League round-up for Week 11 (Saturday 20 July)

1st XI

SNCC 1s (198-9 in 50 overs) won by 57 runs against Kenton 1s (141 a/o in 38.1 overs)

Last Saturday saw league leaders Kenton visit the Marshes for a  top of the table clash. Stokey were riding high having beaten all that the league could throw at them in recent weeks. Someone not riding high was Joel Bayley, who, given the enormity of the game, had decided to go to bed early-ish and without a bugle in sight. That tells you all you need to know about the significance of the match and what it meant to the players. 

The game started in the worst possible way as Skipper Scott Doody lost the toss on a wet wicket and the Bears inevitably got stuck in, having not batted first since Alex Hales was in England's plans. With the Bears’ "win the toss, roll’em for 100 and knock them off 2-ish down" approach having worked so well over the last month or so, Stokey found themselves with a middle order of “Thanks for Comings” who could barely remember how to hold the bat.  Suddenly, for the biggest game of the season, that team of TFCs would have to produce the goods batting first. 

If ever there was a time for a rousing pregame speech from the skipper it was now - and he duly obliged. Fortune had it that Vicky was away drinking strawberry daiquiris in gay bars all weekend, which enabled Doody the morning hours to scrape the barrel of play-cricket and dig up the most meaningful statistics he could find on his boys. He duly rattled through them in a stirring and heartfelt speech of cricketing nostalgia that left everyone feeling both warm and fuzzy and pumped to go and smash the ball to all parts. Not to be outdone, Gordon chipped in with “play straight and hit the bad balls” or words to that effect. Stokey were ready. 

The innings got off to a great start as it was apparent that the decent Kenton bowler who seamed it around at good pace at their place was missing and had been replaced by two generic second-teamers.  Doody looked keen to make the most of this as he tucked into some leg stump mediocrity early on. The fun was not to last though as Sneaky Pete Stone decided to leave an off stump half volley onto his big toe. It was the fourth time this season a top order batsman had been out leaving, a remarkably high ratio given there have only been 10 Stokey leaves played all season. 

That bought number three Rob Chadwick who started his innings with his trademarked quiet accumulation. However, he too was gone shortly after arriving at the crease courtesy of the kind of triggering that goes down in cricketing folk law - an 'I was there moment' up there with Beckham on Simeone and Stokes’ back of the bat six in the World Cup Final, as he missed the ball by enough for the oppo to audibly laugh as the umpire raising his finger on appeal, shrugging his shoulders as he did so.  As Chadders strolled off with the same quiet indifference with which he'd arrived at the crease (and indeed seemingly accompanies him in every situation in life), Doody approached rage blackout. He must have barely noticed Joel arrive at the other end, or indeed the scoreboard, as he decided that every ball had to go the distance. Having slapped a couple off Kenton’s third change bowler, he tried the same against one of their left-arm spinners and only succeeding in chipping a long hop straight to point. If Chadder's exit from the pitch had been prosaic, Doody's was ignominious as chuntered about the disgraceful umpiring all the way to the changing room and how he was giving him a 1 in the post-match report. 

Suddenly Stokey were 31-3 after 8 overs and in real trouble; with the pregame speak a distant and cruel memory with only the TFCs, the Afghans and Big Handsome Jim (Davies) to come. If anyone was feeling warm and fuzzy inside now it was Kenton.  But Joel and the Hackney Boss (Hodayne Bryce) weren't going to give up easily, and for all their recent lack of opportunity in the league, both had been in the habit of smashing round Sunday change bowlers this year, so must have been feeling good going into it. When the chips were down they came to the party and constructed a counter-attacking partnership punctuated with glorious stroke play and the odd chip up which fell in the gap.  

Joel got one on off stump which he carted magnificently into the pavilion off one knee, and Hodayne repeated the trick himself, sending the same bowler into the car park. With the sun out and runs flowing at the Marshes again it felt like the natural order had been restored. Just as the partnership neared 100, Joel went for the inside-out over extra cover and had to depart for an alleged 38, following a screamer from the man in deep.  

A couple of overs later the Hackney Boss was raising his bat to the fans on reaching his second league 50 of the year.  “Settle in, go on and make it a big one” new man Josh Harrison had no doubt told Hoddy as he congratulated him on reaching the milestone - however, the Boss had other ideas and soon he too was gone hitting a long hop straight to the man at cow corner in a classic overseas’ dismissal. 

That bought in a purposeful looking Ishaq Raheel fresh from a stint at St. Trinian's. He played a glorious lofted straight drive and a couple of other less glorious hacks before he too was on his way. At the other end, Josh had been mixing some dot ball and vintage poor running with classy stroke play, peppering the cover, square leg and straight boundary in a Bell-esque number 6 display. He departed run out for 27 in the 49th over but by this time Stokey were almost up to 200 and ready to declare. All that was left was for Zazai to come and go slogging and Big Handsome Jim to twice get the full-length dive out attempting to avoid the being run out, in front of his adoring and captivated Margo. The declaration did indeed come with the Bear's having reached 198 from 50 overs in relative comfort after the jittery start. 

Tea bought a seldom seen anticipation around the table to the players and officials, as cold pizza was replaced with a DIY scone assembly station. The Stokey boys knew they still had a job to do though, and again in a demonstrable act of dedication to the cause, most filled their plates modestly; leaving some room for greatness.  

The innings was started by the perpetually in-form Zabe Mohammad and the at present very inform BHJ. Jim was coming off the back of a previous week 6-fer full of pace, movement and control – a bagful of genuine dismissals which wouldn't have looked out of place in proper cricket. Having lamented his misfortune at Chadder's apathy towards writing the match report following a World Cup hangover,  he knew he had another chance to get some nice words written about him if he could continue his form. And continue the form he did, with three early wickets in a crucial early spell. 

Kenton had sent their opening bowler out to also open the batting, but Jacques Kallis he was not. He did wake the chihuahua on a few occasions with plinked slogs for 2s, which spoke of the excitable nature of Kenton's skipper at any kind of cricket shot - graceful or ugly, effective or not so. Gladly BHJ sent his off bail flying before he could stick around too long. 

Kenton’s number 3 actually looked decent but received the second triggered of the day as Zabe picked him up ellbeedubelew to a ball which ironically would have missed the stumps by the same margin that Chadders had earlier missed his by.  On the day and in the context of the game, everyone agreed it was a fair trade. 

At the other end their opener who had been so destructive against us last time was looking dangerous again, as anything in his half was getting crunched through or over cover. Anything not in his half was a different matter though as demonstrated when BHJ managed to grill him with a 65 mph snorter. 

The moment of the game came as Hodayne tried to move himself from point to cover, only to be instructed to stay put by the Doody - 'Stay put, this he's about to slice one straight to you and I want you there to catch it'. The very next ball the opener obliged and slapped a wide half volley straight to the Hackney Boss and wild scenes ensued, evocative of Sneaky's keg ball call from the previous week. 

By this point Stokey were feeling pretty good about themselves again as the chihuahua arrived at the crease looking like he'd fallen out of a Louis Vuitton and could find his way to Beverly Hills. However as BHJ started to stray onto his pads the little man's confidence grew and he began finding the boundary with some regularity. 

Another wicket fell to Zabe to the first of Chadder's pair of almost comically easy catches in the gully. That bought the worst number 6 anyone had ever seen who had somehow managed to Ashley Giles his way into a potentially league winning team. For a tortuous period, he made up his technique as he went, like a low-quality Steve Smith. It was a far cry from the purist pleasing majesty of Stokey's own number 6 before tea. Eventually, Zabe got him to chip a dolly up to Zazai who took the catch and went on a lap of honour. 

By his time Kenton were looking beaten, and when the chihuahua got bounced out to Zabe and the reliable Hussain started with an early wicket, it looked like the game could be over demoralisingly soon for the visitors. There was even talk of rolling them for under 100. However cricket is rarely straightforward and slowly Kenton built partnerships, with their numbers 7 and 8 looking far better equipped than some of their predecessors.  Slowly at first, they blocked and then gradually began to put away a boundary an over to take the score past three figures and give the Kenton boys some hope. 

As the final hour ticked over and with Kenton having built momentum to reach 120-ish, Doody decided to rotate his bowlers from the top end. It was a decision that worked brilliantly as Hussain picked up his second wicket, Zabe claimed four, and a fired-up Ishaq claimed the final scalp with an absolute snorter to clip the off bail and spark rapturous scenes at the Marshes. Kenton limped off knowing they'd been well beaten by the better team on the day. The Bears danced all the way back to the dressing room with such vigour that Big Handsome Jim crushed the flip-flopped Simon's toe in the man hug aftermath. The limping and bloodied Simon a poignant remembrance of the commitment shown by all that day. 

Warmup Rating: 9 

No one, including Gordon, could really be bothered with a warm-up and so the big man lethargically fired off some medium trajectory skiers in random directions for whoever wanted to catch them. No running involved, and everyone either caught, dropped or stood stationary with no confusion over the nature of the game. Top form. 

2nd XI

SNCC 2s (174 a/o in 43.2 overs) won by 39 runs against Wycombe House 2s (135 a/o in 34.3 overs)

After two solid victories on home soil, the 2s packed their nap-sacks and arrived at Wycombe House with just a little bit of revenge on their minds, having narrowly been defeated by one wicket earlier in the season.   Heavy overnight rain and damp conditions presumably made it a good toss to win and Stokey, having been put in to bat, had to negotiate a slightly spicy pitch having sweated under the covers.

A cautious start with no real alarm was interrupted by Rob Low nicking one that was there to hit (“That’s the last time I lend my pads to the oppo keeper!”) but after that Sarafat Ali and Kartik Khatri settled down to a nice little partnership at almost a run a ball. As so often happens the drinks break proved to be the clever change of bowler - Kartik that very same over holing out to mid-on.  Ali proved once again that lack of pace is not his friend and suddenly we had two new batsmen at the crease.  The wickets kept on tumbling, Zain Haidery and then Stan Greenleaf going quickly, the latter caught between a cut and defence and caught at point. 

From a promising position at drinks, the 2s were in danger of committing the cardinal sin of being bowled out with plenty of overs left and things didn’t get any better with some terrible running between the wickets leaving Joe Kingsley-Smith well short (even though he’s tall).  The advice from the spectators though was to get 140/150 on the board and just when we needed a partnership in strolled Sal Whitehead to join Imran Ali. Clearly the extra protein working in a fried chicken shop had done wonders for his power game because suddenly the boundaries were flowing, from both ends - Imran gaining confidence from his big-hitting partner. Just when Sal really fancied a big score he was out caught carving one to cover but the damage was done and even another dreadful run out to finish the innings couldn’t damper the fact that from a perilous position the 2s had got 174 precious runs on the board. Was it enough though???

The openers for Wycombe didn’t think so and punished Stokey’s opening bowlers for not pitching it up and threatening the stumps and reached the 50-run partnership with few concerns. Even Kartik got the treatment in his opening over and the 2s were searching for solutions at this point. 

It came in the form of spin. Michael Tucker, having been brought on for Asad-Nabi Momand, got the opener to slog one to mid-on! That’s all we needed! With Skipper Sarafat demanding that the fielding improved - Joe listened and, with Wycombe’s other opener treading water, hurled the ball to the keeper’s end who still had a bit to do to bring the ball to the stumps - think Jos Buttler and that run out which won the World Cup!

The 2s were now buzzing around the field - the chat was up, the pep was in the step. What Wycombe didn’t need was another run-out but up stepped Zain Haidery, clearly trying to make up for his batting woes, who danced around from cover point and aimed dead eye dick at middle stump.  From a position of strength Wycombe had got themselves in a bit of a jam, raspberry if you were wondering.  Kartik was brought back to weave his sticky web and Monty Rahman at the other end was asked to pitch it up and bowl at the stumps - something which Stokey had not been able to do so far in the match. Monty duly delivered, a real peach - pitching on middle and smashing orrrrffff. Kartik was now back in his rhythm too going through his variations. 

It was thirsty work out there, so much so that Wycombe House’s key batter asked for a drink - and when told he had to wait a few overs by keeper Rob Low, he didn’t like that news and smashed one to Imran at cover.  By now Stokey could sense victory, having been slightly down in the dumps a few overs before, and with Kartik getting another it was down to the last recognised batsmen to see if Wycombe could get to the total. He was proving difficult to remove and the eight-wicket partnership took them below 50 to win…

In came Sal for his first bowl of the season, but his good ideas of pitching it up were just slightly too (chicken) leg-Side.  It needed a less subtle way of removing the key batter - Sal let go of an accidental full toss which came up off the glove and into his chin. Again no helmet so no sympathy.  Clearly still groggy, Kartik sent down a beauty to him, a carbon copy of Warne’s “Ball of the Century” which dipped, pitched on leg and knocked back the top of off stump. 

That was pretty much that - all that was left to do was for Zain to do what he’s paid to do and he duly obliged with a toe-breaker knocking back the stumps.

Warmup rating - 9/10 lots of slip catches and decent use of the Katchet ramp

Even the oppo captain give us a slip catching drill?!

Tea - 6/10 a bit one-dimensional, but saved by excellent roly-poly cake  

3rd XI

SNCC 3s (212-9 in 50 overs) beat Winchmore Hill 4s (194 a/o in 40 overs) by 18 runs

Saturday’s rematch with WHCC was, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, “the worst of times, the best of times, the worst of times, the best of times”.  

The match began with SNCC losing the toss and being put into bat under mottled skies on a pitch still soft and sticky after a night of rain. Stokey’s top order struggled to time the ball as it alternately stuck in the pitch and then popped up seemingly at random.  The 3s quickly found themselves down 22 for 5 and then 37 for six - the game nearly over before it had started. But liberal doses of grit, application and patience over the remaining innings pulled SNCC out of the depths of despair.  It began with a painstakingly excellent partnership between Badar Khan (36, despite a nasty back injury which reduced him to a statesmanlike stroll between the wickets) and Timon Blakemore (27).  The innings then closed with a flourish from Muhammad Uzair (31) and U15 Will Holden (27).  Having somehow survived for the full 50 overs, the 3s finished with the previously unthinkable total of 212-9. 

SNCC’s opening attack started well, with young seamers Will (loping in like a young gazelle) and U16 George Neyhus (a hint of Bob Willis with a wild mop of hair flying in all directions) building up pressure and racking up the dot balls (19 for George, 20 for Will in four overs each). However, dropped and missed catches released that pressure and Winchmore Hill started to accelerate and looked to be taking charge. Despite the dropped catches, intensity in the field didn’t slacken and a run out and brilliant catch at slip by Will and a catch by Rayyan Patel provided support to the spinners Uzair (3-52), Timon and Sudeep Karumarathodi, and the situation stabilised. 

The game started turning Stokey’s way with the reintroduction of Will and George (two wickets – one a very fine caught behind by keeper Tom Davies - and a maiden for George and a maiden for Will) and the introduction of SNCC’s iconic and talismanic substitute fielder Duncan Holden (for the injured Badar). Captain Sudeep’s decision to introduce the enigmatic pace bowling of Jamie Cox proved both inspired and decisive, as, having fought their way through the spinners, and two blasts from Stokey’s young pacemen, WHCC were suddenly faced by a bowling style that could be best described as a combination of an English bulldog and Winston Churchill. When George caught Winchmore Hill’s last recognised batter at long on for the eighth wicket, the game had definitively swung back to SNCC, and the WHCC tail had no answer to Jamie (who finished with a match-clinching 4-13). 

When the fur and dust settled, WHCC had been bowled out for 194 in 40 overs, and SNCC had won by 18 runs.  Another great match between two evenly-matched teams following on from their two nail-biting contests last summer.

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