Seconds defeat Champions Stock to end season on a high
J. Waring 76*, E. Hardy 56, J. Meadows 10-3-46-3 & C. Yorke 10-1-60-3
The season may not have ended how we'd hoped, but if knocking off the champions to show that you could have won the league if you'd wanted to isn't a sign of the true Alphas of the division, then I don't know what is.
The build-up to my final game as captain of the Second XI was aptly disorganized and quite frankly shambolic. A late pullout in the 1st team meant I was left without both openers; Gunnar getting the call-up whilst Sappy had decided to heed the advice of Tom 'The Stomper' Stimpson and do something he actually enjoyed on a Saturday rather than loiter in the snakepit. And whilst we were at least gifted a more than able replacement for Gunnar in the form of Elliot 'Flaggers' Hardy, his late arrival meant we began the game with 10.
Before that however, I was left sweating as 'The Stomper' was trying to snake a lift to the ground half an hour before the start, the Bentley Bear (Charlie) and the Boa Constrictor (Meadows) were residing in the local pub 20 minutes prior to kick-off,, the Smiths were on a bus tour of Stock 10 minutes before the start, and all the while an unfit Sprulesy was declaring himself barely able to move (I noticed no difference from the usual). Meanwhile, our opponents were bristling through their pre-match warm-up, eager to smash their pure village opponents and claim the league title in grand fashion. And when I lost the toss and was asked to field, that scenario seemed the most likely outcome.
With our team eventually assembling itself to its entirety, we actually made a really positive start, with Smith snr. and in particular VC Beans bowling tight lines and lengths, restricting the score in spite of the small boundaries and decent track. Beaney got us on the board, snaring a thick outside edge from the Stock opener which the Bentley Bear gleefully gobbled up at gully and the two almost combined again in similar fashion, but like he does with a lot of fruit, Chaz failed to cling on to this cherry. Nonetheless, cricket is a game of ratios, and most of us can only dream of having ratios as strong as Sappy's diluting juice from the previous week. Chaz's 67% success rate was solid effort on the day. The Marty Party then kicked into gear, clean bowling the other opener, to bring Stock's power hitter to the crease. Enter the Stomper.
Having managed to persuade Stimmo to turn out one final time this season, I imagined that whilst he may shirk from a top order slot or the opportunity to bowl, he would at least provide enthusiasm in the field and plenty of decent chat. But the Stomper is a much more fragile creature these days. As our gentle clapping to welcome the Stock no.4 to the crease died down, Stimmo piped up "very strong rig bat", before complimenting the gentleman on his strong levers and pipes without batting an eye. The rest of the team looked on, baffled by how forwardly Stimmo was coming on to the opposing batsman. I hadn't seen such admiration for a fellow cricketer's rig since the last time the Quadfather played with us. Perhaps it was a ploy to try and unnerve the batsman, perhaps Stimmo genuinely wanted to exchange numbers, only the Stomper can answer that. But just remember Stim, in the world of village cricket, whilst prime rigs are a rarity and should be appreciated, do not discount the value of a strong salad. Stim then proceeded to boycott fielding, firstly letting a drive deflect off his shin and stop just short of the rope whilst not moving an inch, then literally jumping out the way of another drive. However, I am confident that this was Stimmo reverting to his usual serpent self, snaking Beaney by damaging his economy figures. It's never dull with the Stomper around.
Prime rig was taking a liking to Martin, but thankfully before too much damage could be done, Meadows was able to snare him. Despite, quite frankly, bowling dog in his first three overs, the Boa was able to induce the rig into attempting to take him downtown, which resulted in him holing out to Chaz in the deep. Martin finished up with figures slightly damaged by the rig but nonetheless had bowled very well, and would be replaced by Chaz as we looked to tie them down and restrict Stock's middle order. My threat to remove Spreads from the attack after his 5th over worked, as he was able to claim a double scalp, including cleaning up Stock's skipper for golden quacker. Imagine winning the league but getting a king pair against the muppets who got relegated.....
Given the delay I've had in writing this report, my memory of the parts of the Stock innings are hazy. I think Chaz got a wicket in his first spell but I can't remember how. I'm sure it was cool though. I do however remember replacing him with young George with Stock I believe being 6 down for around about 140 and looking to rebuild. George did an excellent job of containing, bowling very tight lines and not giving the Stock lower order a chance to free their arms and increase the run rate. He got his reward for his unerring accuracy, clean bowling the Stock no.7, at which point his teammates thought this was the timely opportunity to tell him that last year he was much worse at cricket. The sensitive VC lead the hounding, declaring that he had had a complete lack of faith in George's fielding last year. That is how we build up youngsters' confidence at this club!! In seriousness however, what was most impressive about George's spell was his final over; having been taken for 18 off his previous set, George didn't allow it to knock his composure, coming back to concede just 4 runs off the 41st over to round off his spell excellently.
Chaz had replaced Meadows from the other end and whilst leaking a few runs, chipped away with another couple wickets, with smart catches being taken by Albie and George. Stock had done pretty well to recover, pushing their score up past 200 and might have had their eyes on a score of 250+ had they had a few more wickets to play with in the final overs so these scalps were crucial to limiting them to a gettable total. Beaney replaced George to bowl the final two overs from the far end, and nearly claimed the final wicket, with Stomper failing to hang on to a tough chance in the deep (cheers mate ;)). In the end, we restricted Stock to 233 for 9. Probably no more than a par score and on that pitch we were more than in the game.
Sitting down to enjoy probably the best tea of the year, I contemplated who would join me to replace our absent opening pair. Despite claiming he didn't care where he batted, the Boa Constrictor repeatedly pleaded for a promotion. Chaz offered his services, but my preference was to have him play the role of finisher (later to be justified). Stimmo declined the offer before I'd finished asking. And so I plumped for my trusted and faithful VC Beaney. The two of us padded up and went out with a simple game plan. Work Hard!!
After a self-confessed "glorious" cover drive to get off the mark, Beans appeared in the mood to get us off to a flying start with a big score. Two balls later, Beaney departed, snicking off the bowling of prime rig but perhaps still a tad unlucky as the Stock skipper took an absolute stonker of catch, one-handed, diving across his first slip who did not fancy it whatsoever, to leave us 6-1 early. Hell of a drive though. That left Albie and I to kickstart the innings and a steady stand of 55 put us back on track. Having started with relative fluidity, I felt like I was playing myself out of form the longer I stayed out there, but I was determined not to give my wicket away. Albie on the other hand, was beginning to make batting out there look easy, driving the ball really well, but was clean bowled to bring our ringer to the crease at 61-2.
I'll be honest now, Flaggers completely alpha'd me. Whilst I scratched around and struggled to get the ball of the square, Elliot, having barely played in the last 3 years, immediately began timing the ball beautifully, despatching the Stock attack to the boundary frequently and with consummate ease. He is annoyingly good at batting, and it was a pleasure at times to stand at the other end and watch him compile his 56. This was probably summed up at one bowling change, when Flaggers said he would take a few balls to have a look at the new bowler, only to plough him into the Bear Inn for 6 first ball. Els and I balanced each other out well during our partnership, with me happy to rotate the strike and allow him to score freely. Basically, I just tried to stay out of his way, while he did everything. Stock cycled through their attack to try and disrupt our momentum, but it took them bringing back the rig to get back in the game. Nipping one back between Elliot's bat and pad before inducing a thin edge behind from Smith jnr. two balls later, I feared yet another CBC would undermine us yet again. Sprulesy entered the fray and briefly looked like he would smoke us to victory after taking the wily Stock tweaker downtown for 6, but his brave choice to take guard on the next strip when facing up to prime rig backfired, as he too was cleaned up.
At 163 for 5, with about 12 overs to go, the game in the balance but perhaps the momentum with Stock, I gazed out towards the pavilion awaiting my new partner. With dehydration setting in, I thought I was hallucinating. Surely I hadn't decided that, in what was likely to be a run chase that would go down to the wire, in the pivotal number 7 batting slot I had put down...the Stomper?? PTSD has been a theme of this season, but as Stimmo trudged out with a nervous grin on his face, I had flashbacks to Great Waltham at home, Stimmo being cleaned up for 0, giggling his way back to the pavilion, and I feared this would be the one final alpha-ing to finish me off not only as captain but as a cricketer. Having watched me sweating it out and grinding away for more than 30 overs at this point, I felt like a gladiator in the Colosseum waiting for Stimmo to stick his thumb up and actually try to help me, or more likely down and run me out before guiding the tail through a spectacular collapse. Stomper the serpent had me at his mercy.
But as I said earlier, the Stomper is a changed man these days. Perhaps the new lady in his life has taught him to love, or maybe he just likes me more than Beaney. Either way, our partnership of 34 in under 4 overs turned the game back in our favour, bringing the run rate crashing down and breaking the spirit of the Stock fielders. I eventually brought up my fifty and as we exchanged a handshake, with Stimmo offering his most sincere and genuine congratulations, all the snaking, the refusals to play, the undermining me in front of the team was forgiven. The Stomper was now snaking opponents instead of us, having charmed the rig with his words earlier, he changed tact and crunched him over his head twice for four. But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and in trying to crunch prime rig into the leg-side, Stimmo only succeeded in spooning a catch to mid-wicket. Nonetheless, his risk-taking and aggression had turned the game back in our favour, leaving the run rate below 5 an over by the time the Bentley Bear joined me.
Chaz seemed to have a similar approach to Stim, that he wanted to get the game done in a hurry and get after the tiring Stock attack. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes he was wafting at thin air, but importantly, the two of us remained there until Chaz drove down the ground to win the game with 9 balls to spare. My decision to hold Chaz back to be our finisher and sacrifice Beaney proving a shrewd move. Perhaps if the VC had displayed a more tactful approach when negotiating the Springfield run chase, I wouldn't have had to feed him to the wolves on this occasion.
But we had won, we had beat the champions. I had carried my bat and whilst it was definitely not the most aesthetically pleasing innings, for the effort that went into it to get us over the line, it was probably my best batting effort of my underwhelming cricketing career. Typically though, it was all in vain. Writtle's narrow victory over Rayleigh confirmed our relegation. Ultimately for that reason, it's been a disappointing season. But I won't dwell on that. It's been a challenging experience captaining the 2s, but an experience on the whole that I have enjoyed. I know I have not played enough games this season to justify being Captain, and for that reason, I doubt whether I will be able to continue the role next year. But that is a conversation for another time.
Let's leave it on this note. On Saturday 1st September, we barely all turned up on time, looked remarkably village in the build-up, but then beat the league champions. And if that's not the sign of true alphas, I don't know what is. Waring Out.