Saturday, November 20, 2010

End of Year Speech at Cricket Dinner

The first thing I need to do in valediction is to thank the people who didn't play, but who made a difference to us. Bones, for his wonderful coaching and umpiring. Caroline, for turning up and scoring week in week out. James for our pub to drink in afterwards, and for the beer he gave us to celebrate our games. And I'd like to thank Terry, who taught us what the 'right spirit' was in the first place.

We should also, as a team, thank Steve Haslemere, who as well as being one of our best players, did a huge amount of unseen work behind the scenes to make everything happen.

Last year, we lost almost every game. For some of them we couldn't scrape up 11 players.

The consensus opinion was that the only way we could beat the Champion of the Thames was by being different people.

Furthermore, I promised when I took the captaincy that I wouldn't select people on their ability, although I did say that I'd care about how much work people put into practising over the Winter.

And I also promised that I wouldn't pick people who weren't regular drinkers in the Radegund unless there weren't enough regulars to make a team.

This year, we played 17 matches.

On all but two occasions I had enough people to make an XI committed to playing weeks before. On those two occasions when we didn't have enough, it took me five minutes on the phone to find our 11th man.

Two of our games were rained off, two were Veras matches when we played against ourselves, and for two our opposition couldn't raise a team.

When we played the Devonshire Arms, the Radegund was so clearly the stronger team that we divided the available players up in order to engineer an even match.

Out of the remaining 10 games:

We lost three, we drew one, and we won six.

I'll just mention two high points.

We played the Red Guards for the first time this year, and they were by common agreement the best Cambridge team any of us has ever played against.
And we scored 229.
And by the end of the game they were dead-batting. Grimly hanging on for a draw at 204 with no wickets left.
The tension throughout was electric. It was the best cricket match I have ever played in.

And we beat the Champion of the Thames, our old rivals whom we had thought invincible, by seven wickets.
We bowled them out for fifty.

I think our results speak for themselves, but more importantly, we were a team of friends, made up of people who'd been practising in our nets and drinking together in the Radegund for the previous year.

What made the difference? The usual things that make a sport good fun: Good Coaching, Practice and Team Spirit.

We organised regular nets, and people came.

Bones came to coach almost every net, and gave great advice to everyone. Whether it was teaching some of us to bat from scratch, or making small adjustments to our best players, I don't think there's any one of us who wasn't much improved by listening to what he said and practising it.

Once we had a hard core of people coming regularly, nets became a thing that people didn't want to miss.

I was getting people ringing me up to say sorry that they couldn't make it.

And the attitude carried on into the Summer. Mostly, everyone involved wanted to play in every game.

By the time of the match against the Champion of the Thames, we'd only lost one real game and we'd won six.

I think we'd have beaten the Champ anyway, but Steve Haslemere's immortal 5 wickets reduced them to rubble.

And after that anticlimax I was wondering if we'd overdone it a bit.

It was a huge amount of fun getting better together over the Winter, but if we'd been playing in a league we'd have been about to be promoted out of it.

I was starting to wonder if there'd be any reason to try next year, or whether we'd just coast aimlessly to meaningless victories whilst our wonderful team disintegrated under the lack of pressure.

Even our single defeat in the first game of the season looked like a distant, bad, inexplicable memory. Teething troubles.

By a great stroke of luck, at that point, the wheels fell off.

The Free Press and Jack Frost XI showed us in consecutive weeks that given the opportunity, our batting can collapse without resistance. The last game of the season had *us* grimly hanging on for a draw in a timed game. And we didn't make it.

So, here we are, recently beaten and newly hungry. With something left to prove.

And on that note I give you, ladies and gentlemen, Tom Lewis, our captain for 2011.

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