Strollers seal stunning win in the Chilterns to end season on a high
posted: September 20, 2021
The curtain fell on the 2021 season in the most dramatic style imaginable yesterday as we clinched a stunning win on the final ball of our final match, away to Hawridge & Cholesbury.
This fixture has become our annual swansong in recent years and always promises a fine finale to the season, played as it is upon a picturesque village ground nestled in the rolling Chiltern hills. However, with a dodgy weather forecast threatening rain all day, there was some doubt whether we would even get the game on. Thankfully we did, and what a classic it was.
With only a little light drizzle in the air at the outset the oppo opted to bat, having won the toss. With a number of our regular seamers absent, Abhik turned to Ron to open with spin alongside Varun. It turned out to be a masterful call, with Banerjee collecting a brace of wickets early on to dismiss openers White and Ahmed, reducing Hawridge & Cholesbury to 17-2.
However, the oppo's wicketkeeper/ batsman Wager-Leigh counter-attacked with quick hands steering a series of powerful lofted heaves through midwicket and Abhik immediately set the field back. The barrage continued for a few overs until young Ollie Haines was brought into the attack. Ollie (youngest son of that fabled Stroller of old, David 'De Dazzler' Haines – also making a welcome return to our lineup) managed to reassert some control with some textbook leg spin and was awfully unlucky to have Wager-Leigh put down by Varun at cover. However Rohit, now operating from the pavilion end, was more successful as he yorked the oppo's dangerman next over for 33 and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Rohit followed that up with the dismissal of Fayyaz with a grubber that skidded under the bat, and happily made it three with the final ball of his spell with yet another yorker to see off King. Hawridge & Cholesbury's skipper Ian Hames joined his son in defiantly resisting our attack with some good strokeplay around the park until Hames Jnr lofted one from Abhik above extra cover where Varun made up for his earlier error with a superbly taken running catch.
Hames Snr ploughed on and took his side past the hundred mark although wickets continued to tumble at the other end. Graham clobbered one up from Abhik straight to mid on where Dickie mercifully held onto the catch for fear of the ball planting itself square on his nose. Ali (having replaced Ollie after a fine containing spell) got in on the act with Varun collecting a simpler catch at midwicket to see off Hawridge & Cholesbury's number nine – mysteriously known only as 'Digger'.
Ali collected another with one that smartly nipped back off the pitch to bowl Anderson for a duck and we brought proceedings to an abrupt end when Mills carelessly wandered out of his crease and was promptly run out by Abhik, much to the oppo's chagrin. Having never let any of their batsmen settle, we had managed to restrict Hawridge & Cholesbury to 158 all out... a good final effort in the field for the season.
As we took our homemade teas (especially enjoying the frangipane and chocolate cakes generously brought by Dickie) the sun made an unforecast appearance and before too long the gloomy clouds cleared overhead, the gods above apparently smiling to offer us the best batting conditions of the day.
Gav strode out with De Dazzler and, after a few attritional first overs, both managed to find the boundary – Haines in particular carving some trademark late cuts beautifully down to backward point. Unfortunately our progress was stilted in the ninth over when a shooter from the left armer Hames Jnr skimmed under Gav's bat and onto his stumps. Matt, in at three, stuck around but had yet to score when he failed to follow through on a drive to Anderson and was caught at mid on. Ron managed to rotate the strike well but failed to middle a loopy delivery from Mills and scooped the ball up to point, departing for 8. Dickie also fell to Mills without troubling the scorers when he lobbed one up to Hames at mid on and, at 47-4, our target seemed a long way off.
Thankfully Haines remained unfazed and continued to gracefully work the ball around the park with ever-greater ease. Joined in the middle by Abhik, the pair kick-started our innings into gear as the skipper opened his shoulders and scored heavily square of the wicket. With seventy-odd required at drinks and still with some batting to come we felt quietly confident and were buoyed even more when the returning Dazzler notched up a fine fifty.
Unfortunately, having made it to a superb 64, Haines was finally undone when Ahmed was brought on from the pavilion end and clattered one into his stumps. From here, the responsibility fell onto Abhik's shoulders – already suffering from a long season and a bothersome back to go with it. Nevertheless our captain ploughed through the pain and with Dickie's brother Martin (kindly guesting for us) farming the strike well, we managed to keep up with the required rate as we passed the hundred mark.
Martin's resistance was undone however when he snicked one behind off Fayyaz. This brought Varun to the wicket and with one of our big-hitters in the middle we felt confident we could decisively wrest the advantage our way. But, no! Mis-timing a swivel-pull shot, Varun was caught at midwicket and departed for just a single.
With a run a ball required from the last five overs, the tension both on and off the field was palpable. Perhaps it was the pressure of the situation or just bare-faced swagger that led Rohit to hurriedly march out to the middle minus pads, but thankfully his team mates called him back to suit up with adequate protection. Thankfully the brain fart was only momentary and Rohit defended well, offering Abhik the strike where possible.
In turn, the skipper led the charge having survived a late LBW shout from Ahmed which was stoically turned down by umpire Gav for pitching and striking outside the line, much to the immense irritation of said bowler. With just six required for victory from the final over, hearts were in mouths on the first ball when Rohit, returning for a second, was smartly run out by White. Ollie, with composure beyond his years, manfully marched out to the middle to join Abhik who failed to score from any of the following four fearsome deliveries from Ahmed. Our nerves were in tatters. Were we to ultimately be denied?
The reaction from the boundary when Abhik heaved an enormous six through midwicket from the final ball told onlookers all they needed to know... victory was ours! With the winning stroke, Abhik collected his own richly-deserved fifty and who better to have the final word on a vintage season than the skipper himself?
As we celebrated with a round of beers we reflected on a year that began with serious doubt over whether we would be permitted to play cricket at all. As it was, 2021 delivered a season of thrills, spills and above all enormous fun replete with innumerable champagne moments, victories won against all the odds, all manner of hand injuries (!) and some of the best games this old Stroller can remember. One for the history books and such a shame all good things must come to an end... until next season anyway.
Stroll on... to 2022!