On a day no one described as “hotter than Bob Willis’ forehead during the 2007 Cricket World Cup’” skipper Sam Buckell took his merry men on a trip to Merrow. This was not for a morale team bonding treat, or an early birthday gathering for Ali Booth, but instead for a cricket match. A limited overs cricket match, and one that had huge importance to Weybridge Vandals and their season at that.
After a draw and two wins in their previous three games, the team had reason to be confident, although two key members of that successful run were missing. Mark Fenton was unfortunately stuck in a bath and Liam Connaughton was on his monthly Milk Tray delivery run. It was not all doom and gloom (and outdated chocolate references). The Vandals were buoyed by the sight of returning veteran swinger, Jonny Powell, who had been AWOL for 5 weeks after he cited being “unable to handle Sam Buckell’s fist without an iron thumb”. In addition, Connor Baker returned, fully recovered from his enlarged and twisted vanity being removed – this time by Lloyd Grossman through the key hole method.
Sam Buckell, who’s iron fist has somewhat melted in the heat since reaching boiling point at Kempton, promptly lost the toss and the Vandals were politely asked to field. Jonny Powell took the new ball and immediately had it swinging, slipping through the defences of the Merrow opener with the final delivery of his first over. At the other end his long-time brother, but less frequent partner, Woo Powell, toiled away, keeping things tight. At 19-1 at the start of the ninth over the game was finely balanced. Big matches require big players to make the big plays, and Jonny Powell has often tipped the scales in the Vandals favour over the years. Today would be no different. He started the over by removing Brown LBW, then after a play and a miss took the leg stump of Maginnis. Merrow captain Keeble blocked his first ball, but next ball Jonny found his edge and luckily Tom Neville held on at gully. The final ball was blocked, neatly providing a misinformed internet address prefix (W.W.W.) in the book and the Vandals with the momentum they badly needed. It was not much longer before Jonny had his fifth victim of the match (5-13), inducing an edge behind to Dan Fenton to ensure the Merrow top 5 were all back in hutch with only 30 on the board after 15 overs.
After Jonny had been given a much needed rest following 8 overs straight, Sasi Thonangi stepped up to the plate and kept up the pressure. In his first over he also found big swing and cleaned up number 6, 39-6. In partnership with skipper Buckell both asked probing questions of the batsmen and kept runs at a premium. Unfortunately, Tyler and Christie were digging in though. Tyler did offer a chance to gully with the score on 60, but Neville put it down. Buckell mixed things up and tried the slower stuff of Anish Kulkarni and Garry Foreman but the partnership could not be broken. It took the return of Buckell, but this time from the pavilion end, to get the crucial breakthrough, bowling the stubborn Tyler with the score on 107. With Christie still set and momentum starting to be gained by Merrow, there was delight when Buckell got his second wicket with another in ducking heavy ball making it 118-8. Conscious of the innings going the distance and the need to balance the overs, Buckell returned to the Powell brothers, and this time Woo got in on the act, getting a tickle to Dan. With both Powell’s now bowled out, Sasi and Sam were lined up to finish the last of the allotted overs, but Sasi only needed one ball. He trapped final man Hurst in front ending the Merrow innings on 127, leaving Christie unbeaten on 34.
The Vandals headed in for a well-earned rest in the shade. Other than the one drop, the fielding had supported the excellent bowling and the boys were confident. They were also very well fed, with an excellent spread put on by Merrow for tea. Refuelled and refreshed, Sam Buckell and Connor Baker headed out to hunt down 128. They initially ticked the scoreboard over nicely in the first overs, helped with some extras, but ultimately the Merrow opening spells were probing. Although neither batsman could get Hurst away, they stuck at it and didn’t get frustrated. Sam did hit two glorious off drives in a row from Tyler and Connor provided a crowd highlight when he misjudged a delivery from Hurst that caught him the unmentionables. Perhaps still (understandably) reeling from that, Connor had ground to a halt in his run making and after 33 straight dots he was bowled by the relentless Hurst for 3. The main thing the pair had done was use up Merrow’s main bowlers overs though, so at 27-1 after 15 overs, the innings was well set. Tom Neville joined his skipper and had a sense of urgency about him after shelling the earlier opportunity. With the score approaching 50, Sam finally got a delivery to hit from Hurst, but sadly for him he only got an inside edge to his opposing skipper behind the stumps. At 47-2, there was a chance of a Vandals wobble.
The ageless Gary Foreman was not going to have any of that though. He drove his first delivery straight back over the head of Hurst for a boundary, signalling intent and bringing up the 50. Tom took his cue from Garry and they decided to take the attack to the bowlers. They kept out the deliveries, but fully cashed in when Merrow bowled to their strengths. Garry was particularly crunching through mid-off and Tom through midwicket. Whilst Tom nurdled, Garry hurdled and when Merrow opted for a last throw of the dice with a couple of new bowlers Garry wasted no time in launching a huge maximum towards the car park. The part put on 81 runs in exactly 11 overs, with the only minor blemish being the fact the winning run was a wide, preventing Garry from getting a much-deserved half century. He finished unbeaten on 49, with 9 fours and that sweet maximum, whilst Tom finished with his old friend 38.
An 8-wicket victory was well deserved, and although there were some clear stand outs with wickets and runs, it was a collective effort with the ball, in the field and with the bat that achieved it. The 20 points collected could prove crucial in the Vandals efforts to see off relegation, as will the momentum of such a team performance if it can be maintained.