Humbug's Blog - Pieterson Free Zone

Humbug's Blog - Pieterson Free Zone

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Having almost packed away the 2016 season, what a brilliant day at the club when the resurrected Past v Present match groaned arthritically back onto the fixture list thanks to the efforts of Sonic.  Many old faces, typically from the all-conquering 1990’s re-trod the hallow turf. No less than 8 (I count myself one) of the 1995 Champions picture re-united. I missed the bacon breakfast, the swapping of medical histories and application of bandages and deep heat due to my report writing duties. What was astonishing was seeing Spear and Doc bowling at pace as the years and sweat fell away. Spear had earlier decided to bowl spin, but when he saw Doc’s jump-jet action once more, he was not to be out-done. Sonic was his effervescent self and the opening batsmen of Fred and Brian were as solid, and ancient as the English Plain Tree. Greener could not be persuaded to attempt a repeat of launching the ball over said tree but dispensed bear hugs instead. Beer sales went well despite the sumptuous lunch and tea provided by Val and donations from Mac; great to see Mikey T’s silky skills once more.
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The Hallway of Uncertainty 
 
It is often said that football is a "funny old game", but it is my view that whoever said that had never played cricket. 
 
Having played football to a very high level and cricket to a significantly lower level, you would have thought it was the so-called beautiful game that has given me more sleepless nights over the years, but that's just not the case. 
 
One of the biggest lies in cricket is that it is a team game. Before I get too 'Zlatan Ibrahimovic' on everyone, I am being a touch over-dramatic. There is no doubt that some batsmen seem to bat well together, some bowlers compliment each other well, it's useful when your fielders catch everything and I don't think it's a coincidence that in the 12 years I've played on and off at Hurley, the games we have won, which admittedly are always more memorable than those lost or drawn, have always seemed to feature more of the club's 'characters'. 
 
The point I'm trying to make is that cricket exposes you mentally in ways that I've only experienced in boxing. You're surrounded by people who are on your side, but ultimately your biggest wins and losses in both sports are defined by your own actions. It's you that lands a knockout punch, it's you that gets skittled by a ball on the length. Your batting partner is on your side, but there's nothing he can do to protect you when that ball comes. Your cornerman is on your team, but he can't stop you getting chinned. You've got support, but it is ultimately on you. 
 
That is why cricket, in my eyes, is the ultimate test of your mental make up. This blog does not accept that we're just not very good because, with a few notable exceptions, (Milo the Serb - picked up from a Reading watering hole by Toddy and I when Hurley was short on players – maybe one) everyone at Hurley has a big(ish) score to their name and everyone has a few wickets. Of course there are differences in ability, but anyone who has seen Justin score a century can be rightly furious when they get out missing a full toss at Littlewick Green. 
 
This brings me to this weekend. Having found a degree of consistency both with Hurley and a ragtag bunch of sloggers midweek in London, I found myself feeling rather ruddy confident at number six for the firsts this weekend. Batting with a far superior batsman in the talented Ross Brown, I found myself opening the face to balls that would normally far too scary to try and stick bat on, pulling with confidence and driving zestfully, if frustratingly, straight at cover fielders. "Tell you what Dubs, you're on for a score here," said the ever-present inner-voice when batting. Then it happened. 
 
Every batsman at every level has a weakness, but mine is especially annoying – I hate it straight. This means one does not just have a corridor of uncertainty, one has a hallway of uncertainty, a foyer of folly, an airstrip of ambiguity. Sure enough, this chap who was a handy bowler but I thought I'd got a read on had got me with the classic 'bowl it at stumps' delivery. The rapscallion had clocked on that anything short and with a bit of width tends to go, anything straight makes me look a bit of melon. It all felt very underhand. 
 
There goes my form, there goes my growing belief that maybe I'm about to peak as a batsman at 28, there goes my belief I've finally got rid of this straight ball hoodoo. I'd been listening to Boycott all summer, why the bloody hell had my feet not moved? Young Brown did kindly point out it had been a good delivery, but my decision to open the face was a bit daft given it served to let the ball through. Good diplomacy from a young chap, he can have another week of work experience with me. 
 
Back in the pavilion, I enjoyed watching Ross make batting look very easy before he fell to his own mental battle, one I wish I could have from time to time, treating the bowling with too much disdain. A skip down the wicket and a stumping. Steve Taylor – comfortably one of the best looking (in every sense) batsmen at Hurley appears to have middled one for six, nope it's a quacker. The ball landing like a strawberry flavoured strepsil down the throat of an outfielder. Steve often jokes about retiring after a low score, but he never does. We all do, but we never do. 
 
In short, no sport can make you look so Jekyll and Hyde in the space of a week (or Jekyll and Wide for the bowlers) and it's exhausting sometimes, because it feels like the world is against you – not the team – you. Will I ever be able to play a straight ball? Will I ever get a score again? Why was the ball a balloon last week and a marble this week? 
 
When the closest thing Hurley has to a sports psychologist is a chap called 'Humbug', you can only answer these questions with another question - "what's my availability like next week?" 
 
See, this is where I spin this blog full circle and say that cricket is a team sport – because the team know your individual struggle, because even great men like Phil "4,000,000 runs" Ridgeway was once hit for successive fours by Toddy. So you come back again and you promise yourself that this is the week you're going to have your 'Justin week'…and if you don't, you're surrounded by ruddy good chaps who are thinking exactly the same. That's what a team is in cricket and it's what I love about Hurley and if all else fails, Val's teas are great and someone is going to react to a good sledge. 
 
Finally, before I start sounding like a flowery hippy, winning also feels better than losing – but I promise you that victory comes from a belief that this week it will be short balls and reaction catches, not straight ones and catches you have to think about. This week it'll be better, not worse. For as long as Hurley maintain that ethos, and it is our responsibility to do so, that tree will be standing for a long time to come. 
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We played against a team in the League a few weeks back and they had a white board in their changing closet. Three words were scrawled on it: ‘Focus, Intensity, Fun’. This translated into pre-match warm-ups, pinging a practice ball into a mini-net and then sadly sledging our Mo while batting. Clearly the approach was more Thames Valley than Chilterns League. Maybe a fourth word could be added to their white board, ‘Joy’. I know Veg had a few words to add but these are non-repeatable. Still, they were much better than us and a club clearly on the up benefitting from a recent huge influx of young, keen cricketers. I can still dream!
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I recently saw a friend of mine who has two small boys. The youngest has just started nursery and is playing up. She has great problems getting his coat on, he cries in the car and shuffles reluctantly into the venue, once there, he is perfectly happy playing with his pens and winkle. I thought ‘scary, but this is me going to cricket’, the parallels are startling.

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I was recently invited to a college reunion to swap disapproving world views (as befits our advanced years), drink moderately (as befits our advanced years), eat well (as befits our advanced years) and ogle fit totty (as befits our advanced years). Well, I have the mind of a 21 year old but the body of, errr someone much older. I am being held together with Senatogen and B12 injections. Nursey and I chose left buttock, one of my favourites but I was crushed when she felt the need to comment that there was not much flesh there for the needle. I blame all this sitting watching England cricket ultimately fail and nearly 40 years scoring Hurley.  Have I wasted my life? Mind you, nursey looked like Eric Bristow, and I expected her to cry out ‘one hundred and eighty’ but I was glad she missed the Bull.

 

Cricketforce day was moderately well attended by the usual suspects. The promise of bacon baps lured me to the club for the first time this season. Much scrubbing and anti-rabbit measures were in action. Prof and Prof minor were filling in pot-holes, well one was while the other supervised. My first sight was of Dave Walnut stripped to the waste displaying his man-baps. Clearly he had wintered well. The new showers had been refurbished in the hope that Hurley might work up a sweat in the coming season and the sun eventually shines.

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