Season Review – Sunday XI
We started the 2017 season on the back of one of the most successful periods of my captaincy, following a run of seven wins in a row at the end of the 2016 season. This gave me cause for great optimism that the team as a whole could mount a serious challenge for the league title. I was aware that there would be the usual struggles with availability during April and May but once exams were finished, I was sure I would be able to field a strong side week in week out.
The importance of this was underlined by our league containing Bromsgrove, Astwood Bank, Coombs Wood, Stourbridge and Studley. There would be no easy fixture. The reality however turned out to be the complete opposite, and the 2017 season proved to be one of the most challenging of my tenure as captain.I should have realised early on that things would be difficult, our first game of the season saw us go to Droitwich with only nine players. We managed to post 155 all out with Dan Elliott making a brisk 30 before being controversially given out LBW, 42 from Josh Cound and 47 not out from myself. Droitwich managed to knock them off seven down despite three wickets for myself. As we walked from the field proud of our efforts with nine, I should have seen then the pattern of reliance that would fall on Dan, Josh and Myself throughout the next five or so months.
Studley would concede our opening league fixture meaning we got under way in the league at home to Coombs Wood. A brilliant 137 not out from Dan Elliott and 73 from Al Brunt allowed us to post 303 for 4 from 40 overs. In reply Coombs Wood were dismissed for 232 with three wickets for Dan Elliott and Ed Pugh.
An away trip to Astwood Bank followed, Croft fielded well and despite a hundred from their opener Astwood Bank only posted 216 for 4 from 40 overs. A strong looking Croft side, boosted by help from Mark Wood and Mark Whitehead, got off to a great reply. Crofts new look opening partnership of Jonty Heslop and Dan Elliott put on 50 for the first wicket, Dans’ brilliant early season form continued with 69 but Croft fell away and were bowled out for 158.
Attention then turned to a superb interclub day between Pitts Plunderers and `Woods Wizards. This was well supported by all and played in great spirit and good weather. Pitts Plunderers came out on top. Agreed by all that this should become a permanent fixture every season.
Croft returned to league action against Stourbridge at home. A fine bowling performance saw Stourbridge bowled out for 167. Three wickets each for Ed Pugh and myself. In reply Croft came home 5 down thanks to a 99 run partnership between Josh Cound (51) and myself (46 not out).
We then travelled to neighbours Bromsgrove, sitting pretty joint top of the table. Again Croft bowled and fielded well and were able to dismiss Bromsgrove for 163. Four wickets for myself and three for Ed Pugh. Sadly our weakness with the bat when chasing was dreadfully exposed and we were bowled out for a paltry 44. Studley were then to concede the return league fixture for a second time.
A break in the league fixtures saw us entertain Codsall in a friendly fixture. Again with ball in hand we were superb and dismissed Codsall for 111, three wickets for Ed Pugh. In reply we were again exposed and collapsed to 91 all out. Only Dan Elliott making over 20. This was a particularly difficult defeat to take and for the second game running showed the struggles we had when key batsman failed to make runs, no one was able to step up and take responsibility when that happened.
We then hosted Astwood Bank as the league resumed. Bank posted 242 for 6 from their 40 overs and at tea their mood conveyed the look of a team who thought they had already won the game. I decided that in the absence of Jonty and Dan at the top of the order I would open, it turned out to be a good decision as I hit an unbeaten 104 on my birthday, along with 66 not out from Sam Hughes we chased the total down with 10 balls to spare.
It was at this moment in the season that I started to seriously consider a tilt at the title was possible. We sat second in the league, six points behind Bromsgrove with a game in hand. Victory at Stourbridge would see us go joint top with Bromsgrove, we would then play them in our own back yard with the winners guaranteed to progress to the knockout stages of the league season, if only we could beat Stourbridge…
We arrived at Stourbridge in blistering heat, lost the toss and had to bowl. What followed was the worst fielding performance in my time as captain. We misfielded, dropped catches and bowled poorly. Stourbridge scored 325 for 4 from 40 overs. In reply Croft batted bravely, a partnership of 169 between Will Sach (75) and myself (87) gave us hope but we came up short, making 275. Our chance at topping the league had gone.
We then faced Bromsgrove and again showed our potential with the ball, bowling grove out for 119. Dan Elliott took four wickets and looked as dangerous and threatening as I had ever seen him. Surely we could knock these off? No. Despite Jonty (25) and Dan (26) putting on 46 for the first wicket we found ourselves 110 for 9. Sam Hughes (31) had batted with patience and maturity and had got us to within two of our target. Sadly a drag down from Tom Downing was struck directly to mid wicket and we came up short. Bromsgrove would go on to lift the title.
A final league match of the season saw us travel to Coombs Wood, ever the scene of controversy and frayed tempers. Coombs Wood scored 218 for 8 from 40 overs, 2 wickets each for Josh Cound, Max Jukes and myself. In reply Jonty Heslop (40) got us off to a good start however after a 59 run partnership between George Warren (30) and myself (32) both were run out and Croft folded to 156 all out.
Croft then hosted Harvington, they have been steadily improving ever since our first fixture against them last season. Josh Cound scored 101 in a total of 237 from 40 overs. Harvington were bowled out for 186 with three wickets for Mark Wood.
A strong Kays side then arrived at Croft. We posted 240 for 6 from our 40, 113 not out from myself and 61 from George Warren. Kays were able to stroll to victory reaching their target in 35 overs for the loss of only four wickets, two each for Josh Cound and Tim Davies.
A youthful Droitwich team faced us next, we batted first and posted 126 all out, 40 from Jon Bird. We battled back in reply and had Droitwich seven down as they reached their target. Two wickets for Tim Davies and Jon Bird.
A return fixture against Harvington saw us post 224 for nine from 40 overs, 85 for myself, 45 from Dan Elliott and 32 from Josh Cound. Andy Wise also made an unbeaten 20 which was popular with the players. In reply an excellent new ball spell from James Downing and Max Jukes saw them bowl a combined 14 overs for just 27 runs and take three wickets. Harvington eventually closed on 154 for 7.
Both games against Coseley CC, player availability and Old Georgians, rain, were abandoned meaning we finished our season against Poppyfields. Due to the rain we decided to play two T20 games and managed to win both. James Downing made 49 and 51 in the two games. Ed Pugh and Matt Duffill took four wickets over the two games. A satisfying end to the season.
We finished the season overall as played 15, won 6, lost 9 with three concessions (Studley twice and Coseley) and an abandoned game against Old Georgians. We finished the league in third place with 30 points from ten games.
I finished leading run scorer with 575 at 72, Dan Elliott 403 at 50 and Josh Cound 303 at 34. I would also end as leading wicket taker with 15 at 13’s, Ed Pugh 14 at 25 and Dan Elliott 13 at 19’s.
What was glaringly obvious was the lack of depth in the side and the reliance on a few to get the runs. I struggled with player availability all season long and was not able to field my strongest 11 together once during the season. Ben Warwick, Will Sach, Al Brunt, Sam Hughes and James Bunn were my biggest misses. A combination of injury and work saw them make limited appearances and it showed.
On the positive side Max Jukes, Jonty Heslop, Liam Kehoe and Cameron Wilkes continue to develop on the youth front. Matt Duffell looks like he is able to play unhindered again and Dan Elliott and Jonty Heslop looked to have formed a good partnership at the top of the innings.
I would also like to thank Mark Wood, Mark Whitehead, Jon Brunt and Andy Wilkes for stepping up to help me out when I was short of players. I know they have other demands on their time with work and family, however when I was desperate they came to my aide. I would also like to thank my wife for her help with teas, she is an ever present on a Sunday and without her I could not continue to do this role.
So I look to 2018 with a mix of excitement and anxiousness, the need for new players is as glaring as it’s ever been but so is the need for the rest of the club to step up and help out from time to time. If this happens I truly believe success on a Sunday is not far away.
Christopher Pitt, 21/01/2018