A disappointing season in terms of personal achievement came to a close in fitting fashion on Sunday: after my fielding was horribly exposed and my bowling sadly overlooked, I was then invited to open the batting. Two balls later I was back in the pavilion having bottom edged a yorker onto my off stump. Screw you, cricket!
My personal travails rather mirrored those of the Heath, as we were winkled out for 105 to cap a season that never quite got going. With no less than five matches cancelled due to the weather, our stats at the end of the season – played 17, won 8, lost 6, drawn 3 – were hardly much to write home about, and certainly a far cry from the glory days of 2008-2011 when the mighty Heath carried all before them.
A distinct end-of-term feel pervaded our performance throughout. After getting off to a late start, we put in one of our worst fielding efforts of the year. My ground fielding was woeful, and we put down a good 5 or 6 catches (Shrimpy two, of which one was very tough, Liam a very sharp one, Ali and Sohail one each). There were misfields, the odd mini-strop, and overthrows galore – 8 runs gifted in two balls by myself and Jez, Chasey the unfortunate bowler.
As it was, we were saved from having to chase anything to large thanks to Ivinghoe and Pitstone’s traditional middle order recklessness and some excellent, crafty off-spin from Richard Austin, who varied his flight well, bowled very few bad balls, and relied mostly on drift and undercut away from the batsman rather than big spin off the surface to record career-best figures of 7-44. Not a single one of those was a ‘gimme’ – the classic spinner’s wicked caught on the boundary – all were genuine dismissals where the batsman was out-thought.
The other highlight was a magical slower ball from Ali to dismiss I&P's hard-hitting opener. After being driven down the ground for a spate of booming boundaries, Ali unfurled a perfectly disguised off-break, which completely deceived the batsman, sneaked under his bat, and bowled him in highly satisying fashion. Shades of Steven Harmison c2005: "Ali Richards! With a slower ball! One of the great balls! Given the moment, given the batsman..." Oh shut up, Mark.
Unfortunately our batting couldn’t quite match Ritchie’s (or Ali's) craft. Nobody ever really got in and it was a pretty sorry innings from start to finish. There were two memorable bright spots on an otherwise grey day, however: firstly, Liam sealed his victory in the Duck Cup in resounding style, crowning the season with a goldie to underline his prowess in this area.
And secondly: the umpiring of a certain Paul Haddock, who, in a perhaps unrelated move, recently added your increasingly humble correspondent to his “professional network” via LinkedIn. (In parentheses: we’re aware of the strangely timed line break above, but, trust us, this little anecdote deserves a paragraph of its own). It’s difficult to explain exactly what went through his once-great legal mind (perhaps it was the rare sight of Charlie’s arrival at the crease?) but suffice it to say that never before has the Heath born witness to an over consisting of no less than ten legitimate deliveries. Umpiring serenely from the Plough End, Paul ignored repeated entreaties from his square-leg colleague (ahem, me) as well as increasingly urgent calls from the scorers. Ball after ball was ushered through, as the over mounted to near-mythical proportions. Eventually, to the bafflement of fielders and onlookers alike, Paul had enough and called it a day. Wisden is being notified as we speak.
Fare thee well, cricket. Till another year.