This Sunday, in the evening, shortly after seven, where were you?
Anyone who didn’t make the trip down to Hackney North Marsh missed out on a classic as Stoke Newington U21s beat Hampstead and made it through to their first Men’s county final in their history.
It was a hotly anticipated fixture and both sides got to the ground early to do some stretches, have some banter and attempt to strike early psychological blows by impressing upon the other side just how good they were at the long barrier. Pre match ablutions out of the way, a player from each team walked out to the middle, one of them flicked a coin and the other one shouted at it. After this happened it emerged that Stoke Newington were going to bowl first on the greenest track in the history of the MDL.
The Stokey boys had a quick huddle in which everyone agreed that they were going to try and bowl the opposition out for as few runs as possible. After that the game got under way. Gus Walsh started off with a fierce first over, beating the outside edge of Hampstead’s overseas on more than one occasion. Meanwhile at the other end Zabehullah Mohammad was swinging it about like a left handed Jimmy Anderson. A couple of overs went by with the opposition looking uncomfortable but failing to get out. Then; a cluster of wickets. Two to Zabeh and one to Gus ripped the heart out of the Hampstead batting line up.
The Stokey boys were fielding like champions and runs were hard to come by. Ishaq Raheel came on and bowled exceptionally well, keeping it tight and bowling at a decent lick. He finished with the very impressive and bizarrely symmetrical figures of 05.01.01.05.
By the time drinks came Hampstead were limping along at 50-4. After drinks however, Stokey let their foot off the gas and Hampstead were able to build there innings thanks largely to the resolute batting of their number three. He appeared an immovable object and around him their innings was built. Sometimes however, an immovable object comes up against an irresistible force, which on this occasion came in the form of a terrible decision from the umpire. With the number three out of the picture the Hampstead innings collapsed. Robert Chadwick came on and bowled with the pace and hostility of an arthritic 60 year old. In the face of this challenge the Hampstead lower order decided to throw away their wickets, all finding new and inventive ways of getting out against the placid medium pace of Chadwick. And so their innings finished on a slightly underpar 129, the Stokey boys leaving the field wearing big grins on their faces.
It was the usual showing at lunch. We politely let the opposition choose their food first, but stood awkwardly near them to make it abundantly clear that they shouldn’t take too much. During the break the crowd swelled in size, the new punters flocking in to see Scott Doody use his new bat that some bloke with a terrible business model gave to him on mate’s rates. After scoffing a few flapjacks and nibbling suspiciously on a token radish the Stokey openers donned their pads and made their way out to the middle. Scott got the innings off to a brisk start, the odd offside shot making an appearance in between an array of leg side hoiks. Meanwhile at the other end Robert succumbed to his charitable side, chipping up a lovely little catch to mid-off so as to give the other side a chance. Quickly afterwards Scott too departed having made a very brisk 36. Mo Alkhal was joined at the crease by Hamza Omar and the two of them went about rebuilding the innings. When Hamza callously smashed their opening bowler over the square leg boundary for six it appeared as though Stokey were going to cruise it. However in a moment of madness the umpire, presumably in an attempt to make amends for his previous blunder, decided to give Hamza out when he quite clearly wasn’t out. Hamza made his opinions on the subject known by breaking all records for slowest walk off in the history of cricket, taking a full five minutes to get over the boundary rope. A classic batting collapse ensued with wickets tumbling around Mo. Khpalwak Zazai came in and smashed two fours but nobody else troubled the scorers. The tension was building as Stokey suddenly found themselves eight down and still requiring 10 runs for victory. Appeal followed appeal as the Hampstead bowlers continued to hit the pads. The momentum of the game had swung irresistibly in their favour. There hadn’t been a boundary for six overs, ten runs now seemed like a hundred with the threat of a wicket present with every delivery. However, one constant throughout the chaos had been the ice cool figure of Mo, who seemed to absorb the pressure and even thrive off it. He waited patiently for the loose ball, happy to soak up dots. Then, after what seemed like an age, the bowler lost his length. A four followed a six and suddenly the game was over. A half-baked pitch invasion followed with a few players running around the field like madmen. High fives preceded awkward handshakes with the opposition – The Stokey boys barely able to contain there glee. There was plenty of laughter in the changing room after the game with team morale at an all-time high, the Stokey boys had done it, Wembley beckons!
And so concludes the penultimate chapter in the story of Stoke Newington U21s cup run, the final instalment taking place on the 30th of August. Stay tuned to find out if they can go all the way and lift the coveted plate, all support welcome!