By Richard Higginbottom
June is here and we’re off to Dulwich to take on our old friends the Sunday Times. Except that the First Capital Connect controller (who surely must be no relation at all to Sir Topham Hat) deigned to cancel the captain’s train, causing a swift change of plan to deploy the Touran to career down to London and through the heaving Metropolis to get South of the River. The Rev W Awdry would have reported that Toby the Tram Engine was fired up and put on Special duty to get me down to Kings Cross to make my connections. Anyway, the skipper turned up 30 minutes late by which time 2-Bats had named the top four and we’d gone into bat. Fourth over when I hauled my gear, the team kit bag and my own sorry self to the boundary edge to find that we hadn’t lost an early wicket.
We’d got a bevy of all-rounders in our midst for this match and two of them (Chris Packham and Stuart Bruce) were comfortably dealing with the opening salvos from ST’s new ball pairing of Awan and Hemming. Chris had hit some handsome strokes before getting caught at the wicket off Awan. Dave H went out to bat … has he got a new bat yet? Recently he was down to zero useable bats (but 3 relatively useless lumps of willow) but your reporter had not yet clocked whether the Walthamstow Babelfish had secured sufficient funds to permit a foray into the territory of new weaponry. Anyway, Dave played a few decent shots, mainly to fielders (“oh blinking flip!” he cried) before first change bowler Russell Herneman rearranged the woodwork behind 0-Bats’ defence. J-Top! The skipper is using “JT” or “J-Top” to distinguish the Kiwi Strongman from another with a similar first name, Lord Fakenham. Great to see the big man back … just as the ST bowling was tightening up. JT also played a handful of attractive strokes before the slow wicket caused him to swing through too early against Dunn, sending a very high top edge that Gatward behind the stumps made a lot of ground to take well. Stuart at the other end is monitoring the maelstrom, playing some lovely strokes to all parts of the ground, doing very well to score boundaries on a long and slow outfield. Will hasn’t played for a while but settled in well; some serious disagreements about what runs might be possible had Stuart running long distances with sharp turns for little or no return. Perhaps the captain should be cursing this rather than finding it all rather amusing. Anyway, Will played some pleasingly smooth strokes to make his way to 14 before he was castled by a yorker from Neville Smith (who had earlier mused that “I always bowl my yorker down the leg side”). Not this time. Chris was starting to gain in confidence, playing some good strokes until a low one from Khalil tickled the woodwork for 8. Conor’s now making his season debut and looking to get on with it. Stuart had completed a superb 67 but as he tired was offering a few catching opportunities … in the end he provided one that the ST gratefully took to reward Padgett with today’s prize Salmagundi scalp. Steve Bulman (also his 2014 SG debut) got a single before he was lbw to Padgett trying to force the pace. Lord Fakenham added another comic dismissal to this year’s trail of humour as he wiped across a Padgett delivery that looped slowly below his flailing bat to also perish for a solitary run. Conor continued to play lusty shots whilst the skipper kept him company, the 40 overs concluding with Aspel 13 and Higginbottom 6 the unbeaten batsmen. Doosra Duckett who had suffered the indignity of a big delay caused by a bicycle puncture – not on a hillside desolate; it was near Victoria Station – had the joy of being a spectator only for this part of the match.
Tea … always good to have a cup of tea in the spacious pavilion. Perhaps we’re a few runs below par (though the wicket has limited bounce) so we’ll need to be on our mettle to get into the game come the resumption.
Russell Herneman and John Mills were understandably circumspect to start with against our new ball pairing of Lord Fakenham and Steve ‘Wang’ Bulman. His Lordship’s radar started to go awry just as Wang’s was homing in, meaning that the Baronet was rested after three overs and Wang took a blow after four. Who is this dynamic first change bowler? Economical run-up, swinging the ball, good bit of nip. Answer: Chris Packham. The Kentish All-Rounder is on his game today despite both batsmen looking to open up, there’s no cheap runs and a constant threat of a wicket. Meanwhile Stuart ‘The Prodigy’ Bruce is continuing to put his stamp on this match with some probing deliveries. A swinging delivery outside off stump that Russell moves out to drive … a fizzing head high edge straight at the skipper’s skull who pouches it expertly at first slip (bear with me I don’t get to write this sort of stuff often). In the game! Catches like that lift the team and before long Chris has tempted John into a Cover Drive … well hit but slightly lofted … and Stuart takes a superb low tumbling catch to really get the blood up and make the ST think we’ve stirred something into our tea. Chris and Stuart continue to apply the pressure allowing us to bring the field in, pursuing wickets as that’s our most likely way to victory given the modest target. The run rate has slowed to a crawl now as the ST try to get the rebuilding process underway. Neil Pickford played an attractive forcing shot off Packham … but J-Top made a full-blooded stroke look like slow motion as his giant mitts effortlessly scooped in the catch. “They must think we’re the best fielding side ever” said Chris Spicer, “Maybe, but they’ve played us for a lot of years now so they’re probably in as much amazement as us” replied the captain. Chris P’s spell was truly spellbinding … textbook inswinging yorker accounting for Coley. So pumped-up was the man of Kent that he bowled his entire allocation in one spell, taking 3 wickets for just 15 runs. Quality. Stuart was putting in a long spell at the other end and found the inside edge of Padgett’s bat to get us to 5 wickets. Sunday Times ‘keeper Gatward was playing himself in steadily and we were starting to realise that here was the man we’d need to dislodge. Khalil wafted at one outside the off stump from Stuart, got a big outside edge and Chris S made quite a bit of ground to take another notable catch. We’re looking favourites now, but Gatward is playing very solidly and Dunn is showing no little resolve and courage, fending off a few and at one stage having his spectacles removed by a lifter … but hanging in to make some telling boundary hits. The scores are closing so we rest J-Top who was finding his range from the North end and bring back Steve B for another go … improved line and length is making inroads and testing the home side. J-Top starts bowling from the South end now and everything seems to be an inswinging yorker … superb batting by Gatward to keep out a pair of impressively accurate overs from the Kiwi Strongman. Wang now gets one to pop off a length and Dunn is very unfortunate to splice one to Stuart who’s lurking close in on the on side. Gatward continues to play expertly, anything remotely loose is going for runs and he hits a quality Cover Drive to bring the scores level. Time for a last hurrah from Stuart, who bowls a wobbly half-tracker to Dunn … and the ball stays very low and hits the stumps. Can we get two wickets for no runs to secure the tie? Neville Smith is calmness under pressure, defending the first and then pushing the second away for a single to secure the game. A fabulous match, well played the Occasionals.
SUNDAY TIMES OCCASIONALS WON BY TWO WICKETS
Afterwards the captains discussed field placing. Russel said: “At tea I told our boys it’s hardly worth putting slip fielders in at our level because the catches are always tough and rarely taken … then you get me out with a blinder”. Richard replied: “Regulation stuff for me”. I wish.