As Jordan and I were enjoying a pint in the Green Dragon Inn in Hobbiton, Heaton Mersey First XI were preparing for their first game in the equally luxurious setting of Cholmondeley Castle. The side, selected by the newly instated Captain Luke Marshall, bared significant resemblance to the previous year. New recruits, however, included the illustrious Caribbean superstar Rodney Shridath Rey and third team maestro of previous years Faisal Masqood. Both would play a vital role in the season to come; Rey expertly utilising the new ball to take 31 wickets at an average of 15.42, and Faisal taking 30 wickets at 10.13 and scoring 249 runs at an average of 27.26.
With Captain Marshall winning the toss of the season, Mersey would bat first on what appeared an excellent wicket. However, with Mersey collapsing to 34-5, it would have appeared that the Mersey batsmen were still suffering from the demons of previous seasons. Contributions from Dom, Hux, Al Fair and Dave Flisk pushed Mersey into a defendable 120-7 off their 45 overs. In response, Cholmondeley could have been forgiven for thinking they were in a comfortable position at 80-4; but 3 quick wickets from the Mersey spinners dragged Mersey back into the contest. Despite the pressure from the excellent Shirley Moose and Hux Shah, the home side fought hard to get to 116-7 off 43, with 5 runs required from 2 overs and 3 wickets in hand. Two stumpings in the final two overs from D Gandy sparked a tense finish to the match. Cholmondeley finishing on 117-9 off 45, Mersey being awarded 11 points for their efforts in the match.
An excellent start from the Mersey boys which would symbolise the fight and determination which was apparent throughout the season. On various occasions, the skill and attitude of the side would force unlikely results in big fixtures. It was perhaps this, amongst many factors, which would drive Mersey into a record-breaking season; amounting to the highest points total (401); highest number of wins (14) and highest win percentage (70%) recorded by a Heaton Mersey first XI. Alas my statistics are indeed limited back to 2004, which I presume was when Play-Cricket became compulsory. If, therefore, the statistics mentioned in this review are untrue, please forgive my tendency to hyperbolise.
The positive result at Cholmondeley sparked a sequence of victories as Mersey made an aggressive march up the table. Victories over Old Parks, Wirral and Appleton followed similar storylines as the Mersey attack would limit their opponents to sub-par totals only for the batsmen to chase it down comfortably. Impressive performances from Hux (12.1-1-29-5), Louis (53) and a vitally important 48* from Jack at Wirral were integral to Mersey’s positive start. The fantastic news that Captain Marshall’s partner was expecting brought a special atmosphere to the fixture against Aston. The skipper demanded that his side should wrap up an early win against the visitors, so we would be able to celebrate the news accordingly. The team duly obliged and thanks to an excellent opening spell from Rey (10-4-15-6), the team were up at the bar by 3:30 having chased Aston’s total of 50 in 7.5 overs with 8 wickets in hand.
Next came two vital fixtures against two sides at the top. Bunbury were revitalised by the presence of their captain F Farrington who had been absent in their previous winless season. Wilmslow Wayfarers had also started strongly and what made matters worse was that Captain Marshall would be unavailable for both matches. The unofficial Club Ambassador, Alex Ford, travelled with the team to Bunbury with intention of building relations between the two clubs and, of course, to monitor whether the teas were up to scratch.
Stand-in captain, Jack Humpage, lost the toss and Mersey were put into bat by the home-side on a glorious day. The Mersey batting line-up got stuck into a very controlled Bunbury bowling-attack. Starts from Jordy B, Louis and Al Fair showed promise but all three struggled to push onto the make the big-score that the innings needed. Positive finishes from Gandy, Faisal and Rob pushed Mersey up to a competitive 165-6 off the allocated 45 overs.
The Bunbury innings started positively for the home-side. The absence of Marshall meant that the Mersey attack lacked genuine pace and aggression on a flat wicket. Both Bunbury openers looked comfortable until Farrington knocked a ball into the leg-side and called for “Two! Two! Two!” Unaware at the time, this would be a season defining moment as Farrington had picked out Louis in the deep. Farrington followed his instincts, after all, it was a long way out. Louis threw the ball at a remarkable pace bouncing once perfectly into Jack’s gloves and Farrington was well short. Mersey had the break-through!
After drinks, with the home-side still clearly favourites, Bunbury collapsed from 111-2 to 154-9 thanks to some excellent bowling and fantastic work from Jack behind the sticks. The match went down to the final over with all three-results possible. Faisal bowled it brilliantly and the home-side were eventually content to take the draw. Another remarkable result from 111-2, echoing the “Cholmondeley Spirit” evident in the first match of the season.
The momentum of the Bunbury result carried through into the next game. A deserved return to runs for Jordy B (79) stabilised the Mersey innings as the home-side set 183-5. Wilmslow started aggressively and, similarly to the previous week, looked comfortable at 156-4. Up stepped Abbas Shah, last years Second Team Captain, who had been unfortunate to only have a handful of first team appearances this year. Abbas, however, grasped the moment taking three quick wickets at a crucial part of the game as the away side crumbled to 176-9 off 45. Another vital result in a crucial game.
The following week saw Captain Marshall return to the side against Cheadle Hulme Ladybridge. Luke rattled through the opposition batting line-up with figures of 14-5-33-6 as the home-side were restricted to 103 all out. This would be the spark which ignited a fantastic second half of the season for Marshall who would go onto collect 44 wickets in the season, the highest number taken by a first team bowler since Syed Sahabuddin in 2009. Despite this, the home-side had admitted that they were fearing another Mersey quick who they had encountered the season before. He, unfortunately, was on his ambassadorial duties; Mr Alex Ford. In the Mersey chase, Jack would come agonisingly close to a maiden first team 50. However, Alex Fair, living up to his homeland’s reputation, nicked the final four runs to leave Jack stranded on 49*.
As the first half of the season ended, Mersey were still unbeaten in the league. A rain affected game against Chester County Officers required a “Louis Mundin Special” as the opener raced to 66 off 42 balls. Mersey comfortably reached the target of 172 off 25.2 overs. Louis would go on to score 554 runs throughout the season at an average of 32.44; the highest runs by a Mersey batsman since Dom Gandy in 2016.
Mersey were edged out in their next game by promotion rivals Langley; a high scoring match where a Shirley Moose 14-2-39-5 pushed the home-side to the last over. Despite this result bringing about the first loss of the season; Langley would only take a 6-point benefit from the game. The team would respond strongly, however, claiming maximum points from their next two fixtures. Josh Ainscough’s second fifty of the season stabilising a run chase versus Holmes Chapel, whereas, Dom showed a return to form with a 43* against Cholmondeley; proving his bark isn’t worse than his bite!
Following the thoroughly enjoyable roses match on the 20th July, Mersey would face their second loss in the league. Chasing Wirral’s total of 132, Mersey collapsed to 104 all out. Any excuses from those who had been at Old Trafford the previous evening were belittled since Wirral, and Langley, had equally enjoyed the occasion. The boys would respond strongly, once again, with an annihilation of promotion-hopefuls Appleton in the following week. The hosts had been on a resurgent run so, with young Billy Hayward amongst the ranks, Mersey faced a difficult proposition. An opening stand of 114 between Louis (51) and Zeb Saleem (85 off 96), who had only recently been promoted to the 1s led to Mersey amassing 217-9. In response, Captain Marshall brutalised the Appleton batsmen with a devilish and aggressive spell of 9-3-40-3. The home side crumbling to 147 all out in reply.
Following a convincing 9-wicket win over Aston in their next fixture, Mersey would host promotion rivals Bunbury. With Marshall winning the toss and electing to bat, the home-side struggled to gather any momentum and scraped to 101 all out. Despite losing a couple of early wickets, Bunbury’s chase looked comfortable throughout. The side once again showed their “Cholmondeley Spirit”, making things as difficult as possible for the away side. Bunbury stumbled over the line with three wickets remaining; and celebrated buoyantly and provocatively after the match. It seemed, at the time, a crucial result in their promotion bid. They would, however, lose their next three games.
For the third time in the season, Mersey would respond to losing with a win in the following week. Louis (55) and Zeb (40) were able to knock off Wilmslow Wayfarer’s first innings total of 109 with ten wickets to spare. The next fixture, however, versus Cheadle Hulme Ladybridge appeared dangerously similar to the Wirral match with the annual golf day taking place the day before. Louis would provide the heroics of the day with an excellent 98; the highest total scored by a Mersey batsman since Shery Hasan in 2014. This provided a strong platform as Mersey would set 200-4 off 45; their highest total at home all season. Captain Marshall would round off the perfect Saturday with a lethal spell of 9.4-2-24-8; the best-ever recorded spell of bowling by a Heaton Mersey bowler.
Marshall would be at his best again the following week (13-6-23-6) reducing Chester County Officers to 104 all out. Mersey’s chase was seemingly struggling at 36-4 until Josh (30*) and Faisal (51*) carried Mersey to 6-wicket win and another 25 points. With sides dropping points around us, Mersey had established a comfortable position at the top of the table, requiring only 7 points from the next two matches to be crowned champions. This would, anti-climactically, be awarded by an abandoned game the following week. With one game to go, Mersey had been crowned champions of Division 3 and achieved their first promotion since 2009!
Having written this review before the final game, it is possible that I may have missed out some fantastic moments from the season, certainly if Al fair can produce some magic with a new cherry! The season seems, however, to have been almost exhausted by fantastic individual performances and moments. Despite the stand-out performances from Luke and Louis, it has been the depth of talent available at the club which has set the side out from its competitors. For the first time ever recorded, more than six bowlers have taken more than 20 wickets each in the league (Luke, Faisal, Hux, Shirley, Rey and Tom). Regarding our batting, for the first time since 2012, 6 batsmen have individually scored more than 200 runs each (Louis, Jordy, Josh, Jack, Faisal and Dom).
Every contribution, little or large, has had a massive impact on such a positive season. Dave’s partnership with Al Fair in the first match versus Cholmondeley, Zeb’s 85 at Appleton and Abbas’ spell against Wilmslow proved decisive moments in the season. This is a true testament to the group of players at the club that these guys can, when called upon, produce in the big moments.
The side has been brilliantly led by Luke and Josh throughout. Supported by big and buoyant personalities, they have managed to perfect the balance between jovialness and competitiveness. The ever-entertaining Alex Ford has provided some fabulous moments throughout the year. From falling asleep on the boundary rope at CCO to his unique ability to collect phones on his chest, a personal highlight would be him complaining after having paid “Eight quid for a TFC and sunstroke”.
With the final weekend approaching, it would be only right to thank everyone involved for their contributions and support. Scorer Oli, forever present, is a gem to the club and his contributions will never be taken for granted. A big thank you to the committee for their continued work and the ground staff who have endured a unique and challenging summer. Also, for the continued support of Mr and Mrs A, Mr and Mrs Lav and the Mundin family who travel around Cheshire to watch some, at times, dull stuff. Mr A should be proud to see five of his famous under 15s side producing at the highest level this club offers in the spirit he always encouraged!
With Mersey going up (and Denton going down!!!) hopefully this is the start of a healthy chapter for Heaton Mersey Cricket Club.
Updated 19:09 - 13 Sep 2018 by Tim Humpage