A Green year for Goodwood’s Under 13s
In a year when Goodwood’s Under 17 team and both Under 15 teams have performed with distinction in their respective competitions, the Under 13s have also excelled. Unfortunately, the SCJCA does not hold semi-finals and finals for its junior players; otherwise the Goodwood Greens would certainly have been to the fore. In the 2-day competition, they played 7 matches and won 6. (They also participated in a Friday evening T/20 competition in which they won 3 of their 4 games). By the end of the season, the team had developed into a formidable unit. [All statistics presented in this report refer to the 2-day, 40-over matches only].
Cricket at this age group is delightful. The raw enthusiasm and whole-hearted endeavour make one optimistic for the future of modern youth. The players’ emotions are so transparent: as coach, one must balance spontaneity with the stiff upper lip, and sometimes remind a player that ‘I’ am not the only important member of the team. Whilst it is a joy to share with a young player his delight upon capturing a wicket or hitting a boundary, some restraint is required to prevent unseemly triumphalism and, whilst one yearns with him when he loses his wicket, he must learn to bear the loss with dignity, for the tragedy is not quite of world-shattering proportions.
The essence of Under 13 cricket in South Australia is inclusivity. Everybody, save the wicket-keeper, must deliver two overs before anybody bowls more, and batsmen must retire at 30 runs; they may return to the crease, provided that every member of the team has batted. Thus each player bats and bowls in every match. Half-centuries and 5-wicket hauls are therefore virtually unknown. The format is slightly artificial, but it is a phase in the logical progression for boys to develop their game, through the realms of ‘plastic cricket’ and ‘quarters cricket’, towards the magical world of the real game. It stresses the importance of team over individual.
The Goodwood Greens contained several highly promising batsmen in 2014/15. Perhaps the most complete stroke maker was Sam Heyworth who, in 7 innings, 5 of which were undefeated, scored 188 runs at the dizzy average of 94.0. Exceeding 30 runs on four occasions, he possesses silky wrists that enable him to drive balls that are short of full length. At the wicket, Sam is a thieving magpie, greedily stealing cheeky runs from under the noses of the fieldsmen. His team mates had to learn to follow his derring-do between the wickets: one or two learnt less quickly than the others, to their cost.
The left-handed Riley Thilthorpe smacked 191 runs at 63.7; he is tall, powerful and explosive: his runs accumulate at a Warnerian pace. Greater use of the terrestrial, rather than the aerial, route will protect him at the next level of the game. Siddhartha Kumra, the most elegant batsman in the team, scored 167 pretty runs at 33.2. His average would have been even higher, had he not sacrificed himself in a suicidal run-out off the final ball of an innings, in the interest of his team. Sid also achieved the season’s highest individual score of 44 against Brighton. Heyworth (42*) and Angus Mason (41) also recorded an innings of over 40 during the campaign.
Mason, wielding his bat above his head like a samurai warrior, scored 130 military runs at 21.7. His left foot does not always shadow the path of the ball – well, neither did Marcus Trescothick’s, yet he scored plenty of runs. Matthew Swain posted the exceptional, albeit slightly ersatz, average of 69.0, which also happened to be his aggregate. (His statistics remind me of the Australian left-arm fast bowler, ‘Big’ Bill Johnston, who on the 1953 tour of England headed the batting averages, scoring 102 runs from 17 innings, of which 16 were not out, and with a highest score of 28*. I was present at the Kennington Oval that year when he made 9* in the first innings of the 5th Test. Rumour has it that he intentionally ran himself out in the final match of the tour to ensure that he had an average, and would beat Morris, Hassett, Harvey, Miller, etc.!) Early in the season Matthew scored especially heavily, including a valuable innings of 22* against Reynella. Kesara Sirisena made 68 runs at 17.0, with a top score of 25* against Coromandel Ramblers; not entirely orthodox in his stroke play, he believes that the ball’s proper destination lies beyond the boundary. Will Pike made 21* in the final match against Brighton. His runs were not pretty: they were brutal! He met with further success in the T/20 format that is more suited to his temperament. Others contributed from time to time: Will Haegi made 17* against Coromandel Ramblers; Baily Lord 11* against the same opposition; and Blake Norris 11 against Mitchell Park.
In the bowling department, Mason was by far the most successful. A steady medium pacer in the Glenn McGrath mould, he was one of the few who rarely bowled a wide ball. He captured 14 wickets for 37 runs (average: a remarkable 2.6) and claimed the majority of his victims by hitting the stumps. The next most effective bowler was Haegi whose guileful leg-twirlers reaped 8 wickets for 63 (average: 7.9 – very economical for a leg-spinner). At his best, his legerdemain deceived many a batsman; he can impart a bucketful of revolutions on the ball and he conceals a couple of variations in his bowling toolkit. When Will sees the batsman play down the wrong line and miss one of his wickedly deviating tweakers, he breaks into a paroxysm of intellectual delight!
Kumra took 6 wickets for 54 (avr. 9.0). Another medium pacer, Sid has a pleasing action and a balanced follow-through. Sirisena took 5 wickets for 45 @ 9.0. Rather quicker than Mason and Kumra, he achieved 4 of his 5 wickets in the first match against Unley, where he recorded the season’s best figures of 4 for 6 (the next best analyses were 3 for 4 by both Mason and Kumra on separate occasions). Heyworth, a reliable wicket-to-wicket bowler, took 4 for 42 @ 10.5; Jeremy Swain bagged 4 for 55 @ 13.9 with his gull-like action that resembles an early flying-machine striving for lift-off; and Thilthorpe managed 4 for 56 @ 14.0 with a combination of multi-directional exocets and loopy off-breaks. Lord took 3 for 37 @ 12.3; combining bowling with his wicket-keeping duties, he was menacing on his day.
Of the others, Norris was our express train: he is distinctly rapid for his age. He did not capture many wickets, largely because the batsmen were too terrified to get near the ball, which frequently hopped over the top of the stumps! With hard work he could develop into a good fast bowler. Pike took a couple of wickets, rather expensively, with his monobrachial contortions. When not busy behind the stumps, M. Swain secured 3 wickets, as did Will Suttell who claimed 2 for 6 against Unley, delivering wily, slow deliveries that sometimes came back into the batsman from the off. Jack Burton is young enough to play at Under 11 level, but fully justified his inclusion in the older team. He has a beautiful, flowing action that earned him a couple of wickets, and his batting reached a promising standard by the end of the season. Next year should be a big one for him.
The miserable Coach, your scribe, is a cruel task-master: he does not hesitate to criticise, as well as to praise. To which end, it must be recorded that the Under 13 Greens were supremely bountiful towards their opponents in terms of granting ‘extras’. Early in the year, the attitude seemed to be, “My dear fellows, please accept 20-odd wides and a dozen no-balls as our contribution towards your team’s total”. Well, on most occasions our batting was sufficiently strong to be able to live with such munificence. However, the habit finally caught up with us when we shed our unbeaten record in an exciting game with one of the Coromandel teams; in that match we conceded a monstrous 50 of the little beasts, and lost the match by 29 runs – such waywardness took magnanimity to new lengths, or depths. Of course, there were dark insinuations that the boundary and the outfield were both shorter in the second week when Coromandel batted, but that is a curmudgeonly excuse; had we not been so profligate with extras, we should have won that game too. Happily we began to emerge from this nursery habit later in the season, when our bowlers grew considerably more continent. [It is my opinion that 22 yards is too long a pitch for Under 11 and Under 13 players. I should prefer 18 yards for Under 11s and 20 yards for Under 13s. However, curators, being a lazy bunch, do not fancy the prospect of marking wickets of differing length, and so these half-grown micro-people are compelled to propel the ball over a man’s full distance of 22 yards].
Cricket’s third discipline, fielding, is crucial to the modern cricketer. Each player should strive to classify himself as an all-rounder; thus, whether he be primarily a batsman or a bowler, he must ensure that he becomes agile and lively in the field. Naturally we concentrated upon catching and ground fielding during training sessions, and the standard gradually improved as the season advanced. Some spectacular catches were held: I think in particular of those by Haegi, Kumra, Heyworth, Lord and Thilthorpe. All of these players, plus a few others, displayed advanced anticipation and alertness in the field.
Wicket-keeping duties were shared between M. Swain, Lord and Thilthorpe, who all did a respectable job. Swain has sure hands and snapped up a few demanding catches; Lord’s footwork was very sharp; and Thilthorpe resembled a jack-in-the-box behind the wicket: he executed a couple of smart stumpings. He is so effervescent that his concentration occasionally deserts him. They all learnt to stand either right up to the stumps, or else well back: to avoid no-man’s land.
The captain of most team games requires a dynamic personality with the ability to enthuse his players on the field, but there is relatively little minute-by-minute decision taking. Captaincy at cricket is a far more demanding, multi-faceted brief: it is a continuous process. Crucial decisions are taken, over by over, ball by ball. The captain must be a free spirit: intellectually independent, imaginative, pluralistic. He must combine the disciplines of an agronomist, an accountant, a public relations officer, psychologist, nursemaid and diplomat. It is taxing and quite stressful. Many a Test captain has lost his form, and composure, under the pressure of captaincy. Naturally, at Under 13 level the Coach and Team Manager absorb much of the pressure, and help the on-field captain with some of his decisions, but captaincy remains a daunting commitment for a young player. Angus Mason did a splendid job. He was unselfish, and did his best to involve everybody in the team’s performance. When things went wrong, there was sympathy, rather than rebuke. He was prepared to make experiments, many of which worked. Angus had an able off-sider in Heyworth as vice-captain, who was adept at spotting anomalies in the field and correcting them. Lord and Thilthorpe also contributed input to the decision-making.
“Real officer class. Languid self-possession. Confront him with a firing squad and he’d decline the blindfold”.
The above quotation is not about Angus! It was written by Pat Pocock of his captain, David Gower: Gower, the man who, as Frances Edmonds once remarked, was as laid-back as is possible without being actually comatose. I’m sure that Angus would also eschew the blindfold.
It has been tremendous fun working with my bunch of performing fleas. They have discovered a lot about the world’s most cerebral game, and are to be congratulated upon reaping so much success. Each one has improved his game and made a genuine contribution towards the common weal. Those in their second year of the Under 13 cycle are now fully equipped to advance with confidence to the bloodier battlefields of Under 15 cricket that lie ahead.
I am grateful to Pete Mason who served as Match Manager and ensured that a full complement of players presented itself for each match. He also handled the timing of retirements on match days and kept everybody informed of forthcoming events through a series of e-mails. Thank you too to Brett Lord who shared umpiring duties with me; and to the other parents who invariably offered assistance at the games. Children generally enjoy the support of their parents at their activities – I have known occasional exceptions.
Perhaps, many moons from now, in the twilight of their lives, today’s boys will reflect upon their early games of cricket at Cabra College or up in the Coromandel Valley. As they quaff a final nightcap and submit their arthritic frames to the evening couch, they will fondly recollect triumphs and disasters shared with old mates at Goodwood long ago.