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Winsley vs Venturers, Sunday May 10th

Venturers 212-3 Winsley 202 all out

We used to play Winsley every year. Each year they put us nearer and nearer to the edge of the square, so that one boundary was very short (one year Rob Gibbon, a large and uncompromising bloke who kept wicket for us, was out fourth ball for 18), and they put out a team more and more like the 1st XI, which we couldn’t cope with. Eventually that and some poor organisation led to the fixture being dropped, but it has lately resumed. Winsley is a beautiful and well-kept ground, probably the best we play on, but it’s a bit serious for us. I mean, they had sightscreens at both ends; though when you try to move them it is a bit more amateur, because there is a slope and if you don’t watch out they keep going, gathering speed down the hill and careering away towards Trowbridge like runaway sand yachts. Winsley also had a match sponsor and a general air of competence.

We were in the middle of the square too. And what they put out against us wasn’t the 1st XI, but it did include the pro, which could be construed as a bit unsporting. However ... imagine, if you can, that you are a Test cricketer. You are keeping wicket, which is not what you usually do (you are a batsman), but still. You have the ball in your gloves. You are standing behind the stumps, about four feet away from them. There is no batsman in the crease, but there is one about seven yards away, floundering desperately. Do you

(a)step forward and calmly take a bail off; or (b)whang the ball madly at the stumps and miss by six inches?

It is going to take Winsley’s pro, who played two Tests for Zimbabwe against India in 2005, some time to live down his selection of (b). The batsman thus reprieved was Kevin, and the score when this happened was around 180 for 2, one of them a run-out under similar but less stupid circumstances. Something extraordinary must have happened.

Not quite as extraordinary as what Winsley’s captain claimed had happened after he lost the toss. That, he said, was the twenty-third time in succession he had lost the toss. The chances of that happening, we were able to inform him as a mathematically educated side, were roughly one in eight million, which is only a little less likely than winning the lottery with a single ticket. Alternative hypotheses should be sought: obvious ones include that he is using a double-headed coin and calling tails, and that he has simply lost count.

So we batted; and Roger got bowled early on. That was unusual last year, but not really extraordinary. The first extraordinary thing was the 140-run partnership for the second wicket. The batsmen were Matt, who made 63, and Ian G, who eventually got out in the low 90s for the second time in two innings this year. Winsley probably weren’t at their most intense but they weren’t slacking, and they had plenty of good bowlers to call on. Most of them had nicknames. There was a slow left-armer with glasses, addressed as Daniel; a bloke called Potter, addressed as Harry, Wizard, Voldemort or, by way of variety, Beer Tricks; and a bloke called J. Lewis, addressed as J-Lo or Jennifer. We went through a phase where several players had feminine nicknames too, a few years ago, but we grew out of it. Goodness knows what Michel Foucault would have made of this custom. But in spite of all this self-sledging they bowled well. Ian got bogged down early on and we were worried he would become impatient; but Matt scored freely and Ian took his time, and after a while joined in. The days when he batted at 10 and had a top score of 1, made many times, are far in the distance, and anything pitched too well up to him ended up far in the distance also. Under the pressure of aggressive running the Winsley fielding began to crack. We had set our sights optimistically on 220, aiming for 100 off the first 20 overs; 88 for 1 at that stage was not bad going, and the acceleration duly followed. It was not until the thirtieth over that the running got slightly too aggressive: Matt nearly got away with a risky second because of a slightly wayward throw, but the wicket-keeper was, this time, able to run him out with a shy at the stumps from about four yards.

Perhaps that success was what led him to his dramatically wrong choice when the opportunity arose to run Kevin out a couple of overs later. Kevin had needed a bit of luck, being dropped at least once, but after this bizarre let-off he started to play with some confidence and was going well when Ian, with four overs left and a century in his sights, got one that cut back into him and was bowled. That slowed us down, because Chris M could hardly be expected to match Ian’s pace of scoring straight after coming in. But he played sensibly and gave the strike to Kevin as much as possible, and eventually we posted 212-3, which under ordinary circumstances we should have thought a good score.

These, though, were not ordinary circumstances. The problems were the excellent pitch and the high quality of the Winsley batting in general and their pro in particular. None of us had ever actually bowled to a real live Test cricketer before. All right, he played for Zimbabwe and some of their leading players had already left; but still, a Test fifty against India is a Test fifty against India. Respect! We thought they might make a match of it by dropping him down the order; but no, out he came to open the innings. We noticed that he stood very still at the crease, lined the ball up early and adjusted late, and had plenty of time. He didn’t hit it very hard at first, but that seemed like a bad sign: he had decided to play himself in instead of seeing how far he could get by eye alone. Paul and Nigel made him work, and caused his partner, whom we should have thought of as pretty good in his absence, actual trouble. A ball from Paul went past his legs and there was a wooden sound, but no luck: the sound was bat on ground, not on ball. And then a perfectly good ball from Paul disappeared over long-on and one perhaps not quite so good, but hardly rank, from Nigel did the same. A few well-struck fours, one of them played with one hand, pushed the scoring rate up to an alarming height. The other opener joined in. Simon T replaced Paul and the scoring rate dropped as the pro sized up the new angle and his partner missed repeatedly; and one from Simon was good enough to go past the pro’s outside edge, earning an acknowledgement from him. Then another one from Simon went into a tree behind mid-on.

So Matt turned to spin. One thing about the Winsley pro is that he is a left-hander. This made Gregory a little less nervous about bowling to him, but early on he bowled mostly to the right-hander. In his third over, though, he bowled one outside the pro’s legs and was firmly swept for four, and then a straighter one that was reverse swept in what looked like a premeditated way for a couple. The four had brought up the pro’s fifty, but nobody was counting; it was the sixteenth over of the innings, and he had only recently accelerated. And then Gregory bowled him. Perhaps he played for turn that wasn’t there, or perhaps he just just misjudged it. He wasn’t trying to do anything ambitious; but the ball grazed his pad and bounced down, knocking off the leg bail only. It was a perfectly good ball but not in any way remarkable. He just missed it.

This, of course, made a big difference. All of a sudden there was a cricket match on. But 81 for 1 after sixteen overs, even with your best batsman gone, is not a bad position to be in chasing 213 in a 40-over match. We needed something else. We got it. Shorn of their main scorer, they needed some runs; they tried for a second to Kevin at cover. Barring a fast direct hit there was no danger. So Kevin threw as fast as he could, and over went the middle stump. After another immaculate over from Simon, Gregory produced five straight and accurate balls preceded by a grotesque knee-high full toss, which the opening bat top-edged head high to the left of mid-wicket. Andy scuttled quickly round, reached up and caught it. 99 for 3 after twenty overs is not perhaps quite such a good position.

Simon, invariably accurate, and Gregory, mostly accurate, continued after a drinks break. Few runs came, and then Gregory bowled an (unintentionally) wider ball that the batsman felt he had to take full advantage of. Ian ran in from mid-off and took a good catch at knee height, and was delighted to remain on his feet afterwards. Winsley were in trouble now. They were scoring at barely three an over off Simon, and although they got slightly more off Gregory, who bowled occasional full tosses, it wasn't enough; and they could hardly afford to lose more wickets. But they soon did. Both bowlers were beating the bat regularly, but neither of them was responsible: instead another direct hit, from Matt this time, ran out the new batsman as he attempted a single.

At this point Simon and Gregory ran out of overs. Alex and Andy replaced them and Alex quickly induced another miscue to mid-off, Ian losing his footing this time as he caught it. Andy caused great problems at first; but the Winsley captain played Alex in a cultured way and J-Lo, batting at 8, adopted a more agricultural approach to Andy and hit him out of the attack. The problem is that Andy's flight and turn can reduce good batsmen to slogging, but have less effect against a batsman who slogs anyway. Instead, Matt brought Nigel back. He, too, came under agricultural attack; but his higher pace made slogging him less effective (though perhaps less risky). Moreover, our fielding did not go to pieces; Matt commented afterwards how much easier it was being captain when he didn't have to hide anyone in the field. Nevertheless they kept the run rate at what was needed, which was around eight an over, for quite a while. A little longer would have made them favourites; but for the second time an important wicket fell just in time, J-Lo missing a huge slog-pull at Nigel. The number 9 was in appearance one of those large village cricketers who cannot move but can hit the ball a long way; but we had already seen enough of him in the field to know that he was not slow. Fortunately he proved not to be a big hitter either, and now the runs were coming mostly from one end. It was necessary for us, and them, to try to manipulate the strike.

We were into the last few overs now, and Kevin had replaced Alex. The number 9 had the strike and pushed hopefully on the on side. There was a start, a stop, and Kevin again threw down the stumps, from close range this time; and we had got the captain. Nearly thirty runs were still needed. Nine and ten in. Four and a bit overs to go. Number ten was the spectacled slow left-armer. He batted right-handed and looked competent, but unthreatening in the circumstances. Nigel bowled his last over; a few runs leaked away, but not many, though here a catch went down. We hardly minded: Chris had done well to get a hand on it, and he saved four runs by doing so. The second ball of Kevin's next over, the thirty-eighth, was slightly misdirected, and the supposedly unthreatening number 10 thumped it over the wall and into the next field. A wide made it eight runs off the first two balls; but Kevin's line recovered and we stopped the ball every time, and we escaped with twelve off the over; bad, but not fatal.

Nigel was out of overs now. We needed someone to bowl one accurate over, and then Matt would have to decide whether to persist with Kevin or to bowl the last over himself. Paul, with the field scattered, bowled the thirty-ninth over. Little came from the first four balls; they still needed a dozen, with eight balls left. Paul's fifth ball was full and straight. A single down the ground was easily available, but no good to them: instead the batsman decided to try to hit another six, and missed. Still it wasn't over, but with the big hitter gone there was no reason any longer to take Kevin off. The first ball of the last over yielded an easy single, but we could afford that. The second, bowled to number 11, was slightly short and a batsman well set might have hit it, but it had one cardinal merit. It was straight. The Winsley batsman swung, as he had to, and missed.

Ten runs. Much more like this and we'll begin to think we are a cricket team. The scorecard suggests that Ian, Matt and Gregory won it (and indeed Alban would probably not believe that his father had bowled a Test opening batsman, well set, if he hadn't seen it happen); but there was far more to it than that. Simon bowled eight overs for 27 runs, six of them in one blow by the pro: he created pressure for Gregory to exploit. One of these days he will get wickets himself. The pressure also led to the three run-outs, all from direct hits: Kevin hit the stumps four times in all. Alex and Nigel bowled well and collected a vital wicket each: both were excellent in the field. Paul, like Nigel, kept the pro quiet for a while, and then bowled the ideal over at the end, coming back on with the match to lose. Andy caught a good catch and saved many runs scrambling the ball back from the midwicket and cover boundaries. Chris's sensible batting and enterprising running added vital runs at the end. And Roger kept wicket flawlessly.


Fixtures & Results 2009

Cricket bat and ball