VCE: Never judge a team by its covers

Clifton Magna skipper Tom Harrington waits patiently for the opposition to arrive. Playing a new team always generates differing thoughts from those prior to a game against familiar opposition. Most centre round how high, or low, a standard the new opposition play. The majority of cricketers in the recreational game are indifferent to miss-matches, one team defeating the other without a real challenge. In league cricket, where the currencies of points, league position, promotion and relegation prove so rich, victory, and the pursuit of, tends to dominate. At recreational, friendly level, a more social side of the game, the pursuit of a decent contest is at least on a par with the pursuit of victory. With most practitioners anyway.

   Cricket is one of those sports where psychological positives and negatives can arise even before a ball has been bowled though. Football teams all arrive with the same kit, all ten outfield players appear the same. Such is the case with Rugby, Union or League. Cricket enjoys subtle differences though. There are no uniform requirements to play cricket at a recreational level. Even at league level the requirement is simply to wear whites, regardless of whether they are the humble club shirt or the full blown England kit purchased at great cost. Jeans and a t-shirt would suffice at recreational level. The arrival of a team in identical shirts and trousers is likely to engender an impression that this is a serious team and they will play to a reasonably serious standard. Such an occurrence is enough to mentally put some captains on the back foot. Not knowing a team’s standard can create such gremlins in a player’s mind. One of the luxuries of league cricket is that one is, to a reasonable extent, aware of the standard at which most teams are likely to play, save for the intervention of ringers or a glut of players dropping down from the first and second XI’s. There are no such luxuries at the recreational level. There are no player requirements, nothing to stop a team contacting the local county side to see if their opening batsman or bowler fancies a quiet game.

   Similarly, the general state of equipment of any new opposition can engender parallel thoughts to those regarding a team uniform. If said team arrives with a collection of pristine Gray Nicholls, Gunn and Moore, Adidas, Slazenger and Kookaburra kit bags with matching, pristine bat, pads and gloves, there is a tendency to assume that said team will, akin to the team in identical shirts and trousers, play to a decent standard. Assumptions can oft prove a cricketer’s worst enemy though. Enthusiasm and organisation can oft be mistaken for talent and ability. Tom Harrington’s wait is terminated by the arrival en masse of the opposition, clad in team shirts and sporting an almost all encompassing range of kit and equipment. Harrington starts to conclude that his team could well be out of their depth but quickly changes his mindset under the auspices of waiting to see how the match unfolds. His initial thoughts rapidly conspire to have been little more than rash assumptions though. Clifton Magna bat first and discover that the standard of the opposition, Settlewood, does not quite match the sartorial standard set by its players. Harrington himself enjoys a middle order cameo, bludgeoning a rapid twenty-five as Clifton post an impressive total of 130-5 from twenty overs. Settlewood’s response with the bat is a little more in keeping with their appearance but the proliferation of pristine pads, gloves and bats fails to alter the outcome of the match, Clifton Magna emerging victorious by the handsome margin of 35 runs. As one of the Clifton players observes: “All the gear and no idea!”

   In contrast, 22 yards begin a contest against a Palmerstead team which is an eclectic mix of players in non-cricket apparel, white t-shirts and football shorts alongside one or two players in genuine cricket whites. The psychological assumption is the opposite of that assumed by Tom Harrington. Seven overs into the match and 22 Yards’ skipper Chris Chalk quickly realises the error of his mental ways. The scoreboard reads twenty-two for the loss of five wickets post an impressive spell of bowling from one of the football shorts clad players, three 22 Yards batsmen returning to the boundary edge after discovering their off-stump residing at a forty-five degree angle. Eventually skittled out for just sixty-two, 22 Yards are unable to quell a rapid fire start to the Palmerstead innings, eventually falling to defeat in the eleventh over after dismissing just two of the Palmerstead batsmen. Both episodes back up the amended maxim of ‘never judge a team by its covers.’

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