Cameron Ponsonby extols the virtues of bowling wicket to wicket in club cricket.
For the vast majority of us who spend our weekends playing club cricket, the sad reality is that we play for our team only because somebody actively chose not to pick us for a better one.
We’re X-Factor players. But not the Simon Cowell type: the Big Bash kind, in that we’re not good enough to be in the first XI picked.
Sure, we have our moments of brilliance that give us an overriding and inflated sense of competence. Rich who bats at six got a Prem hundred once, Mo actually got Ian Bell out in the nets a few years ago, and do you remember that lad we played against last week? Played MCCU apparently but, yeah, no, I didn’t think much of him either.
We use the anomalies of our season to convince ourselves that the average standard of our game is better than it actually is, but when you regress it to the true mean you realise why we’re playing where we are and not at a higher standard: we miss the ball. A lot.
Club players love missing the ball. It’s a pastime we have honed to the extent that we effectively pay 10 quid a week to do it. Whether it’s big wafting cover drives, feeble defensive prods, long hops we’re through too early on or long hops we’re through too late on – you name it and we’ll ask you to repeat what you’ve just said because we missed it the first time round.
All this means is that in club cricket, hitting the stumps is king. As a junior you are told over and over again, “They miss, you hit”. But this shouldn’t just be a mantra reserved for the U8s or some teenage tailender – it should be one we as clubbies live by.
We miss the ball. It’s what we do. And whichever batter is in front of you is only there because, according to someone else, they were too much of a liability to bat for them. So when they do miss it, give yourself the best chance for that to mean their innings is over.
Bowl straight. This is why bowlers at the club level who bring the ball back into the right-hander and attack the stumps are so valuable, as every dismissal is in play. It’s also why those who don’t and insist on swinging the ball away from the bat assume the role of clubhouse bore as they bemoan another “luckless” none-for for the seventh week in a row.
“I’m telling you guys, they just kept missing it. And then when they did nick it Chris went and dropped it didn’t he… I mean it’s unbelievable really, this happens every week. What’s that? No, no, definitely your round.”
To some extent I feel for those who naturally move the ball away from the right-hander. You grow up idolising fast bowlers and picture yourself bowling with Paul Collingwood fielding in the gully only to grow up and have Paul from Illingworth stood there instead. With the latter catching a very different type of fly to the former.
Really, when you go through the scorecard, it’s bowleds, lbws, catches in the ring and maybe a few feathers to the keeper for seasoning. Grabs in the slip are rare, rare things, and that’s not always the bowler’s fault.
But it’s the definition of madness to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. The hard-working opening bowler has been returning to the clubhouse cursing their luck for decades, lamenting the fact the opposition weren’t good enough to get a bat on them. And still, they don’t think just to bowl straight.
I know what their fear is. Going for runs. Straying too far onto the pads and seeing the ball clipped away for four as the slip cordon watches on with arms crossed.
“Get your lines right mate, come on.”
We see it on TV all the time, as professionals stand in front of all three stumps seemingly unaware that lbw remains a mode of dismissal. But that technique relies on two things: certainty in your ability and a trueness in the wicket, neither of which exist in the club game.
In any case, a semi-middled ball on leg stump needn’t mean four runs to the total. This may come as news to many opening bowlers who insist on bowling with three slips and a gully: you can actually have fielders on the leg-side, too. As well as the wide fine leg and mid-on combo you’ve been wedded to for so long, there are many other great options like square leg, mid-wicket or even a catching leg-slip if you’re feeling funky.
Perhaps I’m being overly flippant. The edge to slip is, in many ways, the dream cricket dismissal, and the archetypal one too. The ball swings from the hand, following a perfect arc away from the middle of the bat, catching the shoulder, and nestling in the hands of the man next to the keeper. There’s an artistry lying behind it which provides a sense of absolute satisfaction when it all finally comes together. And I can appreciate that – in much the same way as I appreciate artistry elsewhere in the world – it often provides a talking point without adding any discernible value. But in the meantime, aim for the stumps. They’ll miss it.