Strollers make it a magnifcent seven with stunning win at Chippenham
posted: August 17, 2017
What a day. By the time the last ball had been bowled, and happy victorious Strollers cavorted on the boundary while Viral and Tom embraced in the middle of the pitch, it felt as if several days and nights had been passed at Chippenham rather than a mere six hours. The principal narrative was compelling enough, but there were innumerable sub-plots and side-plots, cameos and incidents. It was our Longest Day, but also our St Crispin’s Day. Indeed, “Strollers in England now abed/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.”
Skipper Viral won the toss and elected to field, in the time-honoured tradition of these games at Chippers. They bat first, declare, we chase. That’s the normal pattern. Only once did we bat first, and that didn’t end well.
It was a lovely warm sunny day with fleecy white clouds drifting over this most idyllic of scenes, so well known and loved by generations of Strollers. The pitch carried a covering of grass, as has been more common recently than in days of yore. The outfield was considerably more lush than we are used to seeing. There had been a lot of rain during the week and getting the ball to the boundary through the thick, still damp grass was to prove not easy.
Things got off to a very good start when Viral bowled the opener Dave Pearson through the gate in the first over, bringing Harry Grant out to join Chippers veteran Nigel Bryant. Simon opened the bowling from the Park End and bowled a tidy five over spell which occasionally found a leading edge but didn’t seriously threaten the two batsmen.
Viral took himself off after a couple of overs and Tom began what was to be a highly effective six over spell in which he firstly removed Grant LBW, on the full in front (insodoing painfully dislodging the young batsman’s big toenail) and then the always dangerous Eddie Waites with a very full yorker and opener Nige Bryant, caught at deep cover by Harsh.
By this time, Bryant had scored 40 and though runs were ticking over nicely they weren’t getting away from us. The fall of wickets brought Olly Rix and the supremely athletic and talented Sean Ward to the crease. It was at this stage that the game began to resemble the ones we have known so well over the years: Chippers batsman get set, score mounts steadily, and, with about 220 on the board for the loss of three or four wickets, they declare.
Harry Brown replaced Tom and bowled a little bit shorter than has been the case for much of this season and his seven overs went for 47. Viral brought himself back on and the runs dried up a bit but still climbed inexorably.
At one stage during this partnership, there occurred one of the two incidents that no one present had ever seen before: an all-run six. It is safe to say that we won’t see it many times again. Rix cut the ball behind point off Harry for what appeared a boundary. However, it pulled up in the damp outfield about a foot from the rope. The only fielder remotely close was Georgie Brown, who set off in pursuit at a measured pace.
George’s ample frame slowly disappeared into the middle distance. The chunky legs were pumping, but he seemed, if anything, to be getting further away from the ball. An eternity passed. The motion of the orbs was arrested. After several minutes of this palaver Harsh set off to give support, and, eventually, the ball was returned. By this time batsmen had completed an all-run six. They looked tired but happy; Harry less so. It would have been better had Georgie simply hoofed the ball over the boundary.
That, in itself, would have been quite enough to constitute the Moment of the Season, had it not been followed by one equally remarkable only ten minutes later. With the score now over 200, Simon was brought back on to bowl from the tennis court end. His first ball was full and lofted up towards deep mid-on where the captain – pretty much the safest pair of hands on the side – unaccountably shelled it. The batsmen ran one and Olly murmured ‘Bad luck mate’ to the long suffering bowler.
But worse, much worse, was to follow. The next ball was just outside off and Sean drove. It wasn’t quite there for the drive and it edged towards débutant keeper Marco, who dropped it going away to his right. With feelings too deep for words, but still maintaining his sang froid, Simon trudged back to his mark. Several years ago, Simon used to get a bit heated when people dropped catches. There were high words, a few strops, people given the silent treatment etc. Then he had a long chat to himself and decided that this behaviour really wasn’t on and it had to stop. It’s only a game after all. A long, pained expression and the double teapot might be OK, but anything else wasn’t. So, with admirable forbearance, he held it together.
With typical good humour and sensitivity to others which is his watchword, Georgie called out ‘Come on Simon, let’s have the hat trick.’
The next ball, even if this writer says so himself, was a beauty. Pitched off, left him a bit, and Sean –no mean bat – was beaten. Edged it straight to Marco at waist height. Who dropped it. At this point I am not quite sure what happened, as the pink mist descended. Gavin says I went the full John Cleese, expostulating and waving the hands around a lot, proclaiming it was all “Just fucking unbelievable!” and generally looking out of sorts with the world.
A horrible silence descended onto the field, broken only by stifled giggles from Harry at mid-off. Sympathy for the misfortune of others is clearly a Brown family trait. Dave Pearson, umpiring, cast a silent sidelong glance at Simon, his face contorted into disbelief and symapthetic pain, as if this was really too cruel to expect anyone to endure, like being boiled in oil or racked.
The next ball of the next over – bowled by G Brown – compounded the agony as Ward lofted the ball towards deep mid-off where Viral safely took an infinitely more difficult catch.
The final over of the game provided some relief for Simon as he bowled both Felix Mangell and then Thurlbourn for Al to declare the innings closed at 211-7. Simon left the pitch with a 30 yard stare. A hat trick of drops: surely no other team could bring this off. Surely, nay, inevitably it could happen to only this bowler.
And so to tea, which was, if anything, more spectacular than ever. There was the glorious Victoria sponge, but this year complemented by a scrumptious caramel chocolate cake. There were exquisite sandwiches of many types, there were sausage rolls encapsulated by the puffiest of pastries, there were angel cakes. There were all sorts and conditions of good things too numerous to recall. It recalled Ratty and Moley’s lunch basket in Wind in the Willows: “The Mole begged to be allowed to unpack it all by himself, and the Rat was very pleased to indulge him and to sprawl at full length on the grass and rest, while his excited friend shook out the table cloth and spread it, took out all the mysterious packets and arranged their contents in order, still gasping ‘O my! O my!’ at each fresh revelation.”
Having dolefully torn themselves away from their blissful teas George and Gav opened the batting for the Strollers and if we thought remarkable occurrences would be no more, we were wrong. In the opening over, after two wide-ish deliveries opener Mangell bowled one slightly fuller on off stump. Gav didn’t quite middle it but it flew away over the ring of fielders towards the covers and one was quite expecting it to land beyond and then slip away down the hill for four. But, suddenly entering the field of vision flew the horizontal figure of Sean Ward, like Superman, gliding towards the ball. He leapt like a salmon, and appeared to hang, motionless, in the air, before extending a telescopic right arm and descending slowly to the earth. If this had been at Lord’s in a Test match, it would have been deemed a great catch. That it happened in front of us, against a team we play, was remarkable. As George opined, there is no other team we play for whom that would have been a chance, and probably only Sean and Eddie from that team could have taken it. Gav, in woeful astonishment, turned heel and trudged back to the pavilion in disbelief.
Dickie came in to join George, and the score climbed only slowly. Dickie hit one sublime off drive that merited only three runs, the ball sticking in the grass. Another short single was greeted by Dickie’s cry “I’m going for six here, George.”
George was then bowled by Stoute for two runs and Harsh came to the crease. The momentum of the innings began to shift as Harsh attacked the bowling, ably supported by Dickie. The latter was also bowled by Stoute for 12, but he’d made an invaluable contribution to both steadying the ship and giving the innings a fresh injection of urgency.
However the church clock chimed 6.30pm and so signalled the start of the final 20 overs. With three Strollers down, about 80 runs on the board and over 130 still needed, our target remained a long way off. Furthermore what chances we may have had seemed to have been extinguished when Harsh was run out for 52 – by his own team-mate no less. Tom pushed the ball towards mid-wicket where the ball was fumbled and then returned errantly by Thurlbourn – Chippers’ least able fielder. Exhorted by excitable team-mates on the boundary and perhaps getting carried away themselves, the two batsmen continued to run.
But, as they went for the fourth run, the ball was first of all well backed up by Ronak, kindly subbing for Chippenham (in place of the injured Grant), and then thrown in beautifully over the stumps for Sean to remove the bails with Harsh out by several yards. It really was a most unfortunate moment for Ronak to demonstrate a high degree of cricketing competence.
This brought Viral to join Tom. The two decided to treat it like a T20 and insodoing batted quite brilliantly. Gradually, the tenor of the game shifted. Sean Ward came on to bowl, and although Tom says he couldn’t even see the first ball, the field moved from an umbrella field such as Lillee and Thomson enjoyed to one more suited for a T20.
Tom struck a straight six which clattered against the tennis court sight screen with a most pleasing crack. Viral did what Viral does best and attacked everything. Still, with four overs to go, there were still some 25 needed and, against this bowling and this team, it looked a big ask. One over from Sean changed it. We on the boundary wondered if bringing Sean back might be counterproductive and there was now pace on the ball. Viral smacked the first ball back over his head for six and the over went for 14.
The end was now in sight. Only four Strollers present – Dickie, Simon, Gav and George – could remember the last win at Chippers. It was in that heady summer of 2005. But it looked as it was going to happen again. Simon did a lot of pacing on the boundary, Gav was a misleading picture of calm, while Davey Gorton – next man in – didn’t look like he wanted to go in very much.
The last over came with two needed and the field came in once more. Both Viral and Tom were now seeing it well and the ball was carved away over extra cover for the two runs. Cue mass celebration on the boundary, hugs all round, while Tom and Viral embraced centre pitch.
Tom was unbeaten on 81, which, combined with his threefer earlier in the day, made him clearly man of the match. Viral was unbeaten on a herculean 52.
And so to The Tharp for celebratory beers with our unfailingly generous and sporting hosts. This fixture is such a gift.
At one point during the afternoon, Simon, at square leg, had been chatting with Tom Hedger, umpiring. “You know, it’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, and we’re playing cricket. What could be better and all is well with the world,” said the latter.
Never a truer word spoken, and never more true than at Chippenham, at this ground with these cricketers.