Tuesday, 31 August 2010

HHCC vs Bank of England

Oh dear. A 24-hour binge beginning at Lord's at 11am on Saturday, continuing with dinner with one's alcoholic uncle, thence to a Bethnal Green house party and back home for breakfast lagers, is perhaps not the ideal preparation for a cricket match. Two quick pints at the Plough seemed to perk me up somewhat, but not for long.

I snooze; Nick mows

The opposition were Bank of England, and with the absence of Dom (on holiday I think) and Henry (being unspeakably lame) I was asked to open the batting. Fortunately some heavy rain meant the game was reduced to 30 overs per side, and I got time for a quick pre-match snooze. It didn't help. I was dropped twice on my way to a painful 6, before being stumped having a mow.

I'm out; there's a fly-by to celebrate

Unsure quite how to bat (not quite normally, not quite all-out 20/20 hitting) Hyde Heath rather collapsed and it was thanks to Jez with 30-odd, Atif and Spence that we got up to a roughly par 134 for 9.

Jez opened up with an extremely tight opening spell of 6 overs for 15, but it was only from the boundary that he managed to hit the wickets – sending in a throw of pin-point accuracy to run out one of their openers. In fact by the time I came on to bowl, we'd only taken two wickets, both to run outs, but that was all to change.

Jez cuts loose

I'd like to say I bowled amazingly, but it would be a lie – the usual array of full-tosses and long hops were all in evidence, but fortunately the batsmen weren't good enough to capitalise, and they also weren't good enough to keep out the decent deliveries, of which there were also some. Anyway, I finished with 4 for 20 off 6, and with Nick and Shrimpie also keeping things tight we closed the game out to win by about 20 runs.

All of which meant we could amble back to the pub. Thank god for that.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Ivinghoe & Pitstone vs HHCC

A clinical performance from Hyde Heath away against Ivinghoe & Pitstone made 2010 a record-breaking year for the club. We've now won 14 out of 18 completed matches to record, apparently, our best victory tally of all time. And with another four matches still to go, 2010 could well come to be hailed as Hyde Heath's annus mirabilis.

Winning the toss, Charlie elected to bowl first despite this being a 40-overs per innings game and the team being rather light on bowling. After Ivinghoe & Pitstone got off to a flier in the first three overs, it looked like we might be in for a long afternoon of leather chasing. But Jez and Shrimpie – taking the new ball with his off-spinners – clawed things back, and as wickets fell, a talented but fatally gung-ho batting line-up failed to adjust their tactics and ended up in a mess. Jez plugged away to pick up two wickets, but it was Shrimpie who did the bulk of the damage with six for 26.

He varied his pace well and the young batsmen didn't seem to have the patience to play him at all as they all succumbed to recklessness. That's not to take away from an excellent bowling effort, but the fact that the oppo were bowled out for 81 on a pitch that did nothing but keep occasionally low suggests poor thinking on their part.

One highlight was Dom bowling his first spell for the Heath in some years, and picking up two wickets. That one of them was caught (excellently, running backwards) by his brother Oli was particularly entertaining. Caught Haddock, bowled Haddock – what a way to go.

With such a small target the result was never really in doubt, although we did contrive to lose three wickets en route, including Shrimpie controversially given out caught behind by Charlie. Anyway, Oli Haddock came in to finish things off in style and a thorough pasting was completed. Splendid.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

HHCC vs Gamecox

An absolutely brilliant game of cricket down at the Heath on Sunday, witnessed in part by none of other than England captain Andrew Strauss, again. I have to say I think I bowled rather well, and by all accounts the second spinner's berth is wide open for the forthcoming Ashes tour to Australia – coincidence? You do the math...

Anyway, to the cricket, and it genuinely was one of the best games I've played for the Heath in, ooh, probably about a decade now. Reassuringly returning as captain, Charlie won the toss and we elected to field. Gamecox made a quick start, after a speculative and expensive solitary over from Ben Sonley, but were then pegged back by the accuracy of Jez and Brad, who also picked up two wickets.

From there, Charlie turned to the spinners – myself and Richard Austin, and we proceeded to wheel away for pretty much the rest of the Gamecox innings. After a poor start, Henry suggested that my right arm was getting too low, and thereafter I found a decent rhythm and a level of accuracy that had been markedly missing for the past few games. I got a couple of deliveries to really zip and turn, and picked up two wickets off a nice, long 11 over spell – of course these were off the rankest balls I bowled, but then such is the way with leg-spin (it could have been four were it not for two dropped chances at mid-off...).

At the other end Richard bowled tidily and also found some turn to pick up two wickets himself, and at the tea break, Gamecox were 183 for 6 – a gettable target, although it would have been nice to take more wickets. We were thwarted here by a gentleman of no less than 71, who made a composed 40-odd.

Capper and Haddock started the Heath response in solid style, putting on yet another half-century opening stand. But when both fell in consecutive balls from the oppo's unlikely-looking medium pacer, and then Matt and Napes followed soon after, we looked in some trouble.

Fortunately Richard and Ben strode to the rescue with a partnership of sensible accumulation. Even though Ben took some time to get going, Richard was aggressive against the Gamecox spinners, and runs began to flow. During their partnership there was a nice moment of controversy as I wided their off-spinner (the captain's son). Both were none too impressed (although the ball was pretty rank) – my guess is that Capper's shout from the boundary of “great decision, Tom!” probably didn't help too much... Just as Ben looked set however, there was a bit of a mix-up and he was run out in slightly ignominious fashion.

But Richard kept on going to reach his half-century off just 35 balls, and some big shots from Brad and Spence brought the target down to an eminently gettable 4 an over from the past four. But when Richard 'the finisher' Austin departed, the dots agonisingly mounted. When the opening bowler returned, things were still in the balance. Until Brad smote him over the trees for a colossal six. Surely the game was in the bag?

Well, no. Brad was bowled with 2 needed and it came down to the final over. Fortunately, Jez ran a single off the first ball, and on the third, Spence chipped one just, just over the heads of the infield and the batsmen scampered through for the winning run. Victory! With two balls and three wickets to spare – a brilliant match. And perhaps, in the end, that wide proved crucial. Guffaw.

Monday, 9 August 2010

HHCC vs Longwick

Probably the biggest shambles you could imagine preceded Sunday's game against Longwick.

First we had 12 players, as Richard Austin and a friend of Brad's were due to play in addition to the list of ten names sent to me by Charlie. This then dropped to 10, as Brad's mate was told he was superfluous to requirements and then Amala failed to arrive on the train (and failed to notify Caroline Capper who was waiting at the station to collect him). Thankfully Hyde Heath Chairman Mr J Capper stepped up when the club needed him most, and we managed to field a full eleven.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg. With half of the side well on their way to Longwick (and some already there) the Longwick skipper showed up at Fortress Heath with the rest of his team following shortly behind. I explained that we were playing at Longwick. He explained that we were playing at Hyde Heath. Neither side had a pitch prepared or (more importantly) teas to eat. A right bloody shambles.

Thankfully at a moment's notice our brilliant groundsman Mikey zoomed across the outfield and proceeded to cut and roll last week's wicket. In a frenzy of action we painted the boundary line, put out the flags and benches, set up the clock, and put in the stumps. Cricket, despite everything, would happen. We made sure of it.

In all this confusion I went out to toss – I was skipper by the way – and, despite my earlier tirade against limited overs cricket, conceded to Longwick's captain who wanted a 40 overs match. Anyway I won the toss and, just like Charlie, elected to field – mainly because I had no idea how the pitch would play. It turned out, as Mikey's pitches always do, to be perfect, if with a little more spin than usual.

Jez and Brad opened up and kept things tight, before Nicko replaced Brad at the Plough End. Continuing his good bowling form from tour, he bowled a full length and attacking line and was rewarded with three wickets from his allocated 8 overs (although it probably should be noted that two came from rank long hops, but hey ho). Shrimpie also wheeled away with accuracy, loop and a good bit of turn. He was more expensive than he should have been – party due to some bad fielding and partly due to some pretty bad field placement on my part.

Anyway, he took three wickets, including two in two balls, I bowled their left-hander through the gate with a sharply spun leg-break and we were well on top. From there I rather let things drift and from being about 80 for 6, Longwick eventually scrabbled up to 171 all out., partly aided by about 25 extras. A lot of credit though to Jez for the outstanding figures of 1 for 7 off 7 overs.

After tea – generously put together by the kind folks at the Plough – it was our turn to bat. I have to say I was a little nervous after we'd collapsed the week before chasing a similar target. But a century opening stand between Capper and Haddock effectively sealed the deal. Dom was dropped four times on his way to 60 but in between times played some great shots off the back foot. Several pull shots were particularly withering, and it was amusing that Longwick continued to feed the stroke.

Capper started sedately and was content to push the singles while Dom hit the boundaries at the other end. When he was out though, Henry started to find his timing, and although things got a little tense towards the end as we got a bit bogged down with the total in sight, he drilled two consecutive boundaries to swing the match decisively our way. All in all his unbeaten 83 was a measured and mature innings, that showed exactly how a run chase ought to be paced.

After the embarrassing lead-up it was a well-earned victory and, with everyone chipping in just to even get a match, it once more demonstrated the great spirit that lies at the heart of the Heath.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Hyde Heath Invicta Tour, Kent 2010

The Hyde Heath Invicta Tour – the 2010 incarnation of the club's annual foray away from leafy Buckinghamshire – lasted precisely one match. It then swiftly became the more aptly named Victa tour, during which, ironically, we won both matches, thus returning to the Invicta state in which we'd so presumptuously begun. Kind of.

Before we begin in earnest, a quick apology: I was drunk for most of the first match, exhausted for the second two, I tend not to pay attention to what's going on unless I'm personally involved and I have a terrible memory. So what follows is only hazy recollections at best (aided by Matt's tour notes). If I've got anything badly wrong or missed anything out then do please comment in the box at the bottom. Ta very much.

Anyway, enough wittering – to the cricket already!

Cobham vs HHCC
This year the first village to bear the brunt of the mighty Heath was not, as is customary in Kent, Meopham, but another village named, similarly, Cobham. But before the match, Tour Manager and Skipper Matt Sims rallied the troops with Gladiator-inspired speeches (“If you find yourself alone, sitting in a cool room with a cucumber sandwich in your hand, do not be troubled! For you are in the pavillion! And you're already out!”) and tour-themed gifts: Clark Kent-esque specs and super hero t-shirts, courtesy of tour sponsors Primani. Alas they couldn't help us play like superheroes. Yet.

No shows from Spencer's imaginary friends meant we were down to nine men and despite loans from the opposition, our fielding was poor. Swinging it at will, Jez and Brad bowled extremely well but I dropped around three catches, Capper one, Angus one, and our inspirational skipper one of the all-time howlers at mid-off. All this helped one of the oppo batsmen make it to 98 before he was sharply stumped by Capper off me. I've now forgotten what their total was but once we collapsed horribly the draw was our best bet. Batting at number 6, I was last man standing for 8 not out – the once mighty Heath had been bowled out for 88. Invicta no more.

The main controversy of the match surrounded, as so often, Atif, who after not being given a bowl decided to limp off the field with a “groin strain”. The fact that it seemed to recover in time for him to chase Brad round the park with a cricket bat suggested that it might – just might – have been feigned. It did, however, return the next day with a vengeance – more of which later.

The evening was then spent enjoyably making up for the loss by boozing our way round Maidstone. We kicked things off in the Wetherspoon's (yeah, it's all class with the Heath) before the party split in two – the oldies (oh god, that includes me) going to some late bar, and the young folk to what I hear is these days referred to a “night club”...

Harvel vs HHCC
Nobody wants to read about what went on at either location, so it's on to the second day of tour against the strong and highly competitive Harvel. After a solid opening stand between Matt Sims and Richard Austin, the latter really began to find his feet, eventually scoring an elegant and classical 80 – his highest score for HHCC. Studded with authoritative cover drives and signature pull strokes, it was a classy backbone to the innings. Jez kept up the momentum with a quick scoring half-century, before which I suffered the ignominy of a second ball duck by padding up to a fairly straight delivery and getting bowled. Nice.

So we eventually made 240 off our 50 overs and Harvel set about their chase in their customarily belligerent fashion. But a brilliant reflex catch at slip by Spence removed their talented ginger opener, and Brad again bowled well to peg back the top order. Their middle order began to flourish against a succession of rank full tosses from yours truly, until Nicko decided enough was enough. Bowling the best he's ever bowled for us – on a full length with a bit of pace and nip – he removed both set batsmen and the dangerous Wakeman (I think that's his name) who'd apparently scored a ton the day before. The ball he got their top scorer with – nipping back off the seam through the gate and into the stumps – was an absolute cracker.

The inspired Sims then turned immediately to Richard Austin who decisively beat their Australian overseas player with a bit of flight and guile (and a horrible mow) and it was all over bar the shouting. We'd beaten Harvel. Again! They're certainly the strongest team we play all year and to beat them – even if they do give us a few runs to make a game of it – is really rather satisfying, and shows the commitment to the cause that marks the Heath apart.

That evening we all went for a well-earned curry (something the Pett's Wood changing room would come to regret the next day) and there was much booze-related rejoicing, despite everyone's exhaustion. One notable omission from the evening's revels was Atif, whose groin strain/strop had flared up again to such an extent that he decided to bugger off home in his van. There's precedent for this (cf. the case of HHCC vs Nutman 2007) and Asif, in absentia, was fined the standard penalty of £1.3million.

Pett's Wood vs HHCC
The final match against Pett's Wood always sees Hyde Heath below par (it's probably all that team spirit) and again our fielding and bowling were lacklustre – although credit again to Brad for a long and accurate spell. Without his bowling this tour, we could have been in serious trouble. On a flat wicket though and with the outfield like lightning, wickets were hard to come by and Pett's Wood declared at tea on about 220.

After tea, Jez and I strode out to open the Hyde Heath riposte, knowing that a quick start was imperative. Luckily – because I have literally no shots – Jez kicked off in some style, slamming their bowlers back over the heads with impressive timing. When he was out cutting for a quickfire 34, he'd given us the impetus we needed. But when Shrimpie continued his run of poor form and I was splendidly caught behind down the leg-side for 30-odd, the innings faltered. Luckily Brad kept things together, scoring quickly but sensibly on his way to 60, ably supported by an increasingly confident Angus. When Brad fell though (I gave him out LBW!) it was still all in the balance – especially as we only had nine batsmen – but Richard Austin guided us home in style to cap an excellent tour for him. It was a tense, but ultimately well-paced run chase and a fitting end to another brilliant tour.

The one moment of controversy came when Matt laid out the HHCC flag with pride upon the table, only for Pett's Wood to later lay their tea upon it – the sacrilege! But we'll get over it. After yet another wonderful tour, Matt deserves a whole heap of praise. It must be a bit of a bloody nightmare sorting the whole thing out, but Matt always does it so well, and in addition, his on-field captaincy was genuinely first-rate. To Kent again next year? Or pastures new? Who knows...

HHCC vs Bourne End

Tour hangover strikes again as a rather inept batting performance sees Hyde Heath felled at home by a nine-man Bourne End team. We should really play someone really, really bad immediately after tour.

We won the toss and, as usual, inserted the opposition. Brad and Jez bowled well to nip out one of their openers and a rather one-dimensional number three – at one stage we about six fielders between the keeper and point until he popped a leg-side catch to the keeper.

But from here problems arose as their number four – a semi-pro ringer from Portsmouth – announced his intentions by slamming his first ball, a full length delivery from Brad, back over wide mid-off for 6. At the other end Azhar interspersed sweetly timed lofted drives with frequent and frustrating air shots, and the pair proved rather hard to bowl at. The ringer hit one particularly memorable straight drive back over Luke's head before drilling a long hop from Shrimpie to Brad at deep midwicket for 53. After that they folded to 186 all out with Shrimpie finishing with four. On a flat pitch with a fast outfield the game was in the bag. Surely?

Well, no. Nicko opened up with Shrimpie, but both departed early, followed by Nick's mate Travis to a horrible mow (he'd looked pretty good before that). So it was down to Luke's mate Harry (who'd earlier kept wicket tidily) and Tim Barnsley to steady the ship, which they duly did in some style until Harry received a brutal lifter from the Portsmouth ringer, bowling off-spin.

From there, we lost Spence (although not until he'd hit a colossal six over the trees), Brad and Luke for very little and the innings was in tatters. When Tim was caught on the boundary for an elegant half century, Jez and I were too late to salvage anything and we were bowled out for about 130. A pretty dismal display. Thank god for skipper Nick's chicken tikka sandwiches at tea.