C.E.C.C.| Shepherds Cot | Crouch End | North London | N8 8JJ
It was with a mix of excitement and trepidation that I approached the match against league leaders Hampstead. Excitement because we had moved within two points of second placed Highgate and have been playing some good cricket. Trepidation because Hampstead are proving to be the most dangerous and best side in the league, having won nearly all their games since our win against them on the first day. It was undoubtedly going to be difficult to do the double over them. The toss was won and Hampstead were asked to bat.
The first hour could not have gone any better. Kamuran opened down the hill and was partnered by me, due to Ricardo and Symon having travel issues and arriving very close to the start time. The combination worked a treat. Kamuran testing the batsmen with raw pace and good lines, and me bowling with considerably less pace but nice and straight. Wickets were soon falling - Kamuran claiming a good LBW and then bowling another with one that nipped back and I snared two batsmen (including former Crouch Ender Sasha) LBW before bowling two more with a loopy slower one that beat the forward defensive and clipped off stump and a straight one that hit the top of middle. At 44-6 we had the leaders in a mess and there was much excitement.
However, Hampstead are top and walking this league for a reason and we were soon to learn why. It's called strength in depth. In a similar way to the first game, where we were 70-odd for seven and put on a large partnership thanks to Kester and Ricardo, they went about rebuilding. Only the result was even more spectacular than our opening day effort. One gritty opener, who had survived the carnage administered by Kam and myself, was joined by a left handed number eight. He instantly looked a class apart as he drove his first ball from me effortlessly down the ground for four. As good as our first hour had been, the next two were two of the most challenging I can ever remember on a cricket field ....
The opening clatter of wickets had masked the fact that our ground fielding had been a bit sloppy and this was to be cruelly exposed. Few would be spared as errors gave away extra runs and dropped catches proving extremely costly. Symon, Ricardo, Mark and Darren were all tried to coax out the next wicket but to no avail. Kam and myself returned also to no avail. The pair simply destroyed us physically and mentally as the afternoon got hotter. Both reached their hundreds and the declaration was made. They had scored 196 unanswered runs for the seventh wicket and succeeded where all of their other team mates had failed. Simply put, I have never seen or experienced anything quite like it. 240-6 declared in 48 overs.
At tea we were understandably deflated but there was much talk that we simply had to 'go for it' and be positive. Many sides would not have and would have shut up shop from the beginning, a fact later acknowledged by Hampstead's captain. We had 44 overs to get it at just over five an over. Khairul, fresh from his great innings last week, and the returning George opened up and set a decent pace before George nicked behind and sportingly walked when not given out. Darren instantly looked at home and he and Khairul started to split the fielders with some expansive shots that accelerated us well above the required run rate. If only we could maintain it for a prolonged period, then we would have a chance ...
We could not. Khairul was run out after not backing up properly and Apu joined Darren. Another brief spell of decent scoring was ended when Apu was run out thanks to a direct hit from Hampstead's skipper. Rob followed shortly afterwards adjudged caught behind. We were still ahead of the run rate but losing wickets too regularly. Darren was looking good and still going well, and was joined by Mark who complimented him well to keep the total moving. At the half way point and drinks we were exactly half way to the required total. 121-4 off 22 overs.
The second half saw us keep up with the required rate but also saw us losing wickets at regular intervals. Darren, who had just got a well deserved half century, departed to a good low catch for 55 shortly after drinks and continued his good recent batting form before departing too. Mark followed shortly after. Symon and Ricardo's partnership was our last realistic hope of gaining a winning draw or win and both played well, Symon in particular peppering the boundary regularly. When he fell, the hope was that the remaining three could stay with Ricardo long enough to get close to the winning draw total of 220. We could not - Kam was out LBW, Ranil was caught at point and I edged behind. Ricardo was left unbeaten. 203 all out in 37.3 overs. It had been a decent effort.
This was only our second defeat of the season and it is worth remembering that during the expected post mortem. Hampstead will not lose many more games, if any. We have done well to claim 10 points from the two games with them. They were also highly complimentary of us and we have given them two good games. Of course the biggest regret is that we had them at 44-6 and in all sorts of trouble, but could not capitalise on that.
Speaking with them afterwards it was revealed that the opener was a regular in their 2nd and 3rd XIs and that the number 8 had played in their 1st team and also for Belgium. Their inclusion paid us a big compliment on an extraordinary afternoon. Not that this made me feel any better at the time. News of a second Highgate defeat in two weeks lifted the temporary gloom, as did Rob's 40th birthday drinks. We now have to win as many of the last eight matches as we can to make sure that it is us that go up with Hampstead.
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