Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Halfway to Eternity

The Christmas/New Year break has arrived, with Kiama appearing fairly comfortable in the top three grades in regards to finals positions, and having won their past three matches in 4th Grade.

At the start of the season, the Cavaliers couldn't have asked for a better position to be in.

4ths find themselves a little below mid-table after the first half of the season, but have put some good performances together over the past five weeks. They are one of the most youthful sides in the competition. Having learned how to win, they are beginning to go on with the job.
The majority of this side have played together now for 18 months. The most pleasing part of this is that players from this team are beginning to make strides into higher grades, and make their mark. Winning matches in 4th Grade is always an optimum result. From a Club point of view, the best part of 4th Grade winning is seeing young individuals performing and learning, and then moving on to the higher echelons to do the same thing.
4th Grade are not without a chance of making the finals, but to do so they will have to find a way to defeat the teams from other Clubs that are made up heavily of older, more experienced players, from Oak Flats and Lake Illawarra. It is not beyond them if they can continue to improve at the rate they have been.

3rds have had a diverse season, where almost any result is possible on any given day, but are still established in the top two at the break. Despite the revolving door of playing personnel that all Grades have faced this season, 3rds have, for the most part, pulled themselves out of dire situations to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. The only stumbling block was the disconcerting outright loss to Lake Illawarra, where the side was bowled out twice in a little over three hours. More pleasing was the repeat of last season's final round where, having lost first innings points to Oak Flats, the Cavs came back to snatch outright points in a thrashing run chase last on the second day.
Like last season, 3rd Grade have the look of a potential finalist. Even the most cynical observer could not possibly believe that they will perform in Jan/Feb 06 like they did in Jan/Feb 05, where they could barely scratch two victories together. The job now is to finish in the top two, and carry on from there.

2nds have had a shaky ride, but still find themselves in 4th spot heading into January, with a good draw in front of them if they are good enough to take advantage of it. Having dropped the opening match to Shellharbour, and had rain interruptions against Gerringong and Jamberoo, the side has done well to be in the position it finds itself in. In a strange twist, Kiama find themselves struggling a little, in what is undoubtedly the weakest 2nd Grade competition in years. Player unavailabilities and weather haven't helped, but the batting in the side is struggling, and the tail can't be relied on to score the runs every week. The two matches this season against Albion Park has proven that they are no longer the force they once were, and that most of the teams are on an even keel.
Finishing second last season proved to be no advantage, and the likelihood of finishing in the top two this season is slim. The job at hand is to find a batting order that works, and a bowling attack that is balanced.

1sts have bounced back after last season's disappointments to sit safely in 3rd position, in a breakaway from the bottom four sides. In fact, apart from the capitulation against Lake Illawarra, it could have been seen to be a perfect start, despite the loss to Albion Park and washout against Oak Flats. The outright defeat by an innings of Warilla in the second round, followed by first innings points over Jamberoo, and the repeat of these victories in the one day games, was a wonderful achievement – perhaps felt more by the elder former First Graders in the Club than those who actually participated in these matches.
The team still appears to be feeling for its optimum balance, and this will be an important part of the post-New Year proceedings. Settling on the batting order, as well as the bowling attack that will serve 1st Grade best will be imperative if they are going to secure a finals position, and then proceed from that position to challenge for the title.

If – and I do say if – all of the Club's players are available for selection in January, it is going to pose the selectors some interesting problems. Once again in Kiama, there appears to be surfeit of bowlers, and a lack of batsmen (or, at the very least, a lack of batsmen scoring runs!). There continues to be discussion regarding the Club's three best glovemen, and how they will be selected for the remainder of the season. 2nd Grade, at full strength, seem to have 11 bowlers to fit into 3 or 4 spots available, and no one seems to be able to agree as to who deserves those spots.

No doubt, the selectors and captains will be spending Christmas dinner wracking their brains over what will be the best combination for everyone concerned. What is just as important is that every player is steeling themselves to give their all, no matter where they are selected to play. We are, after all, a Club.

To all readers of Through The Eyes Of The Almanack (all four of you...), may Christmas be everything you are looking for, and may you make Boxing Day without a hangover. Cheers.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Through the Nervous Twenties

One of the great things about the Kiama Cricket Club is the number of dynasties that are involved – the many generations from the same family that continue to be involved in Kiama Cricket.
The Wolf family are a prime example. Ross is a former premiership winning player from the lower grades, a former Junior President, and current Club President. Jill is the First Lady of Kiama Cricket. Sam opens the bowling for First Grade, and is the reigning Curator Of The Year. And last weekend, Tim Wolf may have made the breakthrough that finally has him reaching the heights that his potential has promised.

For a number of seasons, Tim has been the most consistent scorer of double figure innings in the history of cricket (...possibly. That may be a bit extreme). His problem has been that, once he has made a start, he has been unable to go on and make a big score. In five years of grade cricket, he had in fact made just two half centuries – one in 2nd Grade in 2001, and his maiden 1st Grade half century last season.

On the occasion of his 1st Grade 50, Tim then expressed to me his disappointment of something I had written in the pre-season on the Club website, where I had said that he needed to make runs in 2nd Grade before being considered for 1st Grade (Tim played the entire season in 1sts without playing 2nds at all). Following an animated discussion, we agreed to disagree over the issue, but my parting words were that now he had made his first 50, he needed to make sure he followed it up with further big scores, and not rest on his laurels.
One of the things that I admire about Tim is that he is always willing to tell you what he thinks, and doesn't hide behind his words. Though we by no means agreed on this issue, he was happy to have it out with me, and then get on with it. It is a shame we don't have more of this kind of thing in the Club.

This season, Tim has shown greater maturity in his batting. Though he still has the T-Bone Swat happening regularly, he has shown a greater aptitude for building an innings, and to apply himself in a time of need. Not only that, he has improved his play against spin bowlers dramatically – something that in my opinion has been his greatest downfall in recent times. This season, he has played those spinners that he has faced with patience and security.

I was unfortunate enough to miss his century on the weekend, which is a great regret. It is always a great thing to see a batsman score their first ton, and then wonder where it will lead them to in the future.
For me, I will be hoping he can do what I suggested to him almost 12 months ago to the day – follow it up with more of the same. He has a great opportunity now to make some big scores for the rest of the season, and perhaps even challenge for a spot in 1st Grade.

The first century is always a buzz, but if you can't follow it up, you will never become the batsman you could be. I know this from personal experience. I hope Tim never has to find that out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Superstitious? You Bet!

When it comes to cricket superstitions, I am perhaps one of the biggest followers. One of the biggest detractors of my position has been Sam Wolf. Sam and I don't have a problem on this. We just happen to disagree. Vigorously.

One of cricket's biggest superstitions points (in Australia at least) is the number 87, and all the different variations and combinations that 87 can come in. On this number, it is customary for playing personnel and spectators to raise their feet off the ground, and not change their seating position. This is to ward off the evil cricket spirits, who are just waiting to swoop in and ruin the day.
Sam has, for a short time anyway, never done this, refusing to believe in the unlucky number.

Just over two years ago, Jason Wills was on 87 in a 2nd Grade game against Oak Flats, when I reminded all those around us to lift their feet. One Shane Ashton, in his first match for 2nds, did not know the protocol, did not lift his feet, and Jason was stumped for 87. Shane received much vitriol for his actions.
Sam has since claimed that he, too, did not lift his feet, though this is not my recollection. My guess is that, since Sam decided to go on this one man crusade, he has changed the facts to suit his own purposes. Needless to say, Sam was at this event, and should have learned his lesson, whether he participated or not.

Last weekend, with 1st Grade washed out, there was a big crowd watching 2nds as they pulverised Lake Illawarra at Cavalier Park. With a great partnership being forged by Tim Wolf and AJ Savage, the signs were looking good for Sav to score a big hundred.

And then he came to 87.
Sam Wolf refused to lift his feet.
Sav was dismissed for 87.

I have no problem with Sam airing his beliefs, and not standing on ceremony along with the rest of his teammates. I have no problem with Sam sticking his nose up at superstitions other cricketers happen to believe in. I guess I do have a problem when Sam cannot admit his mistake when his pooh-poohing of standard superstitions is the sole reason for the demise of a teammates innings!

One wonders what may occur in this season's 1st Grade final, when the number 87 rears its ugly head. Will Sam stick to his guns, and be the sole reason for their demise, or will he finally heed the call, and join the masses to ward off the cricketing evil..

One day, he will learn... and probably the hard way...

Monday, December 5, 2005

Twice in a Day? How Can That Be?!

What is it that occurred to have 3rd Grade, undefeated in 2005/06 until last weekend, collapse twice on the one afternoon? Is it simply a case of being 'under-strength', with players required for duty in higher grades? Or were their opposition, Lake Illawarra, far superior to them in this respect? Or was there a lapse in application and devotion with the bat for the weekend?

The question begs asking, if only because of the alarming effort of practically being bowled out twice in half a day's play. Sometimes it can be a one-off thing, but sometimes it is a symptom of something far greater, and is not so easily solved.

It would be easy to blame the loss of personnel, but certainly the team that took the field last Saturday had players who were experienced and talented enough not to have fallen to such an ignominious outright defeat. Lake Illawarra have a good 3rd Grade outfit, but not one that should have caused that much damage. Could it be that, having been sent back in after being dismissed so quickly in their first dig, the minds of the batsmen were not set enough for the challenge of batting through the remainder of the day?

3rd Grade players have made no secret of the fact that they believe they can win this season's premiership. No doubt, there will be further occasions during the season when they have players unavailable, due to other commitments, or to promotion to higher grades as a fill-in or as a reward for personal success.

In recent years, Kiama's policy, certainly after the Christmas break, has been to leave 3rd Grade almost untouched, in order to give the team the best structure to win that elusive premiership. In all of those years, and I can go back at least the past ten, it hasn't worked.

Perhaps the best way to form the best team in 3rd Grade, is to continue to move players up and down the Grades as is necessary, and when it comes to the finals, the best possible side can be chosen on performance and merit. Trying to qualify players in past years doesn't seem to have worked. Let's just pick the best teams we can, and worry about the finals WHEN we reach them!

Let's also hope 3rd Grade's batsmen can go out this weekend, put last week's performance behind them, and get a big total on the board, to exorcise those cricket demons.