After initially struggling to raise a side for our clash with the Bengal Troopers, the teams took to the field collectively three players short. As heavy discussion of the last-man-stands rules & regs disappeared on the stiff Dulwich breeze, the captains walked to the middle for the toss. Rich, returning to Turney Road from the leafy lanes of Oxfordshire, had the honour of skippering the side for this final match of the season.
There were a few up-turned brows and strokings of chins when inspecting the wicket. This strip was firm and surprisingly dry considering the overnight rain – unlike the clarty pitches akin to that rice pudding you leave in the oven a fraction too long which starts to crust over yet retains a modicum of give that we’ve been used to season-long. So, when Syed, the Troopers’ captain, won the toss, he immediately chose to bat.
The Nome took the new ball yet managed only to serve up tasty morsels for the Troopers opening batsmen, Mahra & Mahbub, who came out the blocks firing. After a strong second half of the season with the ball, Antoni shared the new cherry, bounding in from the Railway End (does it have a name?) and beginning with some miserly stuff – much needed after the early boundary bashing. He served up the only maiden of the innings, the shape of things to come...
The opening pair soon got their eyes in and didn't discriminate, taking Rob and Antoni to the cleaners with equal distain. The first 10 overs encapsulated Gardeners' entire season. They included many good balls, which were met by equally good and powerful batting, hitting over the top and, in most cases, to the boundary. If someone wanted to commission a commemorative stick of Blackpool rock for this season it would probably have “2015 – Dropped Catches” running right through it. The Oppo gave us yet more sweet confectionery to swallow, but at the risk of spoiling our tea, we refused them all. Again. By my count, three or possibly four went down in this opening spell. In fairness, one very difficult that should be classified as a great stop.
Change was needed and it came in the form of in-form Cunners, easily the stingiest in the GCC ranks this year and always threatening. This reporter saw many a ball whizz past the outside edge from his perch at backward point. Meanwhile, at the opposite end, Rich applied his wily craft, asserting some much needed pressure. Cunners finally reaped the reward by clean bowling Mahbub (22), who advanced and tried to take him downtown once too often.
Enter Taheed, probably the most guarded batsman of the Troopers’ ranks, blocking up an end while Mahra continued to blast to all parts. After a short showing of wrist spin from newcomer Fraz, Saj was brought into the attack. With a ball now resembling that of a 90-over Test spell, yet only in the 20th, Saj would continue where Cunners left off, bowling fast and aggressive, and taking the scalp of Taheed for just 9. A great effort ending with 5-0-20-1.
With Ludo’s left arm now replacing that of Cunners’ from the same end, Mahra continued to take no prisoners while the Hunter tweaked his sights – sucking in the batsman with plenty of natural variation. As the final ball of the over arrived Ludo was too close for missiles so switched to guns, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Once again we saw the bails fly, at 153-3 Mahra departed with 89 to his name.
The latter half of the Troopers innings took on a different tone, the boundaries mostly dried up yet the score still managed to tick along at pace. Rajib and Syed the Skipper were at the crease playing proper cricket, hitting all the gaps and stroking it wherever we’d just moved a man from, showing us another side to their game. In case we’d forgot, they did release the shackles a few times, showing they loved a big heave to cow. With Rajiv retiring on 51, Ali came to the crease to join his skip: they amassed 277-4 from their 40 overs by the end.
And so to tea..
With one of the highest chases of the season ahead of us, David and Ludo strode out to make headway with a strong positive start. Tight bowling from Taimur (looking for all the world like Mohammed Amir’s mini-me) and Ali made it tricky to get the scoreboard ticking. After showing some early graceful stroke-play (one whisk to deep square will live in the memory of those who saw it), Ludo was castled by Taimur for 6. It was a very good ball, left-arm shaping in. LHT must have admired a fellow southpaw’s craft. The already addictive “projection feature” on the new scoring app took a small nosedive, but would soon recover somewhat. Yet not before a sensational piece of fielding by mid-off, picking up and flicking sidearm at one stump to run out Dave. The run, admittedly, would have been refused had we been chasing a lesser total, but one had to push the envelope. I’m sure Maverick would have approved, and so did we.
Cunners is never far from the action this season, and he duly entered in the No 3 spot vacated by Tackleberry himself, probably off somewhere ‘becoming one with his gun’. Fraz joined Nick at No 4. Unknown to all of us except Saj, he brought a game we all wanted to see: See ball, Hit ball. There was some ferocious striking during this partnership from both batsmen. Cunners, we know, combining deft touches to leg (oh, matron) and meaty long blows square of the wicket. “How do I remember such detail?” I hear you cry. Well, our wonderful new wagon wheel tells the full story.
However, it fails to tell the story of our running between the wickets, which we later found out was hindered by an over-sized helmet. (No, stop it) With Fraz barely being able to see where he’s running he makes up for it by bludgeoning blows to midwicket, hitting two of our four sixes in the match to the longest boundary on the field.
Riding their luck at times, the pair put on a century partnership with fantastic stroke play, when Fraz finally tried to write a cheque his body couldn’t cash and is run out for 54. A great half century on debut, it put us a good way towards reaching our total. Saj joined Cunners at the crease and, after a studious start to his innings, soon found his straps and the middle of his bat. A great battle between bat and ball was formed as Saj, grinning like Iceman’s evil twin, advanced towards the bustling Hasan, giving this reporter cause to flinch as he umpired from the opposite end. 27 of his eventual 50 runs coming straight back past on their way to long on.
Cunners now took a supporting role in this onslaught, serving only to make sure Saj remained on strike. Top scoring in this game and with his highest score of the season, Cunners fell for a very tasty 72, strangled – alas and alack – down the legside.”Mustang, this is Maverick, requesting fly-by” “Negative, Ghost Rider, the Pattern is full.” Saj would then have to watch from the other end as Shajib proceeded to take a hit-trick with the next two balls, a severe dent in our quest to find the remaining 86 runs.
Meanwhile, grazing out at cow corner was ‘randomly volunteered’ fielder Antoni. Suddenly Saj’s eyes lit up and he launched a loose one from Shajib right down his throat. Not wanting to be labeled as an inconsistent Gardener, he fumbled the catch, and landed as a six. Silence in the field as the hand was rung as if trapped in a revolving door and multiple glances back at the boundary rope. An incident that perhaps let’s say, at Gallery Fields may have stirred more than a few chunters that it did today. Saj would fall moments later caught by Annes off Hasan for 50 from 42 balls, a top knock.
Messrs Rogowski, Navratil and Clayton did what they could, but after a beamer from out of the trees in fading light, the Oppo resorted to spin out the last few overs – the game well and truly up – and ran in eventual winners by 57 runs.
A great debut performance from Shan (of the Kilburn branch of Cherwell League stalwarts Blewbury & Wallingford IIs) behind the stumps and Ludo’s brother-in-law Dan’s fielding in the deep were welcome asides. Hope to see you boys next year. Dropped catches have been our nemesis all year and constitute a whole plethora of what-ifs. As our very own Singing Ewok reminds us: Catches do indeed Win Matches, and we certainly would have won more this year having held a few.
A valiant run chase supported once again by a strong middle order couldn’t see us over the line today, but in an up and down season with the bat we have proven once again we can score 200+ when the chips are down. Let’s hope for more of the same next year. RN
We play most of our games in Dulwich and net during the winter at The Oval. Send us an email at email@example.com
Matt Aked (life)
Jamie Elliot (life)
Rob Navratil (life)
Hugo Nisbet (life)
David Woodhouse (life)
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