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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Emerging From the Shadow

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Since my return to our Club from the dark depths of Erskineville seven years ago, I have had the pleasure and privilege of not only watching from a distance, but also batting with some of our finest young players. At that time, it was generally fairly easy to see that they were (going to be) good. They played the bowling like they were facing an 8 year old sister, they all had a thirst for more runs, and they each had their own unique style and strokes that spoke volumes for their class.
On December 4, 1999, I batted with 15 year old Dale Scifleet at Kevin Walsh Oval. Chasing 287 for victory, I joined Dale at 2/67 and had the best seat in the house to witness what, until last weekend, was the highest individual score for Kiama in Second Grade. Dale defied his years to simply dominate the attack. His driving and cutting was a joy to watch – especially when you are at the other end struggling to get the ball off the square. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, Dale had his century. Our partnership of 136 contained the bare 32 from me, and remained a 2nd Grade record for the 3rd wicket... until last weekend. Dale finished with Joe Murphy as a runner (giving everyone a laugh) and 159 sparkling runs, and remains one of the finest innings I have witnessed for Kiama. A career was about to bloom.

On March 2, 2002, I batted with 14 year old Mitchell Gowland at Cavalier Park. Batting first against a Jamberoo First Grade side that would go on to win the competition, the top order had struggled. From the boundary, I had witnessed the finest bowler of my generation, Graham Stinson, bowling at top speed and engaging in plenty of talk with the young prodigy. Unfazed by it all, Mitch kept quietly compiling runs. By the time he had reached 30, there was nothing but silence directed at him, and Stinson had bowled himself out of the attack. I only batted with Mitch for seven overs, but had the distinct pleasure of being at the crease with him when he brought up his first half century for Kiama First Grade. His unbeaten 64 remains one of the finest innings I have seen for Kiama. A career was about to bloom.

On November 20, 2004, I batted with 17 year old Will Sheridan at Cavalier Park. Against an Albion Park side that would go on to win the next two premierships, Kiama collapsed for only 62 in the one day fixture. However, the shining light in that was Will, who batted through most of the innings, displaying the traits he is renown for – standing tall and driving everything with power and velocity. His timing was unquestioned, as he saw off the good balls and put the bad ones away. Though he only scored 23, his was an effort that staved off what could possibly have been the lowest total ever by a Kiama First Grade side. Batting with him that morning was a real eye opener as to his true talent. Though by this stage of his career he already had a First Grade century against Shellharbour, and one of the most brilliant innings I have seen for the Club with his 89 against Narara-Wyoming in the Country Cup match at Maitland, here he again proved he had the right stuff. A career was about to bloom.

Now, I can add another to that list.

Last weekend, on October 21, 2006, I batted with 17 year old Matt Unicomb at Cavalier Park. Last season, Matt had shown signs that he was going to be a very good batsman. He had been hampered as, unlike the three aforementioned players, he had played practically zero Grade cricket during his junior days, which had left him at some sort of disadvantage. Despite this, he lifted the Second Grade Batting Aggregate, and had shown enough to be confident of his future.
I joined Matt at 1/52, and was immediately impressed not only with his strokes, but his demeanor. He wasn't fazed by the few deliveries that beat him. He was patient, waiting for the bowlers to bowl to him, rather than chasing what appeared to this ageing eye to be 'boundary balls'. Each shot was marked by genuine timing. Not everything found the gaps, but he never appeared in trouble. On a couple of occasions Matt missed the opportunity for quick singles – but he never missed it twice in succession. We put on 94 before I threw away my chance for a hundred. Matt was determined not to miss out. When he finally made it, just before tea, he was ecstatic, and his teammates were the same.
Apart from his driving (reminiscent of Will Sheridan) and his pull shot, Matt has an absolutely unique shot to leg, where, with a lot of bottom hand, he forces any ball directed towards leg stump through square leg in a cross between leg glance and stand-up sweep shot, that generates so much power the ball generally races away to the boundary. I have never seen anyone else play this shot, and it comes so naturally to him. Not only that, it scores him a lot of runs.
At drinks in the second session, Matt was given five overs to reach a double century before the inevitable declaration took place. Before being dismissed for 178 in the second of those five overs, he gave it a red hot go, scoring 18 runs in those 9 deliveries.
Matt was given three lives in his innings, none of those before he reached 92. His partnership for the third wicket with Ben King-Gee totalled 140, and is now the Kiama record for Second Grade for that wicket. Matt's score of 178 eclipsed Dale's 159 as the highest score by a player for Kiama in Second Grade.

I have little doubt that I have now played my last match with Matt. His apprenticeship is over, and he goes on now to the next step of his development. Where will it take him? Who knows. Dale has played Grade cricket in Sydney, is a current Southern Zone representative, and is the finest all-rounder in the South Coast competition. Mitch has played for New South Wales Under 17's, and now plays Second Grade in the Sydney Grade competition. Will has represented Australian Under 19's, and now plays for A.C.T. in the Cricket Australia Cup. The genes are pretty fair.

A career is about to bloom.
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Friday, October 6, 2006

The Recipe for Success

"Pssst! Hey! Can I have a word? Just a quiet one between you and me. I've got something to show you. Something I've been working on. It's a recipe, and if I've got it right, it should be worth a dollar or two. Of course, I'm not looking to sell it. I just want it to be right. And to work.
I call it the Recipe For Success. A tacky title to be sure, but hopefully an accurate one.
You see, I've been observing our cricket Club for close to three decades now, and I've seen talented players and talented teams never reach the heights that they were meant to, or achieve the success that they could have. And that last tiny step, the step from Contenders to Champions, is not really that huge - if you know how to negotiate it"

One of the things that our Club must first accept is that we are a little light on in terms of player depth. People may scoff at this remark, pointing towards last season, where we had three sides reaching the semi-finals, with one of those reaching the final. That is true. Yet the real truth is that as a Club we had virtually no players putting pressure on those in Grades above them. First Grade lost almost every match after Christmas, but retained basically the same squad. The critical shortage of specialist batsmen is also a concern. Somehow, this must be overcome.

And it can be. With the correct ATTITUDE being utilised by everyone in the Club, we can overcome any hurdle, and taste premiership success again.

The following steps should be carefully digested.

1. Take PRIDE in your PERSONAL PERFORMANCES

It sounds like a simple premise, but take my word for it, it hasn't been done. One of the things that has held our Club back in recent years has been the attitude that 20 runs is 'enough', or a couple of wickets is 'enough'.
"My job is done."
"I've held my spot"
"If we don't win it can't be seen as my fault"

As an individual, you should be focused enough to not only want to succeed, but to succeed at a greater level. Being satisfied with 20 runs or 2 wickets won't win cricket matches. Everyone should not only be striving for big scores or big hauls, you should have enough pride and determination in your own performance to WANT IT every week. No one can do it every week, that is a given. But if you are not striving for it every week, you become a weak link in the chain.

2. Take PRIDE in your TEAMMATES

Having conquered your own performances, you must be aware and supportive of the performances of your teammates. Some will succeed, some will fail, but you need to be able to support them no matter what. A teammate may fail, in which case they will need reassurance that the next innings will be their redemption. When a teammate succeeds, it is a time for congratulations, while also trying to drive him to greater heights.
It is okay to feel less than cordial if your teammate is bagging wickets or slashing runs while you are struggling - as long as you don't show it. Don't bring your teammates down to your level - bring yourself up to their level!

3. Take PRIDE in your TEAM

Always be a part of the team, not a dead weight. People who sulk and brood through an afternoon, whether it be on or off the field, bring down the rest of the team in the process. Celebrate the good times. In the harder times, stay in the game and talk positively on the field. Enjoy a joke when they come, stay committed to the cause. Leave negativity out of the equation.
Get to know your teammates, especially newer ones into the Club or Team. Don't allow the team to become a closed shop. Everyone must not only feel as though they are a part of the team, they must also open the team to everyone.
Fight together as a team in adversity. If quick wickets begin to fall when batting, or they have dried up when bowling, support each other as a team, and drive the team to break the cycle.

4. Take PRIDE in your CLUB

Slowly but surely we are getting better at this (mainly as some of our kids move up the Grades, and some of our elder statesmen begin moving back through the Grades) but more work is needed. The relationship between the players of different Grades is something that tightens the bonds of the Club, and improves everyone's performances. The chief role in doing this is for more players to return to the Grand Hotel Beer Garden after each day's play, to tell the tales of the day's happenings. Driving competition between the Grades, and individuals in other Grades, helps to not only bond the Club, but push everyone to a higher level, to get the better of that particular Grade or player next weekend. Healthy competition between the Grades, and healthy support of their cause as well. Being aware and wanting to be aware of what is happening with all other Grades each Saturday is a major part of becoming the best we can be.

5. Take PRIDE in your GAME

Don't ever forget – it is only a game. If you stop enjoying the contest, you'll be doing yourself, and everyone involved, no favours by continuing. If you are just sulking over poor performances, wake up to yourself and get on with the show. It's a bloody GAME for goodness sakes!!! Enjoy the struggle, laugh at ineptitude, and have a beer at the end.

Cricket philosophy is easy. I can preach it to you ad nauseum if you would like. Actually putting it into practice and proving its worth is a completely different and more difficult thing to do. I'd like to see it happen, if only for a season.
In the long run, it all comes back to taking pride in your personal performance.

It can't happen with JUST you. But it can't happen WITHOUT you.
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