There were no dancing girls with Pom Poms at Barn Elms to witness the opening of Whalers 2008 season. There were no frenzied fans, no coloured clothing and no global media rights to be squabbled over. There was no danger the match would have ramifications that would shake the core of cricket the world over. The match had none of these things because it served no purpose beyond the simple enjoyment of its participants.
There was a fair amount of faffing involved in getting the game underway, including: Pip having to drive the kit in two separate journeys because his new car could only carry one bag at a time; two loyal Whalers turning out for the opposition (well done Ed and Nick). My own favourite: the confusion over whether or not we were playing on the right ground, our hosts seemed to think that they had booked a pitch a few fields away but that it hadn’t been marked. Since we had all assembled where we thought we had been told to and there was a pitch there that no one was using we decided to assume it was ours, begin play and be prepared to be kicked off by an angry groundsman / team.
So, drenched in sunshine Al and Will marched to the crease to face the first ball of the season. The freshly cut grass had been trimmed fairly tightly and the pitch although greenish and slightly undulating was hard for the time of year. The two began solidly against some accurate bowling which although not express pace was nagging and the two opening bowlers extracted good movement from the surface. Will was first to fall given lbw for 13 after Whalers had added 30. Si came in at 3 but after only one scoring stroke fell to the same bowler for 4. Al followed fairly soon after for a well constructed 20 (caught by Ed playing for the oppo) and Whalers were teetering on 41/3. Phil and Toby needed to dig in and occupy the crease, pickling up runs as they came but more importantly beginning to rebuild the innings. They batted together for some 12 overs (of 35) adding 36 and taking the ball on the body when necessary to protect their wicket. Phil fell for a hard crafted 17 after some textbook drives were beginning to free the shackles.
Whalers had time now not to not wildly hit out but needed to accelerate the rate of scoring. It was important that someone supported Toby who had begun to look impressive at the crease and was playing the innings of his Whalers carer to date. Early watchfulness was bearing fruit and as he became more assured he unleashed some powerful blows including a square cut six. Pip and Khalil both fell (4 and 5) in this cause. Toby was then joined by Rich and the two put on 61 for the 7th wicket from around 7 overs. Toby moved on to his maiden 50 while the two were together but celebrated with the air of a man whose job was not yet done. Rich was out caught for a quick 23 which had included a six over long-on which looked for all the world like it was going to bounce onto Pips smart new car until it deviated on the bounce. Paul joined Toby for the last few balls and ended on 1 not out while Toby was gallantly out for 61 coming back for a second run off the final ball. Whalers had built a decent score and had batted well around Toby’s hard hitting innings. We were 162/8, enough to know that if the bowlers kept things tight Riffs would have to bat very well to overhaul us.
After a rousing team talk from new captain Dan we took to the field, satisfied by James Gould’s Asda bought tea but even hungrier for that winning feeling. Gould opened the bowling with captain (never lieutenant) Dan but there was a suspicion he had over indulged on his own scotch eggs as he struggled for consistency. James did take the first wicket teaming up with his bowling partner as Dan took a simple catch off a ball fended away by a batsman who had been done for pace. Dan then took the second wicket to fall, having fought to find a sustainable line he removed the remaining openers middle stump with a ball that was simply too quick for him. Replacing Gould from the Castelnau end, Khalil as we now expect of him started immediately with metronomic accuracy and a good deal of zip, sending the ball thumping through into Toby’s gloves harder than any bowler on either side. In a remarkable over he took a wicket with his second ball and started 2008 with a double wicket maiden. One bowled by a ball that looked as though it had nipped back a little and the second a straightforward catch to the keeper off a ball that may have offered to move away a little off the pitch. The second wicket of his over was that of Ed playing for Riffs and his shot suggested that he intended to waste no time nudging and nurdling for the opposition. By now the Riffs were 4 down and the Whales could smell blood. What we had seen so far suggested that the bulk of the batting may have already been back in the pavilion and one of the two at the crease had lost the feeling in his top hand struggling to hold on to a very low fiercely hit drive from Rich early in the day.
Making a decision that hinted at an awareness of a bigger picture for the season Dan gave the opening bowlers just 3 overs each despite their successes. Paul had been very tidy from the outset after replacing Dan from the Pavilion end and picked up 2 wickets both bowled showing the value of getting the ball straight, pitching it up and letting the pitch do the work on this early season surface. He came back at the end of the innings to polish things off but didn’t take another finishing with 15 for 2 from 6. This included the wicket of Nick who was playing for the opposition, he had looked comfortably their most assured batsman and with some very lusty blows bludgeoned his way to 18 before falling.
Rich replaced Khalil after 4 overs leaving Khalil with impressive match figures of 4-1-7-2. There were a few straight ones in with the wides and the tail end batsman struggled, a drop from Phil was rectified as Dan took a harder chance off the next ball. A steepling top edge led to a caught and bowled after a confident shout of mine! Rich finished with figures of 5-1-9-2. The only bowler to go unrewarded was Pip who had a useful run out and totally baffled the batsmen with a couple of spinning deliveries. Council pitches in April are not the stuff of dreams for leg-spinners and his chance will no doubt come later in this extended international season, he finished with 2-0-15-0. Dan and James came back on to finish things off after a suicidal run out had brought the final pair to the crease. Dan came in off just a couple of paces to ensure he kept it straight but it was James who claimed the No.11’s scalp by bowling him with a ball that was far too good for him to keep out. Dan finished with figures of 5-1-16-1 and James 5-0-23-2.
The wickets were spread around the bowlers nicely and the fielding although not inspirational was solid with more catches held than shelled and a few superb stops, one memorable one from Will. The Riffs never really looked like challenging the Whalers total as they could never build a partnership due to the regularity of wickets going down. They finished on 106 all out from 27 overs.
The game was played in good spirits, with the sides lending each other players, confusion about if we were even at the right ground and both teams buying beers for the other after the game. It would not have made money for replica kit salesmen or fizzy drinks companies but it was friendly and competitive. Playing cricket with the sun on our backs for me was enough.
Whalers CC 162-8 – Toby 62, Rich 23
Saracen Riffs 106 all out – Khalil 2 for 7, Rich 2-9, Paul 2-15, James 2-23
Man of the match: Toby for the crucial highest score of 62
Champagne moment: Rich’s lofted on-drive for 6 towards Pip’s new sports car
Muppet moment: Rich dropping his bat while changing his mind about a quick single & running back without it