All Aboard The Fun Bus

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.

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One Down, Now Don’t Be A Dick

May is by far the most wonderful time of the year, the days are getting longer, it’s starting to get warmer and the time honoured tradition of British summer time the village cricket season has started. Now anyone who has donned whites and taken to the field knows the excitement that comes around when it’s time for the first league game but in the five years I’ve been at my club I’ve never known such a buzz.

 Fair Oak is a small village just outside of Eastleigh in Hampshire, they regularly run four teams on a Saturday and have one of the best run junior set ups in the entire county. Fair Oak have known better times in recent years but last year were removed from the Southern Premier League due to poor pitch marks, obviously there has been a lot of grumbling behind the scenes and accusations of what’s gone on but what’s done is done. Pitch marks are a broken system in cricket as only three people score them, the two appointed panel umpires give their respective view and the away team’s captain, this is where some controversy lies as away teams will often underscore pitches if the team has lost, however some of the time the low marks are deserved. The truth in the matter is the club made a mistake two years ago, hiring an inexperienced groundsman and no preparation has set the ground Lapstone Park back about 5 years and given the clubs first team a relegation to the Hampshire Cricket League and prevented a promotion for the second team. Obviously everyone involved in the club was angry at various decisions made above them but instead of breaking apart the club has united to prove its better than whatever everyone thinks, 6 months of hard work has gone into the pitch to bring it back to standard, the club forged new links in the community, the parish council agreed to help with funding new equipment and the club chairman also struck a two year sponsorship deal with British Gas, the clubs position off the field was strong now they had to get out on the field and do it.

Saturday comes around and it’s the first league game against OT’s and Romsey CC and for the third year now I’m back behind the bench as the first team scorer, I enjoy what I do, I spend my Saturday afternoons watching cricket and most of the time it goes off without a hitch, mainly because I go by three basic rules for scoring

  1. Don’t make any mistakes
  2. Get along with the opposition scorer
  3. DON’T BE A DICK

Every Saturday I try and go through them in my head mainly for simple reasons, mistakes in a scorebook look horrible and they’re especially noticeable when you use coloured pens. The opposition scorer is in the same job as me they don’t give up they’re day to be treated badly by myself and the third one is easy, if the captain or the players don’t like you then they won’t have you as a scorer and won’t want you anywhere near the team. Now I try not to let stuff get to me usually especially but for the last two and a half years I’ve been living in a personal sickness hell, now it’s nothing contagious but it’s annoying, countless doctors appointments, countless tests and yet they have no idea, until Friday afternoon. The long and the short of it is I’m now Lactose intolerant, not massively sensitive but enough to make life uncomfortable and it frustrates me, that kind of news plays on the mind a lot so much that I slept for about 2 hours Friday night and by the time I get to the ground on Saturday morning I’m tired, cranky and I’m on a hairline trigger, now I don’t realise I’m being crappy with people until it gets pointed out to me later in the day and then thinking back on it I realise I’ve been an asshole, so there’s a lot of people I need to apologise to next Saturday but anyway I digress.

We’re batting first and unlike in the last two years the pitch is playing fine, the batting is a little turgid at times but we are scoring runs at a quick rate. In recent years 170 has been enough to win games but with the pitch being better now we don’t quite know what we need, but the top 5 has all made it to double figures and with 15 overs to go we’re 150 for 3 and looking through the scorebook it’s easily noticeable that we’ve only had a similar score once before in my time as scorer and the was an away game. With 15 overs to go most teams will look to add 100 runs and that’s the target for us as well, unfortunately this doesn’t come to pass, most of the lower order chips in a dozen runs but all get out in similar fashions trying to hit the ball hard and only finding a fielder a promising start somewhat fizzles out to see us only get 227 for 9 when we looked set for a score of 250 plus. Anyone who plays cricket knows that cricket teas are amongst the highlight of the sport but for me it’s now kind of been cancelled out, there’s the trays of sandwiches where most of the stuff that’s left has cheese in…… can’t eat that, there’s a massive victoria sponge with strawberry jam and cream…… can’t eat that either, I settle on a cup of tea that I can’t have milk in and contemplate whether I should tell anyone but I’m still in a state of shock myself at the news and instead keep it to myself as we head back for the second innings. All the players seem confident that we’re going to win but I’m silently nervous in the score box still thinking we are about 20 to 30 runs short but low and behold in the fourth over there’s a suicidal run out and I can breath a little, the batsman who’s out isn’t happy with it, he smashes a boundary marker as he walks off, breaks his helmet throwing it into the floor and takes a good few whacks at a bush with his bat on the way back to the changing room…. It’s safe to say he’s not too happy with that. But after that OTR are batting well, they’re playing clever cricket, great running between the wickets and not playing risky shots and they’re creeping along quietly. They have a 16 year old batsman who’s flaying the ball to all corners he’s cool calm and composed and if he stays in till the end he may win the game for his team, he’s slowly chipping away and is getting support from various partners and he cruises past 50 it’s one of the best innings I’ve seen at our ground and he’s put their team in contention with 3 overs to go. It’s time to start hitting out and after being tied down in the over he swings at one… misses and his off stump is leaning backwards, the cheer on the pitch is noticeable, I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we have just saved the match, he walks off to applause from his team but is clearly angry that he should have won the game for them. 

In the end they fall 7 runs short, it was closer than the game needed to be and we need to have a rethink of what is a good score at our ground. A win is a win however convincing or unconvincing the victory is, this season is not going to be easy the team is going to have to work hard for the win in every game but I believe this team can do it, it’s one game down with sixteen more to go and i need to remember to not be a dick.