Report by Daniel Mortlock:
It was just yesterday that we were getting ready to take on Northstowe, with the only apparent uncertainty being whether Neil would play for us or them. Then there was the dreaded message, different from its numerous antecedents only in that it came not by e-mail but via WhatsApp: "Sincere apologies but we wont be able to field a team this Wednesday. Unfortunately due to half term a lot of people are travelling." Never mind that half term is next week; the salient point is that we wouldn't be getting a game on what was forecast to be one of the best evenings of the year so far. But what WhatsApp can take away it can also give: at 11:30am a message went out tentatively asking if anyone might be able to raise a team; at 13:54pm, less than three hours later, Taz confirmed that NCI had a full side ready to go.
That this team was, according to NCI's captain Supreeth Ramesh, "mixed" was thus not too surprising; but it turns out the main difference from the usual NCI friendly squads we've faced in previous years was the mixing in of some seriously good cricketers who normally play in their stronger league sides. Two of them opened the batting for NCI, meaning that Qaiser Ahmed - there'd be no 4/2 craziness this evening - and Ben Stone had their work cut out for them. Sure enough, there were a few dismissive boundaries - one punch through cover-point was reminiscent of Damien Martyn - but Q (1/19) and Ben (2/26) won both battles. Sadly, this was despite rather than because of the recent policy of putting full slips cordons in place for our new ball bowlers: both Q and B(?) beat the bat many times, but the only genuine edge was too high to reach. It was also fun for a bit to implement our new game in which a slip was added every time the ball beat the bat and was removed following a solid contact; but the fielders' fitness levels weren't up to it, so we just had to settle for a full cordon.
With NCI reduced to 39/4 in the 5th (eight-ball) over it seemed the ideal time to give Dian ("like 'Ryan' but with a 'D' - but not 'Diane' ") Weerakonda his first Remnants spell after several years away from cricket. The NCI middle order was, however, up to the task, and their fifth wicket pair took the score onto 108 at the start of the 13th over. At this point we did finally open the floodgates, as Faruk Kara (3/21), Temoor Khan (2/1) and Pete Ames (1/25) all harvested wickets. TK's came on consecutive deliveries, leading us to set an anarchic attacking field for the hat-trick ball that made the slips cordons set for Q and B seem almost conservative. And then when JP Joubert and 'keeper Neil Grover combined to effect a fantastic run out we'd taken NCI's last 6 wickets for 11 runs, dismissing them for 119. Except before we had time to start heading for the pavilion we saw Sumit Suhai (of ARM fame) striding out in the opposite direction, bat in hand. The extra/final five deliveries should have yielded just the two singles but for the comedy moment of the night when top fielders Qaiser and JP both had the option of comfortably stopping the ball, only to get into a politeness battle that ended up with both of them falling over and the ball trickling over the boundary.
That, as Dian noted, meant exactly the same target as in last night's game . . . which was a rather ominous observation given how comfortably it was defended. Still, that required Qaiser's near-perfect spell, and surely NCI's scratch team wouldn't have anyone of that calibre? Strictly not - but only in the sense they had two sharp and accurate bowlers, operating with their superior league-quality ball in fading light. The first sign of trouble was when their 'keeper - who normally takes the gloves for NCI first team - set up shop about 18 yards back; and sure enough, Mujeeb Ur Rahman (1/11) bowled the fastest spell of the evening. JP, at least, was up to the challenge against his weekend teammates, making a classy 17 (off 21 balls) that was unfortunately ended by NCI's now rather noisy captain (recorded as "Sabrit" in the scorebook), who became even louder when he had JP adjuged LBW first ball. Even worse, this was the first of three wickets in Supreeth's first over, after which we'd slumped to a surely fatal score of 32/4 after 6 overs.
Chris Badger (36 of 36 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (23 off 22 balls) then at least managed to stem the flow of wickets, but the comeback was moral only: pushing ones and twos was all well and good, something with which Supreeth seemed to agree as he urged his fielders to "keep them running". Most captains might instead hope for dot balls, but he was fundamentally correct in the sense that we needed boundaries. Indeed, the key statistic of the game was that we hit just 6 boundaries all innings - NCI managed 13. By the time Qaiser (6* off 4 balls) and Ben (7* off 9 balls) got their chance our chance had gone, and the only compensation was that a 14-run loss is way better than sitting at home.