Aloof Theory Part 7: donkey dropper and cannon fodder

Last week, I suffered the indignity of walking out to bat without any pads on: a feat so monumentally stupid, even Jrod saw fit to comment. This week, we turned up to the ground to find teenagers in the outfield pegging cricket balls at stumps. Get off our field, you whippersnappers! Turns out Pappy got his wires crossed and we were at the wrong ground. Another cracking start to the day!

We rush into our cars and speed off to the new location which turns out to be the most God forsaken cricket field I've ever played on. As Pappy described it on the mobile to some teammates struggling to find the area: "Drive for ages along Peel Rd, then turn left at Antarctica".

As we drive there, Will complains to Pappy about why the captain never gives him a bowl, particularly after he won the bowling trophy a season or two ago. I remember making a similar complaint to Pappy a few weeks ago (except the bit about the bowling trophy, no such luck). I realised just about every guy in the team is busting to have a bowl but there's only two ends of the pitch to bowl from. My dream of being a frontline spinner is turning out to be a tad more difficult than first realised.

When we finally arrived at the address, all we saw was a football field and a dirt road trailing off into bushland. We followed the dirt road which wound through what looked like a swamp, turning a corner to find a cricket field nestled in amongst the reeds. The location was so obscure, I was inspired this week to add a Google Maps feature to CriciWiki to help clubs more easily locate their cricket grounds. Here's where we played:

Our season is in dire straits - out of 4 games, we'd only won once. This game was crucial. Our captain, Thommo (named after his slinging bowling action), won the toss and batted. I was written down as #5 so I made myself comfortable, basked in the winter sun and found myself dozing off. Finally to rouse myself, I got Pappy and Dexter to bowl some balls at me. Just as they were finishing up, the 3rd wicket fell. I strode out to the wicket, patting myself down to ensure I was wearing all the requisite pieces of equipment.

Will of the 4 coffees was at the other end. Fortunately he hadn't had a chance to O.D. on caffeine this morning. I found myself facing a young quick bowler, possibly still in his teens. Will advised me he wasn't getting much movement. His first ball speared towards off stump, I stepped out to it but it swung away. I let it go through, nice delivery, good leave. Once again, thanks for the heads up, Will. The next ball was similar, towards off stump, but this one didn't move away. In fact, it cut back in off the pitch, a cracker of a follow-up delivery. Being just short of a length, I let it pass over the stumps. Even nicer leave. Great bowling but I confess I was quite proud of how I handled it. Would've been nice to know he was moving it both ways, though, Will!

Next ball was on the pads so I leg glanced for two. Then he bowled a full toss outside off and I drove as hard as I could. The ball shot hard and low straight at point, reaching the fielder at about shin height. He bent down but didn't get a finger on it and it shot off to the boundary. Thank goodness for crappy B-grade club fielding. Good first over.

At the other end, the bowler was channelling the spirits of Lasith Malinga and Jeff Thomson. He had one of the longest run-ups I'd seen in a club game, pounding in like he was about to hurl a javelin in an Olympic final. He had a huge slinging action. But the delivery, well, it was lively but a bit of an anti-climax after all the initial build-up. Nevertheless, the slinging action was like a red flag to Will who batted patiently against the other bowlers, steadily approaching his half-century. Against this guy, he tried to smash every ball out of the park. Finally, Slinger got one on the stumps, Will tried to deposit it over cow's corner and his off stump was neatly plucked out of the ground.

In came Pappy. Slinger bowled a chest high full toss. Pappy deftly steered it over third man for six (lamentably, the scorers only marked it as 4). I saw off the teenager at the other end and their opening bowler replaced him. This guy bowled useful outswing although the ball was 50 overs old at this point and not doing much. But it did enough to get past Pappy's bat and he was trapped LBW in front.

Next, out came Mick. He only had one shot in his repertoire and sure enough, first delivery, backs away, clears his front leg and smashes the ball over mid-on's head for two. Typical sighter for Mick. Next delivery, exactly the same shot, the ball goes to exactly the same spot. Unfortunately for Mick, mid-on had moved back twenty metres and comfortably takes the catch. I've only been out there for 7 overs and 3 wickets have already fallen. After watching 9 wickets fall from the non-striker's end last week, I'm beginning to think maybe I'm a bad luck charm. I decided I wasn't going to block my way to another red inker this week. This time, I'm going out swinging.

The slinger is replaced by an off-spinner. Perfect, love facing spin. At the start of the over, I cast a greedy eye over the vast expanses from deep mid-on to deep mid-wicket. Plenty of runs out there. First ball was flighty and full. I stepped out to it, tried to smash across the line to the on-side, played over it and was bowled. Beaten by the very thing that snaffled me so many wickets - greed, under-estimating the bowler, pre-meditation, brain explosion, take your pick!

I trudged back, deeply dissatisfied with only 7 runs. My season average suffered a Husseyesque plunge from 46 to 37 (noting that I've not yet notched a score higher than 34). Predictably, our innings didn't take long to wrap up, all out for 154. Afterwards, Mick tells me some of the team were discussing batting me at #3. The comment was quite flattering. He then elaborated with "that way, we can shield our good batsmen from the new ball". Okay, thanks for clarifying, Mick! So I'm to be the sacrificial lamb that takes the polish off the ball. At least I know my role in the team now. Donkey dropper and cannon fodder.

I think I'm ready to concede that last season's experiment to reinvent myself as a tailend batsman and frontline spinner is all but a dismal failure. So maybe I should just go with this #3 thing. I must admit after last week's 3 hour stint, I feel a lot more comfortable at the crease. It was only when I played a stupid shot that I got myself dismissed this week.

We take the field with only 8 overs to bowl. Our captain Thommo bowls himself from one end. There really should be a law against slinging bowling - he bowls 7 wides in 4 overs, rarely causing the batsman to play at the ball. Defending only 154, those sundries are gold for the opposition. One bright point, Pappy bowling his miserly chinamen from the other end takes a wicket on the last ball of the day. 1 for 24. Can we defend our total next week? Can we finally win a game? And most importantly, will I get a bowl? These questions and more...

In progress scorecard courtesy of CriciWiki

Posted by JC on Thu 25 Jun 144 comments

Shane Watson is injured (true story)

If you know nothing about cricket, are from another planet or have been living under a rock for the last few years, you might be surprised to hear Shane Watson was injured at training two weeks before the Ashes begins. Some have already questioned if Shane Watson could last through 5 days of hard Test cricket. Or 4 overs of bowling in a Twenty20 game. Or a night in a haunted castle.

Watson has had an unlucky run with injuries. Even the tour of England has been one mishap after another. He pulled a hamstring on the escalator at Heathrow Airport, dislocated his right shoulder attempting to pick up his luggage and got a paper cut reading the morning paper. Cotton wool share prices were said to soar when the Australian squad arrived as the coaching staff looked to buy up all available stock. However, they haven't been able to wrap Watson enough to get him through to the First Test unscathed.

Posted by JC on Wed 24 Jun 54 comments

End Of Ashes Dream For Vaughan And Harmison

Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison have been left out of England's 16-man Ashes training squad - which suggests their Ashes dreams are over.

Whilst Vaughan is centrally contracted, only a man with a brain the size of Phil Tufnell's could make a case for him starting any of this summer's Tests. He has been woefully out of form ever since...well...2005.

I reckon Harmison's unlucky - despite coming from the Shane Watson school of needing a hand to hold at all times. He's bang in form - a fairly rare occurance - with 16 wickets in his last two championship games. Plus, home soil usually minimises the chances of him falling to pieces - that said, the first match is in Wales, which is enough to give the hardiest of folk the jitters.

Here's our squad of bizarrely-named warriors in full: Andrew Strauss (captain), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravinder Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook, Andrew Flintoff, Graham Onions, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Adil Rashid, Ryan Sidebottom, Graeme Swann.

By the way, a popular pastime has emerged over here - laughing at Nathan Hauritz and the fact he doesn't appear to be very good. Think we're missing something closer to home - if you want a laugh, check out Monty Panesar's record so far this year. Jeez. Is it just me, or was Tuffers looking in decent shape in the video...

Posted by Rich on Tue 23 Jun 73 comments

Tuffers sings, cricket (and music) fans cringe

He was crap at cricket. Turns out he's even more crap at singing. Here's Phil Tufnell's attempt to rile Australia in musical form:

Now I love a good ribbing as much as the next guy. I enjoyed Tufnell's sledging the Aussies at the Allan Border Medal night. But this is just wrong. So wrong. If an Australian produced something this awful, I'd be ashamed.

Still, gotta laugh when their most optimistic prediction is a 3-2 victory... probably.

Posted by JC on Mon 22 Jun 100 comments

South Africa and the C-word

Sure, Australia were knocked out of the Twenty20 World Cup pretty much from the get-go. But that bitter pill is at least sweetened with South Africa choking in the semi-final against Pakistan. Naturally the c-word was going to be mentioned to Graeme Smith who responded:

"Every time we lose an important game like this, the word is going to be thrown around, it's around the team, and it was natural if we didn't win today people were going to raise that comment. This tournament is almost a knock-out from the word go. Maybe other teams choked in the Super Eights phase."

So according to the South African world view, everyone is a choker except the ultimate winner of the tournament. We live in a world full of chokers. Chokers to the left of me, chokers to the right.

But on the other hand, the rest of the world didn't enter this tournament as raging favourites, playing unbeaten until crunch time in the semi-finals. Nope, Graeme Smith can spin it anyway he likes it. But the C-word is imprinted on his and his teammates' foreheads more firmly than ever.

Posted by JC on Fri 19 Jun 582 comments

Aloof Theory Part 6: Aloofness run amock

Having survived to stumps last week, I spent the first part of this week imagining going out to bat again and gradually getting more anxious about what might happen. I pictured getting dismissed in the first over of the day after sweating it out for a week. Fortunately, the Wednesday night net session cleared my head. I came out of it resolved to focus solely on picking the line and length as quickly as possible and get my feet into the right position. That and sticking around until we'd chased down the 194 runs required for victory.

So come Saturday, I had achieved a zen state of Aloof Theory when I arrived at the ground. The entire opposition team were there, I was the first to arrive from ours. Three minutes from the start of play, only two other team members had arrived. Finally Willy, my batting partner arrives, pretty much dead on the start of play. He rushes to get padded up and we walk out. As I approach the pitch, one of the fielders calls out to me, "Mate, aren't you wearing pads?" I look down aghast. I'd forgotten to put pads on! Out of all the most ridiculous things I've ever done on a cricket field, this was first, daylight second. Sure, I have to concentrate on the ball but this is aloofness run amock! I rush to the boundary, throw on the pads, run back and arrive at the crease, breathless and flustered as I prepare to face the first ball. Perfect start to the day!

I was disappointed to learn their legspinner was not playing today, replaced by their usual opening bowler. Less spin, more quicks, not a good equation. Their opener was bowling the first over to me. He bowls fast, with outswing, tight line and length. Despite the less than ideal preparation, I manage to defend my way through the first over. Willy defends the next over. We bat out several maidens. The bowlers are giving us nothing but a lot of sledging. Constant chirping between deliveries, particularly from the smart mouthed cover fieldsman (the guy I nearly brained last week). Finally, Willy snaps and swings across the line, trying to smash the ball into the trees past deep-mid wicket. He misses and off stump flies out of the ground. Later, he confesses he'd drank 4 cups of coffee that morning, was all keyed up and the chirping got to him. Sledging and caffeine, a lethal cocktail on the cricket field. 2 for 39.

Our best batsman, Craig, strides in. He immediately starts middling the ball and hits several powerful boundaries over the bowler's head. Meanwhile, I'm happily nudging the ball around for singles so I can sit back and enjoy the fireworks. A new bowler comes on, a young, fit looking bloke. He bowls quick but doesn't move the ball around much. He spears one in at Craig's pads. He tries to turn the ball to the legside but misses. The ball spoons off his pads and dribbles onto the stumps. 3 for 77.

His brother Dan replaces him. Not quite as talented a batsman as Craig but still hits the ball pretty hard. Two balls later, he plays a forward defensive shot, inside edging it onto his stumps. 4 for 77. Okay, now I'm starting to worry. Pappy waddles out. He's old, overweight but a tough character - if anyone can grit his way through this situation, it's Pappy. But I'm surprised to see him struggling against the bowling. He's stuck on the crease, sparring at the ball, playing and missing a fair bit. Finally, he wafts at one outside off and plays onto his stumps. 5 for 84.

The ball isn't moving around much - it's about 50 overs old by now. But they're bowling with discipline, maintaining line and length and not giving us much to hit. I've been out there for nearly two hours but still don't feel like I'm timing the ball. The smart mouth comes in right under my nose, challenging me to cover drive. He's so close, it's a fairly risk-free shot and the next full ball, I drive hard straight at him. It narrowly misses him, flying past his right side, but he's unperturbed. "That's batter 1, fielder nil. Gonna try again?" I drive the next full one, this one flies past his left side. "Third time lucky maybe", I reply. He withdraws back to cover. The exchange keeps him quiet for at least a few deliveries.

Meanwhile, wickets continue to fall at the other end. One of our tailenders come out and I nearly have a heart attack when on his first ball, he backs away and tries to smash the ball over cover. It turns out that's the only shot in his repertoire as he continues to smash everything and manages to connect most of the time. He smashes a huge shot over deep mid-on that narrowly misses six. Our partnership reached 22 and suddenly the runs required fall less than 100. Next ball is a knee high full toss, he mishits it to mid-on who pouches the ball comfortably. 7 for 108.

Next comes our captain. Fairly dodgy technique but can hit the ball hard. "Let's save this game," he mutters as he reaches the pitch. Inspiring captain's words, I almost believe we can do it. A couple of overs later, he edges it to the slips, out for a duck. 8 for 111. The final two tailenders both fall for ducks and our innings ends on 115, a gaping 79 runs short. I batted for 3 hours, the longest I'd spent at the crease but only managed to amass 34 runs. It was satisfying being out there for so long but I never felt in, never really timed the ball well. When wickets started falling, I aimed to preserve my wicket, tried to build some partnerships. Maybe I should've batted more aggressively, challenged the bowlers, upped the run rate. Hard to say. One thing I know, I'm going to have to develop more scoring shots than the leg glance and nick through slips.

Before I know it, we're back in the field. We only have 1 hour left to play so the goal is to take as many wickets as possible, score some bonus points. I sidle up to the captain and suggest if we're after quick wickets, maybe some flighty leg spin would do the trick. He says he was actually thinking the same thing. Hmm, maybe you do need to sell yourself a little to get a bowl in this game. Only problem, every muscle in my body is aching, I wonder if I can muster the strength to send the ball all the way to the other end of the pitch. Good thing I'm a donkey dropper, not a fast bowler.

Trev is taking wickets at one end but Dan is getting hammered at the other end. After a 4, 6, 4 in the first 3 balls of his third over, the captain calls out, "Cookie, you're on at Dan's end next over". Gotta feel for Dan but well, someone has to make way for the leggie. To add insult to injury, the last ball of the over is smashed in my direction, I misfield and it rolls over the boundary. Dan does not look happy.

In the next over, Trev dismisses their top opener who had just smashed Dan out of the attack. So two young guys at the crease as I come on to bowl. I fancy my chances. My second ball is a dead set pie, short, wide down the leg side and he rightly smashes it for four. Next few deliveries are well flighted outside off, including a play and miss. For the fifth delivery, I consider the quicker arm ball but as I run in, I change my mind and bowl wide of the crease, attempting to confound him with the different angle. It pitches outside off and he reverse sweeps it over gully's head for two. Dang, should've gone with the arm ball. I try the arm ball next but he defends. That horse had already bolted.

Next over, I try giving the ball more flight, coaxing a wicket. First ball, he smashes it towards long off. Ouch. No, wait, there's a man out there. It's the captain. He's sprinting towards the ball. Can he get there? He gets there! The ball flies through his fingers, into his shoulder and spills onto the ground. Ouch again. They manage to get to two more of my donkey droppers on the full, milking a few twos. Last few balls, they defend and I end my second over with figures of 0 for 12.

The captain brings on spin from the other end, a blood lab technician with the inspired nickname of Dexter. He takes a wicket with his third delivery as the batsman bunts the ball feebly to short mid-wicket. Wickets are falling freely. The opposition captain runs out and offers to end the game early. There's still 10 overs to go but our captain accepts. As we walk off, I mention that the opposition were perhaps concerned about the bonus points we were accruing with the wickets. Captain replies that he was mainly thinking about the beer back at the club house.

So a day of mixed feelings. To carry the bat is a satisfying achievement. To score only 34 runs in 3 hours, not so impressive. And the bottom line, we failed to chase 194 runs and lost the first innings points. We're going to need some good results in the last 4 games to salvage the season.

Final CriciWiki scorecard here...

Posted by JC on Tue 16 Jun 69 comments

Aloof Theory Part 5: remaining aloof in the face of frustration

Our last two games were rained out. One of these was against a team featuring three girls who played in the Queensland State side - the only club team I'd encountered with females. The other team were the easy beats languishing at the bottom of the table. We were all champing at the bit to take on both teams (for different reasons) only to be frustrated by weather. Thank goodness the sun finally came out this weekend.

Today was our first two-dayer of the season. We were playing the team that narrowly pipped us in the season's first one dayer. Time for some payback. They won the toss and batted (yep, bat first theory back in vogue again). I didn't mind fielding. I was eagerly anticipating bowling some legspin in the longer form of the game.

The innings unfolded. Wickets fell at regular intervals. The captain made bowling change after bowling change. Finally he brought on some legspin. Only problem, not me. The other guy sent down half-tracker after half-tracker, getting smashed through the legside regularly. He got spelled. My frustration grew. 6 bowlers used, then the captain started going through the opening bowlers again.

I attempted sending brainwave signals to the captain. No luck. I tried the oldest trick in the book, the old windmill warm-up. Nada. Didn't 3 wickets in an over prove I was worth throwing the ball to? We get no respect, us donkey droppers. Finally, after 4 hours, with the team on 8 for 194, the captain called, "Cookie, you're on next over".

The umpire called drinks. Okay, I've waited four hours, a few minutes longer won't kill me. As we walked off the field, the opposition captain called out that he was declaring. Oh, crap! Couldn't he wait a few more overs?!

The captain began asking around for openers. Noone was leaping at the opportunity to bat after 4 hours in the field. I was asked if I wanted to open. There was about an hour to go until stumps. I replied with a curt no. I know, not exactly playing for the team. But I was feeling stiff, sore and surly.

Our openers went out with the intent of lasting to stumps. Penitent after turning down the opener position, I offered to bat first drop and padded up. The clock ticked on. About 20 minutes from stumps, a legspinner came on. I watched from the boundary with interest. This guy was pretty good. Not quite donkey drop material but landing it fairly consistently on a good length.

With 10 minutes to go, the legspinner bowled one of our openers with the last ball of his over. Is it my imagination or do I play the part of nightwatchman an awful lot? I walked out with 3 overs to go, thinking if I got dismissed before stumps, I would probably explode with frustration. Not a good frame of mind. Hardly textbook Aloof Theory.

Willy defended stoutly through one over. This is the same Willy who got off the mark with a six last time I batted with him. This time, he had taken 20 overs to amass a total of 1 run. He was part Rahul Dravid, part Chris Tavare, part Jason Gillespie. The defensive parts, that is.

Next over, I was on strike. I asked Willy did he bowl legspin? Yes. Did he do anything else with the ball? No. My thoughts flashed back to that time I was stumped in the last over of the day. There was no way I was leaving the crease. The fielders closed in, silly mid-on, silly mid-off. First ball, straight on a good length, I dead batted it down at my feet. Second ball, another on a good length, pitching just outside off. I prepared to leave, the ball spun back in, a well placed wrong 'un. I hadn't picked it at all but the delivery was slow enough for me to dead bat it once again. Thanks for the heads up, Willy!

The captain immediately sent in two more close-in fielders. They went into sledging overdrive, chirping away that I wasn't picking the spin, had no idea what the ball was doing, a wicket was just around the corner, yadda yadda. It was all designed to put me off my game. In truth, I was loving it. One of my goals of the season was to be on the receiving end of some decent sledging. In the past, I'd never really posed enough of a threat to the opposition to be worth the effort of some good, creative sledging. These guys, on the other hand, had declared, risking a first innings loss in the effort to gain some wickets before stumps. Bring on the chirp, boys.

Next ball was a genuine donkey drop, short, pitched outside leg. Although there was only an over and a half left before stumps, I couldn't knock this back - I pulled it as hard as I could. The ball rocketed away over square leg, missing silly mid-on's unhelmeted head by inches. Off the mark with a boundary. Coincidentally, silly mid-on was the chirpiest of all the close-in fielders.

The next delivery was another on a good length, pitching around off stump. Hesitant about which way it was spinning, I was caught flat footed on the crease. The ball was a legspinner and I pulled the bat away but too late - the ball struck the bat and squirted away just wide of first slip. The wicket keeper groaned in anguish. Next ball, another good length ball, I got well forward and defended. Last ball of the over, short down the leg side. I tried to smash it for four again but missed. So did the wicket keeper and we ran two byes. End of the over.

Willy was left to face the last over. Again, he defended with the laser-like concentration of a nightwatchman, refusing to play a shot. At the other end, I mentally resolved to avoid running a single at all cost. And before we knew it, stumps was called. I walked off with a sense of elation - finally something went right today.

A week of anticipation should make it hard to achieve a zen like aloof state by next Saturday. To exacerbate matters, Wendy has offered to stay and watch next weekend. Conditions to almost guarantee an early failure. But with a whole afternoon to bat and 158 runs required to win first innings points, I have one simple strategy. Block the good balls, smash the bad ones. Hopefully I'll last long enough to have a good tussle with that legspinner - looking forward to that battle.

CriciWiki scorecard (still in progress)

Posted by JC on Wed 10 Jun 64 comments

Blink and you miss it. Australia out of the T20 World Cup

I was half heartedly considering staying up and watching Australia progress through the Twenty20 World Cup. I missed the first game and the second game wasn't televised. And now suddenly, it's over. Australia have been knocked out of the World Cup.

You could see it coming. Even when we were dominating every other form of the game a few years back, the players couldn't help show their ambivalence towards Twenty20. Back when cricket was criticised for being so predictable because Australia always won, suddenly a form of the game emerged where they might lose.

Now that we're struggling to win 50 over games and even Test series, well, these days Australia are happy to even eke out a single Twenty20 victory. We haven't won one in our last 5 outings. But on the bright side, it does allow me to save all my sleep deprivation for the Ashes. And at least we didn't lose to Holland.

Posted by JC on Tue 9 Jun 119 comments

Roy finally laid to rest

Roy has been sent home from England. This latest infringement (drinking while watching State of Origin, shocking stuff) was the straw that broke the camel's back. Not that I think Roy was drinking the beer through a straw. Drinking like a camel, maybe.

You'd have to say Australian cricket has come a long way since those days when David Boon downed 54 beers on the flight from Australia to England. Times are different now. Drunkeness is frowned upon in the Australian squad. Of course, that didn't stop Ricky Ponting from wearing a VB cap at the press conference.

Of course, this should have no bearing on the cricket that matters - the Ashes. Roy was never on the Test squad for which I'm thankful. Nevertheless, I'm having a deja vu moment to the last time Australia toured England in 2005, beginning with Roy getting himself booted off the squad for drinking followed by an upset defeat at the hands of Bangladesh and then losing the Ashes. Good times, 2005. Let's hope the aftermath doesn't repeat itself in 2009.

However, despite the fact that I've frequently lobbied for Symonds to be dropped from the Australian team, it's not good form to kick a man while he's down. So let's remember some of the good times - the following moment has to be one of Roy's career highlights:

Posted by JC on Fri 5 Jun 88 comments