Monday, 26 August 2013

HHCC vs Bank of England

Veronica Hartley presents the trophy to the two captains.

As bad light prevented England from what would have been an historic 4-0 series victory over the old enemy, Hyde Heath marked our own long-standing fixture with a touching tea-time ceremony in memory of the man who originated it, Brian Hartley. A couple of hours later, and the newly inaugurated Brian Hartley Trophy (a rather nice silver tankard) was held aloft by the captain of the Bank of England, as we recorded our sixth loss of a disappointing season.

Chasing an arguably below-par 165, the Bank cruised home with 3 overs to spare thanks to a monumental effort by one of their young batsman who saw them home single-handedly with one of the most clinically inevitable centuries I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness. We didn’t bowl badly – I was reasonably accurate, as was Sohail, Spencer was steady, and new man Usman bowled with pace and swing away. We did probably have attacking fields for too long (Usman still had two slips, a gulley and a backward point when he was past 70), and I think we could have tried a few more bowlers. Charlie was limited by the attack at his disposal, but Sohail should have bowled more than just 6 overs, and I probably would have given Dom a couple just to see what happened on a stodgy wicket.

But in the end it probably wouldn’t have mattered: he was simply too good for us. To underline the chasm between him and the rest of us (by ‘us’, of course, I mean ‘them’), when his hundred was brought up, the Bank’s total was only about 120. When he hit the winning runs off Charlie (batting and bowling in the same match for the first time in years) the next highest score was just 23.

I, Block

Earlier, we’d got off to a poor start as Henry cut the fourth ball of the opening over straight to point. Dom and I then steadied things with a careful 50-run stand. It was slow going, but the opposition bowled accurately, found a little swing, and the pitch made all but the rankest of long-hops difficult to time. As we began to grow in confidence, however, Dom skied to mid-off and I gloved a silly sort of late cut / dab shot to be caught behind for 38. After doing all the hard work I was bloody fuming.

The customary clatter of wickets which followed was halted by Matt Sims, who played several rasping shots through the off-side, and Usman, who – despite some ropey calling – looked very solid for his 50. On a pitch with a bit more pace, he could be very dangerous.

There was one moment of genuine concern when one of the Bank’s fielders slid round the boundary to avert a four, collected the ball and hurled it in, only to buckle and remain on the ground. It turned out he’d inadvertently slid along the rubber matting surrounding a new children’s climbing frame that had earlier this season been placed inside the boundary by some half-conscious dunce. The poor fellow in question was taken to hospital with a cut so deep that witnesses said they could see bone. Fortunately, although hobbling visibly, he returned to the ground later in the day. But it’s about time somebody moves that bloody thing.

Anyway, enough local-issue griping. In the end we scrabbled up to 165, which I thought was probably just about enough. With their young centurion in the ranks, however, I think they could have chased many more.

PS. I've been told off for neglecting to mention tea. It was excellent. And there was bloody loads of it! Which is almost as important.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Bourne End vs HHCC

So apparently that old adage about London buses also applies to half centuries. You wait over a decade for one to come along, and then suddenly it's two in consecutive innings. Yes, after my long-awaited maiden 50 against The Full Tossers two weeks ago, 50 number two was registered immediately afterwards, away at Bourne End. If the first was painfully slow, this was a much freer affair – flowing even, with several fours and even a six – although I did benefit from two or three lapses in the field – not drops exactly, more a kind of lethargy that prevented the oppo's fielders from even bothering to attempt to catch the ball. Perhaps the same lethargy overcame our spectators who failed to acknowledge the momentous landmark until after I was dismissed, top edging a pull, for 52. No claps, no jugs people.

Batting at three again due to absences – have I nailed down this pivotal position? Where will Capper slot into the order when he returns? – I came to the crease after the openers had made a calculatedly aggressive start to our chase of 220 in 40 overs. After playing one of the most sweetly timed lofted drives you could wish to see, Dom was extremely unfortunate to be given out caught of his forearm by Ben Sonley, and left the field absolutely fuming. He's subsequently emailed me to say that he has a rather large bruise half way up his arm where the ball hit!

At the other end Shrimpie “had the dog” after several catches were dropped off his bowling and Bourne End captain Azhar had capitalised by depositing a series of increasingly fast, flat deliveries into the nearby field. After smiting several glorious sixes himself (“Do you reckon I can win the sixes cup in one innings?” he asked as I came out to bat) he essayed one big hit too many and got himself stumped.

Strangely, the run rate didn't drop that much as I found an able ally in young Olly who batted extremely sensibly – blocking the good stuff and capitalising on anything legside – and the partnership began to grow. It was by a distance the most I've enjoyed batting: the pitch was a minefield, and the opposition's battery of “quirky”-actioned spinners were turning it square and finding occasionally laughable amounts of bounce. Olly was sconned twice in an over, one was called a wide so high did it bounce over my head, and I have a cluster of bruises on my ribs from a succession of off-breaks that spat off a length. But I felt confident judging the length and there were sufficient bad balls to keep things ticking. Thank god they didn't have any genuinely fast bowlers – Sohail would have been lethal on that pitch. At the half-way stage we were 100 for 2 and very much in the game.

When Olly and I were eventually dismissed, Jez and Spencer kept our hopes alive with a quick-fire partnership, but their dismissals exposed our inexperienced lower-middle order (comprising Gwillem (sp?), Angus, Ben and Liam). And as the run-rate began to escalate, the wickets tumbled, our innings rather tailed off and we eventually fell short by 20 or so.

Earlier, we were so short of seamers that I opened the bowling, picking up two wickets – one to an excellent reflex catch by Ben in the gulley. But it was nothing compared to Liam's quite brilliant snare to get rid of their dangerous number four, who I'm pretty certain has scored runs against us in the past. The batsman was lured into a false drive against Ben, who like those battalions of Gloucestershire medium-pacers in the early 2000s (Mark Alleyne, Ian Harvey, James Averis, Jon Lewis, Mike Smith... any others, Ali?) found a niggardly length to record our most economical figures of the day. The ball in question flew high over Liam's head at point. Backpeddling rapidly, he kept his eyes on the ball, leapt backwards and somehow caught it one-handed. An absolute screamer.

Inexplicably, Liam decided to make up for this moment of brilliant by shelling two much more straightforward catches – one at long-on and one at backward point. Those moments proved crucial, as thereafter the wheels rather came off. Spence dropped one in the deep after having run in too far off the boundary and Angus got nowhere near two that were arguable catchable, as the bowling was put to the sword. Even more inexplicably, I actually took two catches – one pretty well-held inches off the ground at deep backward square leg. But, increasingly lacklustre in the field, slow between overs, and lacking much bowling, we were incapable of preventing Bourne End's late innings acceleration, despite good spells from Ben and Dom. In the end we got closer than might have been expected, but not close enough.

Oh, and before we conclude this week's match report, special mention should go to the makers of Bourne End's tea. Well-made sandwiches were supplemented by an absolutely belting chicken biryani – heated up in the pavilion and served in 22 separate tupperware boxes alongside a cooling yoghurt and mint sauce. Yum! Perhaps it was the curry that contributed to all those runs. Ahem. Sorry.