Due to a combination of poor man-management and the triumph of optimism over reality, noon on Sunday resulted in a paltry 8 players showing to uphold the honour of Manny Road. But the personnel on display were quality all the way and with the oppo making the trip from Bristol there was never any option of scratching, so we rolled into battle fearing the worst but hoping we had enough to at least make a game of it.
Due to the JCB invasion of the Manny Road square this fixture was hastily rearranged at Stanton St. John (to whom we remain gratefully indebted and have to be nice to for all eternity - please will all our over-enthusiatic Antipodean sledgers take note for next season!). After the obligatory and traditional circumnavigation of the village we eventually found our way to the ground - Jo taking only two attempts to distinguish the difference between gates leading to the scorched brown landscape of a recently harvested corn field and the scorched brown expanse of the outfield. The oppo also got lost so the 1o'clock start ended up being closer to 1.45. No matter. Yours truly demonstrated his perfect suiting for the role of occasional skipper by winning the toss and opting to bat on the aforementioned sun-baked pitch. Richie "pure class" Greenwood and Jo " I've got a bat and I'm not afraid to use it" Dudek trotted off to get us started with the captain's instructions ringing in their ears; viz, "We're a bit short lads so look after your wickets and 30-0 after 15 overs is fine by me...". This was clearly noted as the ball started flying to all parts of the ground, Richie in particular took a liking to short pitched stuff on both sides of the wicket and discovered just how fast an outfield can get if you don't show it any water for 4 months. Sadly it all got a bit too exciting and after several powerful square cuts Richie chipped to midwicket to leave us 21-1(effectively for 4 given the missing men) after 4 overs. Enter Sam, colossus and allrounder extraordinaire - the heir to Flintoff's crown.
Jo continued to ignore all advice from his seniors and betters(!) eschewing any form of defensive play in favour of swatting the bowling to all corners of the ground losing 2 balls in the process. Highlights included a clean spank over cover for 6 followed by a baseball style home run onto the pavilion roof the following over. Unfortunately another attempted six over cover went up, but not along, and a good but perhaps overly flashy catch was held in the covers. So 84-2 (read 5). At this point it was noted that a solid and reliable man at the crease was needed and who else to send in but our top bat of the season, Watto. Unfortunately he is currently in Namibia and consequently failed to make the crease in time. So next best thing - Deb. The two played well against hostile and tight bowling on a pitch that was revealing a few demons - Sam in particular getting a couple of lifters that prompted brief contemplation of a skid-lid until the fundamental femininity of such a request was pointed out. Deb got his eye in and also recognised the potential of the short leg side boudary pulling a stylish six and then straight-driving for 4 before skying another steepler when trying to repeat the stroke. So 26 overs down and 120 - 3(6). The bowling remained tight and it was a real scrap through to 33 overs with little given away.But Matt Hardy proved hes more than just a fiery new-ball bowler by knocking the ball into space with aplomb and preserving his wicket jealously. Sam found his groove and discovered that he actually can play the ball for runs into the covers - a feat so novel that he repeated it again and again. At 33 overs gone it was 146-3 and clearly time for some humpty. Sam thought so too and finally unveiled the old leg-side hoick that he had kept under wraps until then. Astute shot selection (off-nonspinner - short leg-side boundary) resulted in a flurry of 6's - most clearing the pitch-side row of tall trees. Matt got in on the act and a thoroughly competitive 225-3 was posted after 40 overs Sam finishing heartbreakingly on 97* after failing to connect properly in the final over. Hard luck but a bloody good knock.
A high quality tea was served, of which the highlight were Pete Kelly's wholegrain Brie and lettuce sandwiches (we look forwrad to their reprise next season) and then it was out into the field. A little difficult with 8 you might think and you'd be right - so they lent us a player and we fielded with 9. So that was alright then....
But surprisingly it was. Utilising the under-used 2-5 split field Matt and Deb opened up bowling with all their usual pace and aggression and with real control in conditions that required accuracy. Matt quickly skittled out one opener whilst Deb opted to break the toe of the other before also hitting the sticks. So with two decent bats at the wicket, a good outfield and a sparsity of fielders it was clearly time for me to let Sam come in for some of the sort of stick that he has cunningly hidden from all season so far. And for an over my statistics manipulation was working - some large blows peppering the square-leg boundary. But you can't keep a good quimmer down and next over an in-ducker removed their dangerous Aussie. Whats more he got the kid (again) who was next up so my dastardly plans were foiled, and he finishes comfortably top wicket taker for the season with 25 home-baked, flour-based, basted pastry, wickets (I'm not bitter....!). Richie bowled tightly and used the conditions well to remove a couple, and after bringing Pete in to tie up an end with well thought-out leg-side theory I felt it was safe to let myself loose on the attack - only going for a couple of leg-side swipes off half-trackers in picking up 2 of the tail. Matt returned in the gloom to bowl Dean-esque meringues (apparently they were off-spin....?) which were sufficient to induce no. 10 to hole out. So 129 all out and a famous victory for the 8 of Manny Road. Did I hear someone say inspired captaincy...? No, I thought not.....
Fines (administered by Mr Dean): dropped catches: Deb x1 50p Pete x1 50p
Jug-avoidance: Sam. £1 Casual 1-handed attempt off captains bowling. Deb 50p Breaking into lyrical song. Bumby £1 (Kiwi-)Pastry impersonation. Hardy 50p Home run to left field. Jo 50p