This glorious sunny Sunday, too good for so early in the season, set the tone for a bright positive game of Cricket at South Bank Uni's well-heeled ground. Peter Milne, Australian ex-Exile with four seasons out of the loop, was back for one game only on his whistle-stop tour of friends and relations in the northern hemisphere, mainly to show off his beautiful bouncing baby "Ruby" to wife Michelle's folks, the proud Grandparents, but you can't keep an Aussie away from his Cricket. He used to be a tear-away, radar-less quickie but a tragic accident involving a golf buggy (I swear!) bust his ankle up, so now he concentrates on his batting. That was handy because all but one of the Exiles' steady batsmen were unavailable, and that one (James Booth) was on call to rush to his wife's bedside should the overdue labour begin! Sorry about all this baby talk preamble but that's how it is for thirty-something cricketers. Cricket IS a matter of life and death.
Unfortunately there are also injuries, and the outcome of this game hinged upon the tragic pulled hamstring for Ian Barker who had been so parsimonious in his bowling last week. He is one of the older Exiles members, but still one of the best bowlers, so when he broke down in his fifth over, clutching his thigh in agony, there was a lot of sympathy (there but for the grace...) and a little foreboding. Pete "Mad Dog" Milne supplied the one ball remaining in the over, although it took him two attempts (old radar playing up again!)
Exiles' Skipper Paul Shorrock had won the toss, and believing the bowling to be his strongest hand had elected to bowl on a greenish wicket with a little Spring moisture lurking in the surface that might not last long. The Luddites are a much more organised batting side than The Gents last week, and the tall Woodward was soon punishing anything over pitched or short. His partner Oakley was more circumspect but gave little away. Shorrock started with a couple of maidens that did as much to settle the batsmen as they aided the Exiles cause, a few beat the bat but too many were left un-played as they arced away off the seam. Barker nearly had Woodward with a sharp caught and bowled chance but he was off-balance in his follow through and failed to cling on. It was to prove an expensive let-off as Woodward got into his stride and the runs began to flow. He dominated the scoring to a level rarely seen, and when his century was clapped in the 26th over it had come from a total of 120! By then numbers 2-5 were all back in the hut bowled for single figures, each to a different bowler, but most had played a part in some sort of partnership. The Luddites batting always gave the impression of solidity, even if it was one man who was dominating the scoring.
The Exiles bowlers toiled manfully in the afternoon "heat", all were respectable, none grabbed the game by the scruff, although Waseem's second delivery boosted morale by removing opener Oakley for 7 and smashing his middle stump into three pieces! Duct tape was applied to the new "trophy" as no spares were immediately available. Waseem becomes the second Exile to smash a stump, modesty prevents me naming the other, or is it failing memory? The one-sidedness of the batting meant major changes to the field every time a single was scored, Andy Brook clocking up most miles, jogging between slip and deep midwicket! Woodward's attack became more aerial but only once did he give another chance, a hard one to Stephen Brown's left.
Stephen was chosen to use up Ian's un-bowled overs, and grabbed a wicket, clean bowled, to add to the other rattled timbers, his first for the Exiles as a member. Faisal was in operation at the other end and completed his eight "off the reel" picking up two wickets (bowled of course) on the way. Throughout The Exiles stuck at their task, and The Luddites were never allowed to run riot. Naem returned for his last spell and immediately bowled Woodward for 105, a rare century against the Exiles, and quite an achievement so early in the season against a respectable attack. He was given a good ovation from all present though obviously The Exiles were glad to see the back of him. This brought Pemberton to the wicket who had done most of the damage in the only previous encounter, with a rapid 56 and four wickets. Amidst some confusion as to how many overs were left the two Khan brothers kept it tight to the end and tea was taken with the Luddites reaching 173 for 7 after 40 overs. Asad, Faisal's mate who came along for the ride, ended up doing all of Ian's fielding, he was due to bat next for The Luddites but wasn't needed. Then he played a full role in the Luddites bowling. Fortunately the French girl spectator didn't ask us to explain his role in proceedings!
173 was a sporting total, but as I mentioned The Exiles were lacking the majority of their pure batsmen. Sloggers and all-rounders are fine and dandy in their place but on paper The Exiles' order was a potential house of cards. Stephen Brown was drafted in as makeshift number 2 to partner James Booth, and kept out a few good balls, and failed to nick a few better ones before Pemberton got one through his defence. Stephen, in at the deep end, went for a duck, bowled. He will score runs for the Exiles, and his keenness was un-dimmed, at least this week he got to play a part. James played with good control and seemed blissfully unaware that any day (minute?) now he might be holding the hand of his wife as she performs that most un-playable delivery, the second child. Sorry to bang on about babies again, maybe I'm getting broody? He was joined by Andy Brook who is currently outpacing his brother Tony (absent in LA) in the batting stakes. Half an hour's coaching has transformed this agricultural hit-man into a semi-domesticated number 3. He took a direct hit on his big toe from Pemberton that drew blood (and as I learnt this Tuesday morning, broke his toe bone right through!), but he battled on, manfully refusing a runner although clearly in some discomfort. Together with James he manoeuvred The Exiles into a respectable position, ahead of the rate with only one wicket down but in the 10th over Booth fell bowled to the devilish Dehal, who bowls the full panoply of possible deliveries, from long-hops to leg breaks, and the occasional (accidental) beamer, all disguised as seam-up medium pace.
When Pemberton took a breather he was replaced by the left arm Steve Musgrove, who Andy welcomed with a brace of long-on fours that shook the ancient oak that patrols that boundary. Musgrove regained some composure but was always likely to drop a "four-ball" in amongst his good stuff. Faisal Ansari and Andy Brook took what was offered and moved along smoothly. Dehal was still ringing the changes at the far end and eventually he had Brook swishing at a straight one and losing his off stump for 24. Pete Milne, the Prodigal Son, then joined Faisal and between them they built a potential match winning partnership that had The Luddites rocking and The Exiles well ahead of the rate. Pete's broken ankle seems to have improved his batting no end and maybe some other Exiles might benefit from having a golf-buggy flipped on them? In an almost fairy-tale way Pete top scored with 27 in a solid middle order. He chipped a return catch to Jeffrey that brought Phil James to the wicket. Phil's day had already been made by snapping up a stack of second hand Chester Himes' crime novels in a local bookshop but he still managed to reach double figures as the target came into sight but so did the tail. He mis-timed an on drive off Asad, a man for all seasons that was pouched at Mid-on. If you need to raise the run tempo Phil's your man, if you want to stop the wickets falling look elsewhere. Bish, Bash , Bosh, gone for 12! Keeper John Morgan took the stage with the game balanced on a knife-edge. Not much batting left, fifty needed. Pemberton was brought back to make the vital breakthrough and though he bowled well it didn't come. Naem Khan's innings had been a mix of punishing pulls and tentative defensive prods, the tension mounted, the target came closer. By now the light was fading, the denouement always seems to come in the gloom against the "Dull-Lites". Nocturnal animals were patrolling the boundary (a mangy fox with a limp), the shadows lengthened, the air grew cold, the tension was electric. A cracking four from John Morgan, a cheered pull to deep mid-wicket from Naem, 34 needed, ten overs to go only three wickets remaining. We can win this! Then Morgan goes, caught at deepish mid-on. The Khan brothers come together, the rate climbs, Naem is trapped in front by Jeffrey, OUT! says Phil James, bang to rights, send him down! Out for 23, the fourth score in the mid-twenties. Only one wicket remaining, Captain Shorrock's turn to bat. 18 needed, four overs to go, no more batsmen in the hutch as Ian Barker was long-gone to ice his hamstring. A pulled two from Jeffery, a scrambled 2 byes that was nearly run out another bye at the other end. We can do this yet!
Asad came on again, short, Shorrock "pulls" straight back at the bowler who got a boot on it, no run. The next one a rank wide long hop! Shorrock got out a rusty square cut, top edged a looped catch to point who made no mistake and on the stroke of 8, with the sun already behind the houses it was all over. Exiles fell 14 runs short. A first loss for the Exiles but a victory for the game of Cricket. Pete Milne certainly enjoyed himself. He declared himself unavailable for the rest of the season. I suppose he will be following our progress by this medium. A thrilling game that would have been even closer were it not for the cruel hobbling of Ian Barker and the part played by the opportunist Asad. I expect Ian will be side-lined for weeks, allowing an opportunity for Effie or Italian International Dave Buonaguidi to take his place at the top of the bowling? Andy Brook's toe will take weeks to heal, giving him time to source some cricket boots with more toe protection. Get well soon mates!
Next week sees a tough home fixture against The Hornets, James Booth's
public school Old Boys up from Milton Abbas. The best we've ever managed
was a draw and that is not an option this week.
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