West of Scotland 189-9. Greenock 191-7. Greenock win by three wickets.
Before the match, my girlfriend asked about our chances for the game.
I said it was going to be a tough game. Greenock are a good side. Yet they are also beatable. The challenge will be for us to believe we can perform against good opposition. If we have that robust confidence, we will plough through to victory. If we don't show it, we have a lot of work to do.
We lost. We have work to do.
Worse, we lost with the worst overall team performance of the year with both bat and ball. Following on from a double defeat the week before, West were challenged and found wanting in many areas.
We can track it back to belief: As a team we didn't believe we can win a tight game against good opposition. But let's put some analysis on that narrative to show you what I mean.
West batted first on what looked like a decent pitch with a wet outfield. Classic UK club cricket. Greenock's bowling was lead by a nippy overseas player, but otherwise the usual club medium pacers and spinners. The ball swung and had slow, tennis ball bounce. It certainly was not a road, but was possible to score if you play well.
The first seven overs were slow going with just 17 runs scored for one wicket. It seemed to me that we were not rotating the strike as well as usual, with the ball being hit to fielders and not much quick single work being done. We did manage a respectable 65 singles across the innings so perhaps it wasn't quite as bad as I saw, but most of them were at the back end.
However the pace increased to a more acceptable 46-2 in 14 overs, meaning we were moving at 4.1 an over in this phase. We were looking to accelerate with the opening bowlers both off.
West then lost another two wickets for 10 runs in four overs, putting the score at a precarious 56-4. Two of the top order were unlucky to get out and two were self-inflicted errors. These things happen. The overall rate was still over threes but with four top order players out, we needed to consolidate. Moments like this happen and are a good test of the character of the team.
The two batsmen did well, taking their time and creeping along at two an over for the next 10. Caution was paramount. It was good that we focused on staying in the game here, but also a small sign we have not as much confidence to go hard, even when wickets fall.
However after this period, we started to accelerate again, scored 57 in the next 10 against weaker bowling and getting up to 133 in over 38. The stand was 77 and set up the chance to score more than 200. That was a challenge well met.
It was here that we also had a bit of luck with a batsman getting to fifty after being dropped, having a stumping missed and a tight LBW shout turned down. I'm a big believer that luck is not a reason why you win or lose as it evens out over time. In this game we had good and bad luck, and so did the opposition. There's not much you can do about it best thing is to ignore it when you feel hard done by, and ride it when you get it. It goes back to believing in your skills because those are the things you can control. It's funny how often a confident player gets "luckier" than someone with less self-belief.
But back to the game: The death was not a success. West scored 56-4 in 12. With the field back we should score more. This was our worst death phase of the season. Previous games have seen over 90 runs scored and our last 12 average this season is 70.
However, West finished on 189, which was defendable, if below what we hoped for. We have defended less on a better wicket this season.
The bowling started poorly. Despite one opener bowling a wonderful new ball spell (2-8 from five overs), we were on the back foot after two overs when a pinch hitter scored 14 in seven balls. Greenock were ahead after seven on 28-1.
The rate continued at this pace after the openers came off. A stand-in seamer from the seconds (in place of someone on holiday) went for 14 in 18 balls and our main spinner went for 18 in 24. With no one to build pressure, the score was 69-2 from 16. There were 14 boundaries scored in this phase (compared to West who scored one) Greenock could see the finish line already, knowing they needed just 3.5 an over but were still going at over four. Wickets were needed.
At drinks it was 109-2, ahead of the rate and no wickets falling. The Greenock overseas batsman was in control. While we had dropped him, it would have been a good chance to take. He was supported by an aggressive number four who played "stand still and hit through the line" well. Both waited for the ball they thought they could hit, and they got enough to keep going. They put on 96 in 19 overs (five an over).
West's opening bowler returned in the 27th over and took two wickets in two balls in the 29th to make things interesting again. However, 60 were needed in the last 20 over by this point and with six wickets in hand, this was Greenock's game to win. Despite another three late wickets falling, Greenock got over the line in the 43rd over.
The fielding was fine. There were no horrible errors and the fielding difference was -2 overall.
Greenock only scored 35 singles in their innings but the four balls were plentiful enough as they hit 33 compared to West's 15. That's 70 more runs. The main difference.
Why so many four balls? I put it down to belief. One opener believes he is in the form of his life and he bowled like a dream. Every other bowler had a reason to not believe: injury and age, first game in the 1st XI, "not coming out right" and "full tosses are better than half-trackers". All of these are valid reasons not excuses, but they all come from a lack of belief that we can do the job when we call on ourselves.
We need to find a way, as a team, to believe in each other, and believe in ourselves, even when we are under pressure. Even when we make mistakes or have bad luck. Even when we are carrying a niggle or not feeling right today. In those moments it's fine to fall back and focus on doing what you know you can do. That's a skill good players must have and hopefully we can reset to that before next week.