We are into the second month of the season, the time where teams start to find themselves in the kind of positions in the table that they will be in come the end of August and for us that sees us top of the league unbeaten. The close win on the opening weekend was followed up by two demolition jobs winning by 179 runs and then again the next week by 221 runs, it’s weird being done by 6 o’clock on a Saturday but we’re not going to complain too much, the week after is our first run chase and while we make it a bit more difficult than it should be we still chase it down to win by 5 wickets.
This week we’re making our trip to the Isle of Wight for the year for an away day in Ventnor and that means two things one we have to catch the ferry early and two the return of the fun bus. The fun bus is something that usually makes only one appearance a season for the pre season tour to Margam but this year it’s on double duty taking 10 players, the umpire and myself there let’s face it, it’s your bog standard minibus, it’s old, some of the seat belts don’t work and there’s an Adam Lallana sticker that the guys stuck on the window 2 months earlier that still hasn’t been taken down, although there’s some irony in the fact that he hasn’t come off since he moved to Liverpool.
The Isle of Wight has been a rare place for our cricket team to go, we always seem to never be in the same league in fact the last time we played a league game was in Ventnor nearly 6 years earlier and we got spanked that day, we arrive at the brilliantly named Steephill ground and I can only imagine it’s named as such because it’s on a steep hill down to the coast, the ground itself is unique and picturesque, with a big pavilion looking out over the pitch, a balcony for the players to watch the game from and a big bar area for spectators, what makes the ground unique is its in possibly the biggest bowl shape I have ever seen, banks at both ends of the ground stretch up about 15 feet from where the pitch is, it’ll make fielding difficult but also scoring runs up the hills, although this is somewhat cancelled out by the fact that one of the boundaries is about 40 feet from the wicket and any well timed glance could be a four.
Low and behold for the second straight week we’ve lost the toss and were bowling first, just as the game is about to get started and there’s actually a crowd turning up, we’ve brought about half a dozen people with us to watch the game and all in all there’s about 50 people in and around the pavilion grabbing a beer and watching the cricket. We start off ok, we’ve kept the openers restrained and they get the score to 79 at the first drinks break and where I got quite possibly the most interesting description of our cricket club by a fan of the opposition in his words
“You are the cricketing equivalent Chelsea, The papers expect you to win the league, The other teams expect you to win the league and that’s why everyone wants to beat you when they see your name next in the fixture list”
It’s nice to hear things like that because we know we shouldn’t be in this league, it’s not out of disrespect for the Hampshire League but we feel that we got screwed over so we’re making an empathic statement, there’s been no looking at games and thinking that’s going to be difficult, every win has been out in the bank and that we’re simply on to next week.
We need to start taking wickets, in this league wickets and runs mean points and the batsman are settled, their opener who is also there captain and wicket keeper is flaying the ball to all parts while his partner is a lot more patient and less willing to play shots but when he does play a shot eventually he’s guided it straight in the air to the fielder and is on his way back to the pavilion. The captain goes a while later trying to take the spinner on a he does is smash it back into his hands, the next big chance comes just before the second drinks break, batsman hits it low to the fielder who drops it, they’re going to a run, then they stop as the balls flung back it in, it misses the stumps and there’s no one backing up so they run anyway, the balls gets thrown to the other end this time and we still miss the stumps, 1 ball, 3 chances for a wicket and somehow they get a run. From there the fielding gets a little more sloppy, the players are finding it difficult with the hill and they’re running between the wickets well, in the end they manage to pile on 281 which looks a commanding score, the opposition scorer turns to me and says that’s the worst fielding display he’s seen this season and I can’t help but feel slightly uneasy about agreeing with him.
Chasing down a total is difficult at the best of times, chasing down a total in excess of 275 is nigh on impossible but the guys are pumped, we want to defend our undefeated streak, it’s something the guys are taking great pride in as they should do. However the worst possible start happens, one of the openers swishes his bat at one down the leg side, the ball lands in the keepers gloves, the finger goes up and his day is done. He’s not happy with it and as he walks back up to the pavilion he’s telling us he didn’t hit it and as he gets to the dressing room, shuts the door and let’s just say lets out the biggest f-bomb the Isle of Wight has ever heard. He’s quickly followed back by his opening partner who’s chipped one to the bowler and we’re 28-2, the rebuild job was on we can’t afford to lose another wicket.
The next two batsman in put on a show, with aggressive running between the wickets followed up with the occasional boundary they put on a hundred partnership relatively quickly and then comes the moment that makes everyone panic for a second, the balls pitched short and gets pulled to the boundary the fielder moves underneath it and then there’s a crack as the ball hits him on the head and he falls to the floor there’s a momentary rush to get a first aid kit and some ice, he takes a few minutes gets up and carries on in the field he jokes around with some of our players and how he saved five runs. A few overs later and the partnership is broken, they put on 167 runs in 30 overs and set the team up for the last big push, there’s a flurry of wickets as they we try and finish the game off and with one over to go we need 9 to win and have four wickets left in hand.
First ball and the left handed walks round a leg stump yorker….. 9 to win off 5. New man comes in and he can hit the ball, he proved it in our last away game when he came in and scored 15 off 6 balls, second ball of the over and he chips it up the hill and the batsman quickly run two…..7 to win off 4, the next ball gets smashed through extra cover for 4 and the players above us on the balcony start cheering….. 3 to win off 3, its another chip up the hill off the next ball and they try for two once again only this time they’re not quite quick enough and we lose another wicket trying to go for the second….. 2 to win off 2. There is a nervousness around at this point, fans behind me in the bar can’t take there eyes off the game, the players above me have gotten a lot more quiet in the last thirty seconds, the batsman gets ready for the next ball its dropped short and they try a quick single to guarantee a tie but once again they’re not quite quick enough and it’s another run out….. 2 to win off 1 with one wicket left. All of a sudden we’re on the back foot, number 11 and the captain isn’t ready to go out and bat, he’s getting himself padded up while trying to run down the stairs, one of the Ventnor fans comes out from the bar claiming that they’ve won, they can’t believe it but they’ve won. Everyone gets ready for the last ball, a hush falls over the ground as the bowler runs in, by the time is bowled and the non-striker is already a third of the way down the track running, the captain hits it up the hill they’re going for two, the fielder throws it to the wrong end and we’ve won it….. We’ve only gone and bloody won it by 1 wicket off the last ball of the game, the guys are jumping up and down making the balcony shake above me, the batsman have wheeled away celebrating and the Ventnor players have slumped to the floor hands on knees, a truly unbelievable game that got a truly unbelievable ending.
The day ends with all the players buzzing and everyone back on the fun bus going through a collection of songs as we drive back to the ferry terminal, the boat ride back is made more eventful by what can only be described as a sing off, a choir group coming back to Southampton start signing Rule The World by Coldplay, so what do the twelve drunk cricket guys come back with….. A rousing rendition of Jeruslaem of course that’s actually gets applause from the choir, a great day and a better night to celebrate the streak continuing and we’ll go again next week because it was Saturday night, they were shite, We’re Top Of The League.