C.E.C.C.| Shepherds Cot | Crouch End | North London | N8 8JJ
Last Saturday’s excellent victory at Osterley put us right on their coat tails in the second promotion spot. Therefore it was important that we did not slip up against lowly Finchley. We had beaten them easily in the first match but this was to prove a much sterner test … they won the toss and we were asked to bat first on a hard dry pitch.
Things did not start well as their experienced left-armer accounted for Keith first and then Jon to put us on 22-2. This brought Khairul and Hassan together for what turned out to be the biggest partnership of our innings. With the left-armer pegging both down at one end, the young lad at the other end took a pasting. Khairul was particularly savage and the highlights included two massive sixes in to the allotments and one four that was exquisitely timed through mid-wicket.
As like last week Hassan was playing a great supporting role and succeeded in seeing off the left-armer. Then with the score on 101, he was adjudged LBW. The pair had put on an excellent 79 runs. Khairul progressed passed his half-century and thoughts were beginning to formulate about possible declaration scores and timings.
Then disaster struck – Khairul was out for a superb 65, quickly followed by Quayum who defended a ball but watched as it spun wickedly back on to his stumps. Then Hikky was bowled. Then Moh also went and shortly after Ranil was run out. We had gone from 127-3 to 132-8. All thoughts of declaration had been thrown out of the window during 10 mad minutes. Now the key would be to add as many as possible for the last two wickets and use some overs.
Ricardo proved to be the perfect man for the job. His solid batting offering no chances and kept the score edging along. Ruskin stayed with him for five overs as they added 15. When he chipped a catch to silly mid-off we were on 147. Still not enough. I knuckled down with Ricardo to carry on the rescue act. We did well against increasingly frustrated opponents, using up eight more overs and adding 29 runs in the process. Finally Ricardo gloved one behind from the returning left-armer.
176 all out in 41.1 overs.
The feeling was that the tail end runs would prove crucial. We had used overs, accumulated well and swung the momentum back towards ourselves after the collapse. Finchley would have 50 overs to get the runs. Things started well for us as we reduced them to 30-3 – Ricardo working hard to get a snick behind to Ranil and Quayum claiming two LBWs in one over.
A stubborn partnership involving Finchley’s captain then followed and just as it was becoming increasingly frustrating Hassan removed both participants in one over, both bowled. The first in particular was a fine delivery that swung in and dipped wickedly to make a mess of the stumps. He was bowling a superb spell that also brought him a third wicket, while Hikky was toiling away at the other end with no success. Moh and myself took over as we tried to keep changing things. Moh earned a wicket with a lovely ball that turned and bounced sharply, got a nick and was taken well by Ranil.
When the returning Quayum claimed his third wicket thanks to a close catch by Keith to get rid of another stubborn tailender, we seemed to be on the home straight with Finchley on 115-8. Things are not as easy as that in this league though and they produced a rearguard action of their own. This forced us to change from trying to take the two remaining wickets to trying to defend the ever-increasing amount of runs. Finchley, led by an impressive and technically gifted colt, were sensing an unlikely victory.
As they got ever closer to our total, things got tetchy and tempers began to fray. Looking back, this was due to the standards we have set and the pressure that we put on ourselves to succeed. Were we throwing it away? Ricardo returned and initially struggled but something told me he would be the one to win it for us as the overs ticked down.
The fact that Finchley were now going for victory ultimately helped us. Where before they were blocking, now they were playing shots. Five overs from the end Ricardo claimed the ninth wicket thanks to an incredibly important catch by Ruskin down at cow corner, which he clung on to despite a late slip. More resistance. The score climbed and the overs depleted.
With 10 balls remaining the impressive colt finally edged one off Ricardo but was dropped by Jon at slip. It felt like a crucial blow. However, he then drove the very next ball to Quayum at silly mid-off and we had won. He had batted superbly for a good 38 and you had to feel for him. 159 all out in 48.3 overs.
Saturday’s match extended our unbeaten run to 10 games. I cannot remember such a run in my time at Crouch End, even in our promotion season last year. In this run we have now collected 82 points from a possible 100. We have put ourselves right in the picture that sees things very tight at the top. We are in a four horse race for two promotion places. The current Top 5 standings are,
1- Hampstead 110 points
2- Crouch End 93
3- Indian Gymkana 91
4- Osterley 89
5- Teddington 73
Other players within the club who have witnessed us play recently have commented that there is a steely determination to the side and that it seemed inevitable that we were going to find a way to win. The last part is not quite true – two recent winning draws, where we failed to take the last wicket on both occasions, are testament to that – but the first part is. We may not make things easy for ourselves but we continue to dig deep and keep finding new ways to be competitive.
Finchley presented us with a very different challenge and one that we have not faced for a long time. Their performance belied their lowly standing in the table and their relegation was confirmed by other results. They had some impressive youngsters, who are good cricketers now and will develop into very good ones.
The horrific collapse was followed by a stubborn and effective rearguard action that ultimately proved invaluable. That is why we are a team and are proving successful - anyone of the eleven can ‘step up to the plate’ and contribute when required, plus we have a number of proven match winners whose individual performances can make a big difference.
We must attempt to carry this teamwork and ethics through the next three games, two of which are against other teams in the promotion mix. However, we must remember that we have not achieved anything yet and not get ahead of ourselves. This current unbeaten run has put us in a great position and our job is to hold on to that prized 2nd place and make sure that all of the hard work is not wasted. We must remain focused.
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