C.E.C.C.| Shepherds Cot | Crouch End | North London | N8 8JJ
The final league game of the season took us to in-form Kenton and their pleasant but small ground. When we played them in Week 9, both of us were in the bottom two and we crucially won. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then both sides had enjoyed excellent second halves to the season, with Kenton mirroring (- is that a real word?) our achievements which culminated in their own victory over leaders Twickenham last week. This was not going to be an easy game against a side who could draw level with us on points if they won.
On a strange, muggy and slightly gloomy day (marked as 'hazy' by Rob, Team Meteorologist) we were presented with a green, damp pitch on arrival. I lost my first toss for seven weeks and we were put in to bat. With Jon arriving close to kick off and George seconded to the first team, it was Mark and Richard who opened. The pair put on a solid partnership against some decent opening bowling in increasingly gloomy conditions. Mark in particular took advantage of the very short boundary on one side (a boundary so short that a 'no six local rule' dictated that only a four could be signaled however the ball crossed the rope).
Both were looking good and accumulating runs, until Mark was first out for 21 by patting back a catch to the bowler. Jon came in to join Richard and almost immediately presented a soft chance, which looked harder for the fielder to drop than catch. Luckily he did drop it and Jon went on to play well. Richard, who carried on from where he left off last week, played another good innings and was finally out just before drinks when he was outfoxed by a slower ball and bowled. He had scored 28. Rob joined Jon and we were 70-odd for two at drinks.
Then things started to go a bit wrong. A flurry of wickets put a different complexion on things. First, the chap who had previously dropped Jon somehow pulled off a sharp catch at slip to dismiss Rob. He was as shell shocked as the rest of us and spent much time cursing his own bad luck on the sidelines. Ross, who was combating a bout of man-flu, never looked settled and was out for 10. Connor quickly followed, and so did Jon for a decent 26. Suddenly we were 96-6. Things got worse when with the score just over 100 Zinzan edged a rank ball off the toe-end of his bat to the keeper. All agreed that it would have/should have been a wide.
But the tail wagged and wagged well. Ranil joined Symon, who was particularly impressive and aggressive despite the falling of wickets. He played some lovely shots and was well supported by Ranil. He too then fell to Rob's nemesis, who clung on to a sharp catch at square leg, for a swift 29. The score was 130-8. Enter Joe, who like me has not had much opportunity to bat this season. He played superbly and showed great maturity in the situation, receiving great assistance from Ranil. The partnership of 42 swung the game back in our favour and gave us a more competitive score. After Ranil was out, I joined Joe and with one over to go, a declaration was made. 184-9. Joe had scored 32 not out.
Tea - cheese. Red cheese. Lots of red cheese. Red cheese sandwiches with spicy green stuff in. Toasted red cheese sandwiches. Lots of discussion about red cheese. Chopped banana.
After the cheese-fest, Kenton set about chasing down our total at a fair pace. Symon and Connor both struggled to find rhythm and the total began to grow quickly. Connor came back well and was rewarded for a good second half of his spell when he bowled one of the openers. However, the other opener was hitting the small boundaries with regularity and was joined by a competent and solid looking number three. Unlike previous weeks, when I have come on to remove a dangerous batsmen, it did not work this time and I did no better. Only Zinzan, who bowled accurate lines and with good pace really caused them any problems.
Enter Joe, whose development as a spin bowler has made a significant contribution to our success this season. He instantly presented a different and more difficult challenge to the batsmen. The powerful opener was the key wicket - he topped edged a high spinning catch to Richard, who took it well despite not having his wicketkeeping gloves on this week. He had scored just over 50 of Kenton's 80 runs. Joe then proceeded to rattle through the top order by claiming three quick wickets in a superb spell of four overs or so - two were bowled and one the victim of a sharp stumping by Ranil. That spell suddenly swung the game back in our favour. Not only were the wickets important but the run rate ground to a halt as Kenton tried to recover.
Zinzan was also bowling a superb spell, but with no reward. The batsmen simply could not score off him and the partnership between him and Joe was excellent. As he tired, I returned and had a clear stumping turned down after another great piece of work by Ranil. I was then to begin my own personal battle with Kenton's number six. He seemed intent on criticising almost every ball I bowled at him. He did not seem to like the comments back when there was a ball that he could not play or that induced a false shot. He was particularly vocal after cracking one ball for four. Next ball, he was beaten and stumped by Ranil. He may have won the battle, but I won the war ....
Joe picked up his deserved fifth wicket and Connor returned to claim another thanks to a catch by Zinzan. The win was now very much on, having looked a distant prospect earlier, but the overs were ticking down. A moment of controversy made it even more interesting - Rob's nemesis was clearly run out after a direct hit by Jon but refused to go, claiming that the ball had hit Ranil's helmet on the ground and that it should be and dead ball and five runs instead. No one, including their umpire who had already given him out, saw it hit the helmet and the decision stood. Just one more wicket to take.
But Kenton held on for the last four overs as Symon, Joe and finally Zinzan attempted to get the stubborn last pair out. The drama lasted almost to the end - Zinzan having a stonewall LBW turned down two balls from the end to deny him a deserved wicket and us the victory. 154-9. A winning draw. Four points.
That concludes the season. It has been a successful one that sees us finish in fourth place for the second season running. It has been a season of contrasts - the first eight games gave us just 14 points for one reason or another, but the last 10 games have yielded a staggering 78 points to put us in the position to temporarily flirt with the idea of promotion. That is not just promotion form but championship form. Promotion has to be the aim next year.
I am immensely proud of the team's performance, and the fact that we have achieved the highest points total of any of the Club's four Saturday sides (albeit by one point from Moh's 4th XI). We have won the most games (8) that our 3rd XI ever has, accumulated the most points (92) and only lost to the three sides that have finished above us. Add in to that the beating of Twickenham, the champions. I feel that I have developed as a captain as the season has progressed and continued Rob's great work. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of the 42 players that have represented the 3rd XI this season. You have all contributed to making it a fun and vibrant place to be and have delivered successful results.
When I sat watching the rain tip down at MTSCC in early May in the first game - my personal 'Baptism of Fire' - I cannot have imagined that we would have such a good season and that it would be so enjoyable. The four players that were present that day and who were also alongside me at Kenton last Saturday - Jon, my vice captain, Joe, Richard and Ross - probably can't quite believe it either. Let's hope that this time next year we are celebrating our promotion ....
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