By Richard Higginbottom
Up to the Hampstead Heath Extension at Golders Green to take on the Antares side who put us to the sword fearfully in 2014. The wickets are all looking a bit shabby but the captains agreed which one looked most likely to provide the best cricket and then Gardeners skipper Higginbottom called correctly and decided to bowl.
Stuart’s bowling was splendid from the start putting openers Banks and Leathen under constant pressure as David Stead was swinging the ball almost too far at times under heavy cloud. The batsmen were struggling to find the middle of the bat and captain Banks took a swing at a ball that was probably a bit too good for the shot from Stuart resulting in a high swirling catch skilfully taken at Cover by Will Towers. Stuart’s bowling then got tighter again, an off-cutter cannoning into Rickett’s stumps off the back pad before Shah hit a lofted drive off his first ball from Stuart. Impressive but risky on this wicket. Leathem had been trying to knuckle down but this time a ball that started on leg stump and hit middle from Stuart did for him and Stuart’s got the top 3 back in the shed for not many. Shah continued to look threatening as Jason replaced Dave and sent down a number of good deliveries until a full toss ending outside off stump was whipped around to square leg by Shah where Will again showed excellent poise and judgment to claim his second catch. Sherazi played some big shots whilst Piercy knuckled down as Tarun replaced Stuart and a fightback by Antares began. Piercy then hammered a huge six with a straight drive off Jason but the Shoemaker performed an excellent comeback as his inswinger to the left hander trapped him lbw the next ball. Tarun’s now getting his line right and Heljid departed in short order for a duck and soon after Mabe followed for 1. Can we get danger man Sherazi out? He tried another big hit to the leg side but the ball came off the back of the bat and looped up to Jason who took the catch well at slip. O’Neill tried a lofted drive but failed to middle it off Tarun and Conor took the catch at Mid Off. Nicholson and Rickett (second dig – Antares had 10 players) got the score up to 120 – which is only a little bit below par on this track – but then Tarun got a snick from Rickett and Jason took a good low catch to complete a maiden Gardeners five-for for Tarun. Tremendous spell.
Only four bowlers used and we need one of them (Dave Stead) to open the batting as we know how strong the oppo bowling is. This occupied the captain’s mind over tea which was enjoyed by both teams. So the other three bowlers took positions 9, 10 and 11 in the order, the captain (who’d been keeping) inserted himself at 8 and the others were slotted in as the captain saw fit. [No – not at random – all part of a cunning plan]. First time I can remember that our excellent off spinner Jim Monahan didn’t get a chance to bowl.
Dave and Raj Singh opened and it wasn’t easy going, though the occasional loose ball was generally dispatched to the boundary meaning that by the time Raj offered a sharp chance off Sherazi – skilfully caught by Rickett – we were 25 for 1 after 5 overs. Graham Bruce had some last minute coaching from older brother Stuart and some advice from the captain to assist him (“if it’s on the stumps, block it”) and played some cavalier shots – occasionally the bat found the ball – in support of the increasingly comfortable and determined looking Stead. This combination weathered a rainstorm (we left the pitch for a short while as the rain got to its heaviest) and the stand made 43 until Rickett got one on target to Graham, removing him for 16. Jim’s now at the crease and belted a glorious Cover Drive for three (only a good dive stopped the four) but then got a bouncer in the ribs before giving a catch behind off O’Neill (who had been our nemesis last year). Paul sadly got a shooter and failed to trouble the scorer (but in team terms this was an levelling-out as a couple of our wickets had been pitch-assisted). Can someone support Dave, who’s now playing some sumptuous drives to augment the skilful cuts and pulls he has so far prospered from? The answer’s yes as Will doggedly contributed 8 in a stand of 36 to take us from a nervy 71 for 4 to 107 for 5 when that man O’Neill castled him with a Jaffa. Conor was told to “block anything on his stumps” by the captain whose advice is consistent, predictable and somewhat dull. Still, the message went home and the Tipperary Stallion was there at the end as the Whitley Bay Champion applied the coup-de-grace with his 12th four in a brilliant 64 to conclude the match in the Gardeners’ favour. A great win and just in time as the weather – showery all our innings – became decidedly wet.