C.E.C.C.| Shepherds Cot | Crouch End | North London | N8 8JJ
It is days like last Saturday that make us all play cricket. Forget the ‘freezing cold double jumper’ days or the ‘standing around looking at rain cloud’ days, Saturday was perfect. The conditions as I arrived at Crouch End were sunny and already hot. I am sure that Rob, our resident weather correspondent, would have agreed had he not reverted back to being on duty in the 2nd team.
Off the field things were not so ‘set fair’. I was resigned to taking on Turnham Green Poly, the league’s bottom side, with just ten men due to various unusual circumstances. However due to a ‘4th XI transportation cock up’ we inherited Dhamendra, who would still be at the club waiting for his lift to Shepherd’s Bush if he was there now. It was a bittersweet decision that Peter and myself took as I knew it would help us but leave the 4ths with only nine men.
With a hot afternoon in prospect the toss was going to be crucial. It was won. All logic said to bat first and stick the opposition out in the field in the baking heat. However, logic is there to be defied sometimes. So after weighing up a number of options – the heat, the fact that our opening bowler and wicketkeeper were still not at the ground, the pitch being a bit green and slightly damp, the opposition being bottom of the league, the best chance of winning – the decision was taken to field.
Dhamendra and myself opened up and runs were at a premium. After 10 overs, TGP had just 12 on the board and Dhamendra had removed one of the openers, who drove a catch straight to James. This brought the big hitting skipper to the crease and after a couple of big blows, it was time for a change. It was time to unleash Ricardo. A couple of further big blows meant it was time for another change. Time to cut off his main scoring shot and restrict his scoring. Ruskin replaced me at the other end and left off from his last performance for us with his accurate left arm seam. He grabbed a deserved wicket, as did Ricardo who was recovering well from being smashed in to the tennis courts by the skipper. At drinks, they were 75-3.
The real breakthrough came second ball after drinks – the skipper, who seemed to become increasingly frustrated as we dried his runs up, was bowled by Ruskin. He then grabbed another thanks to a superb diving catch by George at point to remove ‘Mad Dog’, a seasoned Aussie who made us all wonder what Mick Dundee was up to these days and the banter that would have occurred had Richard been present. Ricardo grabbed another, but both he and Ruskin were starting to tire.
In stifling conditions that would contravene most UN humanitarian laws and with the sun beating down, we started to visibly wilt a little. I replaced Ricardo and bowled a spell that was devoid of luck but for a simple catch lobbed up to Mamun. Hamid, who bowled an encouraging spell on his return after a year, replaced Ruskin but frustratingly the next breakthrough was proving difficult. TGP’s score began to climb, mostly thanks to being well marshaled by their number eight, until it was suddenly curtailed by within the space of a few overs.
Dhamendra returned to bag another wicket as one of the lower order batsmen played his one shot one too many times straight out to James in the deep. Hamid was rewarded by bowling 'the worst ball of the day' (- a direct quote from Ricardo) - a full toss that broke a bail. Dhamendra struck the final blow to end the resistance of the number eight, who chipped a simple catch to Ross at square leg. 148 all out.
Tea - excellent with lots of fresh fruit, which was a good call in the heat. It was overheard from the TGP players that this was the best tea they had had all season, so hats off again to the guys at Edmonton.
With Jon seconded to the 2nd team, George was joined by Simon who has been having a good run of form in the 4ths. His selection was to prove crucial as a flurry of early wickets put us in a perilous position. Firstly George spooned a catch in to the covers and he was quickly followed by Mamun and James, who also went cheaply. We were suddenly 28-3 and TGP were getting excited and noisier. This brought Ross, who has also been performing well in the 4ths, for the first of two crucial partnerships that were to ultimately win us the game.
With Simon limpet-like and Ross settling in, the situation was stabilised as TGP's impressive young opening bowlers began to tire. The change bowlers struggled to contain the consistent rate of 3/4 an over and soon our score was looking more promising. Even a few tight overs from 'Mad Dog' could not stem the flow. Both played some lovely shots and slowly took the game and any early enthusiasm away from the fielding side. At drinks it was overheard that they could not think of how they were going to either of them out and one referred to Simon as 'The Castle' ....
As their partnership went over 50, Simon was out as he was trapped LBW. His innings of 21 and the manner of it should not be underestimated. The cheer from the TGP players demonstrated that they felt it was a key wicket and that they were back in with a sniff at 81-4. That feeling was quickly extinguished in the most brutal fashion. Ricardo strode to the crease and proceeded to dispatch the bowling to all parts and almost instantly our score was over 100. In one passage of play, Ross did not face a ball for four overs and had the best seat in the house to watch his team mate's fireworks. One bowler, whose run up started almost level with the sidescreen, was reduced to his knees and screaming in anguish as Ricardo bashed him for yet another four.
Ross continued with his classy innings as the pair made light work of increasingly desperate and creative bowling, including one guy who bowled off the wrong foot and looked like he was going to collapse every delivery. The TGP captain later admitted to me that they had no idea where to place fielders to either batsman, as they produced shots all around the wicket. TGP looked like they wanted to be somewhere else as Ricardo launched one final shot straight back over the bowlers head to bring the scores level. It was fittingly left to Ross to hit a lovely four through the covers to win the match. Their partnership was an unbeaten 71. 152-4. A win by six wickets with 15 overs to spare.
We produced a good performance in testing conditions and have now taken 34 points from a possible 40 in the last four games. This run has solidified our position in fifth and moved us away from the bottom five. More crucially, it has brought us closer to those at the top. Twickenham are running away at the top, but Osterley are starting to stumble in the second promotion spot and we are now just 15 points behind them. We have to play both of them, plus fourth placed Winchmore Hill, in the final six weeks so we have our destiny in our own hands for the first time. If we win all three, then we have an excellent chance of promotion. This looked a distant dream just a few weeks ago.
What is also pleasing is the way that during this run the team spirit has been excellent. This has not faltered despite changes to the team every week. Today's performance was very pleasing on a number of levels. We had to work hard, especially when we were out in the sun in the field and to haul ourselves back in to the match at 28-3, but we stuck together and the team spirit shone through. The bowlers stuck to their tasks with the roles of Dhamendra, Ricardo and Ruskin in particular being crucial. With the bat it was pleasing to see Simon and Ross come up from the 4ths and do so very well. Of course the explosive contribution of Ricardo later cannot be ignored and added to the feel good factor.
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