Cow Pats and Cricket Bats by Maurice Barrett ©.
This chapter is written by Tony Knight (2000)
The Makings of a Good Side, Jim & John Greaves, The
Whitacre "Keystone Cops", Teas
& Tea Ladies,
Whitacre and Professional Players in Warwickshire League Cricket, Five Year Plans.
Into the New Millennium with a Web Site, Floods - An Awful Two Years,
Good and Bad, the Late Nineties
The late 1990's have seen the Club prosper and struggle in different ways. We have prospered with the advent of a new vigor and determination amongst the Committee and Officers to improve our facilities and generally to instill a fresh ambition for the future. Our Colts programme is working well, thanks to the efforts of Stewart Comfort, Phil Murphy and Steve Levy. Our wicket is improving, thanks to the input from Tony Knight and Jim Greaves and the ground in general is improving with a great effort coming from Bill Breeze, Mick Brindley, Richard Wilkinson and others.
We have managed to replace some of our ancient equipment, have constructed a practice net and secured the use of better storage facilities which is an absolute must for any cricket club.
In February 2000, we obtained a grant from The National Lottery Millennium Awards Fund for £3500 which went towards improving the drainage on the ground which has always been a problem. The drainage was installed during the worst April weather since records began and we started the season in a panic, not knowing if the work would be finished. We tried unsuccessfully to hire a ground for the first two weeks but failed miserably in our attempts. League rules meant that a failure to fulfill a fixture in such a manner would mean a loss of points before we had begun - a prospect that we did not relish.
We harassed the unfortunate contractor to finish the work in less than ideal conditions. this caused an enormous mess which we spent a whole week clearing up. A massive effort by a good dozen members shifting 2 tons of sand on a Wednesday evening saw the ground ready to use for the first game on Saturday May 6th. against Lapworth. The year 2000 has been one of the wettest on record and yet thanks to the new drainage, the ground has stood up to the worst without hardly any surface water at all, until late November when a burst water pipe flooded the ground. (more about this later)
On the negative side, a decline in membership in recent years is causing us problems which the current committee are trying hard to resolve. We are also suffering from a lack of help from the general membership in carrying out work both on and off the field. This puts a greater strain on the existing committee and unfortunately this is not confined to our Club.
Cricket in general has suffered during the
last few years with declining standards of behaviour, poor performances
by the national side and decreasing attendances, although Test
Cricket still attracts the crowds.
Inevitably, youngsters mimic their elders and their sporting heroes and when football attracts such a high profile as it does (since the advent of the Premier League in the early nineties), schools fail to teach cricket, the international side under-performs and there is corruption in the professional arena, there is bound to be a rebound effect upon the recreational game. (ECB take note!)
Clubs are therefore having to take the initiative and to try and inspire youngsters to take up cricket. We must as a nation get away from the left wing tripe that competition is bad and gives a feeling of insecurity and inferiority to those who come second. Competition is a fact of life and only the strong survive. If we as a nation fail to compete then we will end up as second or third rate country.
The Club therefore must ensure that new members are attracted and that others gradually take over from those who are currently the "work-horses" of the Club. Cricket, unlike football, is a technical game both on and off the field and there is a lot to know in preparing a wicket, marking it out etc. and generally ensuring that a Club runs smoothly. Young people therefore must come through the ranks and be prepared to learn or else there will be no second centenary for our Club or others like us. On a more positive front, the international side are beginning to perform better and there is a gradual recognition by governments that sport is important.
The Club were grateful and acknowledge the grant from The National Lottery which has been used to improve the drainage on the ground and to provide secure storage accommodation.
The Whitacre side of the 1990's has seen a lot of changes with personal leaving and captains changing. Instability is never good for any institution and we are no exception. We have the basis of a very good side with a core of about six players around whom a first team of some quality needs to be built. We need two more seam bowlers to assist and compliment Phil Murphy and Steve Baird. We have potential in Jay Allen who deserves his chance and good potential in Andy Pheasant.
Phil Murphy has long been the main-stay of our bowling and much has been placed upon his shoulders since he was sixteen years of age. His performances in recent years have been tremendous with a best of 9-37 against Coombes Wood taking centre stage. Ian Breeze continues to perform well with the bat although his bowling has been limited of late due to injury and keeping wicket. Ian Black continues to contribute well with the bat and his fielding is of a high standard. Steve Levy also continues to contribute with a combination of doggedness and style depending upon the situation.
Paul Greaves continues to get better and better. A stylish left hander with wonderful and graceful timing, he makes batting look easy. Ideally, we require another two good solid batsmen, including maybe an all-rounder, two more seamers and a good spinner. A specialist wicket- keeper would also free up others who have taken turns in this department. An addition of five more players to this side with competition for places would rival any side currently in Divisions 3 or 4.
In recent seasons, centuries have been scored
by the following players on more than one occasion.
Paul Greaves, Dave Ward, Steve Levy, Ian Black, Ian Breeze and John Wright. With today's improving wickets and higher standard of play it is to be expected that at least four hundreds are scored every season by Whitacre players. For more information on recent statistics, go to the statistics page.
By 1999, both Jim and John Greaves had more or less retired, with Jim making odd appearances if the second team were short. In his "last" appearance, taking his normal position behind the stumps, Jim managed to get five victims - not bad for the "occasional" 60 year old. In recognition of their tremendous service for the Club stretching back to 1966, both Jim and John were awarded life memberships in 1999.
In 1997, our old storage facility which was an old wooden garage purchased second hand twelve years previous, was falling to pieces. It had become positively dangerous, so a decision was made to scrap it and look for an alternative. We eventually came across a metal storage unit in very good condition and so having obtained planning permission we took delivery of an excellent buy for £450. The old garage was pulled down a few days previous and the various large pieces of wood were dragged to an old rough piece of land to the left of the pavilion where once existed a practice net which consisted of a rubber mat on a small concrete base.
We occasionally used this area for having a bonfire to dispose of rubbish and so one warm July evening a bonfire commenced. A very large fire built up and most of the old garage had burnt by the time we were ready to lock up and go to the pub for a quick drink. Most of the members had in fact left, leaving a few stragglers who were clearing up. The fire was by this time just burning embers and we were happy to leave it to burn all night. As we were leaving, Bill Breeze happened to glance across and notice the hedge on fire in the adjoining field, this was to be the start of the greatest farcical attempt in history to extinguish a fire. Those left were Paul & Jim Greaves, Bill Breeze, Tony Knight, and Clive Powers. The old garage had just been emptied and the contents were under a big sheet of polythene waiting to be sorted once the replacement storage unit arrived.
So, the scene is set, the hedge was on fire and spreading. Embers from the end of a branch of an oak tree some 30 feet up had somehow caught fire and were dropping on to the dry grass below which was spreading the flames quickly. A mad rush was made for buckets and we then dashed about 30 yards at a time with full buckets to try and put out the fire. By the time that we reached the fire, half the contents of the bucket were lost in the dash and as we extinguished the flames, hot embers from above would start another fire. It was decided to try and extinguish the smoldering branch and so another mad dash was made to find the ladders and hose in the dark (apart from a single security light)
Clive dithered, as only he can and produced a hose that was all tangled up and so a frantic unraveling job was necessary. whilst all of this was going on, the flames continued to wax and wane, governed by the dropping of more embers and the depositing of further buckets of water by a thoroughly "knackered" fire-fighting crew. A ladder was produced and the hose was unraveled, but, (and there's always a but) the hose connector was meant to fit the tap on the square, which consisted of a piece of a tap with an outlet of 15mm copper pipe on to which the connector fitted quite well, it did not fit any of the taps in our pavilion at all well. So someone had to hold it on the tap, whilst the water pressure tried to remove it, the result was a soaking for all who tried. Tony Knight went up the ladder but the hose wasn't long enough and the water pressure insufficient to reach the branch. The flames started to spread again, by which time we were so exhausted that a serious option of calling the fire brigade was considered. Then of course the obvious question arose, "Will it cost us"?
So we carried on, Clive disappeared to try and find the nozzle for the end of the hose to enable us to produce a long jet of water. Jim and Bill were struggling with the ladder with the result that it fell over on to Bill's shoulder leaving him in pain and muttering on the floor. There was no time to waste as the flames were spreading again. Jim as ever, protective of the square, ordered Paul Greaves to "watch the fire engine doesn't go over the square if we have to call them". At this point, Bill was still on the floor and now Paul was helping Jim re-position the ladder. Clive arrived with the nozzle which he had found and we quickly put it on the end of the hose (with out turning off the water of course, there wasn't time). Clive disappeared again and was coming back with some more hose that he had found, Tony by this time had got the nozzle working but needed the ladder moving once more, so Paul and Jim got to work whilst Bill continued to rub his shoulder. Clive reappeared from out of the dark muttering something, as he did Tony turned around to listen, quite forgetting all about the hose which hammered into Jim's back at a great rate. Jim couldn't move because he was holding the ladder and the water continued to soak him for what seemed like ages.
Paul Greaves collapsed on to the floor in uncontrollable laughter, joining Bill who was also on the floor still nursing his shoulder (50% of the fire fighting crew were now out of action!). Paul was incoherent for several minutes as the flames grew higher. The whole episode was a scene of unbelievable farce and slapstick.
During the next ten minutes we managed to put out the flames on the ground despite the hose "blowing" off the tap several times. A ladder was finally erected and we managed to just get enough pressure and height to extinguish the burning tree branch. We damped down and Jim changed his shirt. which didn't help much because the rest of him was soaked. Finally, an hour after we originally set off, we arrived at the pub, four soaking, tatty, blackened figures arrived at the bar to be greeted with, " What kept you?". Paul Greaves collapsed again. "Don't ask", we said, we've only nearly burnt down the pavilion, that's all.
We were within five minutes of calling the fire brigade at one time and if today's mobiles had been readily available then, we probably would have. A lesson was learnt out of the chaos, an outside tap was installed, a new hose and reel purchased, together with proper fittings. It would make a great comedy sketch, but even so, I doubt if it would be possible to really recreate the craziness of the original. Who do you think we were playing on the Saturday?, you've guessed it, West Midlands Fire Service!!
Over the years we have been lucky to have some of the best teas in the area. A number of the players wives regularly did the teas, but the real stalwarts of the last 25 years have been Dot Greaves and Diane Breeze with help from numerous other ladies such as Pam Whitehead, Sandra Joyce and many others who we will probably upset for not mentioning them.
During the last three years however the teas have become a problem as many of the tea ladies have disappeared from the scene and have not been replaced. With new hygiene regulations and an unfortunate incident of food poisoning occurring at an away match, it was made plain to us that our current facilities were not good enough for the preparation of food. They were also not very pleasant conditions to expect the ladies to work in. This left us in a mess until Dave Enderby, landlord of The Railway Pub, kindly offered to sponsor us for our teas by way of providing sandwiches which we were able to collect during the afternoon of the match. This has proved an invaluable help for us over the last three years and the Club is extremely grateful to Dave for his help.
However, there were logistical problems associated with his offer, not least the fact that someone had to be available to fetch the sandwiches midway through a match and the fact that some players liked different sorts of fillings etc. and it was proving difficult to satisfy everyone. Therefore a decision was been made to refurbish the kitchen up to the required standard and again prepare and serve our own food. Dot and Diane have offered to again do the food and if need be we will employ someone if and when they are unable to help us. This should prove a more satisfactory arrangement and will be the start of a programme of improvements to the pavilion which is now starting to show its age.
In recent years it has become common place for teams that we play to have a professional playing for them, typically an over-seas professional. We have never been in a position to be able to afford such extravagances and as such our attitude has been against such a move. A number of situations that we have found ourselves in have reinforced this view and we regard the use of professionals at our level in our league as being unjust. The money that it costs could and should be invested in facilities, equipment and junior players and not used to effectively "buy" success.
It is also questionable whether it works, if most clubs in the division then have a professional, they cancel each other out in terms of advantage. It is to the great credit of our players that we have often played against good professionals and competed really well, sometimes coming out on top.
Two matches spring to mind- one an evening game against Coleshill, who made 185 from 15 eight ball overs, with their Australian professional scoring 140 not out. He was clearly in another class, an extremely good batsman. However, Whitacre lost by only five runs after a tremendous team performance led by Paul Greaves, who needed six off the last ball to win. Paul was caught on the boundary at a wide long off position, high above the fielders head who did well to hold the catch. A magnificent attempt by Whitacre who were clearly beaten by one man - who was a professional.
In a recent Warwickshire League match, we played against Dirk Viljoen, now a Zimbabwean Test Cricketer. Viljoen who was playing for GPT Coventry was specifically a spin bowler, however his bowling was far from impressive that day as he was smashed all over the place. His batting however looked good and he scored some good runs against us. In the 1999 season, the same side, now called Marconi employed the services of another Zimbabwean called Manousis. He went to the wicket with the idea of smashing our attack out of the ground, he was caught first ball on the boundary by a delighted Whitacre side, which leads us to wonder why teams pay people who are clearly playing beneath themselves, but not always satisfactorily. We would not have been impressed with such a shot as he played against us that day!
In 1999, following a vote at the Warwickshire League AGM, a proposal was carried to ban all overseas professionals outside of the Premier Division. This has evened up the league considerably with a full strength Whitacre side being as competitive as anyone in the Division. Such a ban is still in operation for the 2001 season. It is a decision that we agree with and one which will encourage clubs to foster their own talent.
At County level, overseas professionals have done much for the English game and players like Alan Donald at Warwickshire have been an inspiration to everyone. But at our level we do not see the point in such a move.
As part of the drive for consistency, the ECB
are encouraging Clubs to operate in a more professional manner,
including the provision of five year development plans so that
clubs can have a defined strategy and a goal to work toward. We
drew up such a plan in 1999 with the main points being as follows:
This list formed the basis of our five year objectives which takes us through to 2004. Previous comments will tell the reader that we are well on the way to achieving these goals with the most important being the introduction of more players for the 2001 season onwards.Naturally, any five year plan should be examined and altered as fresh demands occur and it has become obvious that as finance allows, a gradual improvement to the Pavilion has become essential. This will easily take us through until 2004 with a score box being the last item on the agenda.
The reading of this text is testimony to the fact that the Club web site is now up and running and will be added to and improved as time progresses. Heaven knows what the old players from 1907 would have made of it all, covers, fine cut outfield, internet (that would take some explaining!), electrical power laid on, showers and running water, such a far cry from the old days and a tribute to where we have come in the last one hundred years.
Easter 1998 saw terrible flooding in many parts of the UK, naturally our ground suffered more than most. We had been increasingly aware of the need to improve the drainage on the ground but as per usual in these cases finance is the over-riding factor. There were several areas on the ground where massive pools would form and consequently take days to soak away. Thus a heavy amount of rain on a Thursday would almost certainly jepodise the Saturday fixture even if Saturday itself was a beautiful day. Clearly, this had become a ridiculous situation and was causing us great concern and work. Often we would move hundreds of gallons of water by hand or later by pump on a Friday or Saturday in order to play a fixture.
The rains in the winter and spring of 1998 formed a long pool from the middle of the square to the road which was there for weeks on end, so much so that the grass died and we had to order 2 tons of top soil (to level out the area somewhat) and a load of turf. This was duly installed one Saturday morning with the usual gang of helpers. A decision had previously been taken to ban the driving and parking of vehicles on the ground as we felt that the compaction was contributing towards the problem. The adjacent field has subsequently been used for parking and this has now become an accepted practice.
Both 1998 and 1999 saw well above average rainfall so that when an opportunity arose to obtain some lottery funding, the Club applied for money to fund some drainage on the ground. Due to the timing of the lottery bid and the need to get the money spent within six months of receiving it, we had no choice but to go ahead with the drainage at the end of March 2000. Subsequently, on March 28th the contractor (Heronfield Hire) arrived with a trenching machine and set about digging two foot deep trenches all over the ground. The object was to join up all of the areas that normally "pooled" water, pipe it, back fill it with gravel and take it away into the field next door where a natural swampy area would help to drain the ground. Sounds easy in principle!
After about 2 hours and being very careful not to cut the electricity cable in half, the contractor's machine decided to break its drive belt and was subsequently taken away for repair. This caused a week's delay and he returned on the 7th April to finish off digging trenches in the ground. By this time the whole ground looked a little bit like a scene from World War One with trenches and spoil all over the ground. Then it started to rain and rain and rain and did so nearly every day in April - very heavy as well. The first two friendlies were cancelled and very quickly the first league game of May 6th looked close. The ground was still water logged and the grass underneath the spoil was dying. Jim Greaves(Club Captain and Fixture Secretary) was going barmy! and we frantically tried to hire a ground for the first two league fixtures. This proved a fruitless task and so we had no alternative other than ask the contractor to return and finish the job. This he did and in doing so unfortunately made an almighty mess which really wasn't of his making.
However, sterling work by our "ground-staff" and volunteers saw the game on Saturday May 6th against Lapworth take place, albeit, we switched the 1st and 2nd team games around and with the aid of 2 tons of sand the job was completed. The drainage worked like a dream and subsequently the scars have healed and little pooling has occurred on the ground and if it has in some slight way, it has drained away quickly.
The autumn of 2000 saw the heaviest rainfall since records began and this has carried on into 2001. All was well until the end of November and after some heavy rain a large lake started developing on the ground and surrounding gardens. We naturally thought that the drainage had been over-whelmed and were not concerned at first. However, the lake grew bigger and it lasted over three weeks before the water authority (Severn Trent) eventually discovered a large underground burst pipe near the edge of the ground and it was this which had caused the lake. We subsequently asked them to compensate us for this problem which has caused much additional work. By March 2001 they indeed paid us a sum as compensation for the problem.
December 6th 2000 showing several shots of a very bedraggled looking ground caused mainly by a burst under-ground water pipe. Severn Trent water later compensated us for the incident which is much to their credit.
Somewhere amongst this lot stood Prince Charles in 1993!