Chatting to Jonathan at the SMCC game in July, he let it slip that this year’s Kings Rochester game would be against the School First XI rather than the usual Head Master’s guest XI. The students had missed their whole season and were understandably hungry to get in a couple of September games. The Mandarins were judged to be suitable raw meat. Jonathan was nervous and keen to select a strong team. I was more relaxed. I pointed out to him that the Guest team had always had a couple of the better students and yet we had never lost to them. But Jonathan was proven right. Playing against 11 fit, young, sporty public school boys proved to be a different proposition to the usual mix of teachers, parents and Aylesford Pterodactyls.
Nervous about our batting, Jonathan arranged for us to field first on a lovely late Summer/early Autumn day. To the opposition’s slight bemusement it was to be a declaration game. Their openers looked decent but really good bowling from Rob and Harry kept them in check. The dismissal by Rob of the more dangerous of the two for a decent 45 brought their captain, Fox, to the wicket. He batted to the end for a first class 81 not out. None of the other batsmen were particularly dangerous but the damage was done. The School steadily accelerated without things ever getting out of control. Mandarin fielding was much better than par, whether because the strength of the opposition required it or because for once we were playing on an outfield devoid of cowpats, rabbit holes or wandering chickens. Rakesh and Stan bowled a tidy 13 overs between them in the middle period and there were two late wickets each for Chris and Dan who were a bit more expensive. The School eventually declared on 216 for 6. On many pitches that would be well out of reach but given the good strip and short boundaries, we were still in the game – after all we had chased more in the past to win here.
Sadly there was to be no slap up tea in the Headmaster’s garden this year. So it was a quick turnaround rather than the usual languid hour of eating and drinking. As on a number of occasions this year, our openers made a good start and encouraged the rest of us to believe we were in with a chance. Harry and Tim put on 53 for the first wicket in good time. But when they perished soon after each other, Tim for 20 and Harry for 29, it was pretty well all down-hill. Rakesh looked as he has so often done, like a good bat who will make decent scores for us and finished 22 not out (only managing to run out one of his older and slower partners). Chris hit a 20-20 style 15 but then the innings began to peter out. The traditional debate began on the boundary between those in favour of grittily fighting it out for a far from glorious draw and those who argued that this wasn’t the way to treat our hosts (who it had to be said seemed to have no intention of taking their foot off our neck with their best bowler reeling off 13 overs unchanged and taking 5 for 32). Anyway it all proved somewhat academic in the end as Fox, who could bowl as well as bat, brought himself back on and his first ball (as predicted by Chris) pitched just outside off and cut in to take the top of Dan’s off-stump without the batsman offering any noticeable resistance. 127 was judged to be just respectable by the crowd (I am not sure on what grounds exactly). We certainly were in the game up to the fall of our first wicket but from then on, there was only one likely winner.
After the match, Jonathan was asked whether we would like to play the students or the Head’s invitational in 2021. I know which team I would choose. But whoever we play, Rochester will remain my favourite fixture on the current list (tours excepted) and not just because it is the only one within 80 miles of home. It’s a lovely ground with pleasant opposition and, before Covid, the best tea around. Thanks Jonathan.
That’s more than enough from me. My first season with more match reports than boundaries….