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Friday, December 29, 2006

The Folly of Selling Ourselves Short

The original plan of this article was to praise the legacy of Jeff Lawler, who is leaving our Club to take up a promotion within his company in Melbourne. However, his departure has left a few questions to be answered that I am not sure are being done in the best interests of our Club.

But before that, cheers to Jeff Lawler, and the sterling service he has provided our Club in the six seasons he has played for us.
One suspects that his valedictory should have been a premiership victory in last season's 3rd Grade decider, though sadly it was not to be. Jeff's batting was an asset chased by all lower Grade captains. Though he was happy to relinquish the gloves at any stage, Jeff's wicket-keeping was more than tidy, and he took some absolute screamers on the few occasions I was able to play with him or watch him.
For the past four seasons, Jeff has been in charge of 3rd Grade (or one of the 3rd Grade outfits in the years our Club had multiple entries), and has engendered a familial bond with successive teams and their players. His quiet yet capable leadership has been a beacon for both seniors and youth in 3rd Grade over the time of his captaincy. It is no surprise that his teams have not only performed strongly, but have come back and snatched so many games in outright victory after having lost on first innings. A record like that speaks highly of the motivation and ability of the players in the side – but generally it reflects the talent of the leader who is able to inspire it.
Our Club has lost a wonderful leader, an excellent batsman and keeper - but most of all a mate. We shall miss your company Jeff. Our best wishes for your move go with you.

Now to the other part...

In searching for a replacement captain for 3rd Grade, a job that will most likely also encompass the role of third selector on the Selection Panel, a nomination has been received from Josh Elliott. As I understand it, he is the only person to have expressed interest in the position. He has sounded out Jeff, as well as other senior members of the team and the other Grade captains. He has ensured that if he is to become 3rd Grade captain he will have received everyone's full support.
He will receive everyone's full support. However...

Apart from the attack that 1st Grade has corralled this season, there is a real dearth of fast bowlers in the Club at present – certainly a dearth of talented ones who have previous performances on the board.
At present 2nd Grade find themselves in somewhat of a crisis bowling-wise, with their opening combination unable to breakthrough the opposition consistently. The medium pace of Steve Holz and Mick Norris are the major wicket-takers in the team. In their past two matches, the bowling attack has been monstered, with no one able to exert any influence on the opposition to bring them back to a manageable level. Josh played in one of these matches – the game against Lake. He took 0/36 off 6 overs. Reports suggested he was unable to find the line and length needed, but then again, neither could any of the other bowlers.
In 2nd Grade, Josh has always lifted against the better sides – Albion Park, Oak Flats and Warilla. His average of 14.41 against Albion Park, compared with, say, 33.67 against Lake Illawarra and 24.50 against The Rail, suggests he rises to the big occasion.
Only last season, Josh was chosen in 1st Grade, on merit, when skipper Matt Meurant wanted a job done. As Josh has always done against the better sides, he rose to the big occasion, and as Oak Flats smashed 6/301 declared at Cavalier Park, Josh took 1/41 off eleven overs and performed the task that his captain needed of him.

In any true selection of Kiama teams, Josh Elliott would be one of the first players chosen in 2nd Grade. He is the opening bowler 2nd Grade teams need – quick, able to exert his presence, a game-breaker. Opposition teams respect him, and often just try to see him off rather than lose their wicket to him. Two of the 2nd Grade competition's best batsmen in recent years, Trent Glover and 'Crackers' Cummins from Albion Park, have both been Josh Elliott victims on four occasions each. No mean feat.
To me, it appears that as a Club we are shooting ourselves in the foot if Josh Elliott is anointed as 3rd Grade captain. We immediately rob 2nd Grade of the opening bowler they require, and 1st Grade of a first choice replacement should one of their fast men be unavailable.
21 year olds should not be playing 3rd Grade, unless the Club has an enormous amount of talent that forces such a player to be in 3rd Grade, or the player's skill level is only of that standard. Neither of these is the case here.

Cricket is, and always will be, Josh's second sport. Though he is not one to take the easy option, he is generally clear on the issue that he is playing cricket for fun. When it comes to higher honours on the cricket field, he can take it or leave it.
Josh does not lack in leadership ability. He has shown that in his cricket, and he has certainly shown it in his rugby league career, both on and off the paddock.
There is no doubt that Josh will do a great job in the role. The responsibility may even lift his own performance. His enthusiasm will lift his side. He will make the tough decisions required on player selection. He alone will not win Kiama a 3rd Grade premiership.

Is this the direction we wish to have our cricket Club continue in? I realise that this is only my opinion, and that I appear to be bagging a lot of people who certainly do not deserve this kind of criticism, but to me we have done this for far too long on too many levels. It has held us back in many ways from becoming a real power in our competition. What is worse is that, in all the years that players have been 'held back' to play 3rd Grade when their performance or ability or both dictated that they should be playing higher, Kiama has still not lifted a 3rd Grade premiership.
Josh is not the only person in this category, but events in the past week have brought his case to the forefront.
There is every chance that I am overstating this case, and that everything will work out for all involved. However, I fear that by selling our Club short on this issue once again, we will be contributing to our own mediocrity – not only this season, but in the seasons to come.
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