With the skipper and several other 2nd team regulars away (I said ‘regulars’ Stimmo, not you), I took the reins for the 2nd time this season, journeying over to Rayleigh with a patchwork team; a mixture of seasoned renegades, trusted dependables and young up and comers.
After recent well publicised text conversations between myself and one of Bentley’s favourite former sons about a possible return, I naturally assumed when a text popped up on my screen an hour before the start of play which read ‘Boys, I have a burst tyre, gonna be a bit late’ that the aforementioned former club favourite was trying to remind me of the good old days. Instead it was Sprulesy who was frantically replacing his tyre by the side of the road F1 style.
Out on the pitch, I had safely negotiated the many cracks and crevasses in the outfield, one of which had tragically cut short the impressive season of a talented young Bentley batsman named Gregory Larkin only a week earlier. Calling heads at the toss, I promptly lost and we were sent out to bowl on another absolute road in some of the hottest conditions we have seen this season.
Rayleigh quickly climbed into a few of my looseners and they were 12-0 after the 1st over. Rebecca came on for her first bowl in the 2’s and immediately showed me how it’s done, bowling a full swinging yorker that completely outfoxed the batsman. At the other end, I had tightened up my lines and was rewarded with the wicket of their number 3 but the runs continued to flow for the other opener and unable to show Rebecca’s control, I quickly decided to replace myself with Meadows.
Despite an ordinary start which saw his first over absolutely despacito’d, Meadows too found his length and managed to snare the free-scoring opener LBW to leave them 61-3. Whilst the Rayleigh skipper blocked out from one end against McGlashon, the other batsman rode his luck playing some big shots into the legside which saw them race past 100.
Just when Meadows was again starting to struggle, he chucked down another quicker one, completely bamboozling the skipper to leave them 134-4 and we had a sniff, however with the Rayleigh Number 5 continuing to free his arms and McGlashon, who had bowled really impressively on debut out of overs, the game was in danger of getting away from us and we needed something big to turn this game around. With not many front-line bowlers left to choose from, it was time to gamble.
Enter Mark Windley. With barely an over under his belt this season, you may say my decision to pick Mark was nonsensical and my decision to bowl him absolutely deluded. Apparently, they say form is temporary but class is permanent. Well I don’t know about that, but I do know I needed to get some overs from somewhere and he seemed as good an option as any.
As Cyril limbered up at the end of a new look 5 pace run up, I waited nervously down at long-on not knowing what to expect. Thankfully neither did the well-set Rayleigh batsman waiting expectantly down the striker’s end. Cyril’s first ball was wide down the legside but even, so I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that he had at least hit the cut strip.
Incredibly, his second ball was outside off stump though a very long way outside off stump. So far outside off stump that Mick already had his arms outstretched ready to signal a wide until even more incredibly, the well-set Rayleigh No 5 somehow managed to drag it from outside the tramlines onto his own stumps sending us all into wild delirium.
The new batsman edged his way nervously to the crease not knowing what to expect but to be fair, no one could have expected Cyril to send him down a beamer first up. Thankfully it was closer to square leg than the batsman, so no-one was hurt but still, the umpire harshly gave him his first warning and even more harshly adjudged Sappy to have let through a bye. I stood at mid-on, head in hands looking frantically about for extra bowlers.
Like an African Elephant that needs more than one tranquiliser dart to fully take it down, the yips had taken hold of Cyril but they had not quite crippled him to Stimmo’s levels. With the threat of banishment from the attack for dangerous bowling looming over him, Cyril let go of his next ball not far from his toes. Thankfully the attempted bouncer meant he lived to fight another day, but the delivery was signalled wide, so he still had another 4 balls to go at this stage.
The next ball he managed to pitch but it was short and slow and the Rayleigh number 6 absolutely mullered the ball through midwicket for 4. But he was at least finding the middle of the pitch and I was hopeful at this stage that he might turn the over around. Alas no, the next ball the yips claimed its latest victim as he chucked down another filthy head high beamer that was pulled for 4 through square leg.
Mick turned and made the signal, thankfully bringing an end to the carnage. On the outside, I remained stony-faced and thoughtful but, on the inside, I was triumphant, internally celebrating the fact that they decision had been made for me and Cyril could be removed from the attack with minimal fuss or ceremony. Now I just had to find someone to finish the over!
Looking round the outfield, I saw a mixture of expectant and nervous faces. Gunnar looked suspiciously ready to bowl if required, Manno looked oblivious but out on the boundary I saw a young lad in need of a chance to prove himself. As a captain well known for his ability to recognise raw bowling talent where perhaps others see only batting prowess (Ash Parmenter, Steve Coleman), I called Nick Binnell in from deep square leg and chucked him the ball.
‘You’ve just seen that absolute shambles Nicky boy, there’s no pressure on you at all, just take your time and get it down there!’ I said in desperation. With absolutely no fear, Binnell steamed in and promptly bumped the batsman who was taken aback by the sheer ferociousness of the delivery.
‘Ok mate, I like your aggression but relax, take your time and try to pitch it up’. Bumper number 2 though this time, the batsman decided to try and take it on and as the ball looped down the ground to me at mid-on, I could hear a collective giggle as both Bentley and Rayleigh players alike burst into laughter.
To finish the over, Binnell bowled another bumper which the batman played and missed at and after all of that, somehow Rayleigh were now 159-6 and we were back in the game!
Now I may have taken a bit of artistic licence with my description of that over but honestly, it was the most hilariously shambolic passage of play I have ever been involved in, a truly terrible advert for cricket but as the 30 degree heat beat down on us, it was a timely reminder that it’s moments of complete and utter hilarity like this that make playing every week sort of worth it.
At the other end, Meadows continued into his final over and with his team now needing him to dig in, the Rayleigh batsman who in the brief glimpses we’d had looked to be a decent bat instead creamed the ball straight down the ground into the startled but grateful hands of Mark Windley to continue their Bentleyesque collapse.
Like England when they are completely lacking of any bowling plan, Binnell had taken on the role of enforcer and was mercilessly bumping the Rayleigh batsmen, hoping to entice a top edge into the waiting hands of one of the 3 fielders I had now placed into the legside deep. Runs flowed but my god it was fun and truly village!
This tactic couldn’t go on for ever though and instead, Binnell reverted to bowling snorters in the corridor of uncertainty outside the off stump that take the edge through to the keeper and we were now just two wickets away. Taking confidence from these wickets, Nick had found his length and was actually bowling quicker the less he tried. He was rewarded with a 3rd wicket and the innings was completed when he enticed the Number 10 into chipping the ball down the ground in to my waiting hands for his 4th, a really impressive return on debut and a promising performance for the future!
Needing 201 to win, we prepared for a nice tea and the football but possibly to get us back for last week, the umpire decided to turn around straight away and get through 10 overs before taking tea. It wasn’t pretty, but it was solid and Gunnar and Sappy negotiated a tricky spell to get us to 26-0 at tea.
After tea, both batsmen started to cut loose at 8 an over with Gunnar playing a delicious drive through cover for 4 in amongst a few trademark pulls behind square whilst at the other end, Sappy played some deft guides down to 3rd man and then despacito’d the rest through midwicket in an imperious 44 that included 10 fours.
Such was the ease with which the runs were knocked off that many of us started to relax on the boundary edge however Sappy was eventually caught in a dismissal that sent shockwaves across the ground, some of which may have been the cause of the scorer’s chair breaking from beneath him. Thankfully Sprulesy steadied the ship with a couple of crunching drives through the covers for 4.
Rayleigh looked dead and buried at this stage and Gunnar compounded their misery with the shot of the day, a dismissive pull over midwicket for 6 as he passed 50 with ease. He was eventually done by a snorter of a yorker but by then it was prime time for Manno to come in and snaffle a solid 20 odd not out to double the amount of runs he’s scored all season.
Sprulesy continued to lead the charge bombing a few downtown whilst Manno uncharacteristically turned half trackers into the legside for 1 until the required runs was into single figures when he danced down the track and mowed a 6 over into the next field to end up 24 not out with Sprulesy 41 not out.
A slightly surreal day but the win no less than we deserved in the end. On undoubtedly the worst/most dangerous outfield I’ve ever played on, we fielded really well again and took all our catches. Bowling wise Rebecca really set the tone early on with a very assured first performance for the 2nds and whilst we had a lot of help from the Rayleigh batsman, Nick was impressive at the end when he found his rhythm and bowled a decent pace, definitely one to watch! And then with the batting, Gunnar and Sappy did the hard work and then reaped the rewards, a definite lesson for us all to learn which then in turn allowed Sprulesy and Manno to play their shots and see us home. So overall a great day and hope everyone enjoyed it as much as me, many thanks to Rebecca, Nick and particularly Cyril who whisper it quietly, we might not have won the game without his wicket and catch! Lets try and kick on from here against Tillingham next week!