St John's vs OUCCC - Sunday, April 23, 2006
Summary: We won by 6 wickets. St John's 195/6 (40.0 overs), OUCCC 196/4 (34.2 overs). The full scorecard is here.
Playing cricket in late April is always an iffy business. Cold weather, bad light late in the day, dodgy form, and wet pitches can all combine to make for a frustrating day's play, even if the sun is shining. It wasn't shining on Sunday, and the overnight rain and persistent drizzle left the outfield soaking wet. We won the toss and Martin made an inspired decision: bowl first. Given that it was still drizzling, dark, and cold, lazier players might have wanted to put their feet up in the pavilion - not so our skipper. I'm not sure his reasoning, that the light would be better for us to bat, was all that sound, but it did work.
The John's team contained only a few of last year's old faces. Skipper "Ron Weasley" Skeaping, and the old stalwart (?the college chaplain) were the only ones I recognised. Crucially, the tall left-hander of Quentin's nightmares did not appear. Nor, it seems, did all of their first team: they were definitely two or three good players light. The Manny Road side contained a few new faces: Saranya, Henry, and Rob Lemkin.
With a surprisingly short boundary on one side of the pitch, and a very long one on the other, good control for the bowlers was crucial. Martin and Niranjan opened the bowling, but neither had much luck. The ball had to be dried after every delivery, which slowed the whole game up no end and negated any swing. Their openers scored at a healthy lick, and a target of 230-240 looked on. Cue Rob Mitchell, with a lovely spell of leg-spin bowling. He was accurate, with a lovely variation of pace, and got the ball to dip and spin. He got out both of the openers, which put them in some trouble. John's had a couple of good batsmen, a few good-ish all rounders (their main bowlers) and not much else, and once their openers went their middle order looked very shaky. Rob finished with figues of 8-0-8-3, which is quite some return, and I don't know when I last saw a Manny Road bowler bowling with five men around the bat. Aman provided lively pace from the other end, and his bouncer to their number 5 unsettled the batsman so much that he didn't leave his crease for the rest of the innings (Diganta finally took his wicket, but Aman should get an 'assist').
Diganta and Henry kept things fairly tight until the final few overs, when their all-rounders came in and bashed the ball about a bit. Some rather sloppy catching, with at least four catches dropped (one- and-a-half of them by me), didn't help matters. In fact, only one catch was taken all day, by Saranya. We didn't field that badly though, and Saranya's keeping kept the extras down to 21, none of them byes. 196 was a very gettable target.
Tea was excellent. A good selection of sandwiches, cake, and (always the hallmark of a good tea) plenty of Jaffa cakes. There was even more than one kind of squash. A solid, and Oxford-best, 8/10. There was, however, a lack of pies, which I found odd considering the size and variety of the spread.
The reason for this pie-shortage soon became clear: their pie-chuckers needed something to bowl with. Once Matt and Phil had seen off the openers with some classy shots (Matt's lovely late cuts and Phil's back foot drives were much applauded), they only had one bowler left. The rest of the overs were made up by a variety of bit-part bowlers, who offered few challenges. Once Matt and Phil had been bowled by good balls (the one that got Matt was a beauty which seamed away from middle to hit off), Saranya and I started to play a simple strategy: Skeaping was getting the ball to do all sorts from a length - the drizzle had really freshened the pitch up - so we decided to pretty much block him out. The bowling from the other end was far, far, far less threatening, so we kept the run rate ticking over nicely. Saranya finally got one that moved about a foot (the ball was getting very soft, especially along its seam, and losing shape - it started to do very odd things), and new boy Rob came to the crease for his first innings in 20 years. For a man batting after such a long lay-off he timed the ball remarkably well, especially off his pads, and judicious shot selection kept us in the driving seat.
It was here that Martin's decision at the toss really paid off. The repeated drying of the ball meant that the game was running very late, and the light started to die. However, it went so fast that, although the batsmen found it hard, the fielding side were having a nightmare seeing the ball. Wides routinely went for at least two, and catching would, I think, have been near impossible (in the event they only dropped one, and that was me). The outfield had dried out and was playing a lot faster, and we were well on our way. Rob finally went to a lovely ball from one of their returning openers, but by then the scores were already level, and we'd put on 109 for the fourth wicket. I tried hard to hit the winning run (something I've never done!) but had to block out a maiden. This at least gave Niranjan (who'd been waiting god knows how long to bat) the chance to face a ball. In fact, he faced two, driving the second back past the bowler to secure the win.