Thursday, 18 August 2011

on the playing fields of North London....

In the annals of Gentleman’s Relish there are some games that, for a variety of reasons, it is likely very few of the protagonists remember playing in. Similarly, there are some games no-one involved will ever forget. Our first match against the Hawksmoor Cricket Club will almost certainly fall in the latter category.

Scheduled for 1pm at Parliament Hill Fields, a delightful ground, we arrived to find an altogether different team awaiting their opponents. Presently, the Relishers' Match Captain Chappers arrived with some very smartly dressed but decidedly confused chaps in tow who turned out to be our opposition. After some negotiation it became apparent that the pitch was not booked for our match and that in all likelihood, our game was due to be played on the Hampstead Heath Extension nearly 2 miles away. Your correspondent cannot be too harsh about this, having done exactly the same thing to the Relishers some years ago.

So, on a hot and sunny day we set off across the heath in search of a venue. This involved a fair amount of getting lost and gave the teams an opportunity to get to know one another. It cannot be described as a bonding experience.

After some time walking and with a stop for an ice-cream for the especially alert, We eventually happened upon the promised oval. After further discussions, a pitch was decided upon and the toss made. Auspiciously Captain Chappers called correctly and the Relishers went in to bat. The wicket was dry, green, slow and with a bit of a slope. The outfield however was glorious and, with the sun shining, conditions for batting looked good. Unfortunately, our youthful opponents, with techniques honed at extremely reputable schools, set about proving otherwise.

Roger and I were both off the mark quickly with leg-side nurdles. However, with plenty of free runs in the form of byes (inexperienced keeper, later replaced) and wides (rusty bowlers) our stroke play remained circumspect. We moved along at a very reasonable 4 an over for a while until it became apparent that one of their bowlers was indeed rusty rather than rubbish and the quality of the deliveries began to improve markedly. Scoring faltered and eventually the inevitable happened: forced back by a quickish back of a length ball, I failed to defend a slower ball yorker and departed.

We sent our borrowed player Benny in at number 3. He seemed to have been exiled to us for some transgression and was mercilessly targeted by his own side. However it was Roger, now set and becoming more fluent that fell first. The less threatening of the two opening bowlers sent down a fullish ball on middle and leg which stopped in the pitch. Roger, conscious of the need to up the rate saw the chance to drive but was defeated by the slowness off the wicket and sent back a creditable return catch for 24

The first change bowlers at either end turned out to be no slouches either. Benny was lbw for 5. Salman, normally the among most unflappable of Relishers’ batmen was kept hopping around with some accurate short pitched stuff and then spliced one to square leg for 7. Scoring slowed further and at one point the 1st change Lloyd-Thomas had figures of 2 for 0 off 3 overs. Suresh offered the brightest resistance, hitting some lovely shots square of both sides of the wicket and counter-attacking with considerable success until a moment of class ended his innings. A little too much air on an attempt to clear mid-on gave mid-wicket just enough time to run round and complete a spectacular catch. Dan followed quickly courtesy of another good catch by the same fielder.

We took drinks in some disarray at 91 for 6 and wickets continued to tumble after the break. The opposing captain brought himself on to bowl some pretty handy and delightfully orthodox leg-spin which bamboozled John when one failed to turn and bowled him. Chappers dispatched a full-toss to the square-leg boundary but then chipped to mid-on shortly after. Bod was struck in front before he’d had a chance to gauge the bowling and the innings threatened to subside meekly.

Thank heavens then for the final pair of Nikhil and Siva, who, with our blushes to spare, set about the bowling with gusto. A quickfire stand of 33, including a wonderful hooked 6 by Siva and flurry of well-struck boundaries from Nikhil’s bat took us to 132 off 21 of the allotted 35 overs.

This looked, charitably, 50-60 runs short. But as the Relish ate their tea there was a general feeling that this was not a game any of us wished to lose. Some of the chat during our innings had been a little irritating and there was a sense that here were group of young men who were not likely to do much losing in their lives and it fell to us to remind them that it happens to everyone sometimes. So, it was a resolute side that took the field after the break. Buoyed by a calm and determined talk from Captain Chappers we set about our defence.

Siva hit his lengths immediately and the openers, unconcerned by the required rate, took the hint and played defensively. Even so the bat was beaten frequently, but when the ball was straight they were good enough to keep it out. Salman also demanded respect with some nice away movement and a consistent off stump line and it was he who, in the fourth over made the first breakthrough when Bruce spooned a catch to Nikhil in the leg side. Siva was then rewarded for his excellent spell when he found a beautiful inswinger that pierced the defenses of the other opener Robinson and took out middle.

Sensing a chance to make serious in-roads Chappers kept the field in and was rewarded with some excellent stops as numbers 3 (Hobbs) and 4 (Captain Tom) tried to play themselves in. John and Dan came on as first change bowlers and though they too were accurate, the reduction in pace made the batsmen more comfortable and soon the Hawksmoor score began to tick over. Some unorthodox umpiring raised the tension levels a little as we strove to break what was starting to become an ominous partnership. It eventually gave in unfortunate circumstances as Captain Tom, turning for a second, aggravated an old neck injury and was run out by a yard.

This proved only a temporary setback for Hawksmoor as Hobbs formed a new partnership with the incoming Lloyd-Thomas and runs kept flowing despite some really good fielding. Chappers turned to Nikhil to present a different challenge and it nearly worked as Hobbs skied a drive to extra cover only for the bowler and John to get in each other's way in their eagerness to take the catch and the chance went down. Had we missed our opportunity?

Drinks came in the 17th over with the score at 75 for 3. With only 58 more required at less than 3.5 an over, two set batsmen and wickets in hand, things looked bleak for the Relish. The decision was made to bring back Siva and Salman to try and get through to the lower order who may find it harder to judge the chase. The first two overs after the break went wicketless but the intensity levels rose and in the 2nd over of Siva's 2nd spell came what might have been the turning point. Hobbs, unwilling to be kept quiet, tried to smash a good length ball over a deep-set mid off. Beaten for pace it flew high in the air, our substitue Benny settled under it and, to his credit, held on.

Immediately Chappers brought in the field. Siva and Salman bowled out without further scalps but the tenor of the match had changed somehow. John and Dan came back for their second spells and immediately looked threatening - particularly Dan who's left arm round line troubled both batters and he soon pinned the incoming Redout in front. This precipitated a minor collapse as Suresh came on, immediately settled despite the tension and in a fantastic over, bowled Varma and then also caught Lloyd-Hughes on the crease. The umpire had no doubt and Hawksmoor were 7 down for 105.

The dangerous Lloyd-Thomas was still there, but with so few runs to play with we tried to deprive him of the strike and eventually, sensing trouble at the other end, he tried to attack the wrong ball and got a leading edge off Dan which Suresh made no mistake with running round from point. 8 down but with only 16 runs to get in 8 overs the match was impossible to call. A maiden from John swung the momentum our way only for the incoming De Boreman to grasp it back with a boundary in the next over.

Thankfully John got rid of De Boreman with a slower ball that he tried to thrash to the boundary, but could only poke to Chappers at mid on and suddenly Hawksmoor were 9 down with 9 runs to get. Kaufman tried to get the deficit to within a single hit with a slog to cover but an alert Siva managed to keep him to a single. Then came the moment that will live long in the memories of all who witnessed it. Nikhil, bowling at the death under intense pressure sent down a good delivery that Kaufman hoicked from outside off towards deep midwicket. Feeling he'd struck it well enough he turned for a second only to be sent back by his partner who saw Salman closing in on the ball. Attempting to arrest his momentum Kaufman ended up in a heap, a yard and a half short of his ground but with time to get back had it not been for an outrageously excellent throw from Salman that Nikhil had the prescence of mind to divert onto the stumps. A single bail dislodged and the Relish ran to a delirious huddle as the realisation of our achievement set in.

An amazing match that both sides thoroughly enjoyed playing in. A wily and experienced team performance from the Relish saw us just over the line. With the match over, the slight needle that had permeated some of the game dissipated and we all went to the pub for a heartfelt celebration/commiseration. Many thanks to all involved, particularly Chappers for marshalling the team so well. I look forward to a repeat fixture next year. We might book the pitch though.

Man of the Match

Nikhil - An excellent all round performance. Without his runs at the end of our innings, we'd have had nothing to defend and his nerveless bowling and fielding at the death saw us over the line.

NB: This report was contructed from my own deeply limited memory and from a potentially highly inaccurate scorecard. any corrections/omissions please let me know.

Match: 35 overs

G.R.A.C.C 132 All Out in 21 overs
Hawksmoor 125 All Out in 32.4 overs

G.R.A.C.C won by 7 runs