At the break, Kiama sit in first place in 1st Grade, fifth in 2nd Grade, fourth in 3rd Grade and sixth in 4th Grade. That is simplifying what to this point has been a difficult season, and one that will have a few more twists and turns before it comes to its conclusion.
1st Grade, apart from a disappointing first round loss to Lake Illawarra, has done almost everything they can do to this point of the season. One Day losses to Lake and Oak Flats, and the One Day washout against Warilla, meant that the Club missed out on the overkill of semi-finals for the One Day competition. To be quite honest, I see this as a huge boost to 1st Grade's chances in the real competition. More Sunday cricket is the last thing players in our Club want, despite the pressure building from areas of the Association. By avoiding this fixture, our players can concentrate on the cricket at hand, and there are some crucial games still to come.
No one needs to remind Kiama 1st Grade of how the wheels fell off in January and February of 2006. However, it should be uppermost in their minds when competition resumes on January 6. 1sts have played some enterprising cricket this season, and scored some vital bragging points against Albion Park and Oak Flats in particular. There is nothing more important than momentum heading into March. Last season 1sts didn't have it. This season they must have it if they are to make an impression on the other teams. Has our number one team learned the lessons of last season? We'll soon know the answer.
Matt Meurant and Dale Scifleet have had superlative seasons so far, and they will need to continue in this vein of form. Tim Wolf has been good in the supporting role with the bat, and Josh Jones similarly with the ball. More runs need to come from the openers, where no doubt there will be pressure to perform, or face losing their spot to other players looking for an opportunity.
Up to the end of November, 2nd Grade had nothing but smiles on their faces after the way the season had progressed. Following disastrous losses to Lake Illawarra and Gerringong in the last two rounds, the holes have opened up in the team performance, and been exposed as a chasm and not as easily papered over as it may have appeared. The team's position as fifth is a little misleading as they have already received their two day bye, which they don't receive points for. However, some concerns have been discovered that need attention.
There has been little continuity in selections due to the unavailability of different players every weekend. This always makes it a difficult job to find cohesion, but 2nd Grade is always that way. Players have to be able to stand up and take responsibility for their own performance.
Without being derogatory to the skipper, a season where Steve Holz is the leading wicket-taker is a concern for not only his own team but for the side above him. The so-called strike bowlers have been largely ineffective, creating an enormous amount of pressure on the medium pacers to gain breakthroughs. While this worked well early in the season, the savage attacks inflicted upon the side by Lake and Gerringong have proven that other answers must be found, and soon.
This is also somewhat true of the batting. Apart from the capitulation in the second innings against Gerringong, 2nds have posted useful 200+ totals almost every match of the season. In 2nd Grade, if you score over 200, you should not be losing games. Though some are claiming the batting is not in perfect health, it is the bowling attack that is suffering hypothermia.
What is the answer? In general, it will be up to those who have already been tried to try and pull it together. If they can't, then blooding different kids may be what has to be done to ensure this doesn't occur again next season.
Having finished runner-up in last season's competition, 3rd Grade have quietly worked their way to Christmas without fanfare, and sit nicely placed to make a good run home to March. Though they are perhaps not the all-encompassing, all-dominating side that ended last season, they will not be taken lightly by their opponents this season.
Their form has been mixed. A reasonably comfortable victory over likely improver Oak Flats was followed by a first innings loss to Shellharbour City, which Kiama promptly turned into outright victory for themselves the following weekend. A narrow loss to great rival Albion Park and to their usurpers in last season's final Lake Illawarra has reminded the team that it won't just happen for them if they don't work at it.
It is a largely different team that has been on the field this season compared to last, which is as it should be. Successful lower Grade sides should find their players moving up the Grades if they have the form on the board. Selection policy after the New Year break will be an important factor in how 3rds fare for the remainder of the season. In previous seasons 3rds have been generally left alone as a unit to mold into a finals-winning outfit. Whether or not that is the case again in 2006-07 will have a bearing on the outcome for not only 3rd Grade, but all Grades.
After a period of success, including three consecutive premierships, with a team filled with players who were obviously playing in a Grade below their ability, 4ths have struggled in recent seasons to win games. This season has seen little change, except that the team is blooding the players of tomorrow for higher Grade representation, and doing a fine job of it. Under the tutelage of Ian Pearson, 4th Grade has become the Kiama nursery, with plenty of youngsters getting a chance to experience Grade cricket.
While this is a good thing for the Club, and the job done by Ian and Bruce McNaught in particular is to be applauded, one wonders if gaining experience in Grade cricket in a side that is unable to win a majority of its games is helping their development. This is certainly not meant as a criticism, but just as a precursor to when our thoughts turn to preparing for next season, and if we can do some things better than we have over the last couple of seasons.
January will prove to be the making or breaking of all of Kiama's four Grades teams this season. Our Club needs to retain the focus and drive that has got us into the position we are in, and carry on it that vein. The time to push for the success that all of us in our Club crave is now.
To everyone associated with the Cavaliers, all the best for the festive season. And let's kick some arse in 2007.