As summer finally made its long-awaited appearance over British shores and a week of unadulterated sunshine saw the Gallery Fields strip looking drier than a camel’s urethra, anticipation was sky-high for this revenge match against our oldest rivals, Strongroom.
With Navratil, Struthers, Cunners, Highlander, Saj, Hutch and Khan all licking their lips at the prospect of such a bowler-friendly environment, Gardeners entered the first leg of the annual arm-wrestle with high hopes. Much to discuss to be begin with: who was in a worse state - Navratil or Ferris – both nursing husky voices and jaded mindsets following respective big Saturday nights? Who would take the most steps over the day and win the battle of the fitbits – Greg or Moira – Greg playing cricket or Moira lapping of the adjacent field? How much pork could we squeeze into one tea – with a menu including ham sandwiches, BLT sandwiches, ham/cheese rolls, ham/cheese/pickle sandwiches and sausage rolls – I definitely smelled a pork product of some type! Would the Broadsword, Saj Murtaza, finally get to the game on time? And most importantly, who were these new faces playing for Strongroom? Only time would tell.
GCC were put into bat first and with no recognized openers in the team, the next question was who would open?? Leading from the front in true Hannibalic style, Jamie led the charge, accompanied by Mr Rob Navratil. Great combination on paper this – Jamie’s all-round-the-wicket rapier strokeplay, juxtaposed with Rob’s unyielding no-questions-asked defence – surely the right combo of attack and defence to get us off to the best possible start, with a glorious reunion of the Rapier and Broadsword on the cards at 3…if only Saj were to arrive! One over later, and with a run rate of 10 to the over courtesy of some marvelous cover driving from Jamie, a big total looked possible. Sadly, GCC hopes were quickly quashed with a one-in-a-hundred catch against the run of play at gully by Mitch and his black and white cap to remove the dangerous Jamie for 8. With no sign of Saj and Cunners humming Postman Pat for some reason, Eduardo strode to the crease, motivated by his new self-imposed, KP, no-fear approach to batting, and spirits remained undulled.
Five maidens later, however, spirits were indeed dulled, and Strongroom were firmly on top of proceedings. 10/1 off 6. Eventually, runs started trickling in as Metro and Ferris set about clawing our run rate back above the 2 r/p/o mark - Robbo finding cow corner on 3 occasions with metronomic efficiency, Ferris finding the fence with 2 sweeps and 2 effortless cover drives, one of which was my shot of the innings. Ultimately, we’re all dead men, and this promising innings was no different, being brought to a sudden halt with Ed being skittled for 20 and Robbo going soon after for a workmanlike 17, bringing Murtaza and Khan to the crease. 50/3 off 17.4. Fraz looked the more comfortable of the two to start with as he booshed 2 fours in his first 4 balls. By comparison, Saj was kept uncharacteristically scoreless for 7 deliveries until the Broadsword was finally unleashed. Another swift partnership (37) came to an abrupt end with Fraz being trapped LBW for 15 off 16 balls, bringing Cunners to the crease. 87/4 off 23.4, and with the run rate finally climbing, the Tasty Broadsword set about increasing this still further. By now Saj was in full flow, smiting the Strongroom attack with reckless abandon, tonking a glorious 6 over the sight-screen along with a few complementary 4s, while Cunners kept up turning ones into twos at every opportunity. Again the partnership was cruelly disrupted with Saj attempting another maximum, holing out to long off for a flashy 33. 118/5 off 29.
New/returning old man George Lewis strode to the crease thereafter, sadly smashing what would have been a six parallel to the ground straight into the hands of an outstretched extra cover. Pity. Not so much as there were runs in that man but because his harem of 4 ladies were hugely disappointed having set up camp to resemble a Pakistani marquee only to watch him get a duck!
They quickly disappeared. 122/6 off 30. Still, no sign of panic though as we still had Mike Richards, The Highlander, Dr Phil and Struthers to come - all capable of unleashing the fury when required. The Cunners/Richards axis went on to keep the singles ticking over, putting on 20 together before Mike was deceived by a wily inswinging slowball from Dixon, just shaving his leg stump. 142/7 off 35. Enter the Highlander. Sadly not every Macleod has a silver lining as he holed out for 1, bringing Phil “Hutch” Hutchinson to the crease. 157/8 off 38, with Cunners & Hutch resorting to a crazy tip-and-run pyramid scheme in order to squeeze out as many runs as possible. Sadly, one such near-suicidal run saw Hutch bravely diving to make it home, only to pull his hip flexor in a superb effort that would have made Woodhouse wince. Alas this left us a bowler short and brought an end to the tripartheid Cunners/Struthers/Hutch left arm seam alliance for the defence of our final total of 166.
Another superbly over-catered tea swiftly followed. Special thanks to Maura for providing a female’s touch and setting it all out for us. In fact, so bountiful were the provisions on offer that we had to use two tables. Apart from bringing out the whole hog, other highlights included beetroot crisps (Struthers), South African rusks (Struthers again) and Navratil’s homemade orange zest cake. A tea to rival Forfar. Mrs MacKay would have shed a wee tear.
166 was still defendable, we thought. If they could do it, so could we. Right, so, spirit of the Dambusters, we thought as we took to the field with high hopes of bowling wicket to wicket. Sadly, this was not our day to take the pig by the balls and we ended up bowling wicket to sweetspot! Utter savageness followed as boundaries came raining down from all angles. Such was the ruthlessness of the opening onslaught, no Gardener got close to a ball on its way to the boundary. Everything found the gap. Combined with a ball harder than concrete and a racy outfield, GCC heads and hopes of an unlikely victory quickly sank. Cunners went for a shocking 36 off 3 first up, setting the tempo for the run-chase from which we were never to recover. Sorry bowler. Struthers did marginally better – 21 off 2. In toto, that was 57 off the first 5. By contrast, we got to the same score in 19 overs. Sobering stuff, yet the power of their hitting could only draw admiration from us once the result had so early become a foregone conclusion.
To turn the tide, Jamie brought on Fraz first change in an effort to bamboozle the oppo with his leg-spin wizardry. Alas, it made no difference as a ball needs a pitch in order to spin, going for 40 off 2. I was guilty of similar full-toss madness, Fraz! One such full toss from Fraz (coming through roughly at waist height) briefly bagged us a catch at mid-on, only for the umpire to strike back and rule it a no-ball, eons after the delivery, with the batsman halfway to the clubhouse. As a brief interlude between boundaries, we actually quite welcomed the controversy! Anything to bring us some respite. We argued that a no-ball must surely be called at the time, not a minute later as an after-thought. Logic ultimately prevailed and Proctor’s decision stood, bringing Dave or Mitch back to the crease. On consultation of the laws after the game, Mike triggered Clause 42, which states “Any delivery, OTHER THAN A SLOW PACED ONE, which passes on the full above waist height is deemed to be dangerous and therefore a no-ball.” Read it here, folks…Umpire error! Not so much changing the game, but to give us something to talk about other than our mediocrity.
With the opening pair re-instated, 100 came up in the 8th over. HELP. Saj and the Highlander came on next and were easily the pick of our bowlers, each bagging consolation wickets and keeping their r/p/o under 10. A 10-wicket loss looked on the cards, but these 2 wickets ensured we could leave the field with some sense of respectability having fought gamely to the very end. Strongroom win by 8 wickets, surpassing our miserly 166 in only the 18th over. No drinks required. But man, was I thirsty! Incidentally, for the first time in living memory, the Metronome failed to turn his arm over with the ball. While this was a pity, I reminded him that this surely did his seasonal average a plethora of favours!
So where did it all go wrong for the G in the end?
Not enough runs – absolutely
Lame bowling – probably
Too much tea – likely
Concrete ball – probably
Lightning outfield – possibly
Quality of the Strongroom batting – definitely
As with all things cricket, it was a combination of all facets of play. The way Mitch & Dave set about smashing us to all corners of the ground, no total would have been enough. Indifferent bowling did not help our defence either and only hastened the end result. We definitely seem to be a team of two totals, either scoring far too little (170/180) or far too much (250/260) with nothing in between, giving our bowlers precious room for error in the field. Greater consistency is surely called for in the batting, combined with greater urgency in the field. That said, we’re only one performance away from another great victory. Bring it!
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You’ll be happy to know that the most enthralling contest of the day did not take place on the cricket field, but off it. Unbeknownst to most, Greg and Maura’s battle of the fitbits continued to rage amongst all the goings on, all the emotion, all the controversy – Greg knowing roughly how many steps he’d take over a game of cricket, Maura going on regular 3 lap power-reccies of the adjacent field with all the efficiency of a modern pentathlete. Her plan must have been to space out her powerwalks over the day to overtake Greg by the end – a classic tortoise v. hare gameplan. However, with Strongroom killing the game off in 18 overs, Greg inadvertently came out on top by about 1000 steps. When asked cheekily by Greg if she’d gotten her laps in after the game, Maura succinctly responded, “I would have…but you lot were rubbish!!”
HEREWITH ENDS THE LESSON.
We play most of our games in Dulwich and net during the winter at The Oval. Send us an email at email@example.com
Oliver Cunningham (life)
Jamie Elliott (life)
John Lloyd (life)
Hugo Nisbet (life)
David Woodhouse (life)
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and may involve some poetic licence. GCC cannot be held liable for any misrepresentation in these articles.