Sunday, 2 November 2014

Trying to Score

I never thought I'd be able to say I had scored twice in two days.
But I have. And I can.
I'd always avoided volunteering to score. I didn't know how, and it looked far too much like hard work. And all those numbers, and squiggles and things!
But, as luck would have it, this weekend my luck ran out. I had to score! There was no-one else.
There was a manual score book with my name on it for the next 45 overs. All I could do was introduce myself to the opposition  with their fancy ipad scoring, and sit down to learn as I go.

Mr ipad gave me one simple instruction. You have to record in three different places. As long as you do that consistently, you'll be sweet. He checked my figures at the end of each over and made sure we had the same data, and we were away laughing.
I ticked and crossed, added and subtracted, drew flowers in the margin. The 45 overs whizzed by. I chatted to the other scorer, learned a bit about his life and clapped for his son when he scored runs. The whole process of scoring was somewhat therapeutic and peaceful. Surprisingly so.
I was ready to hand over to someone else when the innings was up though. 45 overs is enough for anyone!

By some strange quirk of fate, I found myself Last Man Standing at the next match I attended. It's never a good sign when a coach is marching in your direction waving a scorebook. A quick look over my shoulder and I realised I was going to be in the hot seat again. Everyone else had done a runner. Another 40 overs were coming my way.

This was an away match and a regional rep game. No pressure then. Just a bunch of rep selectors wanting to keep checking scores, bowling figures, averages etc. Piece of cake for an expert like me!
It's funny how when you have no other option, you can just get on with it. This time though, there was the complication of having to train another newbie scorer. Without a backup, there would be no opportunity to have lunch or take a bathroom break. So I showed the new guy the three places he had to record the figures and where to keep the overs tally, and keep the bowlers figures. New guy did a couple of balls and I got up ready to make my escape.
 But panic set in and he got all flustered about what went where and when and how and who! He actually said to me 'I can't do it. I've stuffed it up. You'd better take over.' My full bladder and empty stomach groaned in unison, but I sat back down and took over again.

Another couple of overs looking over my shoulder and new guy was ready to give it another go.
I vaulted out of that chair so fast, before anyone changed their mind.

I have to say I've come to realise that I actually really enjoyed scoring. I can't believe I didn't try it sooner. There's a kind of camaraderie among scorers, it's a special secret society based on mutual understanding and trust. The scorers I have met so far have been very funny, warm and generous hearted. One of them even said he wanted to read my blog. The fool.

If you get asked to score at a match, say yes. Give it a go. Help the coach out.
You might even like it. You may even make a few new friends.
You may even get to draw stars and smiley faces in the column when your batsman retires.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Whose game is it really?

Number two son has loved his cricket for a long time. He always played with positivity and a huge grin on his face.
 In Grade 4 he took huge delight in reverse sweeping the bowlers for six again and again because he knew the short boundary was favouring the right hand batsmen. As a left hander, he wanted a piece of that short boundary.
 He scored his first ton the week he turned 10 when he got 126 not out. He taught himself to bowl offspin and half way through last season switched from pace to offspin. And he did really well out of it.
 He was one of the best in his grade in the field, relishing in a short cover position, but also with a strong throwing arm from the deep. He played Premier Grade and Rep cricket, and joined his big brother's team in the annual Hawkes Bay tournament.

Then one day about three months ago he told me he didn't want to play cricket anymore. Not. At. All.
He had just had enough.
How on earth do you deal with that? First I had to find out what was causing the angst and the reluctance to play. I managed to get him to confess that he just wasn't having fun at cricket anymore. His coach wasn't picking him for rep fixtures  and the rep teams were constantly shuffled around. He also got feedback that he needed to work on his fielding and his batting wasn't good enough because he liked to play across the line. Lastly, some of his team mates thought it was funny to try bodyline bowling on him in the nets. Well, hardly surprising that he didn't enjoy it with all that going on.He was 11 years old!

Knowing how much good stuff he gets from cricket, playing with his mates, hanging out with them between innings, testing his skills and trying new things, I resolved to help him learn to enjoy the game again. So back in July, we started off in the nets with some one on one sessions with a professional coach. It started really slowly. The first week he broke down in tears when he was batting. Tears of frustration. He thought he couldn't go on. Then coach told him to get his frustrations out on the ball. Hit it anyway he wanted. No-one was judging his technique. He opened the throttle a little and punished the ball. He has always been a good timer of the ball, and that skill had not disappeared with his confidence.

There were a few more weeks in the nets, a couple more breakdowns, a lot more frustration. There were weeks when he was crying and saying he's 'not going to play anyway, so why are we doing these sessions?' I kept saying 'because I love to come and watch you play. Just have some fun with it'
Week by week both his confidence and his skill grew and he inched his way towards the new season.

Then came time for Premier Cricket Trials. The coaches were all asking him if he was going to trial and I could see his confidence eroding by the minute. He didn't want to let them down but he knew in his heart that he didn't want to play that Premier cricket and hear that he wasn't good enough in the field/with the bat/wherever. He didn't want to see the same kids open the batting every week, watch them get all the chances while he waited week after week for his turn, only to be told to go in and 'score quickly, because we need the runs now.' He didn't want to see the coach's son behind the stumps all the time when he believed he could do a better job. He was frustrated at being left to bowl later in the innings when there were fewer wickets to collect.

A lot of this stuff stems from parent coaches, setting up a platform for their son to succeed on. Some of it comes from the introduction of CricHQ and live scoring at Junior Cricket level. The kids all compete for MVP status and it has changed their (and their parents) attitude for the worse. But it also comes from a young man with a whole lot of self doubt that just needed some support.

Well, today I saw that spark. It's there again. It's been there all along, but he found himself today. He watched Amla's magnificent 119 runs this morning, and this afternoon he went into the nets and played a number of Amla shots. He copied Amla's footwork and his stroke play, and he had an absolute blast doing it. Watching from the end of the lane I could see his teeth as he was grinning from under his helmet when he connected with the ball again and again. He scored sixes and fours and sent lofty drives straight back over the bowler's head.

I think he'll be ok. He is not going to play Premier cricket, is not interested in it at all. He is going to play with his mates in A Grade and have a whole heap of fun, He will have the time of his life. And I will enjoy watching him doing it.

If you're a parent coach, or thinking about becoming one, just remember one thing. It is meant to be fun. For the kids. It's their game, not yours.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Dear BlackCaps

Dear Blackcaps

Yes, I'm doing it again. Dropping you a note because I feel that someone has to. It might as well be me hey?

You need to hear it directly from us, your team of 4 million, because the media have got it wrong again.
Whoever hit the town, or the bar, or their feet, or the booze- all of that should never have been given headlines at a time when we are all drunk with euphoria over that epic Test win at Eden Park. So I'm not going to refer to it again. Because this is about you guys, the ones who knocked the Number Two Test side off in our own backyard.

I sat in the stands of Day 5 of the English Test at Eden Park so I've suffered along with you when you should have had the win. I even took my lads out of school that day so they could witness a live lesson in courage and determination. It must have worked because they begged to be taken to Day 4 of the India Test at the Garden of Eden. I even told them that I had a feeling you would take 9 wickets and we would be the victors. It wasn't going to go to five days. The signs were already there. All that talk about India having two days to score their runs, didn't really ring true to me. Our bowling attack is ferocious at the best of times, more so when they can smell the victory.

You know, the crowds at the Garden of Eden may not have been massive, and nowhere near what you would see on tour overseas, but they knew how to make some noise.There was plenty of atmosphere and people were there to have a good time and enjoy the day- wherever it may take them. They certainly were very good hearted. I even saw quite a few New Zealand and Blackcaps flags waving in the breeze.

I need to spell out some of the awesomeness that I saw. The pace bowlers really were phenomenal. The movement they got off the ball, the commitment to keep coming back even when they were smacked into the hoardings by some very polished batsmen was truly special. I never saw them drop their heads once.
 And guys, keep up that 'controlled aggression'. Have a good close look at the batsman's nasal hair, no need to say anything. We all know what you're thinking.
 Welcome back to Wagner. Our favourite new New Zealander. We've missed that special spicy blend you bring to the table! Keep on serving it up.

And to the batsmen. I cried tears of joy when Brendon raised his bat to the crowd for his double century. Tears for all the months of frustration, disappointment and close finishes. Tears for the sheer relief of finally pulling it off, and against a very capable and determined opposition. And tears of sheer pride because you're one of us.
  My cricket going lads  adopted Corey as their new hero as he smacked balls around Nelson Park a few weeks ago, so we were all pretty stoked to see another exciting run at the Garden.  And Kane- bless him. He serves up the kind of batting porn that only he can. That straight bat is truly a thing of beauty, and imitated up and down the country every Saturday morning by kids in grass stained white pants. As for Rosco, where do I begin? You've been the poster on the kids wall for a long time. But this 2014 version? Unbelievably good!

My only teeny suggestion going forwards? Come back out and thank the crowd. There were loads of kids and die hards waiting to thank you personally for doing what you did. We all knew you were exhausted, and Kane and Tim popped out for a bit, but hey think it over for next time.

I told the kids that they didn’t understand it yet, but that victory would go down as one of the most significant in our cricketing history. It was the first time I had experienced such scenes and I’ve been watching you guys for a pretty long time.

At this point I don't care what the Indian supporters are saying or doing either. It's not about them. This is about us. You are our Blackcaps. And it's your time.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Bubbles for the Blackcaps!

The  Test series win over the West Indies has just been completed and it is still sinking in, along with the bubbles. I don't know when it will actually seem real. As a long time Blackcaps supporter, I can tell you this is very unfamiliar territory.
I got a ribbing from some of the Aussie and English fans on Twitter who couldn't understand why a Test series win is so remarkable. The truth is, we never actually expect to win. This victory was our first Test series win in more than 5 years. It's a very long time since  we could celebrate like this. No wonder we're all a bit giddy over it! The Blackcaps have come a very long way in the recent past, with the team being rebuilt and restructured, and not without its share of drama.

Winners are grinners!

A key difference we are seeing from the Blackcaps in the 2013/14 season is they are now playing as a team-  not as a group of talented individuals. Dare I say it, they are playing a bit like Australia, but maybe with more controlled aggression and better manners! Nobody threatened to break any limbs and there was barely a hint of sledging.
The bowling unit is working well together as a team, and not just as one standout bowling performer. Boult, Southee and Wagner all took wickets in the final Test whereas we saw only Narine making a dent for West Indies. We took all 60 wickets across the three Tests, while our guests took only 34. A dominant performance by any standards.
Southee was also able to reach his 100 Test wicket milestone in the 3rd Test, sitting next to John Bracewell on a table headed up by Richard Hadlee.

The fielding has been consistently good, and at times absolutely brilliant. Everyone looks strong and positive out there. The Blackcaps have gone from a lopsided team that did well with the ball, and less well with the bat to a great team of all round performers.
Ross Taylor came very close to scoring the most NZ Test runs in a calendar year, and was only a handful short.That 3rd consecutive century from him was hugely significant and felt like we were watching a key historical period in New Zealand cricket. Kane Williamson goes from strength to strength, and Hamish Rutherford's sheer determination was evident for all to see in the 3rd Test. It's so wonderful to see all that positivity and confidence out there. The team looked like they were actually enjoying it.

Congratulations are surely due to Brendon McCullum for his first test series win as captain. A feat last achieved by Dan Vettori in 2008. That was a much less emphatic victory with a win and a draw against Bangladesh. And two years before that was another one against West Indies.

The future is looking very bright for this Blackcaps team. It's a well performing group, with even more talent set to rejoin them as Martin Guptill has been racking up the runs for Auckland. Tom Latham has also scored a double ton playing for Canterbury and must surely be on the radar as well. Jesse Ryder has been playing confidently for Otago before he makes his return to the squad after Christmas.
The home series are the ideal way to keep building on the success platform already in place with the familiar grounds, pitches and plenty of local support.

Lunchtime fun at Seddon Park

At  Seddon Park this weekend, the sun was shining, cicadas were singing, Sonny Shaw was waving his flag and the Blackcaps were smiling. Kids were playing on the outfield in the lunch break and dreaming of the day when they might wear the silver fern. That's how cricket is meant to be at our place.
Cricket is largely a mental game and the Blackcaps confidence looks to be sky high right now. Imagine what  might have been if we had this confidence last Summer!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Test cricket in our own backyard

And so we find ourselves on the eve of another International Test series on our patch. In our own backyard. In our own timezone for goodness sake! The beauty of the home series is not to be underestimated. Anytime you can watch proper cricket in daylight hours is a good time.
We are welcoming West Indies into our backyard for a bit of a hit around. We went to their backyard last July, now they are coming to us in December. Starting off in Dunedin.
Cue the sniggers from people in the North Island. Dunedin in December? They'll freeze. Great tactics. Soften them up for us. True, a couple of the Windies players are already suffering with head colds 'due to the change in weather conditions'.

I've been thinking about the contrast between this series and the 'other' Test series going on just across the ditch in Australia right now. I am predicting that ours will be a much more polite affair. These two teams are the little guys in the big playground. The two smallest countries playing cricket at this level. They probably need to play each other right about now. I don't imagine we'll see the villains that we saw at the Gabba. I expect both sides will be pretty fired up, but I can also imagine that Brendon and the boys would have a Speights with Darren and his boys at the end of the game.
Another contrast with our cousins across the water is the media attention. There has been no criticism in the Press, no talk of phantoms and un named opponents. It really does feel like we've welcomed them into our backyard for a friendly hit around. Albeit with the warm jerseys on.

The big news locally for this test is the return of Aaron Redmond. What a wonderful story for all the First Class cricketers up and down New Zealand plugging away scoring runs, hoping they'll get noticed by the selectors. It's five years since Redmond last played for NZ, and he has been a consistently reliable batsman for Otago ever since.

Today is Otago's day really. It's their home ground and they have some of their favourite sons donning the whites and the fern at University Oval. There's Redmond, joined by the indomitable Neil Wagner, Hamish Rutherford, and Captain Courageous himself- Brendon McCullum.
And even better, the sun is out in Dunedin today. It might not be quite so tough for those Calypso Cricketers after all.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Today's lesson from Eden Park

First home game of the season at Eden Park Outer Oval is always eagerly anticipated by me. There's the countdown from about 100 days out. There's the rearranging of the schedule so that I can make sure I can be at the boundary rope with my jandals and sunscreen. There's the packing the kids off to school and making sure nobody is home sick on that day. That day is sacred in my book.

This first home game was set to be a little more special than usual. Guptill was back with the bat and with Auckland batting first, I braced myself for an exciting morning ahead. There is nothing finer than watching Martin Guptill timing it beautifully with a straight bat. He also had his old batting partner Jeet Raval back in the fold after his return to the team from a stint down country at Central Districts.

Well, clearly these guys didn't read the script I had written for them. The first day's play turned out to be a most unusual turn of events.
Firstly, and most noted by the media, Guptill didn't score a lot of runs. Fair enough, lets move on. His opening partner also didn't score many runs.
 The next guy in didn't stick around long enough to work up a sweat. Tim McIntosh was sent back to the shed after a single run scored.
Next in came Cachopa swinging his bat and ready to make up for the lack of runs on the board. He had a good go, and sliced and diced the Canterbury bowlers round the outer oval to collect 31 runs for his efforts. Things were starting to look up.
If only that were true. I won't go into the gory details of what happened next. Lets just say that seven of the Auckland batsman scored fewer runs than the Extras Column. Yes, that is an accurate statement. No exaggeration needed.

So fast forward to the two tail enders coming in. Behold the arrival of Dean Bartlett and Matt Quinn at the crease. Two quick bowlers. They can't bat can they? Nah. Not a chance.  You could see the Canterbury quicks licking their lips in anticipation. They'd be able to send the poles cartwheeling back towards the old grandstand in just a few balls time and everyone could trot off for an early lunch.

Not so fast.

 Hamish Bennett and his mates hadn't counted on the sheer stubborn determination of the two lads from Cornwall and Ellerslie  who found themselves at the crease and in a starring role. The previous number eleven batsman for Auckland wasn't exactly a role model at this stuff. In fact, he was there watching because he now coaches the Canterbury bowling unit. He was watching and enjoying it too. Although he did admit to me that it was very frustrating for his bowlers as time went on. He's a good bloke Chris Martin.

Matt Quinn played a number of beautiful shots during his innings. He scored  nine 4s. And they were well earned boundaries, not fielding errors or lucky shots. His bat was the sword that was slaying the dragon called Hamish Bennett. And Bennett became more dragon like as the innings continued. He was throwing down bouncer after bouncer at the tail enders. All to no avail. They would just calmly duck and get themselves out of harms way, take guard and go again. The longer it went on, the more angry Hamish Bennett got. Without the stump mikes to assist, it was hard to make out what advice he was giving the batsman. But there were words said for sure.

With Quinn taking the lead role and Bartlett feeding the strike, the pair trundled on to the lunch break.
All of us round the boundary exhaled with a collective sigh of relief as the tail had, by now, got Auckland past the 100 mark. The rest of the team gave the tail a standing ovation as they came off to refuel for half an hour, and to put their feet up and reflect on what had been a very odd morning indeed.

Time for Quinn & Bartlett to refuel

Fast forward to the end of the lunch break and the umpires and fielders are all out on the field ready to get going when Quinn and Bartlett stride out together to continue their show. But , hold on- that's Quinn racing back off the field and heading to the dressing room. What's that about? Did he forget his bat? Nope. He's holding it in his hand. Surely he couldn't have forgotten to take a toilet stop during the break. Could he? His captain asked him what he'd forgotten and he squeaked out 'I forgot my box!' and ran as fast as he could, fully padded up as he was, to get it. His  team mates had a great big chuckle at that one because they're so old and wise, they'd never do anything that silly. With Bennett bowling the way he was, there's no way you'd have wanted to continue without that most important piece of body armour.

So once more into the valley of death for our two intrepid foot soldiers. Every boundary drew an almighty cheer from around the ground, but obviously not from anyone wearing a baggy red and black cap.
These two batted for close to two hours, thereby salvaging some respectability for the team. Bartlett ended up not out with 11 runs off 85 balls, including two fours.
Quinn ended the session after being bowled by Astle with 50 runs off  94 balls, nine of those skipped over the rope.

And today's lesson? It was all about courage, and determination, and  above all total belief in your abilities at the tail end of the batting line up when all before you had struggled.
Nice work lads. I'd give you an A+

Monday, 4 November 2013

One last look at Bangladesh

My phone chirped loudly at me this morning and it was far too early to really take in what the alert was about. I'd stayed up on the sofa, well past my bedtime watching the BlackCaps and willing them on to the very end. Anyway, at the chirping of the phone I forced my eyes open to see what it was.

 I already knew the Blackcaps lost the ODI series to Bangladesh, and had a dream overnight that the headline on Granny Herald would read something along the lines of "Blackcaps slump to a new low". I was more disappointed about the inevitable media backlash than I was about the result itself. Anyway, sure enough it was an alert from NZ Herald and the title of their big story was "Have the BlackCaps reached an all time low?"

I don't know what the Herald journo was watching on tv last night, and maybe you can call me Pollyanna, but I thought there were some really good things to come out of that ODI series and in particular the last match.
We have a developing squad, with a wave of new talent slowing seeping into the side. Some of the senior players will be shuffling across to stage left for their impending exit in the coming year or two. There's nothing revolutionary in any of that. We are not the only side to be rebuilding the ranks.
I like to remember also the fact that we are arguably the smallest cricket playing nation in the ICC. There are only 4 million of us to pick the team from. How many are in India, or Bangladesh, or South Africa, or England? Exactly.
West Indies are the closest to us in size, and it will be really interesting to see what happens when they tour here in December.

Anyway, back to the good stuff from that third and final ODI in Bangladesh. What a superb session with the bat from Munro (one of the new guys) to get to 85 and Taylor (one of the old guys) to get 105. Munro has had a couple of opportunities with the bat in the black shirt, and was out first ball in his previous outing. So, he probably had a point to prove both to himself, and to everyone else watching. He has been pretty fierce with the bat for Auckland in the past, so getting that to translate to the international stage was important. I've seen the determined and belligerent character that Munro can be at the crease, so it was an absolute delight to see him switch hitting it all over the park. I just wish he had done one less reverse sweep!
Watching Ross Taylor bat like the old Rosco was a total pleasure. We haven't seen that version of Taylor for some time and it was a relief and a delight to know that he is still in there somewhere. We're all keen to see some more of him this summer!

Thanks Getty Images

Other new talent that stepped up during this series included two of Northern Districts finest- Anton Devcich and Corey Anderson. Devcich is still so new to the international stage that the Bangladeshi commentators couldn't get his name right, and even Danny Morrison was calling him 'Devich'.  His 46 with the bat was a great knock in front of a maddening crowd, but anyone who has followed him play for ND wouldn't have been too surprised by that performance.

Corey Anderson has been consistently good across all the matches he has played. I like his aggression and commitment in the field. He's always busy, and always there. He's that eager border collie on the beach that keeps on running into the waves for the ball and never gets tired! He's got lots more to give this Summer and it will be great to see him against the Windies with the home crowds too.

While I lamented the lack of McCullum behind the stumps, I thought Ronchi was pretty entertaining in the last ODI. There's something satisfying about hearing the constant yapping from behind the stumps and the staccato soundbites as he gave the Blackcaps regular giddyups. I found myself wondering whether he had to have a stash of throaties in his pocket to keep his voice going.

We saw a flash of the old Tim Southee with the ball for a while there too. He's obviously got some more work to do with his ankle injury, but when he is back to full fitness and his former fierce self, we'll be in good hands.
Sure the bowling unit have got some work to do, and no doubt Shane Bond will be working hard with them. But that's what they are over there for- to put the work in and get the experience. Plus of course they are going to learn a whole lot more from their mistakes than they will from their successes.

I'm not giving up on the Blackcaps just yet. No doubt I've got a few more long nights on the sofa ahead. But I'll do it gladly because I know it's not a new low. It's just a slow and difficult climb to the top!