Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Individualising the Team Game

On a weekend where the top three Grades again asserted a certain degree of dominance over Jamberoo, and individual efforts were again the lead story, one can only ask “What is going on with Fourth Grade? Have they slipped into the Twilight Zone? Are they still playing? Where are the results?” Hopefully more news will be available following this weekend...

First Grade was again dominated by the new acronym MSJ – Meurant Scifleet Jones. The triumvirate again carved out the majority of the work in disposing of a Jamberoo team desperately trying to rebuild itself.
Dale's century was his first for Kiama in 1st Grade. He has scored them just about everywhere else - 2nd Grade, Kiama juniors, junior rep teams, Burns Cup, even overseas in the united Kingdom – but his 128 not out was his first in the top Grade for us. To some eyes it has been a long time coming, but surely centuries are not the be all and end all of batting (I guess I am biased, as I did not score one in Grade cricket...). Consistency is the key, and that is what Dale is beginning to bring to his batting. He is the dominant player at the top of Kiama's order, and the key to big team totals. He of course carries a double burden in being a key to the bowling attack, and his figures of 2/21 were vital again last weekend.
Matt added yet another half century to his aggregate this season, sharing a partnership of 140 with Dale for the third wicket. Like Dale, he is an important part of the bowling attack as well, taking 3/25 to complement his runs.
Josh just can't seem to get going with the bat since he won the batting average 18 months ago, something that will no doubt be troubling him. Perhaps the key is for him to go in without putting pressure on himself, and trusting his instincts for a few innings. Thinking too much can muck up one's batting just as regularly as not thinking enough. It doesn't seem to have affected his bowling too much, providing another classy spell last weekend in picking up 3/36.
The scorecard shows that these three again provided the impetus and the bulk of the winning formula for First Grade. No doubt the Club's opponents have also noticed this imbalance, and will be planning for it appropriately.

Second Grade won its match against Jamberoo, but some general ineptitude, loss of concentration and other factors made it a lot closer and a lot tougher than it should have been. In other words, business as usual for 2nds.
Jamberoo were bowled out for 125, but it should have been about 70. Missed catches, and an ambivalence in the field that defied the unusual sight of a pre-game warm-up gave Jamberoo more opportunities than they deserved. You can completely exonerate Jordan Inwood from this – he was fantastic, earning the Kiama equivalent of Mike Hussey's nickname “Mr Cricket” in a tireless fielding effort. Following this, the batting failed to live up to expectations, and struggled to chase down a mediocre total with any dominance. It was a given that there were a couple of decisions that probably went against their batsmen, but this cannot disguise the fact that passing a small total eight wickets down against a team that are in no way a threat to make the finals was not a great performance.
Steve Holz continues to show his other bowlers how to get wickets in 2nd Grade – by bowling at the stumps. It is an underrated commodity in this day and age. While openers Brendan Shaw and Daniel Reilly bowled well, as their figures attest, they took a combined one wicket to Steven's three, by not following the golden rule – if the batsman misses, you hit.
Mick Norris put in his best performance of the season to date, taking 2/23 with the ball and a match-winning 30 runs with the bat. But it was the way he did it that was more impressive. His second spell with the ball homed right in on the stumps, with added pace and good movement. His batting was filled with the strokes we all know he can play, with aggression and intent. It was the best I have seen Mick bat in the past 18 months. After a slow start, he is getting closer to his best, and that's what the Club needs.

Third Grade returned from the bye to smash Jamberoo by 10 wickets, and barely raised a sweat by doing it. In a performance that 2nd Grade should probably have emulated, Kiama bowled their opponents out for 70, and got the runs in a hurry without losing a wicket.
Questions still abound for 3rd Grade. Is Luke Bombaci's lack of practice affecting his bowling? He has so far been far less effective than he was last season. He went on a run spree at opener last weekend, but the majority of the 70 Jamberoo runs came from his bowling. Certainly there is no need to panic yet, but hopefully some reappraising of the situation will bring better results in the future.
Bryn Coleman took his relegation to 3rds well, and finished not out in the run chase. He has a very promising future, not only as a batsman but as a real team player. His introduction to Grade cricket this season has been highly successful thus far, and hopefully his elevation back into 2nds is only a mere formality.
Josh Elliott finished with the remarkable figures of 6/9, which included 4 wides. Jellie is an enigma in the Club, one who seems to bounce around Grades like he enjoys bouncing batsmen at the crease. Currently recovering from another shoulder injury sustained during the football season, Josh has not extended himself this season, and as such is not pushing the higher Grades. Despite this, he is one of the few bowlers our Club has who is an enforcer, who has the presence and (more importantly) pace to run through opposing teams. Figures like those taken last weekend will ensure he is not resting in 3rd Grade very long. At peak fitness and form, Josh is a key ingredient in the premiership push by 2nd Grade – or even 1st Grade. His season has better tales to come.

Can Kiama threaten for several premierships this season? Are all Grades travelling as well as they believe they are? You can bet that this weekend's matches against perennial antagonist Albion Park will shed more light upon those thoughts, and give a much clearer picture of the journey ahead.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Leading the Charge

Funny how winning weekends seem to bring out good stories, and losing ones just bring out negatives. Usually at Kiama, we are also able to see negatives in winning weekends. That has probably been covered enough in the past.

The glittering jewel in the crown of the weekend was the continuing form of Club Captain/Coach Matt Meurant. His 4/13 off four overs, and 60 not out to anchor the run chase against The Rail, was yet another important all-round contribution which has been the hallmark of his cricket in 2006.
For the last half of 2005-06, and the first half of 2006-07, Matt has been Kiama's most consistent player, scoring runs and taking wickets with monotonous regularity, and that in a side that has taken some fair pastings in the 2006 calendar year. Having come into our Club cold at the beginning of last season, and having not played in recent times, Matt not only had to get to know the players in the Club and their nuances, he had to perform himself. Having won the John Watts Medal last season, and been the major contributor this season, one would say that he has succeeded.
I often get asked “How does Matt go? Can he play?” It may seem like a strange question, but it is a fact that few people in our competition really know who Matt is. With only one season under his belt in our competition, opposing teams are still trying to work out if Matt is a threat to them, or merely another interloper who will fail to make a mark on the South Coast.
For those that have not been paying attention... the answer is “Yes, he can play” and “Yes, he is a threat”.
Matt's start to the season – 205 runs at 102.50 and 10 wickets at 6.60 – is an indication of how seriously he is taking his role. It is obvious he is still not happy with the way our Club trains, something that will not come as a shock to anyone in Kiama. Despite this, Matt has taken the reigns himself, and led by example with runs and wickets. He has also been happy to entrust responsibility in the younger members of his squad – Matt Unicomb, Andrew Ross and Jordan Inwood.
If it wasn't obvious to people before, it should be crystal clear now that Kiama has a player of immense ability leading our Club, one whose influence will be felt on every match this season. Hopefully Matt will have a few more people following him over the top to charge at the enemy during the course of the season.

The other star of the weekend was an unlikely one. Andy Sheehy has played all of his cricket for our Club almost exclusively in 3rd Grade, and almost exclusively as a batsman. Over the course of the past three seasons, he has scored 393 runs at an average of 10.34, with a highest score of 34. Not exceedingly spectacular, by any means. I have not brought this up in order to embarrass Andy (there are plenty who have done a lot less), but merely to enhance what is a quite remarkable story.
With a player shortage last weekend, and 3rd Grade in the middle of a bye, Andy was picked to make his debut in 2nd Grade. Opening the batting and chasing down 163 runs is a daunting task on your debut, especially on an unfamiliar turf wicket. However, his partnership with Nathan Barr reached 167 and remained unbroken as 2nds won the match against The Rail by 10 wickets in one ball under 30 overs. It was only the third time since 1946 that Kiama 2nd Grade had won a one day match by 10 wickets. The partnership is in the top ten 2nd Grade partnerships for Kiama for ALL wickets, not just the 1st wicket.
Andy's contribution? Well, he finished on 60 not out, and who knows what may have happened had Kiama batted first? It was just Andy's third half century in Grade cricket, and ranks as the highest score on debut in 2nd Grade for Kiama since 1969.
What is it that brought about this amazing feat? How do you post the type of scores that Andy has done for the past couple of seasons, only to excel at his first opportunity at a higher Grade? I guess if we knew the answer to that, we'd all be better players. Certainly Nathan Barr, Andy's partner on the weekend, would probably like to know. Barrie has spent the past couple of seasons smashing most 2nd Grade bowling attacks (last weekend was no different, finishing on 86 not out), but as yet has been unable to translate that to consistent and big runs in 1st Grade. His 2nd Grade stats of 1349 runs at 22.11 dwarf his 1st Grade figures of 376 runs at 12.97. He is still only young and has the chance to fix that, but he probably wouldn't mind the extended opportunities that some other batsmen have received in 1st Grade in recent seasons.

Two excellent victories over The Rail for 1st and 2nd Grades have put both teams firmly in the top four, and established that both will be contenders for higher honours this season if they can continue to produce efforts like those last weekend. With good players still to return in the coming weeks, everything augers well in the lead up to the New Year break.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

A Need to Remain Focused

The season has reached November, and though the rain has once again washed away the Club's chances of holding aloft the Country Cup, the signs in the S.C.D.C.A. competition have been promising without raising false hopes. Outright victories for the top three Grades in the last round against Shellharbour have been eagerly accepted, but not without knowing the fact that they weren't as emphatic as they perhaps should have been.

First Grade have recovered from their poor first outing, and won their next two matches impressively, before having the anticipated clash with Warilla washed out last weekend.
At their best, with their strongest side on the paddock, First Grade can win this season's premiership. It's been a long time since we've been able to say that, but it's true. The team on a whole have the experience now. Marquee players Scifleet, Meurant and Jones are the keys, along with off-season acquisition Glenn Cleary, who is proving to be a real bonus for the side and the Club.
We certainly do not want to get ahead of ourselves. The second half of last season is proof of that. However, it needed to be said. Not since 1994/95 has our Club had any real opportunity to be considered a real threat to take out the First Grade premiership. It is not a cocky taunt. There is a real belief in the Club now, something Kiama are always loathe to throw out there in case it comes back to bite us in the arse. This season, believe it. The Cavs are coming.

Hurdles still need to be cleared, of course. Apart from Dale and Matt, the batting has still been too inconsistent, and the other guys need to find some runs, and quickly – not because of any great pressure from Second Grade, but just to contribute. Dale and Matt have big shoulders, but they won't be able to do it every week. Contributions from everyone is a vital and immediate responsibility of all the batting order.
The bowling attack seems to be settling nicely. Dale, Matt and Glenn, along with Josh and OB, will no doubt be the backbone of the team for the season. There is excellent variety between the five of them, and all are contributing to the cause.
This weekend will be a water test. Dale is in Dubbo with the Southern Zone squad, and Firsts will need to find runs and wickets from elsewhere. We'll all know more about our real chances after the round has been completed.

Seconds have won two of their three matches. Thirds have won both of their two games, last weekend's yet another of the 'lose 1st innings, win outright' scenarios that they got entangled in last season. Fourths haven't yet troubled the winning column yet, but have put together some impressive performances. Things appear rosy in the Garden of the Cavaliers. On the surface...

There is still a lot of work to be done. The Club needs to perform strongly in the lower Grades, to continue offering up possible solutions and alternatives to the top Grade. We need to be vigilant in continuing to win games well in the lower Grades, and to have players scoring runs and taking wickets. So far, individual performances have been winning matches for Thirds and Seconds – not team performances.As individuals, as teams, and as a Club, we need to remain focused through to the Christmas break. Everything looks promising on the surface at the moment. Let's not allow that to change through a slackening off in intensity. The start has been good. Let's make the next six weeks just as profitable.