By Richard Higginbottom
A perfect day for cricket was forecast as the Gardeners made their way down South of the River to Dulwich. Conversation before, during and after the game shows there’s still some considerable fear and loathing of the “funny folk” who reside on the “wrong side” of the Thames. And that’s just within the Gardeners.
A miracle happened … well that’s how captain Richard Higginbottom saw it as Sunday Times skipper Russ Herneman called incorrectly (our first coin toss victory of the season) and the decision was taken to bowl first on a heavily grassed – though well-rolled – wicket. Mick Campbell and David Stead bowled some good quality deliveries in the early overs though Russ and opening partner Jon Mills were not looking overly troubled as the pitch was playing better than either skipper expected (Russ later confirming that he’d have opted to bowl first had the coin come down with Her Majesty upwards). Fifth over and CRACK! as Jon hammered a super straight drive then immediately CRACK! as it smashed into Mick’s leg – stopping four but knocking our Tasmanian hero to the ground like a shot stag. Mick showed the qualities that make his nation proud – hardly winced and certainly wasn’t whining as he hobbled out to convalesce in the outfield. At this stage many thanks to Sunday Times who provided a replacement fielder – actually for the traffic-impaired Adam Wood – but with Mick effectively about as mobile in the field as his captain routinely is, we were severely hampered. Stuart Bruce finished Mick’s over and played havoc with the electronic scorebook deployed by our hosts as it was unclear how to record incomplete overs. Post-match note from Greg Struthers: the app can do this so another tick in the beta testing worksheet.
On with the game as Mick was brought some ice to tend to his wound as Dave and Stuart toiled against the increasingly confident opening batsmen. If I’d have been neutral this would have been most enjoyable as both players were demonstrating a wide range of shots and striking the ball with crisp timing and precision. Dave and Stuart took a break and were replaced by Steve Bulman and Jeremy Gostick. Steve’s early overs show some alarmingly high numbers … hiding the fact that there were three fours off the inside edge as his inswinger was working very well. This was compounded by both openers never failing to cash in on a loose ball – a lofted drive over Extra Cover by Jon sticks in the mind. Throughout this onslaught I must pay tribute to the Gardeners fielders who never flagged and kept chasing everything down on a very big outfield. Debutant Conor Aspel was an inspiration to all of us and surely saved more than a dozen runs with tireless running and gathering. At last Adam showed up and it heralded the first wicket, Jeremy tempting Jon into a lofted on drive that he hit pretty well – but straight to the sure hands of Stuart who made no mistake. An opening stand of 129. “One brings two” said some idiot .. who for once was right as Steve struck in the very next over to remove new bat Dan Drillsma for a duck. “So plumb I thought he might walk” quipped ‘Wang’. This is a nickname I’m testing out as Steve has a fairly leisurely cruise up to the wicket and then some super-tension kicks in and the pace produced can be pretty lively. 129-2. Matt Gatward put the home side back into the vanguard with some good support play to Russ. 158-2.
The Gardeners captain surveyed the field. Jeremy’s and Steve’s bowling allocations were up. Mick needs more time to recover but reports – surprisingly – that he’s feeling pretty good and will be able to serve up some more seamers. Need to keep Dave and Stuart back for the closing overs. Who should he turn to? Couldn’t make up his mind up so as a result had the ball in his hand at the Pavilion End. First ball of the season and somewhat predictably it’s a big slow full toss … which Matt gets under and plonks straight into the hands of David Hollingsworth at Mid On. “The best quality a captain can have is luck” said W.G. Grace. On this occasion I agree with the doctor. Richard then rather unpredictably started bowling at the stumps (apart from one ball that got hit for four) and then a much lower ball of full length was played all around by Marc Padgett giving Richard two wickets in the over. 162-4. Richard leaked a few runs towards the end of his stint but this got obscured to some degree by the scintillating return of Mick … just as Russ was opening up further. A classic off-cutter bowled Josh Fagan then, after Greg Struthers played some good shots, Mick found another jaffa to rattle Greg’s stumps and close his spell with a wicket maiden. 199-6. David’s return brought the prize wicket of Russ with another one tickling the woodwork. Stuart picked up Shahid Khalil’s wicket, Jeremy taking the catch. Neil Pickford and Umar Awan mixed good shot placement with frantic running to take the total to 228-8 at the end of the 40 overs.
Ah good – tea out of a pot. Stead and Higginbottom take two cups each; the captain wasn’t expecting or planning to bowl so hastily redrew the batting order. Steve’s in fine vocal form and volunteers to go down the order as the Kiwis are handing out a fearful thrashing to England in the ODI at the Rose Bowl. Jeremy’s turn this week for “pole position”. A reminder: policy is that every Gardener gets at least one turn at number 11 during the season.
David Stead and Paul Jordan headed out to the middle; early setback as Paul played a shot around his front pad and popped up a leading edge to Mills off Awan. Adam manfully blocked as Dave picked off a few loose balls from Awan; in the meantime Struthers’ left arm seam was being delivered with some precision and the scoring opportunities from the Northern end were very limited, the ball frequently beating the bat. Adam was undone almost inevitably by a lovely ball from the ST Left Armer that broke his wicket. Jeff Round joined the fray determined to demonstrate to his watching family (his father and new son Noel being present) how to hit the ball. No time was wasted as Jeff took the long handle to every bowler (with the notable exception of Struthers), hitting 33 runs off 19 deliveries, the bizarre denouement of this belligerent cameo being 4-4-6-4-W as thunderous drives and pulls were oddly followed by a tame flip to midwicket, Khalil being the despairing-then-rejoicing bowler. 59-3 and enter 2-Bats. David Hollingsworth had a determined air about him and joined with Dave S to see off the threat of Struthers before both started to regularly time the ball well, second-change bowler Drillsma struggling to find a good length and both Daves profiting handsomely to get the Gardeners to exactly half the ST total at 20 overs. The Stead and Hollingsworth show continued as the bowlers were rotated, the run rate only being brought back under control when Jon Mills came on from the Pavilion End. The Whitley Bay Champion aimed a very ambitious shot at Mills and suffered the death rattle for another fine innings – 72 this week. A stand of 90. Conor walked in for his first bat for the Gardeners … first ball pulled for 2. Tried to repeat the stroke but this time the ball from Hemming was too good. Here’s Mick Campbell who’s been out-of-sorts with the bat for a while … took a few vigorous swipes to start locating the ball then it started to travel to all parts of the ground, lifting his team mates on the boundary and greatly easing the pressure on Dave H who continued to pick off the bad balls and hardly missed a run all afternoon. Mick had gathered 28 runs in his trademark cavalier fashion when he took a big charge at Padgett and was stumped by Gatward. 200-6. 2-Bats had played some interesting shots – 3 with one hand, leading to ‘Wang’ quipping “2-Bats-1-hand” that the watching Gardeners enjoyed. Now Dave refocused and joined by a very capable number 8 in Stuart calmly stroked the ball into the gaps to close the game out with 11 balls to spare for a graceful and entertaining unbeaten 64.
SGCC won by 4 wickets