It was a beautiful afternoon in Lewisham, and Hilly Fields Park certainly had its charms: a cafe with excellent fare, and an incline up one side of the ground on which a number of locals lazed watching the cricket. It had its challenges too: a tricky pitch, and toilets home to more genetic mutations than the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The game was shaped by a bold gamble. Taking the blithe counsel of a SPAD who hadn't even looked at the pitch (sorry about that chaps), Jonathan agreed to see what would happen if we batted first. Unfortunately, this pitch had had lunchtime rain, and was still pretty sticky, though drying in the sun. A stone cold Field First Pitch in fact. If anyone needs an experienced hand in an Advisory role I'm currently looking for a position.
Our opponents were the splendid Millfields club, who bring a friendly spirit to the game as well as several players who are a bit tasty. One such is Cian Cooper, who not content with averaging 127 with the bat last year is also liable to run in and bowl sharply with the new ball, as he did here. This was a major challenge for Sam Brand and Tim Baxter, who both played extremely well to put on 35, Each was at one point nearly decapitated by a fast lifter, but the gentler off tweaks of Tom Gardiner at the other end were every bit as tricky, stopping and turning or skidding on, and it was he who accounted for both.
Jamie Brockbank dug in well for a hard-fought 19, but we slid away alarmingly. To go from 65-2 to 93-9 may sound like a calamity but in truth it was more a reversion to the mean; the bowling was decent and the ball beat the bat fairly regularly. And the odd long hop turned out to be equally dangerous, holding in the pitch and accounting for several dismissals. Shaz Ahmed bowled especially well for his two wickets, Mark Cooper's leggies being a little unlucky to get no reward. For us Rakesh Ramani looked high class until missing a flamboyant drive; Chris Baker and Dan Forman stuck 30 on for the last wicket with few alarms, and both played very nicely. But you couldn't help but feel that the wicket was starting to behave itself, and that 123 was looking quite a few short.
There had been one self-inflicted wound. Matt Brown reprised his Highgate Shuffle, the hit-ball-to-short-fielder-call-yes-get-sent-back-by-disbelieving-partner-get-run-out-by-yards-by-disbelieving-fielder routine. There's a bright side to this though - although retired from coaching, this morning I was providing emergency cover at my old league club, and (I'm not making this up) was asked to teach a bunch of nine-year-olds how to run between the wickets and call. Matt's cautionary tale struck fear into their tiny hearts. (Well, I did jazz it up a bit; it ended with depression, alcoholism and self-harm. Sorry Matt. For a good cause though.)
We bowled OK in reply, and the wicket still offered a bit of variation and plenty of spin. But a low target means you can just focus on keeping out the good balls, so even Rakhi's terrific spell caused little alarm, as Tom Collis made a superb 50, intelligently and ruthlessly putting away half volleys and short balls when they eventually came along (Hooper's 34 was similarly efficient). Dan Forman fished with some success down the hill, accounting for all three wickets to fall, and we got to witness another screamer of a catch from Tim Baxter, thrusting one arm over his head like a schoolboy swot who knows the answer, and pulling down a smashed cover drive from Collis.
But the scorecard suggests we came 3rd, and even if it took 33 overs, we kinda did. Millfields had a bit too much for us, and our chance to make up for that was tossed away, thanks to some special advice.