C.E.C.C.| Shepherds Cot | Crouch End | North London | N8 8JJ
Our league season began with a tough looking game on paper - away at Hampstead, who have cruised to two successive promotions. A damp pitch greeted us at the lovely Winchmore Hill ground. The toss was lost and we were asked to bat. Hampstead seemed delighted, me less so. Rob, who now adds vice captaincy duties to his meteorological skills, declared the weather as 'blustery'.
It was always going to be a tricky start against two good opening bowlers, who after a loose opening over each settled in to their rhythm. The one from the far end in particular could easily grace our 2nd team. Occupation was the key. Simon, after hitting a four off his first ball to much delight, was first to perish. Ross and George did not look in much trouble but runs were at a premium, especially given some enthusiastic fielding. Then George lost his middle stump to the impressive opening bowler.
Rob hit a lovely square four before he was also bowled. Ross was looking good, especially given the difficult pitch conditions, and was the glue that was just about holding things together. He fell to a horrible slow motion bat, pad, trickle on to the stumps and our innings was in danger of unraveling. New boy Richard hit a couple of impressive blows before losing his wicket. Asif was also out, followed by Symon first ball. At 76-7 we were in all sorts of trouble and Hampstead thought they had us beaten.
When Ricardo joined Kester, our second new boy, no one watching could have imagined what would happen next. The two West Indians treated us to a show of true calypso cricket that warmed up a chilly early May afternoon. Kester's innings was elegance and brutality combined. His first ball was smashed for four and he then proceeded to pick apart an attack that had caused so many problems. A series of massive sixes (one of which was mis-hit, broke his bat and still landed in a pile of nettles about 20 metres over the rope) was swinging the innings back in our favour.
Ricardo was the perfect foil and his role in the partnership should not be underestimated. Solid, powerful and composed but no less effective than Kester. Some big hits of his own and intelligent running had the score increasing - first over 100, then 120, then 150. Suddenly we had something to bowl at and an opposition who had run out of ideas. When Kester finally skied one and went to a good catch, the pair had put on 121 for the 8th wicket and he had 75 to his name. An epic and ultimately game changing effort by both of them. I joined Ricardo in the last over and we finished on 200-8. Ricardo was 43 not out.
It is not often that you have two West Indian fast bowlers at your disposal so Kester and Ricardo were asked to open the bowling, despite their heroics with the bat. Both caused problems - Ricardo's nagging accurancy went unrewarded while Kester destroyed one opener's stumps with a good inswinger. Symon came on and was fast and accurate, especially in his first three overs. However, the score was ticking along at the required run rate and a change of pace was needed. Enter Dave ...
A couple of overs in he benefited from a good catch by George behind square to remove their dangerous looking opener. At the halfway point, they were 100-3 and we needed to regroup and tidy up our fielding if we were to win. What happened afterwards was a slow bowling masterclass from Dave. Aided by some excellent catching from Kester out in the deep and Richard at mid on, he turned the screw on the opposition. In between, I came on at the other end and trapped an aggressive left hander LBW. Then Kester made up plenty of ground to dismiss a powerful middle order hitter with a great catch for my second.
The combination of Dave and myself was strangling Hampstead and they seemed increasingly desperate as the overs ticked by and wickets fell. To their credit they kept going for it. However the writing was beginning to appear on the wall when Dave bamboozled their skipper to bowl him with the ball of the day to claim his fifth wicket. It was fitting that he wrapped the match up with his sixth and also fitting that Ricardo took the catch to cap an excellent all round performance from him - a fantastic effort running in from deep mid off to hold on to one that had steepled high in to the air. Much celebration followed. A special mention must also go to Rob, who was forced in to keeping for the day and admirably stood up to all the five bowlers threw at him. Just two byes conceded is testament to that.
This game was not your usual 'ease your way in to the season' game as the first league match can often be. This was a hard fought and tough battle against a very good side. I predict that we will not have many tougher this year. Hampstead will do well this season - their fielding, bowling unit and top order were impressive. They will not lose many games. On this performance though, neither should we. With promotion as our aim, it was very important to carry on last season's momentum.
It was incredibly pleasing to see so many of the players in the side that contributed so significantly to the great second half of last season that we produced. We need to keep a similar nucleus if we are to be successful this year. Team spirit can often be underestimated but we have it in abundance. It helped us claw back a precarious position in each innings. That said, it will only get you so far (just ask any Burnley fans). What you need in addition is match winners and game changers - someone who steps up when others have failed or when the going gets tough. Crucially, we also have them in abundance.
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