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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It's very hard to write a cricket blog in the middle of winter without straying into the petty little irritants of life that take on so much more importance as you get older. Why for example does the BBC describe everything as 'iconic'? I just had a trip into Twyford and round Waitrose to check out the latest iconic offers and the freckled young thing with a great smile who helps me with my crusty rolls, it's an age thing.  As I lingered by the courgettes I was approached by a leather clad youth and his reticent young companion and asked 'do you know where to score?' Well I thought 'how does he know I'm a cricket scorer and it isn't even the cricket season'. Maybe all scorers have that look and we have a particular 'gaydar' we give off. Well, not 'gaydar' but 'saddar'. Then I realised he meant drugs. How did he know I was on 3-4 drugs a day? I got on with my trip and he went in search of his. I don't think Senatogen or iron tabs will give him the buzz he was after. I still don't know why he thought I looked the type to help him, maybe he saw me earlier hovering over the snacks as if I had the munchies, or maybe I just looked like I needed a fix.


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I've really been enjoying the recent series between England and South Africa despite the ad breaks continually telling me that I can't enjoy it unless I have a bet. Bet I can. The absurdity of Ray Winstone pleading for us to bet on everything everywhere and yet 'bet responsibly' is a metaphor for the contradictions in much of the country. Of course my enjoyment is the more because we are winning with exciting cricketers and schoolboy comedy. We had Willey bowling at de Kock and even Mikey Holding commentating. Is it me, or does de Kock look a lot like our own Sarah Taylor. Has anyone ever seen them together? My theory is that they are the same person. Our hero 'Rooty' even joined in the fun with Root 66 on his shirt. Why do England players have such a dearth of imagination that they add 'y' on the end of a surname and call it a nickname.
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The end of the season is marked by the club supper. This annual group hug to congratulate playing performance and individual contributions (but not the 1XI umpire or scorer/scribe or colts umpires) has been happening as far as I can remember back into last century, well 1976. In all that time I think I have only missed two, once when we had the quixotic choice of a riverboat shuffle, and second to ill health. It was a great night out for 37 souls and brilliant to see 5 colts there sneaking the odd shandy.
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I love it when BBC journalists say things like: 'so-and-so literally lost their head'. Now, they are not referring to a Saudi Arabian drug trafficker, but usually to an England batsman. Not so anymore, apparently we have stumbled on the revolutionary formula of hitting the ball hard and often. Five Live interviewed a minor Australian batsman (North) who gave us the insight that this was the way forward. Thank goodness for the media and essential social media for educating us.
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I was a little concerned that emotional currency and hours in front of the last day of the first Test versus NZ would be wasted. But fortunately for Captain Cook, England were bowled out early allowing enough time to bowl out the Kiwi invaders. I think only one comparison was made between Ben Stokes and IT Botham, or as Nas Hussain cringingly and a little sycophantically calls him Sir Ian. But my enjoyment was tempered by the barrage of betting adverts in the frequent drinks breaks. As Mohammed Amir prepares to return to International Cricket one cannot help but note the irony of continuous advertisements during Test Matches imploring supporters to have a bet on the sport. 'We have more ways to win' they claim, I think they mean loose. The recent Indian Premier League allowed “UNIBET” to be an official sponsor and that's after all the damage done by betting syndicates involving the owners of the franchises in previous editions of the competition. Still, thank goodness football is clean thanks to FIFA.

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I was down at Henley the other day to watch Golden Balls trot out for the Berkshire over 50's, and anyway it was an idyllic afternoon of warm sunshine. The Little Angel now has a gazebo from which to spectate but I settled for lapping the old boys round the boundary. Henley might be a picturesque ground but I have to say I still prefer Hurley, cows gently grazing and a rather magnificent bull are a better backdrop than the allotments. I stayed for tea, well mini samosas, baby bhajis, and finger buffet ham sandwiches hardly keep the wolf from the door. I have always found that a cocktail sausage rarely impresses. BO50 scored about 210 in their 45 overs and the clankers had more sandwiches than runs. I headed home to seek a more substantial repose and missed the 6 wickets clankers picked up to lead BO50 to victory over Essex.
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Having survived Black Friday (I put a black bag of rubbish out the next day for the bin men and a queue formed) then Christmas followed and what always seems a long dark winter. But I'll take my cue from those perky daffodils and approach another season with some optimism; at least for a few weeks. It seems we go into the 2015 season a lot drier than after the floods of last year.
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I was standing at the till in Waitrose waiting for the cute girl to checkout my plums when my thoughts wandered to what a great effort has gone on in the club since the great flood of January and February when up to 18” of water was in the clubhouse. Mould covered everything and the clubhouse fixtures and fittings have all had to be ripped out so that the clubhouse became a shell. But the tide is turning. Donations and Grants are flooding in, about £3,500 in donations and a tremendous £7,300 in grants that Lardy has secured for covers and bowling machine. Waves of support for our little band of Canutes have not washed over us and we are truly grateful. I think a ripple of applause is called for, not least for my terrible puns. Orbes has been receiving wedges of cash down the pub, Braywood, Cookham Dean, Littlewick and Pinkneys have all made generous donations as have a number of individuals.
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You'd think that during the winter the club would go quietly to sleep and dream of success in 2014. Not a bit of it. There was cricketing poetry in Mike Walnut sourcing sandbags. Unfortunately this was about as likely in keeping back the Thames as Veggie getting one to turn, though the wicket this year may well favour his filth. The clubhouse and equipment is in a sorry state, £9,100 damage to the clubhouse and £7,000 to equipment. Most of it will be covered on insurance, but additional cost will be incurred for the club in a tight financial year. Our new Secretary must be wondering what he has let himself in for sorting this mess out with insurers, well done Graham. Crazy, I was writing about the flooding this time last year and musing on duck racing. Jeff has some lovely but sad photos of the flooding which I hope will go on the website.
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Now that the race for the Ashes has been won by Alistair Cook and not Cheryl Gascoigne there is a sense of the season winding down. Strangely, my 88 year old mum has started taking an interest in the cricket. I am not sure whether it is an attempt to better bond with her moody son or a natural and understandable dislike of Australians born of 20 years of hurt. She did not like Shane Warne trying to blag a tennis court on commentary and I must admit to finding his accent grating let alone his attack on Captain Cook. He should have more respect for the namesake of his founding fathers. As for starting every sentence with ”LOOK”, I hate that affectation, Blowers does not need it to get attention for the number 47 heading to Vauxhall.
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There is a mythology, language and culture about cricket that does make it different from all other sports, especially if the sun shines. Where else would a Serbo-German yanked from the pub on a Friday night to make up the numbers but in village cricket. Milo was inevitably run out without facing a ball and stood rigid to the spot where he was told to field. Well done to Dumb and Dumber for their unusual recruitment.
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This missive arrived in my inbox. A pint of Rebellion for the first person to indentify the Mystery Blogger
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It is April already and spring is supposed to be here, heralding the start of a new season. Cricketers by their nature are optimists, this season always promises to be better than the last, but will it turn out that way? Our erstwhile scribe has hung up his trusty quill in a fit of melancholy at the prospects of our playing strength, and who can blame him? So I have taken it upon myself to try and keep our reader entertained with the goings on at Shepherds Lane and in the wider world. Hopefully Wing Commander Mary will take up the scoring role for the first XI if Humbug doesn't reconsider.
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Well, happy 2013 to my reader. How can this year be anything but brilliant? After floods and snow drifts we must be due an epic summer in which the flame haired one will even divest herself of at least two layers. I did go a little stir crazy during the last dump of snow. I briefly considered a cat as a companion, however as they are selfish, happy to trade the occasional cuddle for warmth, food, accommodation and 36” telly I could just as well get a Russian wife off the internet.
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When I was young, the ideal Christmas gift was a model of Tracey Island. Now I am all grown up (brain 21, body 75) I want a Veggie Love Island. It is very small, it is generally covered in stubble and the foothills have a strange, pungent odour. There is a small castle made of sticks, but within minutes of playing usually one or all of them have become dislodged.
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