The last game of the season saw West complete a thumping win to finish third in the division, narrowly missing out on promotion.
So, let's review the season, so we can start planning for next summers promotion push.
First, the final game. Batting first in glorious conditions - perhaps the best of the year - we started well. Our overseas player moved up to open while the skipper dropped down. This change worked as the pair put on 71 in 17 overs (4.17 per over). One opener dug in, the other looked to play with more expanse and got plenty of poor balls to exploit.
However, West did not use this good start, with a phase that saw a couple of attacking batsmen fall cheaply (a run out and caught on the boundary), while our overseas opener was stumped for 77 when he could have easily sailed to a hundred. This 23 over phase saw the rate drop to 3.65, when fives were quite possible against a weak fielding side with a fast outfield and easy pitch.
The slowest section was when two batsmen got together who do not have natural boundary hitting games. They tried and failed to hit gaps and rotate. The worst part was an eight over section where just 11 runs were scored. It was possibly a tactical error to put a slow starter in at the 30 over mark, especially when the guy at the other end was going slow too.
In response, a big hitting batsmen was sent in and he went for it, scoring 15 in eight balls. The changed the tone of the innings and the last few batsmen clocked on that driving hard and straight was easy runs. The last 10 overs yielded 72 runs, and West finished on 228.
I felt this was about right (we predicted 220 at the start) but in hindsight, another 30 runs were on the table. Had the middle section been more productive we could have passed 250.
Control above the magic 77.7% line and was and combined with misfields galore.
Nonetheless, none of these details mattered as St Michael's collapsed utterly after their main batsman made 33 of the first 37 runs before nicking off.
The other 10 batsman managed 27 between them and they were all out with little fight for 60. A hat trick for our first change seamer was probably the highlight. It was a solid performance from us both bowling and fielding but really it was a terrible performance with the bat from a clearly under-strength opposition. I was glad West kept the foot on the gas to make the game a short one. One risk from these dead games is to struggle to get motivated, but there was no danger in this game.
The win made no difference to the league table and West finished third.
So what have we learned this year?
We have a strong squad who's strength is clearly bowling, but have shown signs of improvement with the bat. The fielding has also stepped up.
With the bat, consistency of control (BC) has been excellent, even though scoring rates and runs scored have varied.
As a team, you can see how both consistency of BC and how scores are loosely tied to both BC and SB% from this chart:
When scores drop, BC and SB% also tend to drop. For example, here are the average scores for each SB%
- Below 32% - 152 (77.59% BC)
- Above 32% - 178 (78.59% BC)
So, the trend is clear: The more balls you score from and the fewer balls you miss, the more you score. But you must bear in mind that there are plenty of examples of the trend bucked. It's never a sure thing.
Interestingly, the average number of balls that result in a boundary stay the same (13) at every SB%, but the average number of singles almost doubles from 34 to 61.
The lesson to me here is simple; increasing SB% is about scoring more singles, rather than blazing more boundaries.
Individually, the runs have been split evenly through the team. No one excelled, all batsmen had at least one good performance and the lower order all did good jobs.
Only one batsman passed 400 runs but six passed 200 and nine scored over 100.
The top seven scored 79% of the runs at an average of 18 runs each and SB% 31%.
As a team, this approach worked well enough for us, but did make for some shaky moments in individual games when wickets fell. Realistically, another 30 or so runs per match is the key if we are to be promoted next year. My thought is this can be achieved by the top order boosting SB% by 1% (and therefore averages by 5 runs).
Not a tall order and a good target!
We have a generally attack-minded top order (I'd say five of next season's top six are guys who like to get on with it) so this should be an easy sell.
Stats aside, our batting was superior than the opposition in most matches with two notable exceptions. We batted first and scored below par in both these matches and the stronger opposition batting were too much for our usual excellent bowlers. I'm wondering if there is an issue when pressure is on. That thought needs time to dwell.
To drill down on runs further, we can also look at scoring rates within games and between games. Starting with the latter:
As you can see, West started reasonably, getting the average RpO over 4 quickly, peaking at 4.27 in June. However, July and August saw the average fall consistently back down below 4, only rallying at the last game. This is a time when rates should climb.
So why the dipping scores?
For me it is down to individual batsmen not firing well: For example, one batsman scored 245 runs up to the end of July and 47 after. Another scored 280 in the same early period before tailing off to 62 in his last seven games. Our overseas player scored half as many runs in the second half as the first.
No one else in the top seven filled in these games with the same effect: The average top seven batsman scored 20 runs a game in the first half and 13 in the second half (and that drops to 11 when you take out the final match).
The average score for number eight to 11 also dropped in the second half of the season, but by less than one run. So it's all about the top order.
Why did this happen?
My current theory is training drop off, as I feel we didn't train as well or as hard with the bat as a unit as the season progressed. However, as I have no way of measuring this, it's hard to know for sure. Nevertheless, I will see if I can make changes next season.
What about run rates within games?
As you would expect, scores climb in each 10 over phase of the match as you see here:
So the template is to tick along for 20 overs, gradually increasing the rate from 2.9 to 3.3. The middle overs consolidate at 4s before the long handle in the final 10 overs. Sensible stuff.
Outside the last 10 (where there was not enough data to make a sensible decision), each phase has a different influence on the final score:
- Above average 0-10 score makes the average total 182. (Below average is 124.)
- Above average 10-20 score makes the average total 152.
- Above average 20-30 score makes the average total 164.
- Above average 30-40 score makes the average total 206. (Below average is 176.)
From this you can the most important time to improve the rate is in the first 10 overs and - even more so - overs 30-40.
For next season, I will hope to boost these scores to at least 35 runs in the first 10, and 50 runs in the pre-death phase. That's only an extra 14 runs in 120 balls. Shouldn't be too tricky, especially as we have done it this season several times.
You might say target is influenced by wickets. So let's look at that now.
A good start makes a difference. When two or more wickets fall in the first 10 the score averages to 136. It's 169 with fewer wickets.
Losing wickets between overs 30-40 makes no discernible difference to the score, neither does losing wickets in the last 10.
That said, you need five wickets in hand at over 30 to be confident of making it to a good total, and certainly no fewer than three.
It seems clear to me that we are at our best with the bat when scoring at 3s in the first 10, maintaining the good start without losing more than five wickets up to 30 overs, accelerating to 5s after that and going big at the end.
Thrive with intent!
Certainly this tactic should work both chasing and setting a target. The only difference is not to restrict yourself in the first innings if you think you can go past the average target.
Speaking of chasing, West won 71% of chases and 75% batting first.
The average chase was 129, which we got four down. However, we also lost our two biggest chases with our best chase just 162. These two fact contributed to the general feeling we are not good at chasing. I disagree that losing four wickets chasing 129 is not good. It's simply using your resources. It could be better, but it's not even close to losing. We won two from four games when losing more than four wickets, so even when we wobble we are still in with a good chance of winning.
However, not being able to chase 215 and 300 (the two losses) is a concern. Perhaps we need to work on batting under pressure towards a big target.
When setting a target, there is no pattern to the losses. We lost after scoring 239 and 189 but won after scoring 85 and 118. Naturally the ideal is to average more than 164 batting first, but with our bowling it was not needed very often (and the plan next year is to score 20-30 more batting first as previously outlined).
So, let's move on to bowling now.
The bowling was exceptional this year, consistently bowling out teams all year for low scores.
Five bowlers did the bulk of the work. Two spinners took 72 wickets between them at less than 13 runs a wicket. Three seamers took 77 wickets at under 14 (under 15 is excellent work). That alone tells you all you need to know.
The plan was consistently executed: Take early wickets with seam then bring on the spinners to remove the rest. This was true batting first or second.
On average, the opposition were four down after 20 overs and all out in 39 overs. It was 36 when we bowled second.
One main seamer took most of his wickets up top. His contribution of 22 wickets at 9.86 in this phase is easily the most valuable because it was often the best batsmen. He opened with a seamer who also got 12 wickets at 13.67 in this phase.
The main spinner took 32 of his 41 wickets in the middle overs. He was not far ahead of the other spinner, who took 28 wickets in this phase. However, the first spinner was also pretty good at bowling in the last 10 overs too, and nabbed a few wickets from tail-enders. The third seamer bowled most in the middle, taking 19 wickets at 10.11.
Impressive from everyone in these roles.
As a crude measure of bowling accuracy, I also compared wides through the season. West bowl three fewer on average, and bowled fewer wides in 13 from 19 matches.
Incidentally, wides is another broad indicator of success. When West "won" wides we won 84% of games. When we "lost" wides (bowled more) we won 50%. Turns out bowling straighter and giving the opposition fewer runs is helpful!
In the games that went the distance, we were less successful. Death bowling saw us average three wickets and concede 62 runs (compared to our own death performance of four wickets and 57 runs). West lost two of these three games.
The back up bowlers were all good. The main one was a batsman who could bowl a bit. He played every game but only bowled a few overs. From outside the main eleven, one leg spinner, one off spinner and one seamer had a game when someone was out. No one failed to do a solid job. One other seamer was brought in as a "horse for courses" choice to open the bowling early season. It didn't quite work out but he still took a couple of wickets. Overall all, they were not needed much, only bowling an average of 7 overs.
All that aside, the real secret of success is no secret: early wickets starting a cascade that almost always ends before 50 overs.
The tricky part for next year will be finding something to try and develop!
Finally, the tricky one.
Fielding has always been unmeasured, so this year we tried to put some simple numbers on fielding skills:
- Catches and drops
- Good stops and misfields
- Throws at the stumps
What we found was interesting.
We were pretty happy with catching through the year but still only caught 57%. While this included half-chances it's still lower than you would hope. More of a worry was that this number didn't change much through the year. I would hope for it to go up, but it remained around mid fifties percent the whole time.
As catching practice volume was high, it's time to look in more detail at why so many were dropped. Sadly we didn't record any more than catches and drops so I can't see any trends for types of drop.
My instinct is to say we need to make catching practice both harder and more specific with more flat and low catches. We also need to make sure fielders are protected from weaker areas. So, if you are poor under the high ball, stay off the rope as much as possible.
Also, we are better catching at home than away. I put that down background. The ball can be picked out easier in familiar surroundings.
Stops and misfields were better. We averaged out four misfields per game and six good stops. Misfields dropped from six earlier in the season. And was my secret aim for the second half of the year. Anything under five seems to be acceptable to the players. Good stops fluctuated a bit but always between five and seven. We will continue to work hard on ground work, perhaps looking at diving as a next step.
Throwing at the stumps was poor. We hit 21% (24% at home) and didn't get enough run outs. This fluctuated hugely through the year but the average fell from 60% after six games to 8% in six matches at the end. We seem to get worse in the second half!
Without detailed analysis of what was going wrong, I can only say we need better practice to get the numbers up. We always practice a few throws but I can't say we do it with full commitment, at different angles or with work on technique. So, a winter mission might be to develop throwing accuracy through a technical programme. I'm still to work that out.
So, overall a superb season for the first team, with still key areas to develop further: consistency with the bat, strike rotation, bowling accuracy, catching and throwing.
Mainly thanks to winning, the spirit of the club has also been much higher this year. The first team are tightly knit, good mates and led by a couple of social butterflies who were not around last year. The rest of the club share in the success of every team and I see no signs of cliques of favouritism.
Obviously my focus has been on the first team mainly this year. However there are many other teams at the club!
The strong 2nd XI won their division. It was perhaps slightly tighter than we would hope, but the side is filled with experienced guys and is well-captained. There is a core of guys who all stepped up to fill in the first team with no problem.
The challenge for this team in the next year is to continue to bring through players who can step up to the first team. Clearly, young cricketers are the priority here and we have a few who can fit 2nd team cricket around school and University.
The Development team, playing on Sunday, is even more focused on young players. It was my aim to almost turn the side into a Youth 1st XI, and we are well on the way to that, often fielding five or more under 23s. We also fielded one 12 year old and two 13 year old boys this year, all who were not out of their depth. Also, first team players have turned out to help out youngsters. Brilliant.
However, we also have a core of less "serious" guys who don't train much and are not on contention for regular Saturday cricket. These are important club players and great lads to a man, but they don't fit the Development model too well. I have been trying to encourage them to play for the midweek 3rd XI over the Dev team. That said, a member is a member and we are an inclusive club. Sometimes youngsters play midweek over Sunday and sometimes less serious guys play Sunday over midweek.
I've been clear about my general policy of preferring youth on Sunday and no one seems to mind too much as long as everyone gets a game somewhere.
I also never write off anyone keen to play cricket as I believe we can all improve given enough work and time.
We fielded six age group teams this year. That was probably too many with the experiment of adding U14 and U16 to an already packed schedule. The strongest team was the U13 boys, with the U15s also having a good showing. The U18 were weak purely due to numbers.
The long serving Junior Convenor has finally throw in the towel and retired this season. This is sad as he has been an incredible servant. It does give us a chance to look at the setup.
I feel there are too many age groups at the moment and hope we can pair this down, ideally with eight a side cricket for the younger boys.
I also want to look at the training of 12-15 year old lads. 11 and under are served by Monday sessions, 15 and up and join in senior training, but the in between ages are playing on Monday in the summer and also need practice the most as they are learning to play hard ball. The simple solution may be to have an older junior session before one of the senior practices next summer.
And so that is the 2016 done and dusted.
Personally it's been fun, and challenging. I have learned a lot and felt I have been part of a far more positive environment than any other season I can remember. We have our focus areas for the winter and are moving forward to 2017 full of hope for another step forward!