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Match 17 2023 (27th scheduled): September 30

Zagreb CC vs Pimlico Strollers CC

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

Strollers vs Zagreb, 30 Septemeber 2023

After the tribulations of a challenging year it was with no little relief that we finally boarded our flights for our end of season tour to sunny Zagreb, returning to play in Croatia for the first time since our visit to the vineyards of Viz in 2014. Even so, we were setback from the start with the late withdrawals of no fewer than four members of our touring party owing to a perfect storm of unforeseen injuries, delayed visas and work commitments.

As such, an under-strength squad of just eight Strollers convened on Friday night at the rooftop bar of the Time Out Heritage Hotel in the centre of town, well met by our kind host for the weekend and opposition skipper David Skinner, an expatriated former Railway Taverner from Crouch End who we instantly recognized as ‘one of us’ and, as we would discover, a thoroughly good sport.

Dave assured us that, as our fixtures were over-subscribed he would be able to lend us enough players to field a full XI for both matches and, what’s more, they would be pretty handy. Additionally, he mentioned in passing that our first game on Saturday would be graced by the attendance of nine other than the British ambassador to Croatia, Simon Thomas OBE. No pressure then. Apparently, his excellency’s attendance would be a welcome show of support in the face of a rival local team having recently surfaced to challenge Zagreb’s credentials as the city’s official club in the eyes of the Croatian Cricket Federation …Balkan politics was always controversial.

After sampling some delicious Croatian culinary delights at a nearby restaurant in the old town and a predictably late night after some early reconnaissance of the local nightlife we surfaced on Saturday morning in surprisingly fine fettle.

The previous evening, George and Harsh had resolved the thorny matter of who would lead us over the weekend - the latter having been voted Tour Captain at last year’s AGM but the incumbent 2023 skipper making it abundantly clear he wished to retain the armband. The matter was settled by a friendly (if loaded) arm wrestle at the bar which George predictably won. Spencer, having laudably defended the authority of the Bucket of Justice, declared this as the moment when democracy died but honestly nobody really minded …especially not Harsh who accepted the outcome with typical good grace.

The oppo kindly sent three cars to collect us from our hotel and, after a pit stop to pick up supplies for tea and a pleasant drive through the forests on the city outskirts, we arrived shortly before midday at the Budenec Oval - in reality a meadow on farmland in beautiful rural surroundings looking out to a distant range of rolling hills. There we found the opposition waiting for us – more than half of their team made up of expat Indians and the rest comprised of Brits abroad and an Aussie along with a couple of local Croats… a splendid international side. The weather too was glorious - 25 degrees with blue skies and sunshine and, apart from a little cloud cover towards the end of the first game, it would remain that way for the whole weekend.

And so, finally, to the cricket. George won the toss and, knowing from previous tours that any remaining hangovers would be better supressed in the field than with the bat, inserted the opposition to make first use of the artificial track. Unusually bringing himself on to open the bowling alongside Gaurav, Zagreb’s batsmen seized the early advantage and quickly notched up the 50 without loss.

Ominously their progress remained unchecked as they powered on and it quickly became apparent that fielding would be challenging with deceptively undulating conditions underfoot, the surface riddled with mouse holes. As a result, on more than one occasion, our fielders were unable to make the ground needed to grab onto a catch and the oppo rubbed salt into the wound with some ferocious hitting to the boundary.

With Dave gamely asking his batters to retire as and when any reached 50, Hashimi left the stage unbeaten. With the score still hurtling towards 100 our first breakthrough eventually came, much to our relief, when Spencer then trapped Awashti for just a single. Our second followed soon after when Ali, having an excellent afternoon behind the stumps (despite having had next to no sleep) expertly clung on to take a reflex catch when David, in at four, edged one from Vignesh - one of our welcome guests from the oppo - and the skipper departed for 15. Ron also got into the act to clean out Arun, also for 15.

Meanwhile Zagreb’s other opener Sohotra also made hay on reaching his half century although this didn’t do anything to slow them down as Chaubuy clattered the ball around with even greater ferocity to take his side past 150.

Master (now Professor) Andy Bates was brought into the attack and managed to disrupt - as he is so apt in doing - can with the dismissal out of the blue of Abhilash who was well caught at slip by Gav. For a fleeting moment it looked like we might wrest back the advantage as Gaurav returned to nab a near hat trick, bowling both Osborne and Stubbs in successive deliveries.

However this merely paved the way for the ox like Osama to unleash a fearsome barrage of straight sixes and fours that took his side up to 250 at which point he too retired. The splendidly bearded Guri, an unprecedented twelfth batsman, looked to pick up the mantle with a brace of big boundaries until Ron (Mr Boundary himself) expertly hung on to a skied return catch. With that, Zagreb closed their innings on a towering 271-7. That would take some getting.

We parked that thought as we strolled off to enjoy the heaving BBQ the oppo had generously laid on for us. We also took the opportunity to greet the Ambassador who had arrived without fanfare before the interval and he kindly agreed to take a team photo with us …one for the album. As we munched on our hearty hot dogs we marvelled at how stoically his excellency withstood Professor Bates’ incessant monologing about his worldly travels, his linguistic acumen, his tales of adventure sailing the high seas and Lord knows (or honestly cares) what else besides - affably smiling, nodding and gradually glazing over as only a seasoned diplomat can.

As we digested all that our thoughts turned to the task ahead. With an asking rate in excess of 7 per over from the outset and sizing up the mountain to climb Gav and George marched out to the middle… then promptly marched back again. After surviving a fearsome opening over from Abhilash (including a searing bouncer sent skimming over his head) Gav looked on aghast as the same player leapt like a salmon and clung onto an outright worldie at backward point - a diving catch taken facing away toward the boundary, Stokes style. With that, the big man was gone.

Abhilash immediately struck again to skittle George for a duck …had we done something to hurt the guy’s feelings? Another guesting member of the oppo, Sushan - in at three - clearly was no more popular with his team mates than we were as he too was seen off without scoring, caught off Rashid. Any hopes we had in Harsh - playing his first match in two years - sadly faded when he played down the wrong line to Kerso and was bowled for 4. Damn.

At 14-4 with our top order simply blown away all we could do from here was to hang on somehow and, thankfully, with the arrival of Gaurav and Spencer, we gradually restored some stability. Much to our relief  the scoreboard started ticking over and mercifully we made it to 50 without further loss.

Realising he may have pressed us a tad too hard, in an effort to make a game of it David generously brought on the part timers to bowl as our batsmen took advantage with some big hitting over the mid wicket boundary. Much to our relief the hundred came up and, whilst victory never looked likely, we might be able to get within a sniff. Alas, that too became too much to hope for. Spencer gloved one behind, departing for a well struck 37 and although Ron had a dart, attacking from the off, he only made it as far as 19 before top edging to cover.

Any remaining hope came to an end when Gaurav, having quietly carded a half century almost without anyone realizing, lofted one to long off and was caught on the boundary for 56. From there all Zagreb had to do was mop up the tail which they managed in smart fashion - Ali clean bowled by Chris, Batesy caught in the deep for one and Vignesh trapped LBW to bring our innings to a close on 136 and, with that, a heavy defeat.

With that, all we could do was to ‘take the positives’. The sun had shone, our hosts had been nothing but charming and, of course, we had been honored by an audience with the ambassador himself. On top of that, Gaurav had again acquitted himself splendidly with the bat and Ali - somehow - had turned in easily his finest performance with the gloves.

We returned to the city center for a terrific night on the town, the Zagreb team joining us at an Irish pub to watch the mighty Spurs steal a statement win over 9 man Liverpool - thoroughly Tottenham Dave rapturously hugging fellow fans Gav and Ali, basking in the wonder of Ange-ball. Afterwards we enjoyed some local fare before finding our way to Alcatrraz (a banging heavy metal haunt) for a few friendly sherries and then back to the hotel bar, which happened to double as a pounding night club. No rest for the wicked then…


Gavin Richardson

03.10.2023

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