Another beautiful afternoon at Honor Oak, another thrilling game
that The Exiles just failed to win.
This week our bone-fide batsmen were out in force; Sean O'Connor who got 62 in this clash last year; Guy Sneesby, best batsman in previous seasons; James Booth the Exiled Hornet and patron of this fixture, a man destined to make a century, just as soon as his wife delivers him his second child (now 11 days overdue); Nick Coleman, our swivelling, swashbuckling, Gower-esque number 4. Almost our full compliment of all-rounders, Faisal Ansari, averaging over 90 this season, Naem Khan, keen to show his credentials as best all-rounder, Irfhan "Effie" Usman, just back from India, where he tells us he was practising with Sunil Gavaskar (how to run-out your team-mates perhaps?). Even our wicket keeper and bowlers were no rabbits. Basically a good line-up to post the Hornets a challenging total after being asked to bat on a good dry wicket. The added fact that at the start The Hornets had only 7 men on the field meant that the gaps were large. Freegard's opening delivery went clean through the substitute keeper and clattered into the fence for four byes. After that both openers showed him so much circumspection that his first spell of five overs were all maidens. As the openers slowly grew accustomed to their surroundings two late Hornets arrived to fill the gloves and the largest gaps but with nine men they hardly deserved to maintain the vice-like grip they had. We inwardly grinned when The Gentlemen of West London pootled along at one run and over, but here we were on a dry wicket, against a weaker attack and only nine fielders not managing 2 an over. Pathetic! We were losing the game before we had started, with hardly a shot fired in anger. To be fair The Hornets fielding was commendable and the bowling respectable but still...
Both openers were bowled by Captain Marcus Williams for 14, in the 14th and 16th overs. You might have expected an acceleration but it was only slight. James Booth, a man of both Parishes, stunned his drives into the ground or to the fielders but he survived many of his antecedents. Those of us who have seen James in full flow, peppering the straight boundaries, are yearning for his "waters to burst". There are many months of runs stored up in his belly, they will have to come out sometime. He fell for 12, all singles and twos. Nick Coleman, still not delivered from his expectancy of Arsenal retaining the Premiership, got on with it briefly, before playing perpendicular to a straight one with inevitable consequences, bowled for 6. Faisal Ansari never got started, managing only 2 before chipping a catch that may have cleared most mid-ons but not the giant Williams. At a stroke his average plunged from 94 to 47. Phil James was dragged from his slumbers in the nick of time. We have all read of nerveless heroes from the past who catnap through a Test Match until called upon to bat, score a hundred before tea then go back to sleep. Well Phil's not like that. Two wideish balls from Smallman he left without disdaining to raise a bat. The third was within reach, a shot was selected at random from his addled brain, the accompanying footwork lost in a jumble of waking dreams, it was the wrong choice, bowled for a duck. Bosh! If Phil has a useful role to play in society it is as a cautionary tale, just say no kids!
The stage was once more set for Naem Khan to save the day, plenty of overs left, lots of runs needed. He made a pretty good fist of it too and with John Morgan's good old fashioned hitting they started to bring an air of respectability to the score. The obvious gaps in the field were "discovered", boundaries hit, the hundred came up. Then Morgan fell lbw to Gray and the flu-ridden Irfhan "Effie" Usman took the Exiles stage for the first time this season, as big a character as this small stage can take at times. He signalled his intentions with a straight six, but then took to swinging and missing more than he hit,. He shared the strike until Naem was caught off Gray for 25. Then he farmed it somewhat, and got silly with his calls for second runs when the ball was in a fielders hands. It is debatable whether this ploy has ever earned an extra run but it has caused run-outs and it annoys the hell out of me! Paul Shorrock arrived at the crease in time for the returning opener Freegard, whose analysis was still virginal, a couple of drives through the covers, a beamer (accidental) and a couple of singles later and the number 10 was on 6, 7 off the over, and wondering what all the fuss was about earlier. Effie then called for a single to mid-off's right hand that was never on and Shorrock was run out by yards. There were only a few overs left and these things happen, but they tend to cluster around our Effie! Waseem Khan edged a drive to third man for 4, the sort of shot that had our more able batsmen attempted earlier would have reaped them rewards. With no third man or point and only one slip and only two men between cover and mid-off, it was virtually risk-free. He was then game enough to claim partial responsibility for Effie's run out for a single that the bowler fielded in his follow-through! Exiles all out for 128 in the 39th over. It looked nothing like a sporting total and was around 50 below par for the conditions. Very poor.
If the batting was below par, there was no room for error in the bowling. Last year The Hornets successfully overhauled 202 for the loss of only 3 wickets. Paul Shorrock and Irfhan "Effie" Usman opened and kept things reasonably tight. Effie's flu meant that he was below his usual pace but he got through his 8 overs for only 20. Shorrock bent his back and beat the bat or found the edge that flew over the two slips who didn't flinch. A possible run-out was fluffed, that revealed a certain nervousness in The Hornet's. Naem Khan replaced Shorrock and had a wicket almost immediately, Baring caught behind for 8. This raised the Exiles game and for a long period the runs were hard earned and the wickets continued to fall at regular intervals. Old legs made desperate pursuits to the boundaries, saving two runs here, one run there. The field was well placed and. Naem broke through again and again as The Exiles hopes were raised. Waseem replaced Effie at the pavilion end and kept it fast and tight, bowling flat out for five overs. Faisal Ansari replaced Naem who had taken four wickets and picked up Gray, clean bowled second ball. Now the Exiles were ahead. Shorrock replaced the exhausted Waseem and bowled two maidens at the left-handed Pierson that ratcheted up the tension, A good shout for lbw was turned down and your scribe doesn't question Umpire's decisions in any media ('nuff said). By now the tension was at breaking point, Our sharpest blade Naem came back in the hope of a decisive breakthrough, it came after Edwards had smacked him for a massive six that lost the ball in the trees. As you might expect the next ball was a little quicker, perhaps surprisingly it was aimed at off stump rather than the usual midriff. Naem's fifth, only one more wicket needed, 31 runs still required by the Hornets. Captain Marcus Williams strides to the crease, cometh the hour...
Whilst Shorrock and Faisal were keeping Pierson quiet Williams got after Waseem, and got on top of him. A six to match the one off his brother brought a third ball out of the kit bag. Unfortunately Waseem's reply was less emphatic than Naem's; a series of medium paced length balls were played on the up by the hyped up Williams, bringing joy of his nail-biting colleagues and boundaries either side of the wicket. Half the deficit was wiped off in a single over. The Exiles blinked as The Hornets held their nerve. Waseem asked to be taken off but this would have left him with one over to come back from the other end. Faisal bowled his sixth over in mounting tension, the field went deeper, singles were scrambled. Waseem bowled his final over, it was better but no wicket came and the scores drew level. Paul Shorrock came back for the final act, one run needed, three overs remaining, a wicket would mean a tied game. The first ball was fast but short, Pierson swivelled and pulled it for six over square leg, where it hit the fence on the full. An emphatic end to a dramatic game that should never have been as close as it was after the start we got. Heaps of praise must go to the bowlers, especially Naem, but all were admirable, and the fielding in the main was intense throughout, however the batting was way below par. A steady start is useful but it cannot be allowed to continue for 20 overs.
Once again The Exiles left the ground like it was a Le Mans start leaving Captain Shorrock and Wicket Keeper Morgan to tidy away the kit, the scorers hut, the litter, return the stumps, keys etc. then face the buoyant Hornet's in the bar with only Exile/Hornet Ambassador James Booth, who had better reason then anyone to fly away home. Another close loss that we so nearly won.
New Barbarian Weasels next week, away at Kings College London Sports Ground, Berrylands. A chance for The Exiles to show their real mettle.
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