Traditionally, the Bourne End fixture is one of the hardest of the year. It's miles away, it's not the most attractive ground in the world, the oppo are usually pretty strong, and – significantly – it's right after tour and everyone is usually exhausted.
But with tour cancelled this year (nothing to do with the London riots I hasten to add – although if the Oval test match gets cancelled I'll be frickin' livid...) it was a chance to show what we at Hyde Heath are made of.
It was also a chance for me to practice what I preach. After a season that's so far featured more opinions from yours truly than wickets (and indeed runs) I had a chance to lead the side in the manner I've espoused on Tragics (thanks to Henry's last minute decision to hand over the baton of authority).
Unsurprisingly I largely failed in my bid to ensure that everyone got a game, as Spence, Liam, Tim Barnsley and myself didn't bat or bowl, whilst even Shrimpie only bowled the solitary over. In part this was clearly my fault as captain, but it was also in part due to some unexpectedly cavalier batting from the Bourne End top order, and some impressively resolute batting from our own.
Bourne End won the toss and strangely elected to bat on a spicy wicket. They came out, as they often do, with all guns blazing, but thanks to some excellent bowling from both Jez and Brad (and some shrewd captaincy I hasten to add...) we swiftly scythed through their line-up. What was so pleasing was the way in which both bowlers hit consistent lines and lengths, meaning that captaincy decisions could focus on how to get the batsman out, rather than how to stop the boundary off the rank ball. This is the fun part of captaincy – working with the bowlers, analysing weaknesses in the batsmen and manoeuvring the troops as appropriate.
And clearly it worked. Jez bowled splendidly – full, with a bit of movement in the air and some bounce of the pitch to finish with 4 wickets, whilst Brad also bowled with some fire to unsettle a couple of their batsmen. He took two, despite a couple of drops off his bowling by Dom (although one of them was pretty bloody tough). With the oppo's top order in tatters it would have been a good time to turn to those who don't get much of a bowl, but with Azhar still in and looking strong (after being dropped by Capper, standing up to Jez) I was reluctant to risk having to chase too many runs – particularly on such a tough pitch.
Then, just as Azhar was removed and I was preparing to loose the second string (by which I mean me) the lower order collapsed in a heap to some impressive bowling from Luke (and a run out) and Bourne End were all out for under 100.
Ordinarily this would have been a cake walk, but the pitch was a tricksy one, and Bourne End had a potent new bowler called Saj. We lost Capper early, yorked by Saj, and it was left to Dom and Luke's mate Harry (batting at 3 after Shrimpy very kindly said he could take his place) to see off the threat. Dom, modelling a new, more upright technique (for which Johnny Capper claimed much credit) looked far more secure than usual, and played the situation extremely well – leaving what he could, blocking the dangerous deliveries and then whenever the bad ball came lashing it to the boundary with customary force.
At the other end Harry took his cue from Dom. After receiving an absolute cracker first ball – that jagged back through his defences and went over the top of off stump – he displayed solid defensive technique and temperament. It was like Trott and Cook out there! Until the lesser bowlers came on and Dom thrashed them all round the park to cruise over the finish line and secure victory by 9 wickets.
A satisfying victory then, in terms of the cricket played, but a less good one for acting upon one's theories. Oh well...