About Last Chance 100
Project 2017-08-24 16:14:00 +1200
"Better to try and fail than never to try at all."
- William F. O'Brien
"Cricket is a game full of forlorn hopes and sudden dramatic changes of fortune and its rules are so ill-defined that their interpretation is partly an ethical business."
- George Orwell
Last Chance 100
This is a campaign to pay for batting lessons for an aging cricketer who seeks the sport's equivalent of scaling Everest - scoring 100 runs at one turn at bat.
While I could pay for training myself, I wish to share, through the writing up of this experience, the humour, humiliation, and (hopefully the highlights) of attaining a century...with some insights thrown in for good measure.
I'm hoping that never-before-in-my-life coaching lessons will iron out my deficiencies, and add a degree of competence to allow me to advance beyond two previous highest scores in the 80s.
I totally realise that the first component of this campaign will only marginally add to the world's happiness. (It's not as if I'm going to solve world hunger, or bring North Korea to the negotiating table).
So wait...there is more. Any funds over and above the $1500 will go towards gear for a cricket team who otherwise mightn't be able to play. That's right, I want to encourage the development and growth of cricket tragics who are aged 18-24 by providing the kit which would allow them to turn up and look the part - and therefore go a long way to performing the part of cricketers.
Campaign funding outcomes
So, in summary, this is a campaign raising funds to:
1. Pay for cricket batting coaching lessons to help me achieve a maiden score of a century (100 runs) at one turn at bat. And
2. Any campaign funds over and above the $1500 target to be directed at supplying kit for a team for that otherwise wouldn't have the means to play.
By running this as a campaign, where the base reward is, at the very least, a weekly update of progress (towards the 100), as a writer, with an audience, I will be 'forced' (in the best possible sense) to write on progress.
This is a quixotic goal which aims to be a humourous and vicarious experience for pledgers.
It is mostly about fun, with a few insights thrown in, a shared struggle where the only failure would be not to have tried at all.
A note about the rewards
Many of the higher value rewards link back to Punchline (Million Dollar Messages). Punchline specialises in an organisation's first 2-10 words - a heart and soul and value proposition, the first thing read on a website, an answer to "what do you do mate?"
We also carry out other writing and storytelling work, succinctly providing persuasive messages for websites, social media and longer format white papers.
My science and technology writing skills (available as another of one of the rewards) links to Stick (an acronym for science, technology, innovation & technology knowledge). Modesty aside, I know how to explain 'stuff'.
The Wellington Biz Dojo (at the corner of Vivian and Tory Streets), which Punchline operates out of, is a very cool co-working space.
I was 'midwife' to the writing of Harry Mills book, Secret SAUCE - How to pack your messages with persuasive punch. I use these ideas in my own writing, and would be delighted to pass on some of Harry (and my) knowledge around seduction with words.
Finally, the wonderful caricature is by Larissa Banks. Any of you wish to hook into her talents (cricket players will get the pun) can contact her on Instagram @lmbyeahyouknowme
Some of you may wish to discuss how my writing skills might best be used in your own particular case. Feel free to contact me directly on 021 0696 040, or [email protected]
I'd love the opportunity to help you better tell your own particular story.
The People Behind Last Chance 100
Since becoming a relatively late in life cricketer (didn't have much of an opportunity to play when growing up on a Southland sheep farm), I've never managed to score 100 runs at one turn at bat.
As a writer, having both an audience, and a reason and obligation to tell a story is a great privilege.
By combining these two themes, I hope to entertain and inform, obtain and give some insights in the pursuit of an unfulfilled goal.
Scoring the winning runs at the Basin Reserve - a Last Chance 100 postscript
10:30AM Tue 10/04/18 on Last Chance 100
How many people have scored the winning runs at the Basin Reserve - arguably New Zealand’s most cricket groundy, cricket ground?
Probably the 150 year old venue has seen a few thousand people scoring winning runs over its time.
Well, now it has a few thousand, plus one.
Yours truly, the non-achiever of a maiden century during the 2017-18 season, made three not out playing for the Wellington Wanderers, minorly helping secure victory over the Law Society XI on Friday April 6.
Artfully (and much thanks to) arranged by my batting coach Taylor Wenlock, I received a surprise call up the Wednesday before, and accepted the offer to play with much delight.
The Wellington Wanderers began in 1946, and has arranged games of players from across and around the grades and clubs against school and other sides, throughout the province and around the world.
It is currently managed by Evan Gray, former NZ and Wellington rep, and chief upholder of the Wanderers’ spirit.
There were slight goosebumps on my skin as I walked out through the Basin’s picket fence to field first, and onto the hallowed turf (remarkably lush yet fine grass) for a T30 (thirty overs each) game that started at 2pm.
The Law Society XI’s batting trundled along pretty well for much of the game, scoring relatively freely. Our captain, former NZ fast bowler Ewen Chatfield (an extremely effective foil for Richard Hadlee bowling from the other end during the 1980s) was one of our six bowlers employed.
David Abricossow (his surname is Russian for apricot we learned at the post-match speeches!) retired after he’d made a well constructed 50. At that stage the LS XI were on target for a total of 220-230.
But Mark Hammond, one of our 50+ year olds in a team of 30ish to aahmm, more mature players, came on bowling into the stiff northerly.
The wheels somewhat fell off the opposition’s scoring, as Mark took five wickets. At one stage he was on a hat trick (taking three wickets in three balls), though a more remarkable feat was a caught and bowled off a screamer of a hit that I was looking to have gone to the long on boundary at about 1 o’clock to where the batter stands.
Mark says he doesn’t bowl much these days - so I bet his body was complaining the day after, even if the glow of five wickets was still burning brightly
Batting in the gloaming
During the interim, I’d managed to drop two bloody catches.
The first was when fielding on the 45 as they say, about 4.30 o’clock (well, where the hour hand would be pointing), about 40 metres behind and to the right of the batsman.
The ball goes high up in the air, towards me. Initially I thought it might be going to be over my head. But, no, it’s going to be in front. Didn’t take into account the spin imparted to the ball from the thick edge, nor the fact the strong wind at my back was going to make it hold up.
Ran forward, dived, and got the ball into my hands...but it damn well popped out as my elbows hit the ground. All of this taking place over about 1.5 seconds mind!
The same ‘elbow’ effect came into play later when diving forward at mid on (10 o’clock) to a low on-the-full hit. Got the ball into my hands, but it again popped out.
Both were difficult, but…
Received a grass/dirt stain on my knees and elbows from the attempts, but such is the loveliness of the outfield, no grazes of any kind.
So, then our turn to bat beginning at about 4pm, myself at number 8 in the order.
We semi-kept-up with the required run rate (> 6 runs per over), with David Vance scoring a meritorious 43 before being run out (a bit of dispute here whether he was; though we had the pleasure of having first-class umpires in the form of Evan Watkin and Adrian Hawke).
Hamish French came out to bat and played smartly. This included hitting a magnificent 6 off Andrew Davie. From a bragging point of view, what’s really good for Hamish is that Andrew and him are good mates, and weekly play squash. It doesn’t do any harm either that Hamish took a fine catch at the square leg boundary (9 o’clock) to dismiss Andrew. That’s probably equivalent to ‘bragging rights squared’.
Then ‘Frenchie’ had one particularly productive over when he smote 20 or so runs, and the Wanderers were ahead of the run rate. He had to retire on 50.
Which brought me to the wicket, at about 5.45pm, dusk become very dusk-like (it was in the gloaming if you’d like a more poetic term). Three runs required to win, with two overs in hand.
I had to semi-remember my new-ish batting stance as I surveyed the ground from the crease, the momentousness of the occasion fogging my muscle memory.
It would be great to say a magnificent cover drive scored those runs. My first two however was a squirted edge through the vacant slips for two.
The bowler then bowled a two-bounce ball, which entitles you to a free hit (you can’t go out). But I couldn’t lay any bat on that bowled ball.
The next ball was down leg, but I managed to get a bit of bat on it, and we scrambled through for a single - game won.
The lone seagull spectator on top of the flagpole squawked a fawwkkk of delight and flew off (OK, made that up).
We then had a most pleasurable meal and drinks with the opposition, including some delicious wine from John Porter, the founder of Porters Pinot in Martinborough back in 1992. John was the Law Society XI’s captain, and during a small speech said what a great game it was.
Any game that goes down to the last couple of overs, is, because its going to the wire, a great game. Even though one side loses, there are no losers in such a tight finish.
Now; for the past number of years I’ve walked past and through the Basin Reserve as I head to walk.
But no longer will I walk past with a wee bit of wistfulness in my mind. I’ll no longer wonder (thanks to the Wanderers) what it is like to play at the Basin.
Thank you Taylor, thank you Wanderers, and most of all thank you Last Chance 100 sponsors. Without your generosity seven months ago, I would never, in this circuitous and roundabout way, ticked off a personal bucket-list item.
As a postscript to the Last Chance 100 season, it is a great was to end, and I can already hear myself boring people with the statement…”scoring the winning runs at the Basin.”
Comment on this update:
A failure to meet the objective, but the mission has been an utter success
08:58AM Tue 03/04/18 on Last Chance 100
In hindsight, I’ve been extremely guilty of false pretences.
I had the belief (it still is a belief in every cricketer, including myself, that each time you go out to bat, you’ll get lots of runs) that batting coaching would enable me to score my maiden century. From that point of view, the Last Chance 100 PledgeMe campaign was carried out with the best of intentions.
The reality of Last Chance 100’s attempt comes under one of three headings:
Simply not good enough
The gods of cricket weren’t on my side. (However, luck evens out over a season, therefore) See #1
I became a ‘victim’ of wanting the 100 too badly (But, as always, I never went out to bat actually feeling that, or overly, nervous, therefore) See #1
While meeting the target has been a (weekly) disappointing failure, the mission of telling a story, and much more the larger story, around trying to achieve a quixotic goal, has been an immense success. I couldn’t have done it without you, my backers.
As playwright Matthew Hodgman pointed out early in the LC100 campaign, “it is a much better narrative if you don’t get your ton.” So, while always trying for the 100, narrative achieved.
As much as anything, my success has been a positive, negative. What would’ve been worse from my point of view in ‘failing’ at the LC 100, would’ve been in not giving it a go at all. The real failure would’ve been in living with the thought of ‘if only’.
Thanks to my pledgers, and others giving their support, I’ve definitely ticked the box called ‘not-a-regret’.
I’ve definitely ticked the box about writing on cricket, of cricket, from a cricket tragic’s viewpoint.
Thus, the success of LC100 has been around the storytelling.
When I started I was unsure how I’d manage to come up with 800-1000 words about a game. In the end, given the opportunity and privilege of having a ‘captive’ audience to read LC100, and being able to unpeel the game’s multiple layers of metaphor, often I’ve had the reverse challenge of bringing stories to a necessary conclusion.
Writing about failure all the time is not easy
That said, it is not easy writing about failure...all the time.
Each week I went out to bat, trying to do my best. I wasn’t thinking about not getting the runs. Inevitably however, writing up about getting two runs, or 15, or whatever, is never worth more than a paragraph or two. There’s not enough to write home about.
As such, writing about such non-achievement, is a variation on the theme around which victory has a thousand parents, defeat is an orphan.
Writing (about my own particular batting) anything beyond a paragraph or two’s description, can only be an excuse (and see point #1, as articulated earlier in this story).
The LC100 commentary provided an opportunity to find a ‘voice’, a participatory, overview position from which to reflect and write, entertain and inform - which for any writer, but in this instance a non-fiction writer - is a special place from which to put words on paper.
It also enabled me to crystalize why I continue to play a game that can be a frustrating experience, while being noble and dramatic at the same time.
As part of a sport which has a spirit over and above the mere physical attributes of its participants, being able to outline some of the game’s joie de vivre (exuberant enjoyment of life) has been eye-opening.
I spoke, briefly at the Naenae Cricket Club’s end of season function - outlining the highlights and lowlights of my LC100 season.
One point I made is there is there’s good debate on who the world’s best professional cricketer is. Some will say Virat Kohli, India’s captain. New Zealand’s Kane Williamson might be in the mix, as would English all-rounder Ben Stokes.
The world's worst professional cricketer
However, there’s no doubt who the worst professional cricketer was. Me. In the end, I was paid to play. Pretty bloody badly.
It was also while talking at Naenae that I was reminded of how unusual the original crowd-funding campaign and goal was. When I pulled off the LC100 fund-raising six months ago, my daughter Harriet (the one who arranged the above 'cricket ball cupcakes' all the way from Singapore) said “Dad, you realise how crazy this is?”
I sort of did at the time, which was one of the reasons I asked her to be the first pledger, and kick it all off.
Then, four days ago, as part of my Naenae presentation, I showed off the Laver & Wood bat that the Napier firm provided for my attempt.
One of the Naenae guys thought this was such a hoot. “What, really...you got sponsored for this...that’s just too much,” he said to the assembled crowd.
Which, after the event does now seem outlandish. But it has been a fantastic ride.
It also doesn’t mean I’ll stop playing. It doesn’t mean when I next go out to bat I won’t be trying to get a maiden ton, or take five wickets if I’m bowling, or a catch if one is on offer.
That’s because I still get up on a Saturday morning in summer and think, ‘yes...a game of cricket today’.
I still have that expectancy of checking Saturday’s weather forecast from the previous Monday onwards.
I still have a goal to play a game of cricket at The Basin Reserve.
Yes, I’ve told my partner that I will play less cricket next season - but the terms of less was never fully spelt out. It’s still speculative. One game less?
Which is a roundabout way of saying thank you for your generosity and support in my quest for a maiden century.
Thank you for being a captive audience for the storytelling that LC100’s enabled me to experience.
I’m quite sad to be finishing up. The batting coaching, games themselves and write-up/blogs have become an extremely interesting part of my life over the past six months. I’m going to really miss having this in my life.
In the end though, like all great experiences, it must come to an end.
To you all, thank you.
Even if I’ve failed to meet my objective, my mission has been a huge success.
Comment on this update:
Last chance for the Last Chance 100
09:31AM Mon 26/03/18 on Last Chance 100
There was always the feeling that the weather was going to be the major player in our last game of the season.
A final game always has a touch of melancholy associated with it - five months of good, bad, success and failure - culminating.
The morning rain had cleared by 1pm as we assembled at Liardet Park in Berhampore, but the grey clouds that refused to scatter hung over the ground like an unwelcome eiderdown.
Wellington Indian Sports ‘Thumbs Up’ lost the toss, and weren’t impressed when our captain Cullum said we’d bat. But, if it is going to rain, the opportunity to bat is the better option. The other tactical reason is that all the Thumbs Up team hadn’t managed to arrive on time (even then we started at 1.20pm), so there were gaps in their fielding positions.
It being the last chance for the Last Chance 100, I faced the first ball - and edged it through where slips might have been. Unintentionally edged it must be said. In fact, not that it is a advertisement for the great Laver & Wood bat the Napier company provided, but it does have well proven edges! (Normally you’d want to be able to say it has a well proven middle).
My only decent shot was a square cut to 3 o’clock, which would’ve in non-wet, non-long grass conditions raced away for four...but instead managed two.
There were three other edgy shots (edgy as in the edge, not as in the forefront of avant-garde). And then the finest of edges which the wicketkeeper caught. I walked immediately, not giving our umpire the difficulty of trying to decide whether I’d hit it or not. Our informal rule is you walk straight away if you know you’ve snicked it.
The fact we umpire ourselves (you own batting colleagues) is one of the trickiest things about playing. Some teams simply refuse to give leg before wicket appeals (LBW). We, as The Shepherds, have probably given more LBW’s than any other team. Which maybe makes us mugs. But cricket’s a game of gentlemanly behaviour, and we we call it and play it as we see it. If that makes us mugs, so be it.
Greg Scobie shows how to do it
So that was me out for seven, a season total for yours truly of 117.
My other opening batsman partner Greg Scobie went on to make 63. Scobes has accumulated over 400 runs for the season, which includes a couple of games he didn’t play, and was our team’s leading run scorer. He scored a century too.
At one stage I was keeping one of the books - the cricket-specific oblong recording platform where you note the batsmen’s runs, bowler’s individual balls per over, any extras such as wides or byes (where the batsman misses the ball, and the wicketkeeper fails to collect it and the batsmen scamper for a run), as well as the cumulative total.
The atmospheric moisture, which varied between light and heavy drizzle at that time meant trying to ‘hide’ under a jacket while writing in ballpoint pen on damp paper.
We used up our 40 overs and made 213 for seven of our batsmen out.
Looking at the northern sky as we walked out to field, it was grey cloud broken by light grey cloud. There was no hint of blue sky lurking behind, no promise the weather would let up.
The rain varied between light and steady as we bowled. When it was mere drizzle, it felt comparatively fine and that a game would be doable - even if we’d get soaked to the skin.
However the ball itself became increasingly soap-like, even with our efforts to dry it. By now the ground/grass was really wet and our efforts at preserving its leather and cork integrity was increasingly difficult.
That didn’t prevent us from taking four Thumbs Up wickets, including a catch by the previously-mentioned captain Cullum Jones which probably is our team’s best of the season.
The Thumbs Up right-hand batsman pulled/hooked the ball to about 2 o’clock, but it was aerial. Cullum had to race 15m or so (on bloody wet grass remember) to his right, and semi-dived as he took it, and tumbled. We weren’t sure what had happened until he rolled onto his back and flung the ball in the air. A great catch. It would be one you’d be proud to have on your career highlights reel - if indeed anyone took the trouble of videoing our games.
Taking my mum's advice
I’d worn a sleeveless wool vest onto the field. Even though it was reasonably warm, I’m a bit of a sook when it comes to getting cold, so followed my mum’s advice.
The smell of damp wool to an ex-Southland farm boy is strangely nostalgic - a memory of finishing off working with the sheep in the rain, and not being far away from heading inside to the warmth of an open fire.
However, back at the cricket, drizzle was as good as it got as it headed towards 5pm. We only needed six more Thumbs Up batsmen out as they were for 66 after 11 overs, with the feeling we would’ve had the winning of the game had we been able to continue.
But the drizzle became steady, and steady became heavy. As much as we wanted to give a thumbs down to Thumbs Up and finish them off, it was all becoming too dangerous, too wet.
The conditions meant the game we were playing was more akin to water polo than cricket...which rumour has it is a summer game.
We trooped off, shaking hands and retreated to the verandah shelter of the changing sheds.
Close but no cigar - in fact you’d not even have been able to light one.
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A cricket day like this...you screw it up and throw it into the rubbish bin
09:04AM Mon 19/03/18 on Last Chance 100
Perhaps there’s only so many philosophic shrugs you can make before something snaps and you scream f..k inside yourself and wonder why you play this bloody game.
Perhaps there’s only so many ‘failures’ you can have before the notion starts rubbing off on you.
Perhaps a poor individual batting effort combined with a pathetic team run chase has synergised to a level of anger and frustration that’s still seeping through my body almost 24 hours after the game has finished and I write this.
And maybe, as Rob Shanks commented after the game (when I questioned many of our team members about why they like and play cricket...and more of their comments later) is it all character building stuff.
Perhaps - but do bruised egos heal more quickly than bruised elbows (or thighs, or fingers or other physical parts of our bodies)?
The grim reading
First though, the grim reading. Grim from ‘The Shepherds’ point of view, not unsurprisingly, fantastic rehashing from the opposition’s.
Stokes Valley Miandad (a fathers and sons team, me and dad...get it) batted first.
If it wasn’t for ‘Cooky’ scoring a century, they would’ve made way less than their 173 runs at Te Whiti #2, nestled under the western hills in Lower Hutt. It’s a picturesque venue, with a small stream meandering on its eastern boundary, complete with trees to round out its prettiness.
So, 174 runs for us to win is in the doable scheme of cricket. You have to be steady, disciplined, controlled, and should be able to do it.
I faced the opening over. Kept out the first five balls, of mostly inswinging medium pace. The ball moves right to left through the air as I face it.
The sixth ball is down the leg side (the left hand side of my body). I go to flick it fine, to about 7 o’clock. But I get much more of it than I intend, and it lobs up in the air, almost directly to a young player about 40m from the bat. The whippersnapper catches it.
It’s the first time I’ve got angry about getting out this season. Angry about going out to a bad-ish shot, angry about the gods of cricket not tweaking the odds in my favour. I’d felt good after a batting coaching/practice session on Friday, and was looking forward to playing with a more positive intent. I intended having a productive innings. Zero is a not a productive score.
But cricket’s unforgiving nature is part of the game’s beauty and heartbreak.
One small mistake and you’re out. Or not. Sometimes the mishit falls short, sometimes you’re dropped. Sometimes you can’t get someone out, even though they don’t know one end of a cricket bat from another.
Now, walking back to my team mates, I was ten tenths pissed off. You hear of players flinging their bats when they get to the emptiness of the changing room. We don’t have the luxury of such a comparatively private place.
I did fling my bat a wee bit. But I was mindful you can also break this piece of willow doing that - so it was as much symbolic as fury. Besides, its well and good for representative players to smash their bats...someone else pays for their replacement!
Perhaps I was just the start of the rot that affected our whole team.
We kept on losing wickets - mostly to a couple of young off-spinners (ball spins clockwise as it leaves the bowler’s hand). Our team couldn’t cope with them though. And we kept on being bowled and caught out.
Cullum Jones our captain, who is also a main bowler, has in the interests of the team and trying to make sure everyone gets to ‘do something’ has mostly batted himself down the order this season. He was batting at Number 11 on Saturday.
I was umpiring as he came in. He said he hoped he’d at least be able to face a ball this week. He’s come in last to bat a few times, and on three occasions hasn’t had the chance to face a ball...fullstop. Our player at the other end has gone out before he has the opportunity.
So it was at Te Whiti. We were all out for 43 (yes, you read that right), and Cullum didn’t even get his small wish.
As we packed up our gear ruefully digesting the unpleasant taste of a right cricket hiding, I took the opportunity to ask why the individuals play.
But still...reasons why we play
The aforementioned Rob said that as well as being character-building stuff, there’s also a camaraderie and for being part of a team. “I definitely don’t play for getting out for nothing though!”
Greg Scobie, another player who like myself has had a few haircuts, reckons it is the satisfaction of playing well, making a contribution - whether a nice shot, a piece of fielding, bowling a great ball. Now Scobes has scored a century and is our team’s leading scorer this season. “I can safely say I didn’t enjoy it at all today.”
Another non-spring-chicken is Ben Leary who plays “for the enjoyment of the game...a game where you get to do everything. You throw, run, bat, bowl and occasionally succeed. It’s those occasional bits of success you play for.”
“I love to rip the stump out of the ground, love bowling,” says Cullum Jones. He also loves being in the action, and would prefer to bat further up the order than at the moment. (Ah...the ‘joys’ of being captain [an editorial comment]).
Andrew McLean says he’s never rationalised why he plays; it is simply something he enjoys. “It’s also something to do before the football season starts!”
Chris Martin reckons he plays because he’s not very good at anything else. It is a great casual Saturday, a nice way and excuse to get out too he adds as a caveat.
A first-time, but I suspect more than that, ring-in, Eno (unknown last name!) says he loves the game. “I love being part of a team and it doesn’t matter what team. Cricket’s cricket.”
One our our youngsters, Nikkitesh Gurnani says “doesn’t my skin colour tell you why? I was born into it.” (If you can’t tell from his name, Nikkitesh is Kiwi Indian). But he says it is also fun, and he’s loved getting back into cricket after a couple of years away.
Mike Neilson initially said he didn’t know why he played. When pressed he said it is because it is fun. “I’m also quite competitive, and love that side of it. The fact it is a team game and you’re not doing something by yourself is enjoyable too. Plus I like the camaraderie.”
Finally there’s the cricket tragic’s cricket tragic, Ozzy (Blair Nicholson). This is a guy who has been known to play 50 outdoor games in a season, plus indoor cricket. “I’m very competitive, and like the challenge of trying to win. I don’t enjoy it if people aren’t taking it seriously. As long as both sides are trying to win, it’s great fun.”
Which are still pretty valid reasons to play - even if we all moseyed on home with our tails between our legs.
We’ll all still turn up next Saturday, the last game of the season.
Our optimism dials will be reset - after all, where there’s life there’s hope and the gods of cricket may throw a six our way next week.
The reasons we turn up and play as a team and as individuals will be rekindled.
We’ll refine those ‘cricket as life metaphors’ and go out and play and play the game.
The memory of an extremely forgettable performance will be left behind us.
And it really will be the last chance for my Last Chance 100.
Comment on this update:
A 'sticky wicket' and a picket fence
04:53PM Wed 14/03/18 on Last Chance 100
A 'sticky wicket' and a picket fence
Cricket tragics are happy to endlessly debate the many variables that contribute to a game of cricket.
Obviously there’s the composition of your own team, as well as the nature of your opponents.
Luck’s another factor. Sometimes you have it as a team or individual. Sometimes you don’t - it’s as if you can only throw a one on a dice when merely getting a three or four (let alone a six) would be bloody useful.
There’s the weather.
This season we’ve been blessed by sunshine, and our team’s giant-sized container of sunblock has been well patronised. It’s been shirt-sleeves dressing; which is much more cricket-conducive than layering-up with an additional 2-3 jerseys to keep out a biting southerly.
And then there’s the pitch.
In the past few seasons, pitch variability has been taken out of the equation as we mostly play on artificials - astroturf-like carpet laid over a concrete base. These provide a consistent, if slightly higher, bounce for the bowled cricket ball.
This season though has seen up play quite a few games on actual grass wickets. The cricket purist in me prefers this. It’s a tad nicer, a touch more pleasant from the overall experience point of view.
A grass wicket is, by nature, also more variable. Unlike the pitches of first class cricket, the ones we play on are uncovered (indeed, covering of pitches didn’t really come in in earnest until the 1960s around the world).
Our pitches are therefore exposed to the vagaries of the weather - a horizontal interface of plant, soil, sun, wind and rain interaction.
Give the fantastic summer we’ve had, the grass strips we’ve played on have been great. The bounce of the bowled ball has been true, the ball’s come through at a good pace - you can time your shot (OK, well other batsmen can time their shots) relatively easily.
Now, when T.V. commentators talk of a slow pitch, meaning batsmen can’t time their shots properly, they’re talking about the ball slightly gripping the soil/grass surface, slightly slowing down the speed of the ball compared to how quickly it moved through the air.
This millisecond slowing ever so slightly mucks up an intended shot by a batsman. It is harder to score.
So It would have been interesting to hear how commentators would’ve described pitch #2 at Delaney Park in Stokes Valley as we played their 1A team (tying with last week’s Naenae 1A as the most boring team name in cricket...must be something to do with the Hutt Valleyness of their schooling!).
A pitch inspection to prognosticate about its merits
Before the game we went and inspected the pitch (one of those traditional things you do) and prognosticated about how it might play.
The fact Greg Scobie could easily push the wickets into the ground was one clue it was quite soft. The fact you could ‘dent’ its surface with your thumb was testimony to the rains that had fallen during the preceding week and which the sun and wind hadn’t yet been able to dry out.
It looked the type of pitch that was going to play a significant part in the game. As Cullum Jones our captain commented before tossing a coin to decide who bats or bowls, it’s the kind of toss you’re quite happy to lose because then you don’t have to make the choice.
As it was, we were asked to bat first.
It became very evident, very quickly, that this was going to be a tricky beast of a batting performance. The pitch was what is sometimes called a ‘sticky wicket’ or ‘sticky dog’ - a pretty good metaphor when you think about it.
If instead we’d been playing golf, the requirement would’ve been to ‘replace all divots’ (though strictly speaking a divot is caused by the golf club also taking a layer of turf/soil with it as you hit the ball).
In our game’s case, the ball would often hit the pitch, make a dent, and remove a $2 coin-sized piece of dirt at the same time (we would do some gardening and remove those bits from the pitch).
This sticky dog also dramatically changed the ball speed - slowing it down considerably, and often the ball would balloon to you. You almost had the opportunity to play two shots - the first a misjudged one, the second because the ball was still s..l...o...w...l...y arriving!
Timing your shots was a real challenge. However it wasn’t a type of pitch that is sometimes called a minefield. That’s when a ball may suddenly pop up high unexpectedly from a reasonable length (ball lands quite close to you) or alternatively shoots along the ground. A minefield plays erratically.
What we faced wasn’t dangerous, just difficult.
This scoring was a slow affair, not helped by the comparatively long grass of the outfield making scoring a boundary a real effort.
My first run was a leg-glance - deflecting the ball to about 7 o’clock. It has been a scoring shot brought into my repertoire because of the Last Chance 100 batting coaching.
Then I scored five runs in total. There was a smattering of ironic congratulatory clapping from my non-batting teammates on the boundary. That was for accumulating 100 runs for the season - and I have to admit, a relief to have achieved. I’ve spent four weeks marooned in the 90s - seeing that 100 has felt like looking through a telescope the wrong way round.
Eventually I went on to make 15 (off 49 balls, so painfully slow). My final 10 runs were all singles, a series of ‘1’s’ in the scorebook. Some wit termed this a ‘picket fence’ for obvious reasons. Traditionally too, a picket fence surrounds a good old-fashioned cricket ground.
My out was partly the result of the pitch (so here’s the/an excuse!). The ball was short, landing a wee way away from me, and sat up, begging to be smacked. In theory I could’ve square cut it anywhere from 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock. Instead I effectively hit a gentle lob to a fielder about 15 meters from me.
It was one of those ‘ah...f..k’ shots. Your own incompetence combined with a tricky bounce is your own undoing.
Struggling to score
Our whole team struggled to score runs on this surface and outfield, and with three balls left in our 40 over innings, we were all out for 142.
This would normally be a pretty pathetic score to try to defend...but, the nature of the pitch meant it wasn’t yet game over.
We’d seen enough from the Stokes Valley bowlers to realise slow bowling would be the most effective ploy. So we did that. Our medium pace/fast bowlers bowled slow instead.
Stokes Valley batters also struggled with their timing. They lost crucial wickets. It was game on for much of the game.
Whether or not the pitch would’ve retained its tennis-ball like bounce if the weather had been overcast is a moot point.
But the sunshine did appear to dry the surface out, and later in the match batting became easier.
We managed to get Stokes Valley seven down (seven people out). But some lusty hitting by their tailenders, and a couple of consecutive overs costing us 20 runs, saw them home.
Mind you, it took until the 36th over to achieve their victory.
We lost, but it was a meritorious defeat against a bunch of good guys played with the spirit you want it to have.
We were evenly matched and the pitch played a big part in the style of game and the outcome - but still, give me a real grass wicket any day of the week.
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Why the hell play cricket?
12:04PM Mon 05/03/18 on Last Chance 100
Who the hell plays cricket, but more importantly why?
Who is easy. Mad dogs and Englishmen for a start. And Indians (millions), Aussies, Pakistanis, South Africans, West Indians, Kiwis and lots of other people around the world - heck my brother even played for a while in Munich.
Why - well that’s worthy of deeper exploration. Of course, at their core, all sports are stupid. Chasing balls and people, trying to beat someone as an individual, or others as part of a team for a meaningless reward.
Taking meaninglessness as a given though, why cricket?
It is probably unique (yes, I know you can’t have probably unique) in that it exists as both a team game and an individual game.
At any one time its actions - bowling, batting, fielding - are a singular activity. It is a team-oriented, individually driven game.
Cricket requires a wide range of skills, but can utilise a wide variety of physical types.
As much head as heart and muscle
It is also a game that is as much head as heart and muscle. Even when you’re young it is about being aware of, and playing within your limitations, maximising the tiny piece(s) of competitive advantage you have over your opposition.
Which is well and good when you’re young. But why play when you’re older?
Now, there’s a question.
For a start, compared to say rugby (notwithstanding golden oldie rugby), or other highly physical sports, it is a game you can play when older - and arguably with more wiles about yourself (and even more aware of your limitations!)
But as much, it is a chance, an opportunity to compete - to match yourself against others, experience extended highs and lows and moments of joy - that aren’t accessible in other sports.
And of course, there’s drama. Within the vagaries of the human condition, our mental strengths and weaknesses, our individual skills and the whims of lady luck, lies every outcome that’s unpredictable.
It’s an unscripted play - the sum of actions, nature (both human and mother) and momentum - in retrospect something with a beginning, middle and end.
To those who don’t know cricket, it is a melodrama.
To those who do, or those with a poet’s sensibility, the game is a metaphor of life played across an afternoon.
So it was on Sunday - all cricket being moved from Saturday on account of the NZ-England one day game at the Westpac Stadium (and wasn’t that an exciting game).
We played Naenae 1A (arguably the most boring name for a team ever invented), and winning the toss, took the option to bat.
I faced a few balls, had scored one.
Greg Scobie pushed a leg-side ball around the corner to about 5 o’clock. I scampered back for a second run. The ball coming back to my end hit the edge of the concrete strip on which the artificial pitch is laid, and richocted away. Scobes called for another run. I ran...but not quick enough. A close enough fielder gathered, threw the ball smartly and the keeper removed the bails.
Run bloody out. (Cumulative total for the season 95...what the hell was this idea of scoring a century in one turn of batting all about?)
A ring in (player who doesn’t normally play for us), Raiju, came in and started really hitting the opposition bowling around. After 20 overs, and the break, we almost had 100 runs, for the loss of only 4 wickets. This is the highest half-time score we’ve had all season.
We undid ourselves
But, we undid ourselves, and lost six wickets for not very much at all - all out for 124. Raiju made 58.
A score of this lowness is not normally enough to make a game.
However, we kept on nibbling away and kept on getting most of their batsmen out. The one we couldn’t snaffle had scored 100 against us last time we played.
But, we kept on taking the wickets of the guys at the other end. They were 8 for 123, and their other batsman got rapped on the pads. Huge appeal by us...and another by Cullum the bowler. The umpire gives it out (as he commented as I passed while fielding, the umpire didn’t want to give him out, but had to).
The final batsman had not fielded for most of the game because of a bad migraine. But given the dire situation (well, Naenae’s definitely lost if he doesn’t bat), he comes out. The gun batsman scores a single. Game’s tied.
The migrained player holds up his end...we can’t winkle him out. The gun faces the next over - whack to the boundary. It’s in the air, near-ish to one of our fielders...but not near enough.
Of course we would’ve preferred to win, but by heck it was a great game. Low scoring, fascinating.
It had all the drama that reminds you why you play - a game as metaphor.
And, it even had a touch of gentlemanly behaviour, of honour.
When the migraine-affected fielder went off, Cullum our captain asked if Naenae would like one of our players to field in his place.
Naenae took up the offer.
Is there any other game where you lend the opposition a hand?
I’m not sure if the actual term derives from cricket, but there’s a damn good chance. It’s called being a sport.
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Putting lipstick on the ugly face of our defeat
09:37AM Mon 26/02/18 on Last Chance 100
At ‘half-time’ as we walked off having fielded for 40 overs, the thought was I’d be writing about, “at least it was a lovely day.”
It hadn’t been so much cricket as fetch.
By that stage, in one of the more bizarre fielding displays I’ve ever been involved with, we’d coughed up 415 runs playing at McAlister Park, opposite where the old Athletic Park used to be. The Petone Strikers had two centaurians on the scoresheet, a couple of our players (out of 10, we couldn’t dredge up an 11th player for the day) had crocked themselves, though were still playing, and given the way the Indian-opposition mucked around replacing out batsmen, it was 4.30 at the changeover.
I’d been called into bowl given our limited bowling stocks. Now, in our grade (and most) you umpire your own batsmen...which can be a challenge. Nobody likes giving out their own teammates.
Generally we umpire it that if a batsman is obviously out LBW (leg before wicket - i.e. if their leg hadn’t got in the way the ball would’ve hit the wicket), we give him out. So, I managed to strike one of their batsmen (who did go on to make 100) on the thigh as he bent down to try and sweep the ball to 9 o’clock. It hit him plumb in line with the wickets, and I and many of the rest of our team went up in appeal.
“Not out,” went the umpire, though he didn’t tell me what the ball was doing.
It made me rather angry - to understate things. I find it difficult enough to get the ball to the other end and on target without some flunky turning down an obvious appeal.
But the game carries on, and our pop gun attack eventually got all the Strikers out in the 39th over.
Unlikely in the extreme
We went out to bat, knowing it was unlikely in the extreme that we’d chase down such a formidable total. Not only were we a player short, but the players we have (including me) aren’t generally ferocious hitters, floggers, smiters, whackers, bludgeoners of the ball. While competent cricketers, we don’t have massive batting firepower.
I opened, facing a good right-arm inswing bowler. It means the balls moves (quite prodigiously and late in this bowler’s case) from right to left through the air as I see it as a right-hand batman.
I wore one full ball directly on the big toe (ouch) and managed two runs out to cover (2 o’clock). In his second over, having faced seven balls, there was another late big inswinging ball. I missed it with the bat, and it hit the back of my left foot near the heel.
The Strikers yelled an appeal. Our umpire gave it. I was a bit surprised to say the least. But, the umpire’s decision is final and I walked off.
When I came out not long after to umpire, the umpire who had given me out came over to apologise. In hindsight, the ball would’ve missed my wicket (as the swing on it would’ve made it pass the wickets without hitting them).
Cricket, being a game of weird terminology, has come up with one for an wrongly or unluckily being given out by an umpire. That term is ‘sawn off’ - a pretty good metaphor in the scheme of things.
So, 94 runs in total for the season - the excruciating crawl to a cumulative 100 (let along maiden century) seemingly getting further away. The only minor consolation was it wasn’t consecutive ducks after making zero last week.
Anyway, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t manage to score many runs, and we went for the drinks break after 20 overs having lost six wickets and the score on 69.
Whether we’d manage to make 100 was a totally valid point as we ruefully discussed.
A cricket tragic's triumph
At the crease was Andrew McLean, a sometimes wicketkeeper, always enthusiastic cricket tragic like the rest of us. Such had been our paucity of bowlers, Andrew had accepted the task to roll his arm over when given it by our captain. Andrew’s first over was ropey. His second one he couldn’t complete.
While it would seen a simple thing to get a ball in a reasonably straight direction 20 metres from one end of the pitch to another, having your brain tell you that’s what’s happening, and achieving the outcome can sometimes be tricky.
So it was in this particular over for Andrew. Some of the balls landed at his feet, and didn’t even make it to the other end. Some landed halfway and literally dribbled to the batsman - again, impossible for a batsman to hit. Such was the internal hebby-jebbies Andrew experienced, he took himself off from bowling, and someone else completed his overs.
Now, you might have thought such a numbing experience would put you off your whole game (including batting). However, Andrew, who at the drinks break had 12 runs beside his name - eclipsing by far his previous highest score of the season of two, obviously wasn’t listening to his subconscious mind.
Andrew’s previous highest score, ever, in cricket, was 42. He went past that. And then past 50. Eventually he holed out, caught, 70. What had previously been an unmemorable, even forgettable, day, turned into one of personal triumph.
As far as our team was concerned, well we got to 100. Then the target became 115 (that would only make us 300 behind like!). As Andrew kept on scoring, aided and abetted by Ben Leary, the score kept mounting.
We were never, ever going to make 400+, but, it was a lovely day, as it moved into early evening, and simply playing out the 40 overs is always a target - a type of resilient defeat.
“Can we make 200,” we debated? Yes. “215?” Made that too. At the end of the 40 overs, having only lost two wickets in the 20 over session, we ended up on 225, with Ben not out on 66 (doubly meritorious considered he’d badly pulled his calf muscle and was batting with a runner - which is self-explanatory, in that someone else dashes up and down the wicket for you).
Though we lost, badly, we had a perverse feeling of pseudo-victory. We weren’t rolled (dismissed quickly), and the game eventually finished at 7.30.
It was a lovely day to play cricket, and we all vicariously enjoyed the thrill and satisfaction of Andrew making his highest ever score.
We were well-beaten, but all in all, we put lipstick on the ugly face of our defeat.
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One is not the loneliest number - at least in batting
09:12AM Mon 19/02/18 on Last Chance 100
‘One is the loneliest number’ is an old-ish song by Three Dog Night.
But they’re wrong. At least when it comes to batting. However, I doubt they had cricket in mind when they were penning their lyrics.
The loneliest number is zero. There’s nothing heroic attached to its nothingness - even if last season in one particular game, I spent 19 balls getting to zero...though strictly speaking I guess you actually stay put to achieve nought.
Today it only took five balls. A couple of stoutly defended balls, one play and miss, one left to pass outside the off-stump.
Then there was the fifth ball in opening the batting against Taita Yodha’s, at Taita #2, on a grass wicket (mostly we play on artificial, green ‘grass’, laid over concrete).
There had been a touch of rain before we arrived, and the pitch was damp. Probably for this reason, the Taita captain on winning the toss, put us in to bat on what, with dampness in the top layer, can be a tricky pitch to play on.
So, he bowls the fifth ball, short, on the leg side - to my left hand side as I’m looking at it. If I was Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson or any member of the Black Caps, I would’ve deposited it to the boundary.
But no, the ball sticks a wee bit on the surface, comes through slightly slower than anticipated. Instead of whacking it anywhere from 7 o’clock to 10 o’clock, I mostly miss. Mostly. But just enough to gently propel it to the wicketkeeper who takes an easy catch.
F..k. I immediately walk, not bothering to give our umpire (your own team members umpire the game at our grade) the problem of figuring whether I did hit it or not.
Ignominy hovering like a swarm of midges
It was a long walk back to fellow team members, ignominy (had to double-check its meaning ‘public shame or disgrace’) hovering over me like a swarm of midges.
A zero, as many non-cricketers even will know, is almost invariably referred to as a ‘duck’. As previously written about in Last Chance 100 (though this is my first non-score of the season) it is so-called because it looks like a duck’s egg - if a duck egg was stood on its end presumably.
Now, the first recorded use was on 17 July 1866, when the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was noted in a contemporary newspaper as retiring “to the royal pavillion on a duck’s egg”. (As an aside, the tennis term “love” is derived from French l’ouef (“the egg”).
But, you can bet your bottom dollar the reporter who used a euphemism to describe the Prince’s score, heard it somewhere, probably while playing himself, and stored it away as a term to be used one day.
I’ll speculate that the term came about because of cricket’s nature; that of waiting.
Cricketer’s (being the thinkers that we are!) have time while fielding, time while waiting to bat, time to contemplate.
Contemplating on a summer's day
Somewhere in England upon a summer’s day, someone would’ve came that notion that a zero looks like a hen’s egg.
Initially this guy (and without being sexist about it, in those days it would’ve been a guy) would’ve figured that that analogy is simply not funny enough. But riffing on a theme, Mr Unknown kept playing with the term.
“It also looks like a duck’s egg,” he thought. Immediately it is more funny. (See here why use of the term duck in a joke is considered to be naturally more amusing). The take home is that words with a ‘k’ in them are inherently considered more funny than others.
Which brings me back to my own downfall - the right shot, played badly! And the rest of the game to stew on it.
Our team, ‘The Shepherds’ went on to only score 132, which is not nearly enough to defend in our grade. The pitch, and its vagaries could have had some bearing on our low score - but you play what is in front of you.
Certainly, by the time the Yodha’s (a team of mostly south Indian players...all but one of them employed in the IT industry) came out to bat, any misbehaviour from the pitch had died down.
They only lost three wickets in achieving the required target in 18.2 overs (out of a possible 40).
But; we got to play on what was another (this summer anyway) lovely Wellington summer’s day.
We originally started out with 10 players. Dan Lyttle a former Shepherd’s player, but now a dad of 18 month old Max, had popped along to watch. He got press-ganged into playing - and four years away from the batting crease hasn’t diminished his skills too much. Dan’s 17 included two 6’s, the only ones scored by our team!
Our team also included Robert Shanks, who bravely, or foolishly depending on your point of view, played with a broken right thumb. Naturally, this meant that no matter where he was positioned on the field, the ball followed him. He’s learned to throw pretty well with his left hand as a result it must be said!
So, a loss, and the Last Chance 100 quixotic goal hasn’t even accumulated 100 (92 to be precise in 10 innings, which the mathematicians out there will instantly calculate as meaning an average in single figures) for the season.
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Cricket’s a funny old game
09:01AM Mon 12/02/18 on Last Chance 100
It’s a funny old game; cricket.
You can do something wrong, make a mistake, and the next moment-ish, you’ve done something that completely balances the ledger in your own mind (if not that of your team...though that’s always a given!)
Equally, you can do something really good - and an over later you’re a villain in your own drama.
There’s many other options too, including being middling the whole game.
It’s all part of it being a funny old game.
An edge to gully
So it was on Saturday, playing Karori Tulsi at Ben Burn Park in Karori. If you couldn’t guess, it is a Wellington-restaurant team of Indians (mostly Gurajati, the province to the north of Mumbai. They make up about 33% of India’s worldwide diaspora according to Wikipedia).
They won the toss and decided to bat.
Initially I was fielding in gully, about eight metres from the bat, around 4.30 on a mythical clock. An edged ball came to me, and I saw it, but not quick enough. I didn’t get my hands up quickly enough, and it hit me in the wrists. Bloody-well, or bloody-badly dropped.
Still slightly dwelling on letting both myself and the team down, I was semi-surprised when Cullum our captain said I’d be bowling next from one of the ends. Now, it’s not that I don’t like bowling, but given that I have the opportunity to open the batting, and one of Cullum’s major roles in our amateur cricket is to try and make sure everyone gets to do something - it was slightly unexpected. As he said though, we didn’t have many bowlers in this particular team.
My first ball got hit for a four - which, given you have five more balls to bowl in an over is never, ever a good way to start.
I managed to not get hit for the next three balls. The fifth ball left my hand quite nicely, with the intended slight bit of outswing applying its physics-forces as it moved towards the batsman (the ball moves right to left as it travels away from me, the opposite, obviously, from the batsman’s point of view).
Perhaps because it wasn’t travelling at express pace (gentle medium-pace is probably a kind description), perhaps thinking he could larrap the ball anywhere he wanted, perhaps because it was my day and not his, he missed and I hit. Bowled, with the stumps flying.
It was my first wicket of this season - a cause for over-joyous celebration on my part. Just as you’re always pleased to get your first kiss, having a first wicket next to your name is equally as rewarding (besides, it stops your teammates from having you on that you haven’t yet taken a wicket). Back in the day when I really could bowl, I took 62 wickets in my first season in Wellington - so the memory of success shines bright, even if the actuality has now has dulled over time.
I bowled three more overs, mostly pretty tight, often with the batsman not able to lay a bat on it. Except that is for the last two balls, which were smitten away for successive fours. Those four overs ended up costing 24 runs, which is okay. Without those eight runs the overs would’ve cost 16 runs, which is much better.
But cricket’s a funny old game.
Tulsi went on to make 259 in their 40 overs, which also included four runouts. Three of them were a result of Captain clever Cullum, who possesses a powerful throw. One of those runouts in particular was a gem, a act of athletic beauty. He picked the ball up on the run, and while still bent over, flung the ball. The stumps shattered, the batsman, much to his surprise was out, and The Shepherds, one and all did our own little victory dances.
I opened, faced the first ball (nope managed to keep that out). But, unsurprising in hindsight because runouts were the order of the day, was runout for eight. The season’s cumulative total painfully crawls its way to 92, the thought of a maiden century this week flattened, again. There was a nicely glanced ball for one (played to about 7 o’clock) in my massive total - the tuck away in memory-recall shot!
How not to hit a ball
My own lack of competence also saw me wear a short pitched ball directly on my left bicep - the pix accompanying this story showing it in technicolour brilliance. Compared to an injury described at the end of this story though, the resulting bruise is but a minor wound of war.
Our batsman at the other end was Ozzy (real name Blair Nicholson, but don’t ask me why he’s called that). Now, if I’m a cricket tragic , Ozzy’s a cricket tragic’s tragic. This is a guy who, by often playing Sundays, and one or two times during the week, regularly manages to knock up 50 or more outdoor games during a season.
What’s more, Ozzy’s only got one functioning eye - he has monocular vision, and has had since birth. Quite how he’s managed to adjust his sight to make up for what is quite a disadvantage, who knows.
Whatever; Ozzy went on to make 74, and almost carried his bat (when you open the batting, and are the not out batsman at the finish). His efforts weren’t quite enough though, as pretty accurate bowling kept us mostly under the required run rate, as we only managed 200.
At one stage though we were in with a gambler’s chance, even if it meant scoring at about 10 runs an over for 10 overs or so.
Then Tulsi’s opening bowler was back on, having not used up all his eight allowable overs. He’d bowled seven of them, without luck (= wickets) having conceded 32 runs. While he’d been effective, he hadn’t been rewarded.
With the second ball of that over, our player’s caught. Our next batsman’s up...bowled. Two wickets in a row, he’s on a potential hat trick, or three wickets in three balls. Now, a hat trick’s a pretty rare beast (I suspect it’ll remain on my work in progress list). But, he steams in, bowls. Our batsman misses, he hits. He gets a third in a row. What had been a mediocre day for the bowler turns into one for which he’ll forever have bragging rights...and will no doubt bore non-cricket-aficionados with the tale.
By the way, it is called a hat trick because back in the 1800s it allegedly entitled the successful bowler to receive a new hat from his club. A bowler to receive a bowler perhaps?
And finally, the game will live in the memory of one of Tulsi’s fielders. In attempting to stop a wide (a ball too far away from a batsman for him to hit, automatically scores a single) going over the boundary for four wides, the fielder fell awkwardly. Very awkwardly. He couldn’t get to his feet unassisted and was in obvious pain as the game continued to its conclusion.
That night my partner, a nurse at Wellington Hospital’s Emergency Department treated a player who had really really badly injured his knee. It was the same player at our game. Not sure this is a tale he’ll wish to retell however.
Funny old game cricket.
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A cricketer always dreams big...when not playing!
09:11AM Mon 05/02/18 on Last Chance 100
Is there anything worse than being a cricket-playing-tragic, and your Saturday game’s rained off?
Yes...when its a perfectly fine day and you have the bloody bye.
You wistfully look out the window, sun streaming in, and think, ‘today could’ve been the day.’
It’s the misguided thought that this afternoon of all afternoons would be the time all the opposition bowlers were only bowling pies - an inferior bowler, one who bowls like a clown throwing a pie.
It’s the notion that this was the day you’d see the cricket ball as the unmissable size of a beach ball.
It’s the belief - which is alway easier in imagination than in reality - that today, no matter what they bowled at you, you’d safely and easily smite it to the boundary.
And...then you wake up from your little reverie and remember that any sensible betting person would regards the odd of you getting a ton or 100 runs to be as likely as Wellington enjoying an endless summer - hang on, we are having one!
A game of the imagination (if unreal)
Which where in fact is one of the differences about cricket.
Yep, its a team game. But at any one time it is an individual doing an individual action.
To that end, you can picture and adjust that action. It could be you imagining a particular batting shot, a drive hit back with a vertical bat to between 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock, a cut as a horizontal bat shot to between 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock, a pull to between 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock, and a range of alternative shots in-between.
Of course you don’t imagine the edge that carries to slips (the fielders beside the wicketkeeper), the mistimed hook that smashes into your helmet (thank goodness for these relatively modern safety devices) nor the complete miss where the ball knocks your wicket out of the ground.
No, in your dreams you always bat like Bradman.
Sometimes too the fantasy bowlyou make to a phantom batsman is unplayable - a jaffa as it is known.
Of course, it is never the batsman that mucks up their shot in these dreams; it’s your control of line (direction), length (how close to the batsman the ball lands) and movement of the bowled ball that causes the batsman to surrender to the magnificence of your delivery.
Never mind that in real life at a real game you might be lucky to get half of a six-game over even approximating what you’d like it to do. Equally, in a real game you’ll quite gladly accept the wicket that appears beside your name, even if it was entirely because the batsman stuffed up and you lucked in.
The surprising results of a bad ball
(On that note, you’d be surprised how many wickets are a result of a bad ball. There’s an almost uncontrollable excitement that overtakes you as a batsman when you immediately see that the bowler’s bowled a bad one. Your eyes light up, the inescapable thought comes to mind that you can hit this bad ball anywhere. But what do you do...you mistime it and pull it onto your wicket, you hit it well, but not well enough to miss the fielder lurking out there at deep midwicket (10 o’clock) or you don’t properly keep your eye on the ball and give an easy catch to point at 3 o’clock. Of course, you might also smash it out of the park...and grin to yourself as the captain gives a dagger stare to the bowler).
However, residing in the memory of any cricketer are the moments that were magic for them. It might have been a particular batting shot that was as sweet as a summer’s day. It might have been one of those rare occasions where the ball you bowled was the intended delivery, and the batsman was deceived and was on his way back to the pavillion.
Then again, it could’ve been a catch...or four catches in my case three years ago. The captain told me to field in the gully - about 4 o’clock, about eight metres from the batsman. As mostly luck would have it, the batsmen gave edges that day, which all flew towards me. Again, luck, a modicum of skill, and four catches. Of course, forever and a day in this team when we go out to field, I’m directed to gully!
Now, in the context of magic memory moments, this is the very reason a non-cricket-tragic should be very wary of asking a cricketer about a time and place where they “done good”.
You see, we cricket tragics are always quite ready to pounce with a story.
We’re more than happy to spend five minutes describing an event that took 0.5 seconds. We delight on delivering a monologue describing in painfully exquisite detail a moment when time stood still for s.
A moment when briefly, we shared the rare air of success enjoyed frequently by those stars you see on TV.
A moment all cricket tragics, in their own particular day and way, will take to their grave.
However, just because it’s a searing memory for a cricketer, shouldn’t mean that a non-cricketer needs to turn a casual conversation into a desperate attempt to escape it.
You’ve been warned.
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The bowler’s equivalent of a century
09:34AM Mon 29/01/18 on Last Chance 100
For a batsman, a three figure score, 100, is a recognised feat.
The equivalent for a bowler is five wickets, out of the opposition’s total of 10 wickets.
I’d always assumed our Captain, Cullum Jones, must’ve had five wicket hauls in his past cricket. A five-for as it is also called.
With his deceptive, slingy/shoulder action, and a natural outswinger (balls moves right to left through the air) he’s a handful when onsong.
But no, across a playing across years and countries he’d never achieved the milestone.
Till now. His hard earned five for was instrumental in Eastern Shepherds defending 197 against Brooklyn Mighty Ducks on a grass wicket at McAlister Park in what was yet another gorgeous Wellington day.
Cullum’s first wicket was a bowled, the batsman playing the ball - onto his stumps. Next, a mis-timed shot was high but close, anyone of three could have easily taken it. But Cullum called himself and never looked like dropping it. AJ then took a catch at midwicket at about 10 o’clock.
He was bending the ball from left to right through the air from a right hand batsman’s point of view . Often they’d play at a ball, but miss as it swung past the edge of the bat and where they expected the ball to be.
A couple of times, Cullum pinned the batsman with the ball on the pad, with no bat involved, in front of their wicket. Two Leg Before Wicket, LBW.
He can tick the '5' box
So Cullum joins the 5 club, he can tick that box.
I’m a member of the five-for club, and have a six-for and even a couple of seven-for.
Those two seven-fors were in late 1986. I hadn’t played that much cricket as a young man, and now late 20’s back from overseas, matured, I was now reasonably quick. I could bowl a natural outswinger (ball moves right to left at it left my hand).
One game (and the Spick n Span scorebooks of the period are not to be found) when I was on song, along with the then captain Tim Main at first slip (beside the wicketkeeper), I got seven wickets both times as we bowled a team out - twice.
Talking with cricket team mate from the 1980s, Peter Aagaard about not getting a ton, and how he had his 100 badge, he said, “yeah, but you’ve taken five wickets,” with a touch of whistfulness in his voice. Yes, he’s right...but it’s the pursuit of what we haven’t achieved that creates the narrative.
So back to Last Chance 100’s pursuit of maiden ton.
My contribution to the Shepherd’s 197 was 15 off 26 balls, part of a healthy opening stand of more than 50 in 12 overs - your maths will allow you to deduce that my batting partner Greg Scobie made about 35.
This week I was more resolute in ‘playing in the V’ - concentrating on defensive-ish shots played back to a 11 - 1 o’clock spectrum. Sometimes it is also called playing straight. I was pleased that a number of times I was able to turn a defensive shot into one by turning the ball to an unpatrolled short mid-wicket at 10 o’clock.
The Brooklyn change bowler (after the opening two), Carl, went on to bowl seven overs, for six runs, taking three wickets. One of them was mine.
He bowled accurately, outswingers moving from left to right from my right hand batsman perspective.
Carl pinned me down, not allowing me to drive, nothing was too short. It was , thoughtful, accurate, dangerous bowling.
He bowled the next one just short of a length, about three metres from where I was batting. I was committed to defending it, but it moved a bats-width to the right from where I was expecting it to be. It took the outside edge of my bat, and was caught by the keeper. Beautiful bowling. Ben Leary, the umpire reckoned it was the sort of ball that would’ve bowled anyone.
But I was pleased with the strategy. The good balls were kept out until the one I didn’t, I learned more about placement. Firstly, dropping it short for a safe single, hitting to where there’s no close fielder. And second, guiding the ball rather than trying to smack it.
Average sneaks into double figures
The 15 runs also takes my average up (cringe, whew) to double figures. (84 / 8).
Shepherds’ win was a team effort. Greg Scobie made 69, (as such not out because he hit the ball in an LBW decision) and Alex Hann a well-hit and needed 50.
Brooklyn ultimately got to 33 runs of our total, a seemingly easy win.
But at one stage we still needed three wickets, while they only needed 48 runs from 12 overs (quite do-able).
The game had been balanced, swaying in who had dominance until then.
AJ bowled one with his off-spin (ball spins clockwise through the air).
Cullum got an LBW - his 5th wicket of the day.
Rob bowled the last guy.
The Shepherds hooked Brooklyn in - victory in warm sunlight at 6.45pm
The pleasant taste of victory followed us off the park, flavoured our dinner that night and followed us into next week.
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Cricket can be a fickle mistress
08:11AM Mon 22/01/18 on Last Chance 100
Many of us have had relationships with someone who is both generous and selfish, cruel and kind in equal measures.
You keep on going back to them - knowing you’ll experience highs and lows in equal measure, understanding that the blackness of despair and defeat can just as quickly transform into the brightness of delight and victory.
So it is with cricket. It is a game that can be a schizophrenic mistress; beautiful, poetic, dramatic - AND frustrating, wearying and melodramatic. To misquote Charles Dickens, cricket can be both the best of times and the worst of times.
In the Eastern Shepherds case on Saturday, it was the worst(ish) of times, and displaying the fickle mistressness outlined above, the best of times (indeed, one of the reasons we play as a bunch of mediocre amateurs).
“What shall we do,” asked Captain Cullum before he went to toss the coin against Petone Strikers (another of the Indian teams in our competition).
“Bat,” said I straightaway, to the laughter of fellow team members. Cullum won, we went out to bat.
Scamper back for two runs
Yours truly faced the first ball bowled; and I successfully kept out the first five balls (including a dab to point, at 3 o’clock relative to my position, which was misfielded and allowed me to scamper back for two runs).
Now, the previous day at practice underneath the Westpac Stadium with coach Taylor Wenlock, I’d had a pretty good hour. That included a couple of nice leg-side shots - turning a straight ball to about 9 o’clock.
So... in theory you’re not meant to premeditate the shot you’re going to play to any ball. You’re meant to play each ball bowled to you on its merit. Note the MEANT TO.
The Petone Striker’s bowler, not express pace but accurate and bowling right arm inswingers (ball moves from right to left through the air as I see it as a right hand batsman) bowled his 6th ball.
Without realising it, not fully concentrating, unconsciously premeditating, I tried one of those forementioned leg-side shots. But missed. I may’ve slightly edged it - but edged it onto my off-strump. Bowled for two bloody runs.
The next five or so batsman scarcely did any better than me, and we went to drinks after 20 of 40 overs, on about 60, with six wickets lost.
But Rob and Chris came somewhat to our rescue. Rob got a nice 50...and more face-saving than necessarily game-winning, we ended up all out for 155 runs.
Normally that wouldn’t be enough runs to defend - especially for such a big shot, boundary-seeking side such as the Strikers.
The gods of cricket, a temperamental deity
But the gods of crickets, that temperamental deity, had other ideas.
Ben Leary, our usual wicketkeeper handed the keeping gloves to an ever-improving Andrew. Early on during the Striker’s innings, the batsman played a ball close to ‘square leg’ where Ben was fielding. In a flash (and pretty impressive for another guy past the first flush of youth) he picked the ball up, and took aim for the wickets at the end where the batsman was racing for.
It had to hit on the full to get him out - and it did. Woohoo, nothing like a run out to lift a team.
The Strikers continued to attempt to live up to their name. Whack, whack, 6, 4, 4, miss. We had a 15 year old left-arm (step son of a former Shepherds player) player bowling.
A healthy fine edge flew past keeper Andrew, and looked like it would head to the boundary. But Greg Scobie at first slip stuck up his left hand (I was fielding only a few metres away from him, and thought he was merely waving at the ball). Low-and-behold, the ball sticks in his hand. Out.
Momentum - one of those attributes dealt out positively and negatively by cricket’s mistress - felt on our side.
We kept on chipping away - the Strikers doing themselves no favours as they offered up six catches, most of them in the outfield.
To cut a long story short, they were all out for 117, just after the 20th over.
And just to show when you’re hot you’re hot, Ben Leary also achieved another runout, as well as taking two catches. It’s not often that inspirational-fielding alone will bestow the informal man-of-the-match award (especially considering Rob’s 50), but in this context, Mr Leary deserved the gong.
We recorded only our second win in seven games - reminding us that the taste of victory is much sweeter than the sourness of defeat.
A win, even while personally experiencing a Last Chance 100 letdown, is why we play. At its heart, cricket is a game of individual actions, deeds, successes and failures - across 11 people.
At a private level, my contribution (and non-attainment of a maiden 100) is disappointing.
But collectively, we won. The primary (if meaningless) objective was achieved.
And that, at its essence, is why we play.
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Damn, it's not the background thought I need going into the holidays
08:54AM Mon 18/12/17 on Last Chance 100
I woke up on Sunday morning, and had to figure out the emotion that was knocking around my noggin.
It took me a moment, with some surprise, to figure it was anger; a pissed-offed-ness.
But first let me back up the Last Chance 100 explanation train.
I’d gone along OK to get five runs the day before. A couple of pleasing-feeling gentle turn of the ball to leg (9 o’clock), a slightly mis-hit but okay square cut (to 3 o’clock) for two, and another shot that I can’t remember.
Bowler comes in, bowls short, it’s bouncing at about head level. In a pure instant reaction I have a swipe at it, attempting to smite it to the boundary at 9 o’clock with a hook shot. Get through the shot too early, but not so early that the ball doesn’t hit me on the back of the glove. The wicketkeeper makes a good dive and catches it.
What had percolated in my subconscious that Saturday night was:
That I missed such a shot
That I should’ve simply ignored that ball, ducked or got out of the way. It was too early in my innings to attempt to play such a shot
(The gods of cricket could’ve allowed the keeper to miss that catch)
Our next game is not until January 20, 2018.
Now I appreciate that attempting to score a maiden century is week-after-week, setting myself up for failure. Mostly I can live with this.
'I should've done this instead'
But I’m not looking forward to that nagging, damning thought that will fill that cricket batting part of my mind for the next month. That pissed-off-ness will keep grinding away I can just tell. A whole four weeks of inability to either redeem or replace that ‘I should’ve done this instead’ thought.
It also means that I didn’t even manage to accumulate 100 runs in the six games we played before Christmas (69 runs, at an average of 11.5 if you must know).
However, I guess it will mean watching even more intently games on TV, (or if I happen to get along to one). (That said, may be in touch with some of my PledgeMe pledgers to see if they’d be keen on attending a game which I’ll be happy to explain what’s going on).
Having had a good bit of batting coaching under the belt from Taylor Wenlock, it means I’m watching these first class and international batsmen with both a new appreciation of their skills, and a more discerning eye on what they’re technically doing when they bat.
Aspects such as where are they positioning their head, where are their feet and how much do they move them, how are they holding the bat and how much wrist-cocking do they do when (or rather just before) they play a shot.
Unfortunately, I can’t get into the minds of such players, nor have their superior reactions transplanted into my body. But, just as a painter may study the techniques of the great artists, so can an aging lower league club cricketer study the techniques of master batsmen. Study...but not necessarily emulate!
As for the game itself against a mostly middle-aged team called Indian Thumbs-Up, well, let’s call ‘getting second’ as a lesser and slightly more polite description of other terms you could come up with.
They put us into bat, and my 5 runs was unfortunately the fourth highest score as we were all out for 91 - extras contributing more than a seventh of our total!
Opposition smashes their way to victory
They came out, seemingly intent to quickly smash their way to victory.
Their first batman to go out nicked the ball (hit it on the edge of the bat) and it flew to first slip Rob beside the wicketkeeper, who took a good catch.
As has we walking off I made the observation that, given the name on the back of his Thumbs-Up team shirt, his manner of dismissal was very apt. His name….’Nick’.
At one stage we had Thumbs-Up three wickets down for 20 runs, including having their first person out with zero runs on the board. But they continued to smack the leather around, and didn’t lose any more wickets in quickly getting another 70 or so runs for victory.
It was good that they didn’t muck around - it meant we finished relatively early at just after 4pm. It was also an extremely hot day (and driving home the beaches from Lyall Bay to Island Bay were packed with people), so not having to be out in the middle of a dry-grass oval for too long was lucky for us.
So, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win well, and sometimes you’re badly beaten.
In the end though, nobody dies.
But as I was saying to Dave Greenburg author of ‘Emergency Response’ at the Biz Dojo the other day...
“Yeh, nobody dies in cricket...but everytime I go out to bat and score very little, a tiny bit of me dies inside.”
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Up against Miandad
08:53AM Mon 11/12/17 on Last Chance 100
Our 5th game of the season was against Stokes Valley Miandad.
Now Javed Miandad was a great Pakistani cricketers of the 70s, 80s and 90s. He was a star of the game, especially in his own home country. So much so that not ever was he given out LBW (Leg Before Wicket) when playing at home. This was before test cricket introduced neutral umpires...so you draw the conclusion.
Our expectation was that this would be a Pakistani expat inspired team.
But no, this was a cleverly named team made up of dads and sons and other young people - like adolescents of (I’m guessing here) 13-16 years of age. Get it, me and dad!
In total there were five adults playing, which leaves six young fellas.
Well, SVM batted first, and one of the adults made a few runs, and other adults and a few of the boys all chipped in. They got to 205 in their 40 overs, played at Stokes Valley in a lovely heat but with a nice breeze to make it most pleasant.
And that’s a good time to introduce the picture accompanying this blog/story.
When I was given a copy of this pix at the end of the last millennium, the man who was the boy in this picture was still alive. Some wit, pre WWI went to a lot of trouble to neatly create a dream team no matter what age of the player (let alone boys!)
Which is a backhand commendation of the Stokes Valley fathers who formed this mixed team and encourage youngsters from the tucked-away suburb in the Hutt Valley to have a go at cricket against adults.
How did they do. Well, at one stage our team, The Shepherds, were in danger of being bowled out for less than 100.
Eventually we got to 148, but that was 58 runs short of victory. Some of those young guys bowled very well. If not fast, at least accurately. Sometimes they didn’t bowl well either - but ironically, those were often the balls we went out to.
The bad ball's so often your undoing
So often it is the bad ball that gets you out. You can cope (often) with a well-bowled ball. The surprise of a poor ball, the lighting up of your eyes with that “right, now I can have a real wallop at this” is your undoing.
So it was with me. Had nurdled my way to 16, wore a couple of bowls on the body, a sweep (horizontal bat shot to 9 o’clock) and a nicely turned ball around the corner to 7 o’clock that I was particularly proud of.
A 15/16 year old left arm bowler had just bowled a wide outside off stump short ball that I’d managed to cut away (to 3 o’clock) for a four. The new Laver & Wood bat helped...I didn’t hit it that particularly hard, but the shot raced away to the boundary.
Keeping to my routine of walking to the side of the wicket, taking a deep breath, and refocusing as I resumed my batting stance, the youngster bowled his next ball.
It was a full toss - meaning a ball that lands on the full at about where your feet are. It is a ball that you can really smite if you hit it right. It is a ball you should alternatively play with great circumstance, because often they’re straight, and if you miss, it can easily hit your wickets, (or pads and be liable for an LBW).
But unfortunately it was a ball I neither smacked away, nor defended cautiously.
Instead I dolly hit it softly, having got through my shot without it being under control. It was an on-the-full return hit back to the bowler, who dived forward and took a good catch just above the ground.
A crap ball met with an equally crap shot. Caught and bowled - continuing the trend of going out in different ways through the Last Chance 100 (though the second game of the season I was caught - a not dissimilar full toss, useless dolly shot back, but this time caught at short cover, about 2 o’clock).
Mind you, my 16 (from 18 balls) was the second highest score of our innings, behind Ben Leary’s 35 which gave our scoreline some respectability. Though, in actually fact, both of us were eclipsed by ‘extras’. There were 36 of those, mostly bowls deemed too wide (and called wide) for the batsman to hit.
Opening the batting, and facing the first ball, I saw five other batsmen come and go while watching at the other end. My advice to “watch these kids; they’re not too bad”, was mis-heard by them, and eventually myself!
So another loss; but with the slight satisfaction that many of these youngsters will (hopefully) go on and grow up to be cricket tragics like the team they were playing against today.
So, for me to even accumulate 100 runs before the Christmas break (let alone score a maiden century), I’ll need to score 36 next Saturday.
I’m always going out with the intent to do so (score 100 like). Going out with the intent to play each ball on its merit. Going out with the intent of not going out.
But the bowler at the other end, the team we’re playing against is playing with the intent of getting me and nine other players out.
Throw in that element of lady luck (for whichever side) and what happens at the moment, and across the day - and the best of intents are scattered to the wind.
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A new bat in the kit...perhaps this time
08:52AM Mon 04/12/17 on Last Chance 100
Setting out from home in Island Bay on a 35km road trip to Stokes Valley, with a new Laver & Wood bat to use in anger for the first time (more on it later), I was feeling good.
Until on the motorway opposite the Interislander ferries terminal. Suddenly my pores opened.
S..t, I was looking after the team’s two big kit bags of gear. They were still in my garage.
There was no option but to divert up Ngauranga Gorge as the first turnaround spot on the motorway and traipse my way back across town to pick the gear up.
Rang the captain to inform him of my senior moment; and 40 minutes later was going back past the same ferries.
Arrive half an hour after the game’s started. Our team, The Shepherds, are batting. We’ve lost one wicket.
Captain Cullum says I can bat at number four if I’m happy to get a wriggle on batting wise (i.e. not muck around defending too much).
OK. Go out to bat after 20 overs (and our small first break).
Feel pretty good from the get-go. Batting coach Taylor Wenlock made Thursday’s net/practice session about concentrating on concentrating. That is, putting the previous shot out of my mind, and then focusing on the next ball as it was bowled. Going through a little routine to put me back in the batting ‘space’.
Was going along nicely. A couple of sweeps (playing across the ball with a horizontal bat rather than in line with a vertical bat) to balls outside leg stump (the one on the LHS when looking at the three of them from behind). That brought a couple of fours. A wee one drive for a one, another turned around the corner to about 8 o’clock.
Then a soft-ish defence/shot to 3 o’clock. Wasn’t going to run, when Greg Scobie at the other end says yes.
I should’ve said no.
But too late, too slow out of the blocks I head for the far end.
It’s only 20 metres or so, but seeing that the fielder had picked up the ball quite cleanly and was lining up to throw to the end I was running to, it felt like 200 metres.
Half way down the pitch I realised that if he hit the wickets on the full, or if the bowler managed to cleanly catch the ball and hit the stumps, I was a goner.
The bowler caught cleanly, ran me out a couple of meters out of the crease. Our umpire raised his finger (I presume), and I carried on running back to where the rest of the team was assembled.
I’d made 14 runs from 13 balls - so run rate was good enough. Felt in a good mental space...but cricket’s an unforgiving game, and you only get one chance.
The forenamed Greg Scobie went on to make a century, his fifth, and along with some other handy scores, our total at the end of 40 overs was 296.
The Stokes Valley side tried all day to match our score, but never kept up with a required 7+ runs per over.
After their 40 overs, with their last two batsmen at the crease, they’d scored 211.
Our first win in four games for this season. A nice feeling.
No team ever runs out onto the field with the notion or idea to get second - so it’s great to register victory...at last.
The new Laver & Wood bat comes from a dedicated team of custom batmakers in Hawkes Bay. L&W have been hand-making their bats since 1999.
They’ve developed a worldwide reputation for the quality of their bats - even to the extent that some professionals remove the L&W stickers and logos from the bat, and replace them with the batmaker’s stickers who are actually sponsoring them!
Paul Young, who in recent seasons played cricket in our 40 over competition, used to order willow blanks from L&W, and then shape them himself. He and his fellow players at Eastern Taxes used them very successfully when playing against The Shepherds. It wasn’t so much cricket for us as fetch.
Earlier this year, Paul got rung up by L&W and was asked if he’d like to shift from Wellington to Napier to become a professional batmaker.
Paul thought this over for about five seconds before making his decision, and “what used to be my hobby has become my job.”
Now, I appreciate men can sometimes be overly attached to pieces of equipment, tools or clothes that have a special (if minor in the scheme of things) meaning.
Having an implement such as this bat is in that category for me.
Most cricket tragics (and many normal people) will know the feeling - like receiving a Christmas present you really wanted, and that still brings you pleasure.
So it is with me, and a special thanks to Laver & Wood for contributing a bat to Last Chance 100’s quixotic pursuit.
Last week I commented how I’d achieved, in my first three games three different ways out of the 10 that can get a batsman out.
I wasn’t expecting to necessarily add to that - but the run out is a fourth way. Being stumped is the next most common - and after that they’re rare, exotic and strange ways to go out.
That said, I’d take being stumped...provided it is when I’m on 101.
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That's 3 of the 10 ways to go out 'ticked off'
09:05AM Mon 27/11/17 on Last Chance 100
There’s 10 ways you can go out in cricket - some of them rather rare and somewhat strange.
But now I’ve managed to do three of them already this season in just three game. This week it was a leg before wicket (or LBW) to go with being bowled in the first week and caught in the second week.
An LBW is when, in the opinion of the umpire, that for the fact the ball hit your pads (leg protectors) without hitting your bat, it would’ve gone on to hit your wickets.
Especially as your own teammates umpire you, it can be a contentious call - often they are not given, and sometimes it is that obvious that someone is out (they’re essentially falling over their wickets and get hit in the pads) that it makes for very bad feelings within the game. If the team batting and umpiring first turns down what seems to be genuine LBW decisions, it sure as hell makes it unlikely that your own team, batting and umpiring second will give give an out for the same appeal.
But after scoring four runs (gulp, again, same as the first week), our umpire Ben raised his finger - the signal for out.
I had attempted to sweep the ball, stretching forward and swinging with a horizontal bat across the line of the ball, trying to hit it to about 9 o’clock. I missed, the ball hit my pad, an appeal by the opposition, a decision not in my favour.
Hindsight, it being so perfect, I should’ve attempted to on-drive this particular ball, playing it with a vertical bat to about 11 o’clock. But their bowlers has been parsimonious in not giving many bad balls to hit. The pressure got to me.
We had them three wickets for zero runs at the start
It didn’t make for the beginning of a good run chase of Naenae Old Boy’s 188. Their’s was a pretty good score considering that at one stage we had them three wickets down for no runs, zero. But one of their guys got (another) ton, and they ended up with a respectable score. It was the first time this season he’s gone out, and he has an average of something like 140!
I managed a couple of catches at gully (about 4 o’clock to the batsman), which was a relief after dropping one last week.
Considering that five of our own batsmen scored fewer than me - including a couple of ‘ducks’, or a score of zero - it isn’t surprising to find that we only achieved 149 in reply.
(It is called a ‘duck’ because the shape of a zero is the shape of an egg - though you might have thought it would’ve been called a ‘hen’. Duck does have a more disastrous sound about it though)
We were also a player short for the whole game - which you notice when you’re fielding, not being able to plug the holes as you normally can.
The Naenae guys were a good bunch to play against and there was some good banter. It was helped by the fact that our captain, Cullum, plays football in the same team as one of the opposition. The Naenae ground out in the Hutt Valley is also very pleasant - lined with willows, and a small creek that unfortunately the ball has to be retrieved from occasionally.
But it doesn’t disguise the fact that it is our third loss in a row.
And your’s truly is still a work in progress from a batting point of view. The maiden century seems just as far away as ever.
Finally, because many of you will be scratching your heads at the 10 ways it is possible to go out in cricket, here’s a wee list.
Retired (very infrequent)
Hit ball twice (rare)
Hit wicket (hardly ever)
Leg before wicket
Obstructing the field (hardly ever)
Timed out (rare)
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Wouldof, couldof, shouldof - realising you’re making a mistake as you’re doing it
08:49AM Mon 20/11/17 on Last Chance 100
The opposition won the toss - they called the tossed coin right; so they get the choice of whether they bat or bowl first.
Normally, mostly, a team will elect to bat in their first innings (the turn your team has at batting, which I’ll be pleased to also explain to a particular German when we go to a game together! ).
But no, Taita Yodas elected to bowl first. Great, we, Eastern Shepherds, got to do what I wanted us to do, bat first.
An old mate, Eugene, whom I and three others shared a combi van trip around Europe in the early 80s, Messengered me after the game.
In that caring, sharing way that males have an an artform, he enquired?
Did you make your century, or was it an egg?
“Did you make your century, or was it an egg?”
“24” I replied.
“(Grimace-faced emoji), above your career average though”
“Quite probably” I replied.
Still it was 20 more runs than the opening game, and included an on-drive (to about 10.30 on the clock), which has been a shot I haven’t played for years...the second week in a row I’ve achieved what is often considered one of the more difficult cricket hits to achieve.
And this week too, I was much more concentrateful (which isn’t a word but probably deserves to be) on watching the bloody ball. Not just pretending to watch it, but looking intently at the ball in the bowler’s hand as he ran in to deliver it.
It meant I faced 40 balls (40 times a bowler bowled to me) for those 24, but generally felt pretty comfortable facing them. Some balls I let pass outside the off-stump (the on the right-hand side of the set of three when looking from behind), deciding that discretion is the better part of valour.
(Looking up that expression, used by Shakespeare, though not invented by him, I see it means “better to be prudent than merely courageous”.)
So perhaps it was feeling comfortable that was my undoing.
A relatively innocuous bowler (though no bowler ever owns up to that description) came in for his third or fourth over.
It was a full toss - that is, looking to reach me on the full with no bounce at all, rather than about two thirds of the way down the pitch.
Often it’s a type of ball you can really have a go at.
Instead I semi-softly drove at the full toss, and indeed hit it on the full. Even as I was playing it though I knew I wasn’t properly in control of the shot. My shot had no power, and was a doddle of a catch for the short cover fieldsman, about 15m from the bat, at about a 2 o’clock position on that clock face.
Even as I was playing it I realised (too late) I should of been playing it with soft hands, not following through with my bottom right hand wrist and arm, letting it fall even more softly, and safely.
Wouldof, couldof, shouldof - oh how great hindsight is. So, this week almost a quarter of a century...way better than 1/25th of a century, but…
Our team went on to make 213 runs in 40 overs, for the loss of six wickets. It would have been good to get more, but can be a defendable target.
We began our stint in the fied. Yours truly dropped a catch...damn it. Fielding at gully, at about 4.30 (o’clock, but that is syntactically incorrect). Ball came straight to me, slipped out of my hands. That feeling of letting your team mates down is so much worse than that of letting yourself down.
The opposition had one really good batsman - who, poor guy we got out when he was on 98. You’d almost let him get his century if he’d promise to go out straight after he’s got it...but that’s not the way cricket works.
Our captain Cullum also asked me to bowl. He’s figuring out what resources he has to skillfully deploy, and I bowled five over of inswing. This is something (inswing I mean) I only learned to do about seven years ago - yet another casualty of never having had coaching. It means the ball, from a right hand batsman’s perspective (all bowling types are described from the batsman’s POV) moves from right to left as it comes towards you.
It can be difficult to play - if you as the bowler get it right. So, for many of my bowls meant they didn’t score too heavily. The five overs cost 32 runs (not too bad in context of the game). Those bowling figures would’ve been much better if the last two balls weren’t hit for a six and a four consecutively mind you.
If we’d got that almost-century maker out earlier, we may’ve had a good chance of running through the rest of the Taita line-up. But we didn’t - and they scored the required 214 to win with about three overs left and six wickets lost.
So, a good day’s cricket, again we didn’t disgrace ourselves.
Personally, remembering to do many batting things all at once (watch the ball, cock your wrists, move your feet, play within yourself) was gratifying.
But going out the way I did...wouldof, couldof, shouldof.
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The 'death rattle' - never a good sound when you're batting
08:39AM Mon 13/11/17 on Last Chance 100
So, good news first, or bad news, bad news or good news?
OK, the bad news.
Out, bowled for four, having faced four balls. More on the reasons (the post factor rationalisation) in a minute.
The good news - given that nobody dies, nobody is traumatised, nobody goes hungry just because your don’t do so well in a game of cricket.
The good news. Well, the four itself was the first time in forever...or at least a bloody long time, that I’ve hit a boundary utilising an on drive.
That’s a hit, straight along the ground, that goes to the right hand side of a bowler. If the bowler’s at 12 o’clock, you as the batsman are at 6 o’clock, well the shot itself goes to 11 o’clock on that imaginary timepiece.
What’s so good about that?
For the past few years, my closed stance has effectively meant I couldn’t do an on drive.
I’d sort of be falling over myself, not able to get my feet and shoulders and hands into the right position to sort of play across and through your body, opening up your hips enough to allow that shot to be played. It is rated as one of the more technically difficult shots to play in batting...so as a small, miniscule victory, it is one I’ll have to take. Some credit to my batting coach, Taylor Wenlock for that adjustment to my game
Why out so readily?
Why did I go out so readily?
Hindsight, it being such a perfect way to recollect is, I wasn’t concentrating enough. I wasn’t concentrating as intently as required on the bowled ball. I can’t blame anyone but myself for that lapse.
This was confirmed by the umpire (we have to umpire our own games, and it is your own teammates who have to decide sometimes contentious issues). I played in the right line of the ball - but by the time I’d got my bat to where the ball was (or in this case wasn’t) it had already passed and hit the wickets.
Which is sound familiar to most cricketers. A hard leather ball, knocking these cylinders of wood stuck in the ground. There’s a percussiveness, a dull echo knock - a bit like a xylophone key being rapped by the mallets (thank you well-known search engine), and then immediately silenced so they don’t reverberate.
It is sometimes called the ‘death rattle’ (which is a term associated with actual death, as described by Wikipedia here). Cricket is the game that has probably generated the most metaphors to describe things that are going on and ‘the symbolic sound of a batsman’s wicket being broken when he is bowled’ is yet another perfect description.
It’s a slightly sickening sound if you’re batting because without even looking, you know you’re out. It is only rarely that you do look back either.
You’re picking up your heart that has immediately sunk into the depths of your stomach.
Chasing a really big score
My going out as our first casualty wasn’t a very good start for our team, The Shepherds, chasing Karori Tulsi’s 338 score in 40 overs. It’s a long day in the field when you’re playing fetch for so many boundaries, sixes and fours. It was a fine, but cool day as the gentle southerly kept temperatures down at about 14 degrees.
One of those sixes cleared the road beside Ben Burn Park in Karori, cleared the garden, and hit a window of a house about 120 metres away from where the batter himself smote the ball. It broke the window, and the ball was retrieved from inside!
I was fill-in captain for the day, which is a tricky enough assignment at the best of times. As well as attempting to be tactically astute, you’re also trying to ensure everyone gets to participate as much as possible. But, seeing as this is a newly formed team, I had no idea of the skills, or lack of, of two thirds of our players.
So, it was a case of figuring capabilities out as we went along. At one stage, in semi-desperation, I bowled myself for an over. One was enough, the same batsman who broke the window slogged (which is a bit unfair as a description, because they were pretty good cricket shots) me for a couple of sixes.
Said batsman went on to make 114, so I was in good company within our own team for getting taken to the cleaners..
On a personal note, I did take a catch, fielding at point, about 15 metres away from the batsman. That’s at 3 o’clock in the previously described clockface. Conversing with a team mate (of a few seasons) I commented how it is always good to get your first catch ‘out of the way’. You sort of wonder if you’ve remembered how to catch a ball in the off season...so taking a catch gets rid of that wee doubt in the back of your mind.
And how did we go in our run chase?
Well, we managed 258 off our (almost) 40 overs. In many if not most games, this would be a winning total. Not so today.
We didn’t embarrass ourselves. It wasn’t a walloping. We simply didn’t win.
And I only managed 1/25th of a century!
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All dressed up ready to go to the ball...and your date calls in sick
08:45AM Mon 06/11/17 on Last Chance 100
It was the first ‘game’ of the season on Saturday.
(A 'before' batting coaching stance, and the 'after' stance)
Except that our team ,The Shepherds, had the bye. Which means you’re all ready to play, and then you find out that because there’s an odd number of teams in the grade we’re in; we’re out this week.
So, it will once again be reflections on the two practice sessions I had this week to improve, eliminate and concentrate my efforts when it, eventually, comes to an actual game.
My practice sessions had to shift from the Basin Reserve, to under the Westpac Stadium (the Cake Tin). When the Wellington representative team is playing at home, they get first use of their own facilities - which is pretty selfish of them, but I guess its their home turf.
It means a bit of a hike to the other side of Wellington from the Biz Dojo, instead of just a wander down the road.
Given that The Firebirds (the marketing/brand name of the rep team) have won both their games outright in their two games at The Basin, you’d wonder if they need much more practice!
An outright win is in the longer form of the game (up to four days in these cases), where your team only bats once, but that is still more runs than the other team scores in total in two turns at bat.
You could also call it a hiding, but cricket being a gentleman’s game, someone invented a more polite term.
However, a bye does give me more opportunity to explain some of the ‘back to the drawing board’ coaching advice I’ve been getting on the Last Chance 100 quest.
'Hold, hold, hold'
I could’ve named this blog ‘Hold, hold, hold’, but that wouldn’t make sense on its own. However, it becomes the outcome of the added component to my batting that Taylor Wenlock added this week.
Because what you’re wanting to do when you’re batting in cricket is to play the ball as late as possible. That is, you don’t want to commit to a particular shot too early, because you may not have judged the ball’s trajectory, pace, or line as well as you might have from the moment it leaves the bowler’s hand.
So, the trick, or technique, is, to cock your wrists as you hold the bat behind you. The bat effectively pivots through the wrist position.
Just as a golfer pivots their wrists at the top of their golf swing, and unpivots the wrist just before they hit the ball - which in turn provides more clubhead speed and power - so it is with a cricket shot.
By cocking the wrists, you can adjust the shot to the actual ball that ends up down your end of the pitch.
This cocking of the wrists gives what is known as ‘lag’. It means that rather than being forced to play a particular (semi-predetermined) shot, you give yourself ever-slightly more time to play a shot that actually suits that ball.
This lag (produced by cocking the wrists) allows you to adjust the shot on the fly.
The irony is, you’re both conscious and unconscious you’re doing it. It is an adjustment of only a few hundredths of a second - but without even realising it, you’re timing the hit on the ball much better than if you have firm wrists.
The tiny adjustment to your hands, wrist and bat position produces more of this ‘hold, hold, hold’ mentality required to play the best possible shot for wherever the ball happens to land in relation to you.
Cocking of the wrists gives more control, more options, more safety and less risk. That on-the-move tweak to the actual shot you play, can save your bacon (or at least stop you going out). It allows you to change-ish your shot.
If you want to see a wonderful exponent of this ‘hold, hold, hold’ mentality, watch NZ cricket captain Kane Williamson sometimes when he is batting. He can play the ball awfully (as in beautifully) late. You’ll think the bowler has beaten him and then, at the very last and late moment, he plays a shot where the ball runs away for a four.
Of course, what I’m talking about is semi-theoretical, and only in a practice mode.
Whether it translates in actual game conditions - well, that’s a bit like turning up fully dressed to the ball, and only then finding out whether those dancing lessons behind closed doors unravels (or not) during the Waltz itself.
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A stance in cricket is a bit like a stance in life
12:12PM Mon 30/10/17 on Last Chance 100
Oxford Concise Dictionary.
stance n. 1) the manner and position in which a person or animal stands. 2) Sport. The posture assumed when about to play the ball, as in golf, cricket etc. 3) emotional or intellectual attitude. a leftist stance
The first Last Chance 100 batting practice was on Friday 27 October 2017 at the Basin Reserve.
I felt like a 17 year old going for his first test drive in a car, nervous and expectant all at once.
Actually, strictly speaking, practice took place under the grandstand of the Basin Reserve - I’ve still to play on what is rated as one of the nicest grounds in the world to do so.
Taylor Wenlock, the young man who has taken on the assignment to help me score a maiden century, is a Cricket Wellington affiliated coach. He’s only 22 but has amassed a fair bit of experience already.
He left school at 16 to pursue his dream of becoming a coach. There was no half measures by this guy. Taylor went straight to India, now arguably the home of cricket - at least from a financial impact point of view - to begin his learning about teaching about playing the game there.
I got padded up and put on my helmet (something I wouldn’t play without these days), and went down the end of the indoor batting nets. A double set has been set up, tensioned and separated from each other so there’s no danger of mishit or purposely hit for that matter, balls accidentally getting into the ‘other’ side.
Taylor threw 25 or so balls at me to get a feel for where I’m at, what I can (and more importantly) and what I can’t do.
Modify my stance
His first suggestion was to modify my batting stance.
For the last few years I’ve had my feet more or less in parallel shoulder-width apart, my left foot slightly behind my right foot, the big toe of my right foot roughly in line with the middle stump (or wicket), about 1.2m out from the wickets themselves. It has meant me attempting to look over my left shoulder, straining to keep my eyes level and on the incoming bowler. The bat rests behind my right foot, and I’m batting right handed.
Taylor suggested what is known as opening the stance up.
My right foot position stays the same (big toe on the middle wicket line), but now my left foot is much more pointed down the pitch, towards where the bowler is coming from.
It felt a little bit funny, but it certainly freed up my ability to get to the pitch of the ball. This is the recommended (at least when you’re not slogging) approach to get your foot in line with the ball whether that is on the offside (RHS as you look from behind the wicket) inline (bowl is on the wickets) or onside (LHS as you look from behind the wicket).
And, almost magically, the new stance made it easier to get to the line of the ball.
That modified stance also made it easier to reach further for the ball. Now, ideally, you’re trying to watch the ball as long as possible - onto your bat (the same way you see tennis shots of the player intently watching the ball onto their racket).
This new stance allowed much improved watching-the-ball-onto-the-bat as well.
That in turn gives more confidence about the shot you’re playing.
We went through a few more throw-down drills (Taylor throwing the ball at me), concentrating on the new stance, getting forward, defending my wickets when I had to, playing more powerfully and following-through (hitting the ball more powerfully, the bat ends up in the air while still being in an upright position).
All this from modifying my stance.
Which is where I bring back the headline about ‘a stance in cricket is a bit like a stance in life’.
At some stages we’ll believe X and be firm in our belief on that.
Not much later, we may change our mind, and now believe Y...just as firmly. You may have read something, had a discussion or had the self-realisation that a change of opinion is a good thing.
Neither stance was wrong - it is simply that you’ve changed how and why you think something because of the circumstances.
So it feels with this new batting stance.
I’m sure it looks a little bit (well a lot) awkward and inelegant.
But elegance (or something that looks like it) doesn’t get you a ton. I don’t care how ugly they are...100 uncultured runs or 10 stylish ones - there’s a clear objective.
The pure physics and mechanics of how I’m now standing, already feel as if I have more control in my shotmaking. And that can’t be a bad thing.
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Last Chance 100 lives - It feels a bit like getting selected for a representative sporting team
09:37AM Tue 17/10/17 on Last Chance 100
It’s a long time since I was ever up for selection for a sports team over and above any club side I played for.
But that memory of relief following hope, plus desire, nervousness and expectation is all coming back from those long ago times.
Those recollections are mixed with the thank you feeling I have of being endorsed through pledges from 36 people enabling me to have a crack at obtaining a century. Last Chance 100 lives thanks to you guys - like being selected for a rep team.
Having achieved the funding target, it is only now that the size of the goal becomes more apparent...semi-daunting, while still being the object(ive) of the exercise.
That is, in the abstract 100 runs is do-able - after all, it is only 10 x 10.
In the concrete - well this is going to be an interesting challenge.
It is not only my own expectation that’s being carried though. The obligation and onus to perform for all you people who out of the goodness of your hearts and wallets have said, “yeah, I’ll back you” is quite a tangible thing.
It is a view that I’ve got a wider audience I’m performing for, supporters wanting you to do well - who I’m also mindful that I could very well disappoint.
But, casting that thought aside, I’ll take on board the Labour Party’s election slogan (which personally I considered underwhelming) “let’s do this”.
While on the subject of being a sporting rep
And speaking of sporting representation, the last time I was (possibly, so it was rumoured) up for selection was back in 1987. I’d started playing cricket in Wellington after doing my O.E., and was suddenly a reasonably quick bowler.
So much so that I was the leading wicket-taker in the Mercantile League grade that our team ‘Spic n Span’ played in.
I almost made the team.
Rumoured...but as they say, close but no cigar.
Which means the last actual ‘rep’ (using the term very very loosely) team I played for was the Central Southland basketball team when I was in my early 20s.
It was a basketball-like and basketball-light competition akin to rugby played indoors.
Mostly I ran around like a headless chook, and passed the ball to the two players who actually knew what they were doing.
It’s an OK memory...but nothing like getting a century in cricket!
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