C.E.C.C.| Shepherds Cot | Crouch End | North London | N8 8JJ
Last Saturday was always going to be the true test of how good we are this season, or how good we think we are. It does not get tougher than Hampstead away – here is a side that we got promoted with but won the league at a canter and have won all bar one of their matches this season. They only didn’t win that one game because of last weekend’s rain. They had not lost since we beat them on the first day of last season.
Be warned – this is a long one, so settle in. There’s lots to tell …
It was pleasing that we were almost as strong as we could be with the selection of the side beginning to settle after much chopping and changing at the start of the season. The match, held at the lovely and well-prepared Winchmore Hill CC, did not start very well - I lost the toss and we were put in to bat on a great looking track and we were 8-3 after the first five overs.
First Dilan, then Ross and finally Rob were all out against an opening attack that would rival many that the 2nd team play against every week. A lot of the initial optimism was extinguished and the harsh reality was that we were up against a pumped up and high quality side. Enter Khairul and Apu. All of a sudden batting looked easier, especially after Khairul smashed one of the shell-shocked openers back over his head for a massive six into the tennis courts.
The controlled aggression that both showed was a breath of fresh air and something that Hampstead were clearly not used to facing. Good balls were defended, singles and twos scampered as the field was spread and anything vaguely loose was brutally despatched to or over the boundary. In the 10 overs they were together they created a simply excellent partnership of 81, before Apu was out for 34.
Khairul was joined by Hassan and brought up his half century shortly afterwards. Hampstead’s first change bowlers were destined to take the full force of Khairul’s bat as he accelerated rapidly with a dazzling array of shots. Hassan added great support and the partnership was equally as good and valuable as the previous one. Hassan showed finesse and played some wonderful shots also in supporting Khairul, one exquisite cover drive for four and a perfectly timed straight six the particular highlights.
Everyone was willing Khairul to keep going and get his hundred. He did and you will not see many better innings, especially when considering the standard of opposition. Hassan finally fell for 26 and the pair had added a further 91. Quayum came in and continued his run of hitting a six from his first ball – this one was an effortless clip over mid wicket and the fourth time this year that he has achieved the feat. The pair then continued the rapid accumulation. It was a joy to watch. Quayum fell for a quick and valuable 21.
Moh joined Khairul, who was sadly out shortly afterwards. He had hit 127 and walked off to universal applause from team mates and opposition alike. It was a magnificent innings. The emphasis of the innings then changed to try and use as many overs as possible. 46 overs was the target, which would mean that Hampstead would get the same amount to chase our total.
Things slightly fizzled out after that. Ricardo held things together to finish 11 not out but Moh and then Kamuran perished as we attempted to use up some time. I thought we had enough runs but was conscious of giving Hampstead too many overs to chase them. Although we did not know it then, a crucial moment came when I was run out (without facing a ball) with one ball remaining of the 45th over. This gave Hampstead 47 overs to chase our 243.
We always knew that Hampstead would go for it and they did. They were right up with the five an over run rate from the beginning and maintained it for most of the innings. It was going to be a tight call as to who would win or come out on top and was quickly turning in to an epic battle. Kamuran struck to remove both openers, while Ricardo was looking threatening at the other end. A third wicket for Kam tilted things slightly in our favour thanks to a good catch by Rob.
Then came the significant partnership that Hampstead had been threatening. Their classy-looking number three in particular was playing well. The total grew and remained at the correct rate. Quayum and Moh replaced Kam and Ricardo. Moh in particular struggled and the decision was taken for him to swap ends after one expensive over. It was to prove crucial too. I came on for one over to enable the swap.
My first ball loosener broke the partnership – the number five swatting the ball straight to Kam at deep square leg. It could have been even better with my sixth ball as the number three top-edged one high in to the sky but Moh put the catch down. As a sudden rain shower hit, the feeling was that the drop could prove crucial as the batsman looked well set. The score was 132-4 off 24 overs – they were just over halfway there, we were just under with just over half the overs gone.
The rain did not last long thankfully and we were back out. It turned out to have benefitted us better. The number three passed 50 but was then out bowled as Moh atoned for dropping him earlier. As I continued tightly from the other end, their run rate started to drop. It brought an extra sense of urgency, before Moh struck twice more – the first a stunning horizontal gravity defying caught and bowled, the second a very good catch by Ross down at cow corner.
Hampstead were still going for it but they were getting used to me and Moh. With 10 overs remaining the decision was taken to change things as we still needed three wickets. Immediately Quayum took out their skipper’s middle stump and that was where their chase realistically ended. It was now up to us to prise out the last two wickets. Kam tried but could not find rhythm from the other end, so I turned to Ricardo. He struck by prompting a chipped catch to Quayum at mid-wicket.
There were still five overs to go. Try as they might, Quayum and Ricardo could not get the last wicket as the fielders got closer and closer to the bat. Moh was tasked with bowling the last and 47th over. Everyone was around the bat. The stubborn number 11 negotiated the first five balls. Last ball. Moh flighted it up, the batsmen got a massive snick on to his pad and the ball ballooned up in to my grateful hands. Cue wild celebrations that I have rarely witnessed on a cricket field and scenes that will live long in the memory of all 11 Crouch End men on that field.
It is no exaggeration to say that this result is one of the best achieved by the 3rd XI ever, if not the best. Myself and Rob, who have played in many of the games since we joined the 1987 League eight seasons ago, agreed on this as the dust settled after the match. The stature of the opposition, their impressive record and their quality on the day only accentuate that feeling.
Some will say we were lucky to win as it was off the last ball, but I believe that you make your own luck sometimes. We faced up to a high quality opponent and matched them in all departments. The raise in standard meant that Hampstead brought out the best in us. Everyone contributed on what was a very special day and shows the power of focussing on the job in hand right up until the last ball.
We must now take this impetus in to the second half of the season and push on. We are joint third at the halfway point with 45 points, which is a great achievement in our first year after promotion. The consistency of selection in the last four weeks is evidently clear – we have won three, had a winning draw and taken 34 points in the last four games. We must maintain the team spirit and focus going forwards, starting next week against bottom side Edmonton.
I know this report is already very long but I cannot sign off without a special mention for Khairul. What an exceptional innings he played. He dismantled the best bowling attack in the league and has been superb since his return to the side. His strokeplay, along with the support of Apu, Hassan and Quayum in particular, presented Hampstead with a very different challenge to what they face most weeks. It was a privilege to watch our recovery from a terrible start and our victory meant that his efforts were not in vain.
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