Ten years of acrimonious fixtures between these two teams (previously
trading under the name Bank Cricket Club) have left a legacy of ill-feeling
which has on occasion spilled over into unseemly behaviour on the field.
Last years events culminated in the demure womenfolk of the Exiles' spectators
spontaneously breaking into chants of "You dirty cheating B****rds!".
So it was a great relief when this game proceeded without incident, in fact
was played out with noticable chivalry, epitomised by John Morgan calling
back the batsman he had just dismissed by stumping because he was not sure
he hadn't dropped the ball before breaking the wicket.
The home side won the toss and elected to bat and it was obvious things were going to be different when Paul Shorrock had the opener trapped bang in front l.b.w. and the appeal was upheld (no one polled could remember a previous example of such an appeal being upheld by a Strongroom umpire in the entire history of this fixture). Next over the Captain edged to John Morgan again off Shorrock and upon hearing the appeal set off for the pavilion without waiting for the umpires deadly finger. Nothing could have been in greater contrast to the events of last year.
Waseem Khan took over from the wicketless Effie Usman and Naem Khan from Paul Shorrock, Naem striking first with an excellent catch at the wicket by Morgan diving low to his right. Waseem chipped in with a series of clean bowled wickets to take his personal tally to 199. In between he bowled some short stuff that was easily dipatched on this over-rolled wicket and was kept on as he faded in the hope he could add one more rabbit to his pot to bring up the landmark 200. Unfortunately he could not but with Steve Howard bowling his leg breaks the tail end carried on in the style of the upper order; playing shots to every ball and getting themselves out. The splendidly named Zen was stumped twice in consequetive deliveries from Howard having taken some time for the concept of stumping to sink in and Marvin fell the same way after being specifically coached not to leave his crease. Strongroom all out for a below par 83.
The Exiles were not exactly quaking in their boots at the prospect of chasing this small total, but history has shown that anything can happen to the Exiles on this wicket, having been skittled for a career worst 42 chasing a similar total here many seasons ago. Acting Captain Paul Shorrock shuffled the batting order to give a bit of the game to those who hadn't bowled, so when James Booth, hampered by a stiff neck, played an uncharacteristically rustic swipe at right-arm-around medium pacer Zen and played on, and Wayne Holder was clean bowled for only four, it was perhaps surprising to see Laiq Qureshi striding to the crease. He gives the bowler plenty to aim at with his leg stump guard and playing away from his body, he is not necessarily the man you would choose to "bat for your life". Fortunately this was only a game, and a more even game when Laiq was bowled for 1. Dave Middle came and steadied the ship for about half an over, driving to the cover boundary off the back foot and then staying right back and playing all round a straight half volley to be bowled for four. John Morgan then joined Keith Marchbank who was digging in for victory and together they accumulated a few boundaries and a few overthrows until the score was 43, and John perhaps relieved to have laid the "Ghost of 42" cut a full toss straight at point where it was held.43 for 5 and Strongroom scented a remarkable victory. They didn't count on Effie, who annoyed them by walking singles when they had the ball in their hand and striking a few hard fours. Meanwhile Keith continued to do his impersonation of a brick wall, (which he can also do over the phone when you are telling him something important) and gradually the blood pressure of those yet to bat and the embarrasment of those dismissed cheaply receded as the target was brought nearer. When we were in the final straight Effie self-destructed with an over ambitious forcing shot that he nicked to the keeper so Naem was called upon to play his alrounder role which he is increasingly comfortable with. And before the tension was ratcheted upwards once more he struck consequetive straight boundaries off the returning opener to clinch a well earned victory. Keith carried his bat, but my nomination for man of the match goes to John Morgan for two catches, two stumpings (and a half) and 10 sensible runs that made a big difference.
Everyone enjoyed the game, nobody got upset. Richard Boote turned up to see the finale, like the ghost of fixtures past. The next game against Strongroom is less than three weeks away, whether the new spirit of rapprochement survives the return of Adrian remains to be seen. I hope it does.
Next week sees the Occasionals return with revenge in mind, and the Exiles fielding a few new faces?