January 2015 - Wiltshire CCC

With Christmas and New Year out of the way and attention turning towards the 2015 season it’s time for this month’s ClubLife report and to kick off 2015 we take a look back on one of the most successful seasons in the history of Wiltshire CCC! The story of the season was even more remarkable coming on the back of a pretty disappointing year in 2013 and ClubLife caught up with Player of the Year, Jayden Levitt, and Manager, Neil Shardlow to discuss and try to capture exactly how success was achieved.

Whilst 2013 wasn’t a particularly successful one in terms of results it’s worth noting that statistically there were clear indications that performances weren’t that far away. In the  3 day format Wiltshire scored more bonus points in the first innings than any other side in the country but were let down by under par execution in their second attempt. In one day cricket, twice opposition sides were bowled out for less than 200, totals which proved to be too much, while scoring rates were never an issue but losing wickets was. Frequently the side gave away too many extras but the signs were there that there was a growing potential.

With a few changes made over the winter including Mike Coles being elected as captain, Levitt insists that actually this year was more a culmination of a group of players coming of age, of preparation being faultless for the previous 4 or 5 years and of confidence being bred from a fast start, something Shardlow agrees with wholeheartedly. Interestingly Levitt also refers to players ‘disciplining their disappointments’, something he defines as the ability to bounce back from a poor experience, and something that was crucial to much improved batting performances in second innings during the 3 day format. The growth of maturity and experience within the squad cannot be overlooked as a major factor in the season’s success.

Shardlow also points to the improved team spirit and unity within the group and the times that tough situations were overcome, either with bat or ball, attributing much of this togetherness to Michael Coles’ leadership and ability to inspire and get the best from all players. This is echoed by Levitt’s description of some of the changing room antics, kit sabotage and is encapsulated by his observation that ‘winning certainly personifies the juvenile or misbehaving youth in all of us, especially cricketers!’ Reading between the lines it’s fair to say that the management team might have played a starring role as the chief instigators of such behaviour!

However, joking aside he also refers to some very simple team rules that have changed the culture of the team dramatically by ensuring that simple disciplines are followed off the pitch. ‘We are tasked with wearing the correct kit to all venues whether that be at the hotel, breakfast or at the ground. Respecting the team by turning up to the ground on time and meeting on deck at the correct times is something we now put huge emphasis on as well. These might seem like simple remedial tasks to follow that are easy to do. They are also very easy 'not to do' and I think this attention to detail has certainly impacted positively on the team’s philosophy.’

Running a successful minor county team is not an easy proposition. Players come together infrequently, play for different clubs and are often playing abroad during the winter (making group training sessions virtually impossible to achieve). The encouragement of greater competition for places in Wiltshire, making some tough decisions and setting out expectations for all players has clearly helped Shardlow to develop healthy competition within the squad, a desire to play and an understanding that selection wouldn’t be done on reputation alone. Equally the development and clear definition of policies covering expenses, travel, unpaid leave and ultimately the selection policy itself has helped players to understand expectations better than ever before. It’s easy to see the growing professionalism in the Wiltshire cricket set up.

For all the improved player management, leadership and greater communication with players using social media platforms, effecting results on the pitch needs players to stand up and be counted. 2014 was a year littered with outstanding individual performances that carried the team through to the Minor Counties championship final. Levitt himself was 7th in the Minor Counties Cricket Association (MCCA) run scoring charts with 629, including 152 against Oxfordshire and 104 off only 78 balls v Dorset, while Jake Roberts was the leading wicket taker in the country with 42 wickets. Neil Clark’s ton to win the game and the MCCA Western Division title was memorable for all who saw it, a title winning knock under immense pressure. Joe King had his most successful year to date, producing a career best against Berkshire while Tom Morton’s unbeaten 126 against Wales saw him carry his bat through the innings in the final one day game. Despite these stunning individual performances, the impact of someone stepping up at the right time to make a key contribution throughout the season is highlighted by Shardlow – a great characteristic of successful teams.

Levitt finished the year being named Player of the Year and examining his success unearths a great example of the maturity he states as one of the key components of the team’s development. Looking at ‘form’ and the process by which you try to get into and maintain ‘form’, he preferred to focus on method and the application of that method. Whilst ‘controlling the control-ables’ is a classic cliche, disciplining himself to play just one or two of his stronger shots and maintaining control over his choice of method has clearly paid dividends.

A birthday ton on ‘Jayden Day’, coined by an ironic Michael Coles, against Dorset, was just reward for a really strong season but it’s his response to the observation that he failed to score runs in the championship final that shows how far Wiltshire have come and what it now means to represent the white horse. ‘Heart-breaking,’ he says simply.

So the question really is whether or not this was a flash in the pan, a fluke season or something that can be revisited, can be repeated and potentially can be bettered. Both Shardlow and Levitt think it can. The strength of the squad is good, the addition of characters like Ed Young, Adam Miles and James Hayward in 2013 will be supported by Nick Harrison (Corsham), Jack Sheppard (South Wilts), Ben Stebbings (Herefordshire) and Andy Carroll (Westbury) in pre season this year. But more than that, the desire is there. Shardlow refers to reaching the Championship final as giving him ‘the bug’ and acknowledging ‘unfinished business’, Levitt reflects on the pain of losing in that game by recognizing the need to ‘discipline his disappointment and bounce back next year.’

One thing is certain. Wiltshire CCC, once perhaps one of the less fashionable counties on the circuit, is, and can be, a force to be reckoned with in Minor Counties cricket in 2015. Perhaps, more than ever, we have a side to be passionate about, support and follow in 2015.