Tuesday 4 July 2023

BAZ-Ball, but Not As You Know It

There’s a lot to like about Battersea Park cricket pitch 1.  A large pavilion overlooks the pitch, with the newly refurbished Battersea (“Baz”) Power Station providing an impressive backdrop.  Spectators – aka members of the general public – walk the paths under the mature trees that line both sides of the ground.  There are, however, some downsides.  A municipal outfield that does little to encourage fielders to use the long barrier, an ominous wide cut strip running diagonally across the pitch, no stumps (we had to bring our own) and worst of all, no scoreboard.

The teams had spent the days before the game nervously watching the forecast, with thunderstorms threatened from early afternoon.  Trusting the Met Office more than the BBC, it was noted that the worst of the rain was due to arrive at 3:30pm, so the captains agreed to make the game a T20 with a limit of five overs (not four) per bowler at Weekenders’ request, and enforced retirement at 30. 

Weekenders won the toss and elected to field first.  It turned out they had a very useful and nippy bowler.  Was it Orwell… or Douglas?  Since the first ten overs were all bowled from the same end to speed up play, the visual cues of “the guy bowling from the left hand end” are of no help, because they both were.  Anyway, I think it was Orwell, and he was very useful, especially on a pitch with slightly variable bounce, but Healey exploited the shorter boundary behind the stumps to nudge a couple of boundaries off him.  Three overs in we had scored 20, then Tunbridge was trapped lbw by….the bowler bowling from the left hand end.  In came McKeon, the Mandarins’ answer to Ollie Pope as a go-to number three batter. He supported Healey who lifted the score to 50 before having to retire on 33.  In came Singh, relieved that the quick bowler had been rested, but perhaps over-relaxed as he was bowled second ball.  Eastaway, promoted to no.5 partly because of some late arrivals, joined McKeon and they put on 42 before both batsmen fell within a few deliveries trying to up the slogging rate.  With all the bowling now all coming from right hand end, Wilmot scored fluently, particularly through backward point, while Brown swung the bat with little success until – perhaps by the law of averages – he connected with one, lofting the ball spectacularly over cow corner for the only six of the innings.  126 scored and though the clouds were building, there was no sign of rain. 

“These should be ideal conditions for your bowling,” said the skipper to your correspondent as he took the new ball.  Nobody told the opening batsman Leal, who smashed 12 off his first over (it would have been 16, but one went too straight) and 13 off his second.  Fortunately, things were calmer from the other end.  Well, it was the same end, but anyway, Hurst proved to be unhittable.  Ramani was soon deployed as first change, and although his first two deliveries went for 6 and 4, on the last ball of the over Leal miscued to Healey at mid on and the most dangerous batter was gone.  Wickets now fell steadily as Weekenders fell behind the rate – two for Hurst and Ramani, three for Healey.  Singh bowled tidily, but there were muscles being stretched that hadn’t seen much action for ten years and after four overs something went ping and that was the end of Singh, who had to limp off the field.  Was there a replacement to plug the gap in the field?  There was.  Cometh the hour, cometh the Battersea resident who had popped over to watch, none other than Barrie “Baz” Temple.  Unexpectedly plucked from retirement, he strolled those two yards across the boundary that took him from spectator to long-on fielder.  Sure enough after a couple of deliveries the ball came precisely in his direction, and what would have been a certain four became a mere two.  We were witnessing a very different sort of Baz-ball.

Would those two saved runs make a difference?  Well, probably not.  With one over left, Weekenders still needed 22 to win, and the skipper was persuaded that it was safe for Eastaway to return to try to claim that elusive O’Shea record-breaking wicket.  Alas the opposition hadn’t read the script, as three more boundaries were comfortably dispatched, but a couple of dot balls ensured that Mandarins had secured a (fairly) comfortable victory.

With spit in the air, a few retired to the pub across the road, at which point the heavens finally opened.  Perfect timing.

Rob Eastaway

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