‘The Great Escape’
The 1963 WW2 epic is one of my favourite old films and for Priory Park, captain Dave was its Steve McQueen, the main protagonist of a survival against all odds.
The day started with hope and confusion. Our opponents were completely unknown to us despite some lengthy google searches and the unpredictable weather was equally non transparent leaving a difficult decision for Captain Dave at the toss. Will the hot weather increase during the day and make batting easier? Will the current wind conditions assist some of the swing bowlers Priory showcased on the day? A dilemma worth pondering…
Dave decided to bowl first on a pitch that looked dry and true of bounce and pace. Something to offer the pace bowlers initially but the recent dry conditions meant that the ball would become soft quickly and Priory’s lack of experienced slow bowlers would return to haunt them.
Nevertheless our plucky new ball pairing of Kunal Khanna and Kunal Bhatt were geared up with a new ball and a field placed to take early wickets
This did not materialise as the unknowns of Northwick Park very quickly made their presence felt with a mixture of attacking drives and fierce pulls off anything short of a length
Both opening bowlers perhaps bowled too straight and short, in hindsight a line just wide of off stump may have restricted the talented openers and created their own downfall through patience.
At first slip Nitin was very clear where he wanted triple K to put the ball as the experienced man gave his advice to Priory’s new fast bowler.
KKK bowled a good line in what we quickly knew would be a very challenging team as Northwick ensured any bad ball was given the treatment and good balls were well defended or taken for quick singles.
At the other end Kuni Walsh initially struggled for the right length as he strived for pace and the extra pace and bounce was feasted upon by Northwick’s opening pair who loved to cut and pull. Kuni redeemed himself as he changed his angle and picked up what was thought of as a crucial wicket.
With 12 overs gone and the new ball starting to fade Northwick had reached a commanding position of 90-1. Captain Dave decided to bring himself on to curb the run rate and attack from the other end with Hamayoun. The skippers tactic briefly worked as Northwick’s free scoring batsmen were reined in by a combination of skilful control from Dave and Harmy’s usual aggression and potency. The duo removed the well set top 3 and Priory begun a quest to wrest control of the innings.
However just as a corner was being turned, like a dog who always returns to his owner Priory’s catching curse returned with the same frequent regularity. Northwick’s key player who subsequently went on to score a monolithic 158 was dropped on no less than three occasions. One further dropped catch made it 4 in the innings.
Harmy was the first to suffer as two consecutive drops in the same over would have sent any man over the edge however to Harmy’s credit he pacified himself and controlled his anger towards the batsmen. Unfortunately the dropped catches cost Priory as the batting side rattled along at 6.5 runs per over with plenty of wickets in hand.
Acknowledging the dry surface and the need to take pace off the ball Nitin was brought on to bowl his slow, canny off spinners. This brought a temporary halt to the carnage however the Northwick batsmen still ensured they milked the spinner for six runs per hour. Nitin bowled some delightfully flighted deliveries which often bamboozled the batsmen who had no idea whether play on the front or back foot.
The unluckiest bowler this season (yours truly) was then given the ball in the 34th over and after a tidy first over his bad luck proceeded to continue with another dropped catch at long on that should have been taken. Northwick’s premier batsmen still had not reached his century at this crucial conjuncture. He then laid into Vasa the following over and the temporary stalling of the Northwick batting vehicle soon shifted itself back into fifth gear as he took advantage of another life
Sabs had earlier tried his hand at some slower bowling in the nets and he came on and showed some obvious talent at perhaps filling the void that MP3 filled two seasons ago. At this stage Priory were tiring in the field but to their credit the fielders kept their heads up and at the very least there was some improvement in the ground fielding as the innings wore on
Priory’s two gun bowlers (Harmy and Dave) returned briefly with some success but even they could not create the sort of damage limitation the game cried out for. Mercifully Northwick declared their innings at 308-8 in 48 overs of genuine flair combined with hard graft. Perhaps they were a batting team only and Priory could exploit a weakness in their bowling attack…
At the interval Priory’s strategy was clear with the skipper’s emphasis to his top 6 being survival rather than runs. The players also received a sumptuous tea courtesy of (Mrs) Sabs and I have no doubt that the cakes and rolls that lined Vij and Dave’s stomach gave them the fuel needed for the longevity of their innings
Captain’s lead from the front but not often from number 7! A top order capitulation had Dave in at the crease just 11 overs into the innings. Northwick Park had an abundance of talent in the bowling department and it was relentless. Nothing loose was given in an opening spell of bowling that had the viewing gallery in awe. The good strong techniques of Sabs, Hambo, Punit and Nitin were dismantled by some seriously impressive swing bowling. In the first 11 overs there was absolutely no respite for batsmen who had just spent 48 overs tirelessly fielding.
When Dave joined the resolute Vijay at 20 odd for 5 in the 11th over it seemed a matter of time before the squad would venture into their second home of Venue 5, disconsolate and defeated. Dave and Vijay however had other ideas. Vijay was under immense pressure, a difficult start to the season he put pressure on himself to achieve his normally high consistent standards. The situation was made for his dogged and determined Boycott like batting and he didn’t disappoint.
Dave and Vijay blunted the bowling with excellent defence combined with rotation of strike. Whilst Vijay counted himself lucky on occasion with some half chances Dave’s innings was almost chanceless. He played within himself and for the team as he restricted his own game, removing any drives from his repertoire and accumulating through the leg side.
As the overs passed Northwick’s bowling did not relent. Every change bowler had a weapon, a change of pace, a short ball from height, off spin, leg spin and real pace. A throwback to a Sri Lankan attack that possessed Vaas, Muralitharan, Mendis and Malinga, every bowler presented Dave and Vijay with a different challenge. Luckily for Priory it was a challenge that Vijay and Dave took on. Vijay clearly benefitted from his hours in the nets, it was obvious that he had honed a new deft leg side flick that allowed him to get off strike and keep the scoreboard ticking.
Just over 26 overs had passed since the last wicket and Northwick’s bowlers were starting to get frustrated as Vijay and Dave had taken Priory to the brink of a battling draw. From 10.4 overs until 37.2 overs this was a real backs to the wall performance that bodes well for Priory’s season. Unfortunately Vijay was finally out for a battling 22 that will give him a certain amount of confidence for the games that lie ahead. With the umpire confirming that Northwick still had about 15 overs to bowl Priory still had work to do with just 4 wickets remaining
Vasa joined the indomitable Dave at the crease and his sole aim was to support Priory’s captain and ensure Dave did not give his wicket away as his was the key to Priory batting out the last 15 overs.
These two enjoy batting together with fond memories of putting Burhani Guards to the sword in the home game last season, each over was ticked off and counted, discussions were held and a strategy discussed for each prevailing bowler
Dave was now in full stride, there wasn’t a bowler in the Northwick line up that was going to remove him. Vasa was also gaining in confidence and was happy to play against his own natural instincts and defend. As the overs ticked by Dave was getting very close to his 50, with the crowd clamouring for the last four runs the two in the middle decided that first we would secure the draw and then with three balls remaining Dave would start searching for his 50.
True to his team ethic, personal milestones were of no objective to Dave as he patted back the first three balls and then proceeded to thrash a couple of drives to reach his landmark to great acclaim. The final balls were dutifully completed and a miraculous draw was achieved. Vasa batted 15 overs for his 13 not out, Vijay batted for nearly 30 overs for his 22 and the masterful Dave batted defiantly for an unbelievable 41 overs for what must be regarded as one of his best half centuries.
In sporting terms, forget the miracle of Medina (Europe’s Ryder cup winners) this was Priory’s Escape in Eastcote. One thing we learnt from the match was that Priory certainly do not give up without a fight, just one wicket lost in 41 overs of tough unrelenting test match style cricket.