At last the Winter is officially over … the drive to Bexley was sure enough through light drizzle with the temperature dial refusing to budge over 11C, but by the time the Gardeners had assembled at Loring Hall to be met by our hosts Blue Star, the outfield was drying nicely and the square was dry enabling us to get underway by 1.30pm. Before battle commenced one of Blue Star’s future players scootered down the middle of the wicket (at Parliament Hill this would probably have improved the surface, but certainly not the case here). Paul Jordan made an early bid for quote of the day after Stuart Bruce had asked if we’d tossed yet: “I might do later if I score a few runs”. When captain Higginbottom did call he got it wrong and we were invited to bat, the home team looking to take advantage of the still slightly damp conditions.
David Stead joined Paul in opening our innings and ensured a solid start against some accurate bowling and keen fielding. The skipper had listed himself at 3 but decided to promote some of the more extravagant stroke players as we went past 40 runs and 11 overs without losing a wicket. Three balls later Paulie J was out caught … and this ushered in Sachith Dassanayake who took a little while to adjust to the ball not coming on to the bat before launching a fusillade of attacking shots, The Whitley Bay Champion just about keeping pace until he skied one to Blue Star skipper Rob Mills off Pitt. An impressively fluent and authoritative 44 off 70 balls including five fours. Both the first and second wicket partnerships made 43 runs. Rahul Jaiswal entered the fray – his debut in England as well as for the Gardeners. A few early alarms and then some lovely strokes as he settled in. We got to 115 and then Sachith was lbw to opening bowler Steve Chennery (who had returned to bowl to stem our flow) for 39 off only 29 balls. Gavin Hill (Blue Star’s other opener) had also returned and quickly accounted for Rahul (four 4s in his 18) and fellow debutant Shahed Ahmed (0) to put the brakes on our advance at 125 for 5. David Hollingsworth and Imran Hussain knuckled down and ensured no more wickets came from the openers as they completed their eight overs, then Imran was lbw to Grimsley for 6 as he looked to move the score along. Now the captain is patting himself on the back as after we’d gone past 32 overs, he switched places (8 to 11) with star all-rounder and vice captain Stuart with the agreement to accelerate. The South Coast Slammer duly provided extra tempo, running and cajoling and providing extra confidence to 2-Bats as they added 25 in three overs until Stuart was bowled by Mills for 13 off 9 balls. Our third debutant Tahidul Islam got the nasty welcome of a jaffa first ball and returned to the pavilion immediately. David followed soon after, an excellent piece of fielding by Bird running him out as we were striving for every last run. Gopala Krishna and the skipper (in at last) added 8 and 4 unbeaten each as we posted a good total of 182 that we felt might be about 20 short of par.
Tea was excellent but Higginbottom needs to get back on the diet treadmill. (I’ve seen the team picture). He’s not back to the colossus he was but he needs to avoid those delicious rock buns in the very near future. (If anyone else was writing this I’d be upset).
And so back to the battle. Wow we’ve got some great bowlers today. Six who would always get their full allocation plus the unknown quantity of Tahidul who looked very promising in the nets on Thursday. Our two fastest men Gopala and Imran were causing lots of problems for openers Shuttle and A Chennery who played resolutely with great application and skill until Chennery spooned a catch back to Imran who did well to grasp it before it reclaimed association with terra firma. Grimsley started to play some good shots, particularly through the off side, and Blue Star were making decent progress until Shuttle attempted a second run to Paul, scampering back at mid off, who turned and pinged an accurate throw to bowler Gopala who was equally efficient in completing the run out. 2 for 45 and we have a slight advantage (Imran’s figures particularly frugal) as Stuart and Rahul took up the reins. Best first over that I, Paulie J and Stuart himself could remember from the vice captain as a flying slip chance was narrowly missed and a rock solid lbw shout was turned down. A maiden with everything but a wicket. Rahul settled into a good line and length and was swinging and cutting the ball, resulting in a lot of played and missed deliveries as well as another good appeal. Harper had been tied down by this and Richard took the unusual step of specifically advising a bowler (normally this extends to “get a wicket” or “don’t get tonked”). Rahul’s swing was effectively making left-hander Harper an lbw bunny if Rahul switched to over the wicket and aimed at off stump. Sure enough the ploy worked … as Harper took a wild swipe and was caught behind. Oh well, near enough … I’m still claiming some of the credit. Grimsley had continued to play enterprising strokes as Stuart tried many variations to unseat him. Meanwhile The Whitley Bay Champion replaced Rahul and got an immediate return, Taylor holing out to Rahul. Evenly balanced now as M Chennery joined Grimsley and attempted to up the run-rate. Brucie’s big finale: just after Grimsley completed his half century an excellent off-cutter dismantled his woodwork to put us in the ascendant. Stuart was now bowled out; let’s see how Tahidul does. As Bumble would say “he’s a big lad who bowls a heavy ball” and a bit of swing and seam together with some remarkable accuracy for someone who hasn’t played for a few years meant we had control of the match as the required rate continued to get higher. Dave and Tahidul profited with very good deliveries getting the wickets of Pitt (20), danger man Steve Chennery (0) and skipper Mills (0) in the closing overs leaving us 15 to the good as the 40 overs closed. A winning start to 2017 for the Gardeners and an excellent team performance. Man of the match David Stead. And thanks to our hosts for a great game and good company in the White Cross afterwards.