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Monday, November 28, 2005

The Difference Between Winning and Losing

What is it that gets a team into the top echelon? That creates such an atmosphere within the team that they can ward off any opposition?

For years, Warilla have had that aura – that no matter what situation they found themselves in, and no matter what the mood within the side was, they were almost always able to extricate themselves from it, and find a way to win. Now, with the loss of many of its player base, they are finding it difficult to replicate this.
On the other hand, Albion Park, who had their worst season in years in 2003/04, picked up some players, drew on the strength of the squad they had, and are now reigning premiers – and beginning to create their own fortress.

A case in point .
Last weekend, Kiama played Albion Park at Keith Grey Oval in a one day fixture. After a wonderful display of bowling and fielding, Kiama restricted the home side to just 156, which is a very gettable total. It probably could have been better, but Dan Abela and Jess Hancock rescued the side from 6/90, and managed to play a vital role in the middle order, and help Park squeeze up to their final total.

In reply, although the scoring was slow, Kiama did not lose a bucket load of wickets, and appeared in a good position to push for victory. Here, however, Albion Park’s experience in winning these games came to the fore. Every time Kiama appeared to have the winning of the game, they lost a wicket, setting them back again. For instance, every batsman on the South Coast would have taken on Warren Campion’s throw from the outfield to go for a second run. Jaya Hartgerink did just this – and was run out when his throw hit the wickets direct at the bowlers end with Jaya a metre short. The middle order fell to LBW’s, and the all-rounders fell to impetuosity when a calm approach would have served better.

Even after all of this, Kiama needed just over a run a ball with two wickets remaining – and less after Sam Wolf dispatched a ball over the mid-wicket fence. Unfortunately, the tail was not up to the task, and the side fell 15 runs short.

Despite the loss, the side took heart from their performance. The bowling and fielding was superb, and is proving to be the base on which the side is building its semi-final charge. The batting also looked good, without producing the total that was required.
But this is where Albion Park has the edge – the ability to win the close games, which Kiama has yet to perfect. That is the difference between being a competitive side, and a premiership side.

Firsts will have learned a lot from the weekend. Rather than losing heart, they should have gained it. They are not far away from being a side that will not just challenge for a finals position, but can push for that elusive First Grade Premiership.
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kiama Kollapse

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For the past two seasons, I have been told that a certain phrase that is synonymous with the Kiama Cricket Club is “not to be mentioned” anymore. I have been told that it instigates negative energy, and it (the phrase, that is) does not provide for good Club spirit.
Well, I'll tell you what. When our teams stop performing the Kiama Kollapse, I will stop mentioning it. There's a reason why it is a Kiama phrase. It is because of incidents such as occurred to First Grade last weekend.

In a weekend where 4ths suffered another unfortunate defeat, 3rds continue to march on their merry way, and 2nds finally got a weekend off for rain (ironically, having prayed for one for about three years, it was on the one weekend when I wasn't playing anyway...), it was the capitulation of 1st Grade that was the talk of the town.

Let it be fairly stated here that I have not seen one ball of a First Grade match bowled this season. Nor have I been able to attend any training sessions. I am also not privy to the selectors and Grade captains thoughts. Please keep the above information in mind as you read the following.

1st Grade's match against Lake Illawarra at Cavalier Park looked as though it was going to be a result for the good guys early in the afternoon, after the bowlers had done a magnificent job in dismissing their opponents for 115 - especially after Lake had been 1/54. Dale Scifleet bowled what some are regarding as his finest spell of bowling, finishing with 4/9 off 9 overs.

115 runs is still a total that had to be achieved, and sometimes chasing a small total is a difficult thing to do. That said, being 6/19 in the chase pretty much gave the side no chance of victory. Having worked their guts out to achieve such a small victory target, the Kiama bowlers must have been seeing red at now being expected to get the runs as well. In the end, the side were bowled out for just 48. This is the 18th lowest total by a Kiama 1st Grade side in the 60th year of the South Coast District Cricket Association. Not a proud moment to be hanging our cap on. I wasn't at the Grand last Saturday, but I hope our guys were bleeding.
On Sunday, 1sts took on Nowra in the Second Round of the statewide Country Cup knockout. Having racked up 6/183, they rolled Nowra for 120, advancing to the next round. There were two interesting performances in this game - 2nd Grade's John Simon scored 47 not out to pin the middle order together, and 2nd Grade's Matt Unicomb took four wickets with the ball to hasten the end of the match.

Obviously, there is no need for panic here. It is 1st Grade's first defeat for the season. Along with this, the top four sides – Lake Illawarra, Albion Park, Oak Flats and Kiama – have broken away from the bottom four sides by a comfortable margin, and appear to have take control of their season. Kiama have played three of the bottom four sides and defeated them all. They play Shellharbour City this weekend, and a win there will confirm their dominance of those sides.
As I have also mentioned before, there is little pressure being applied by players in 2nd Grade presently. Certainly, there is little to be gained from elevating a player from 2nds who has not been dominating in that Grade themselves.
In all likelihood, 1st Grade will remain unchanged this weekend, barring unavailabilities. And that is how it should be. But one would suspect that some of the players will be warned that another failure would place their position in jeopardy.

John Simon has already done enough to suggest he will handle 1st Grade with a minimum of difficulty. Matt Unicomb, though still young and inexperienced in Grade cricket, has also shown he has plenty of ability with bat and ball, and could even be considered a chance to play in the near future.
While most of the talk in the Club is which bowler will eventually find their way back to 2nds, it is the batsmen who are under-performing, and must surely be beginning to run out of chances.

In the top six, you would expect Dale Scifleet, Matt Meurant and Rob Farrell to be safe in their position (Rob may feel otherwise, having copped some rough treatment on occasions in recent years). Should a change be going to be made, it would be the other three who are under pressure.

Ben Jones began the season with a scintillating 41, followed it up with a duck against Warilla, a patient 15 against Jamberoo, and 1 in last weekend's debacle. Ben has always looked to bat for long periods. As an opener, the job is to see off the new ball and the opening bowlers, in order for the middle order to prosper later on. No one could argue that Ben does not do his damndest to ensure this occurs. More runs would also be an asset.

Jaya Hartgerink last season won the 1st Grade Batting Aggregate, despite being shuffled around the order like the Ace of Spades. As an opener, Jaya averaged 25.78 – in all other positions, from three to six, he averaged 9.50. Most of Jaya's career has been as an opener, and that is where he has enjoyed his successes. This season, he has been batting five, and has 15 runs at 5.00. Whenever I have played with Jaya, he has always been more comfortable at the top of the order, where he knows when he is going in to bat. To me, it is his best position for himself, and for the team. It is certainly not my position to be seen to be influencing selections and captaincy decisions (not that any of our four captains would be), but one wonders if everyone's best interests are being served.

Mitch Gowland is a current NSW Under 17 representative with a brilliant future ahead of him. This season, he has not been able to get going with the bat at all. He has also been taking his Higher School Certificate exams, which is a difficult time in itself. It doesn't disguise the fact that, this season, including Sunday's match, he has played five innings without reaching double figures. Stretch it back into last season, and it comes to eight innings in succession. Mitch has the credits, and deservedly so, but it must be added that if anyone else in the Club had had such a run, it is highly unlikely they would be lining up in 1st Grade this weekend.
From the local paper, I believe that Mitchell was this week chosen to replace Tony McCabe in the South Coast Burns Cup side for the final against Shoalhaven this weekend. While everyone in the Kiama Club will be happy for his selection, it is at least the final proof that representative teams are not chosen on form...

This is not a witch hunt, just a topic of discussion amongst those in the Club in the past few days. As I have said, First Grade are still in a sound position, and a win this weekend will get the same winning feeling back. But we are still a Club, and the selectors started the season by saying that if you perform you will be elevated, and if you underperform, you will be relegated.

It makes for an interesting weekend of cricket coming up.
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Thursday, November 3, 2005

Middle Order Blues

1st Grade and 3rd Grade continued to prove that the faith they have in themselves this season is well founded, after telling victories over the past weekend. 2nd Grade blew a great opportunity to take down Albion Park, while 4th Grade again fell just short in their match. And the Middle Order Blues played their part in each of the matches.

Firstly, though, let's focus on 1st Grade. The last time Kiama 1st Grade won their first three rounds was way back in 1986-87 – ironically in my first season of 1st Grade – when they in fact won their first four matches, before running into Warilla, and losing by 104 runs on the first innings.
(Note : In 1992-93, 1sts were undefeated for the first seven rounds, though four of those were draws in a season disrupted by rain).

In itself this is a wonderful achievement. In the big picture, it is a good start, and not to be disregarded, but also not used to begin resting on laurels.
Beginning their chase on the second day at 2/37, 1sts quickly lost three wickets to find themselves precariously placed at 5/64, and not even halfway to their target of 149. Four double figure scores from batsmen 6, 7, 8 and 9 got the side home to an important victory. The four single figure scores from batsmen 2, 3, 4 and 5, however, would have been of some concern.

2nd Grade, as the final example here, were charging at 3/85, and looked to be doing it comfortably in their chase for 217. The unfortunate retirement of Anthony Savage at this score, however, caused a commotion. A glimpse at the scorecard would see 1, 0, 0, 0 and 0 littering the middle of the innings, turning a good chase into a dog's breakfast.

I am not suggesting that this is a crisis of immediate concern, but it is something that the respective skippers of all Grades will be watching. While 1st Grade keep winning, there will be no urgency to make any changes to the side.
Of some concern to Matt Meurant will be that John Simon is the only 2nd Grader who has made consistent runs. Tim Wolf has looked good without making a big score yet, and Nathan Barr leaves for overseas at the end of the month. The back-up is not abundant.
The same can be said for the bowling. Josh Elliott and Mick Norris have both taken wickets, but both have gone for runs as well.
The return of Josh Jones this weekend will alleviate most concerns in this regard, but some form needs to be found in 2nd Grade soon to enable the pressure to be kept on 1st Grade.

The enigma that is Tommy Mayes has captured the imagination of the Club after just three appearances. His wonderful double against arch-antagonists Albion Park in 3rd Grade on the weekend, where he took four wickets for 40 runs in the first innings, and then scored a match-winning 63 opening the batting, has seen his stocks soar. He must be doing well, because the chorus of calls from regular 3rd Graders accusing 2nd Grade of being about to 'poach' him from their ranks have grown in strength. This is a sure sign that they don't want to lose him.

2nd Grade's loss to Albion Park has put them in an unenviable position. A loss in the next round to Gerringong will not definitely put them out of finals contention, but it will make it an extremely unlikely proposition. This young team has shown signs of being able to compete in this Grade, but have so far not been able to string together good batting and bowling performances consistently. With the teams either side of them undefeated, it is time for 2nds to come out fighting and give them the support they need. A losing 2nd Grade side does not bode well for either 1sts or 3rds. This is the match that 2nds must come out, and show they are a force to be reckoned with.
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