Dave Williams reports:
"Mellow late summer sunshine" were Sally's words for the conditions; of course "late summer" always feels elegaic for us cricketers: abundance and fruitfulness - coming back from my Norfolk holiday today I saw the farmers' huge combine harvesters, surrounded by swirls of dust, gathering in the wheat - precede the shutting down into the dead time of winter.
Today's team performance was one to savour in the DVD player of our memories over the coming months. Previously this season, captain Paul Jordan has been prone, dare it be said, to chuntering and bewailing his ill fortune as he attempts to corral his motley collection of Remnant-shaped odds and sods towards a conception of optimal performance that hitherto, alas, has only existed in his mind. Today, though, his vision became a reality. A lot of credit goes to Paul today as he kept a tight but humane grip on the variables within his control, namely batting order, bowling selection and (specially) field placings, which were thoughtful and creative, featuring an unusually close mid off/straight extra cover pairing that nearly worked and encouraged bowling (unusually for us, I think) to a plan.
Fielding today was especially good, with Ewan Campbell, Julius Rix and Ferdi Rex turning St Barnabas's twos into ones. Tom Collett was energetic and impressively tidy behind the stumps - only one bye throughout. Dave Green showed his customary insightful reading of the game with some valuable backing up and running to receive the ball behind the stumps at the bowler's end. With some combative running from our batters taking on the arms of a carefully selected few of the St B outfielders, the differences in the fielding may ultimately have tipped the balance in our favour.
Paul won the toss and decided to bat - usually a good choice this late in the season, when the light closes in at the death. The orange ball helps - now I can understand what it means when someone says they bowled a "Jaffa". Messrs Bell and Williams opened, with Andy repeatedly finding the middle of his willow as he bludgeoned to long off and cow before holing out for 20 (off 17 balls). After three weeks away, the middle of my bat felt like it was still going round the carousel at Stansted: 14 (off 21 balls), out off a languid top-edged pull. With all the St B wides/no balls (two runs, no extra ball) we had at least started off at a healthy 9 an (eight-ball) over. Ferdi batted beautifully for his 26* (off 21 balls before compulsory retirement) - two lovely straight drives in a row through the covers were a highlight. He seemed, understandably, nonplussed to have to retire, though we were indeed playing St B rules - not that he knew it when told he had to walk. Julius never got the chance to get his mojo working in his 2 (off 7 balls), falling to a good catch in the covers. John Young played with excellent aggressive intent, freeing his arms for a bright and valuable 17 (off 20 balls), selflessly run out going for a quick single. Ewan ran fast and looked fierce for his 6 (off 5 balls). His sequence of run outs could probably benefit from practising backing up. Tom's 10* (off 12 balls) was characteristically busy and effective; Joe White's 15* (off 8 balls) rounded off our innings in style, including the game's only six, well aimed towards the very short legside boundary/pavilion. The only problem was that the St B's wicket keeper's four-year-old son looked like he was on the flight path; in protection John Young flung himself forward with very impressive bravery, but the ball sailed about 3 feet over the boy's head but then bounced up in to what sounded like John's sternum. The boy grinned at being the centre of all the attention, as if to say this was all very entertaining. John was unhurt too, so we could close our innings in good spirits with what looked like a competitive 135/5.
It could be that the "retire at 25" rule worked in our favour today: St B's openers, both undefeated, looked comparatively comfortable against Joe and Julius. Joe adjusted his line well to coordinate with Paul's 6:3 offside fields, repeatedly beating the bat and finding edges for an unluckily wicketless three overs for 21; Julius's three went for 23. The very few extras meant that St B were always a little behind the run rate, even though their left-handed number three also had to retire. The St B reply only started to go badly wrong when Ferdi came on. Lively pace, good line and a wickedly disguised slower ball to the new batters kept the runs down, his three overs going for a miserly 9, with two wickets. At the other end, Alec Armstong's first over was milked comfortably for 12, but the second only went for one. By this time the head, as it were, of the St Barnabas bull (metaphor alert! metaphor alert!) started to go down under the repeated thrusts of the bandilleras (short lances) of picadores Ferdi and Alex (three overs, none for 27). The stage was set, however, for the matador (literally, killer): Paul. In the encroaching dark Paul's spear-throwing action was generating excellent lift and carry, with his yorker and slower one both deliciously smashing into the bemused batsmens' stumps. Off the last over a mere 34 off 8 balls was the target; St B managed only 6, 3 of which were down to me not seeing the ball as it trundled slowly past me in the darkness and over the boundary. So, for Paul, two overs, three wickets (all bowled) for 12 runs - truly a coup de grace.
Congratulations to him, and many thanks to St Barnabas for a good-tempered and throughly enjoyable contest.