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Match 18 2023 (28th scheduled): October 01

Zagreb CC vs Pimlico Strollers CC

Strollers end season on a high with zany tour to Zagreb
posted: October 03, 2023

Strollers vs Zagreb, 01 October 2023

After a second heavy night on the tiles, we reconvened at the hotel bar on Sunday morning in varying states of fragility to be spirited back to the Budenic Oval for our second match of the weekend. With Ali and Gaurav due to return to London on an early evening flight we settled on a shorter T20 game to conclude the tour… for which those of us nursing heavy hangovers were thankful.

Sunday’s weather looked even better than the day before with clear blue skies overhead and backing hot sun. George won the toss and once again opted to field – planning to let Ali and Gaurav (or ‘Ali G’ as we were collectively calling them) open the batting so they could leave and get to the airport in good time. Having emerged downstairs with but a minute to spare before our cars arrived Ali, for one, clearly had lost his some of his sprightliness from the day before and pulled the keepers gloves back on with a due sense of caution.

To start with, the performance followed the same script as the day before. Zagreb’s opening pair set off like a train – Arpit in particular making hay from anything pitched just slightly short on the bouncy artificial track. Having piled on a stand of over 80 from the first 8 overs we breathed a collective sigh of relief when Spencer got one through Dinesh’s defences to claim our first breakthrough (this incidentally bringing Fowler to within two more dismissals of reaching an unprecedented 300 Strollers wickets!).

We might too have nabbed the opportunity to see off the dangerman Arpit had we not then subjected ourselves to one of the most farcical calamities your writer has witnessed on a cricket field. Having brought himself into the attack, George looked on in dismay as Bates put down a rank dolly chance at cover when Sohail clubbed one straight into Andy’s midriff… only to see the ball plop to the ground. Arpit, the non-striker, had already reached the other end trying to steal a single. However Sohail was unmoved… probably still stunned that he wasn’t caught out. In a desperate attempt to make amends, Bates hurled the ball back to George who tried to flick it backwards onto the stumps to effect the inevitable run out only to see it sail past and fly into the deep. Aman, guesting for us at mid on raced round, collected the ball and attempted his own shy at the stumps …which of course missed as well. In the meantime, Arpit simply giggled and casually jogged back to his crease whilst everyone on (and off) the pitch fell about helplessly laughing. For those familiar with the infamous ‘That’s so village’ Twitter feed, had anyone captured the moment on camera it would surely have won clip of the year… it really was that cringeworthy.

We were still in stitches as we marched off for drinks after ten overs, at which point David decided enough was enough and retired Arpit on a superb 66. After the resumption Guri marched back out in his place and carried on where he left off the day before with some ferocious hitting back over the bowler’s head. Thankfully, were able to make inroads at the other end with the dismissals of Luka (bowled by Osama) and Max – expertly run out by Harsh with a searing return throw from the long off boundary.

Guri powered on, bringing up 150 for Zagreb but was eventually undone when he tried one heave too many and was caught at deep midwicket off Ron for 32. Sachar and local Croat Veijko added a few more and Zagreb closed on a hefty 178-5 from their 20 overs.

Again, that would take some getting and with an asking rate approaching 9 per over we would need a speedy start. With flights to catch ‘Ali G’ hastily slapped on their pads and made their way swiftly back to the middle to get our innings underway. Unfortunately, Gaurav’s heroics from the day before could not be repeated as he casually chipped one back to midwicket and was out for a single. Ali, still in a somewhat delicate state, clearly wasn’t fully focused as he struggled to put bat on ball and was also bowled for one. Sadly, Harsh wasn’t any more able to light the touch paper to his tour and was similarly bowled cheaply by Sohail. Again, not the best start.

Thankfully our guesting number three, Aman was able to kickstart our innings when Ron joined him at the crease as between them and they finally managed to get the scoreboard ticking over. David, sportingly, brought on his part time bowlers once again and, with them, a flurry of wides and no balls that substantially aided our cause. With 88 on the scoreboard without further loss at drinks it suddenly dawned on us that we were already halfway there. Was this… on? Stopping for final photographs, Ali and Gaurav waved their fond farewells as they hailed their cab back to the airport and left the tour wondering just that.

After the resumption, Aman and Ron made their intentions clear with some aggressive hitting to keep us in the hunt and up with the asking rate. Having hit a fine fifty though, Aman fell ten runs later when he holed out to Niren. With the best part of fifty still to get from the final six overs Gav strode out to have a go but, despite pinching a few singles, couldn’t find the middle of the bat. Knowing that we still had the heavy hitting Osama still in the hutch (and having witnessed his destructive batting against us the day before) Gav sagely thought “it’s a far better thing that I do” to exit the stage and let the other big guy have a go – and cannily retired in the spirit of the greater good.

Sure enough, Osama came out swinging but similarly couldn’t quite middle it either. Ron desperately tried to up the ante and heroically took us past the 150 mark but was tragically caught for 44 off Arpit… had we thrown our big chance away? Our hopes rose again when Guri shelled one from Osama at deep long on and we dared wonder had he just ‘dropped the Ashes’? The tension on the boundary was palpable and our heart rates spiked again when Osama was eventually caught off Sohail for 11.

Knowing that the situation called for cool heads, in Spencer we had the right man for the job in the middle. Guesting Abilash joined him and, creaming his first ball for six, was greeted with whoops of delight from his newfound team mates watching on the boundary. Spencer followed suit with another maximum and, before we knew it, we just needed 9 from the last two overs.

Guri was brought back into the attack and upped the ante with a couple of dot balls just to apply extra pressure. Spencer sensibly ditched the big hitting and neatly nurdled the ball around to grab those all important singles leaving us with just 3 to get from the final over. Abilash wasn’t in the mood to mess around and, with three deliveries remaining, took one final swipe and hoisted a huge six over backward square leg. We had WON! We roared in amazement and glee at a truly fantastic achievement.

For context, this was the first win on tour in over NINE years – the last coincidentally also being on Croatian soil on our visit to Viz in 2014. That we had managed it with a sub strength team made it all the more remarkable, albeit with the very generous help of David who had donated some excellent cricketers to more than make up our numbers – a truly sporting gesture from a truly great sport.

Afterwards both teams sat beneath the gazebos positioned on the boundary to soak up the sun and enjoy a spicy biryani and sink a few beers, reflecting on two enormously enjoyable matches. We headed back into the city centre with a victorious spring in our step and, after David had joined us for one last supper, we bade him fond farewells with our sincere thanks.

Still in a mood to party we returned to the hotel bar to bring proceedings to a noisy conclusion fuelled by our traditional tour tipple – vodka Fantas (in truth the Croatian substitute for Fanta, the amusingly branded fizzy orange drink ‘Pipi’). Sadly now missing ‘Ali G’, the remaining six of us rose to our feet in a huddle to belt out a rousing rendition of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’… our longstanding anthem and, with that, we were done. A successful, splendid and storied tour to conclude our cricket for 2023.

Stroll on, 2024 …wherever that will take us.

Gavin Richardson


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