant to their opposite numbers, who often include children as young as 14.

It's a tiresome development in lower-league cricket that's designed to sap the will, concentration and mental strength from opponents and it overshadows the cricket being played.

All too often the post-match talk is not of a stunning catch, classical innings or fiery bowling spell, but of the cheating umpire, negative tactics and loud-mouthed twat on the opposing team.

Sadly it's hard to see a change in the way cricket is played in the 21st century, perhaps it was ever thus, but as a feature of the game it sucks so much enjoyment out of simply playing cricket.

And that is its only function and purpose, to crush weaker teams and humble powerful rivals, deployed by those for whom winning is the only thing that matters.