Friday, December 29, 2006

The Folly of Selling Ourselves Short

The original plan of this article was to praise the legacy of Jeff Lawler, who is leaving our Club to take up a promotion within his company in Melbourne. However, his departure has left a few questions to be answered that I am not sure are being done in the best interests of our Club.

But before that, cheers to Jeff Lawler, and the sterling service he has provided our Club in the six seasons he has played for us.
One suspects that his valedictory should have been a premiership victory in last season's 3rd Grade decider, though sadly it was not to be. Jeff's batting was an asset chased by all lower Grade captains. Though he was happy to relinquish the gloves at any stage, Jeff's wicket-keeping was more than tidy, and he took some absolute screamers on the few occasions I was able to play with him or watch him.
For the past four seasons, Jeff has been in charge of 3rd Grade (or one of the 3rd Grade outfits in the years our Club had multiple entries), and has engendered a familial bond with successive teams and their players. His quiet yet capable leadership has been a beacon for both seniors and youth in 3rd Grade over the time of his captaincy. It is no surprise that his teams have not only performed strongly, but have come back and snatched so many games in outright victory after having lost on first innings. A record like that speaks highly of the motivation and ability of the players in the side – but generally it reflects the talent of the leader who is able to inspire it.
Our Club has lost a wonderful leader, an excellent batsman and keeper - but most of all a mate. We shall miss your company Jeff. Our best wishes for your move go with you.

Now to the other part...

In searching for a replacement captain for 3rd Grade, a job that will most likely also encompass the role of third selector on the Selection Panel, a nomination has been received from Josh Elliott. As I understand it, he is the only person to have expressed interest in the position. He has sounded out Jeff, as well as other senior members of the team and the other Grade captains. He has ensured that if he is to become 3rd Grade captain he will have received everyone's full support.
He will receive everyone's full support. However...

Apart from the attack that 1st Grade has corralled this season, there is a real dearth of fast bowlers in the Club at present – certainly a dearth of talented ones who have previous performances on the board.
At present 2nd Grade find themselves in somewhat of a crisis bowling-wise, with their opening combination unable to breakthrough the opposition consistently. The medium pace of Steve Holz and Mick Norris are the major wicket-takers in the team. In their past two matches, the bowling attack has been monstered, with no one able to exert any influence on the opposition to bring them back to a manageable level. Josh played in one of these matches – the game against Lake. He took 0/36 off 6 overs. Reports suggested he was unable to find the line and length needed, but then again, neither could any of the other bowlers.
In 2nd Grade, Josh has always lifted against the better sides – Albion Park, Oak Flats and Warilla. His average of 14.41 against Albion Park, compared with, say, 33.67 against Lake Illawarra and 24.50 against The Rail, suggests he rises to the big occasion.
Only last season, Josh was chosen in 1st Grade, on merit, when skipper Matt Meurant wanted a job done. As Josh has always done against the better sides, he rose to the big occasion, and as Oak Flats smashed 6/301 declared at Cavalier Park, Josh took 1/41 off eleven overs and performed the task that his captain needed of him.

In any true selection of Kiama teams, Josh Elliott would be one of the first players chosen in 2nd Grade. He is the opening bowler 2nd Grade teams need – quick, able to exert his presence, a game-breaker. Opposition teams respect him, and often just try to see him off rather than lose their wicket to him. Two of the 2nd Grade competition's best batsmen in recent years, Trent Glover and 'Crackers' Cummins from Albion Park, have both been Josh Elliott victims on four occasions each. No mean feat.
To me, it appears that as a Club we are shooting ourselves in the foot if Josh Elliott is anointed as 3rd Grade captain. We immediately rob 2nd Grade of the opening bowler they require, and 1st Grade of a first choice replacement should one of their fast men be unavailable.
21 year olds should not be playing 3rd Grade, unless the Club has an enormous amount of talent that forces such a player to be in 3rd Grade, or the player's skill level is only of that standard. Neither of these is the case here.

Cricket is, and always will be, Josh's second sport. Though he is not one to take the easy option, he is generally clear on the issue that he is playing cricket for fun. When it comes to higher honours on the cricket field, he can take it or leave it.
Josh does not lack in leadership ability. He has shown that in his cricket, and he has certainly shown it in his rugby league career, both on and off the paddock.
There is no doubt that Josh will do a great job in the role. The responsibility may even lift his own performance. His enthusiasm will lift his side. He will make the tough decisions required on player selection. He alone will not win Kiama a 3rd Grade premiership.

Is this the direction we wish to have our cricket Club continue in? I realise that this is only my opinion, and that I appear to be bagging a lot of people who certainly do not deserve this kind of criticism, but to me we have done this for far too long on too many levels. It has held us back in many ways from becoming a real power in our competition. What is worse is that, in all the years that players have been 'held back' to play 3rd Grade when their performance or ability or both dictated that they should be playing higher, Kiama has still not lifted a 3rd Grade premiership.
Josh is not the only person in this category, but events in the past week have brought his case to the forefront.
There is every chance that I am overstating this case, and that everything will work out for all involved. However, I fear that by selling our Club short on this issue once again, we will be contributing to our own mediocrity – not only this season, but in the seasons to come.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

The cricket season has reached the festive hiatus once again, giving the Kiama Cricket Club a chance to step back, take a breath, and review how it has progressed so far, and what needs to be done in the coming three months.
At the break, Kiama sit in first place in 1st Grade, fifth in 2nd Grade, fourth in 3rd Grade and sixth in 4th Grade. That is simplifying what to this point has been a difficult season, and one that will have a few more twists and turns before it comes to its conclusion.

1st Grade, apart from a disappointing first round loss to Lake Illawarra, has done almost everything they can do to this point of the season. One Day losses to Lake and Oak Flats, and the One Day washout against Warilla, meant that the Club missed out on the overkill of semi-finals for the One Day competition. To be quite honest, I see this as a huge boost to 1st Grade's chances in the real competition. More Sunday cricket is the last thing players in our Club want, despite the pressure building from areas of the Association. By avoiding this fixture, our players can concentrate on the cricket at hand, and there are some crucial games still to come.
No one needs to remind Kiama 1st Grade of how the wheels fell off in January and February of 2006. However, it should be uppermost in their minds when competition resumes on January 6. 1sts have played some enterprising cricket this season, and scored some vital bragging points against Albion Park and Oak Flats in particular. There is nothing more important than momentum heading into March. Last season 1sts didn't have it. This season they must have it if they are to make an impression on the other teams. Has our number one team learned the lessons of last season? We'll soon know the answer.
Matt Meurant and Dale Scifleet have had superlative seasons so far, and they will need to continue in this vein of form. Tim Wolf has been good in the supporting role with the bat, and Josh Jones similarly with the ball. More runs need to come from the openers, where no doubt there will be pressure to perform, or face losing their spot to other players looking for an opportunity.

Up to the end of November, 2nd Grade had nothing but smiles on their faces after the way the season had progressed. Following disastrous losses to Lake Illawarra and Gerringong in the last two rounds, the holes have opened up in the team performance, and been exposed as a chasm and not as easily papered over as it may have appeared. The team's position as fifth is a little misleading as they have already received their two day bye, which they don't receive points for. However, some concerns have been discovered that need attention.
There has been little continuity in selections due to the unavailability of different players every weekend. This always makes it a difficult job to find cohesion, but 2nd Grade is always that way. Players have to be able to stand up and take responsibility for their own performance.
Without being derogatory to the skipper, a season where Steve Holz is the leading wicket-taker is a concern for not only his own team but for the side above him. The so-called strike bowlers have been largely ineffective, creating an enormous amount of pressure on the medium pacers to gain breakthroughs. While this worked well early in the season, the savage attacks inflicted upon the side by Lake and Gerringong have proven that other answers must be found, and soon.
This is also somewhat true of the batting. Apart from the capitulation in the second innings against Gerringong, 2nds have posted useful 200+ totals almost every match of the season. In 2nd Grade, if you score over 200, you should not be losing games. Though some are claiming the batting is not in perfect health, it is the bowling attack that is suffering hypothermia.
What is the answer? In general, it will be up to those who have already been tried to try and pull it together. If they can't, then blooding different kids may be what has to be done to ensure this doesn't occur again next season.

Having finished runner-up in last season's competition, 3rd Grade have quietly worked their way to Christmas without fanfare, and sit nicely placed to make a good run home to March. Though they are perhaps not the all-encompassing, all-dominating side that ended last season, they will not be taken lightly by their opponents this season.
Their form has been mixed. A reasonably comfortable victory over likely improver Oak Flats was followed by a first innings loss to Shellharbour City, which Kiama promptly turned into outright victory for themselves the following weekend. A narrow loss to great rival Albion Park and to their usurpers in last season's final Lake Illawarra has reminded the team that it won't just happen for them if they don't work at it.
It is a largely different team that has been on the field this season compared to last, which is as it should be. Successful lower Grade sides should find their players moving up the Grades if they have the form on the board. Selection policy after the New Year break will be an important factor in how 3rds fare for the remainder of the season. In previous seasons 3rds have been generally left alone as a unit to mold into a finals-winning outfit. Whether or not that is the case again in 2006-07 will have a bearing on the outcome for not only 3rd Grade, but all Grades.

After a period of success, including three consecutive premierships, with a team filled with players who were obviously playing in a Grade below their ability, 4ths have struggled in recent seasons to win games. This season has seen little change, except that the team is blooding the players of tomorrow for higher Grade representation, and doing a fine job of it. Under the tutelage of Ian Pearson, 4th Grade has become the Kiama nursery, with plenty of youngsters getting a chance to experience Grade cricket.
While this is a good thing for the Club, and the job done by Ian and Bruce McNaught in particular is to be applauded, one wonders if gaining experience in Grade cricket in a side that is unable to win a majority of its games is helping their development. This is certainly not meant as a criticism, but just as a precursor to when our thoughts turn to preparing for next season, and if we can do some things better than we have over the last couple of seasons.

January will prove to be the making or breaking of all of Kiama's four Grades teams this season. Our Club needs to retain the focus and drive that has got us into the position we are in, and carry on it that vein. The time to push for the success that all of us in our Club crave is now.

To everyone associated with the Cavaliers, all the best for the festive season. And let's kick some arse in 2007.