Another blazing June day at North Enfield, where a big oak tree stands at deep mid-wicket and their top order normally deposits our best bowling into the neighbouring woods on their way to 220 plus in their 40 overs. Could novice Captain Zac bring a change of fortune?
An auspicious start: he won the toss and elected to bat, much to everyone’s relief. More good fortune: it turned out that the player we were borrowing from the oppo (Kieran) was one of their best batters (one of the one’s who normally amused themselves at our expense losing balls in the undergrowth).
Captain Courageous laid his plans cannily, opening with a blend of youth and experience. Alex Frankpitt and David Löwen obliged by putting on 51 for the first wicket in pretty good time despite the strict ban on quick singles (climactic conditions). After Alex rattled up an entertaining 33 and then perished going for glory, Kieran strolled out to the middle to be greeted by a barrage of sledging from his erstwhile teammates, led by his son and daughter! Loftily ignoring all the chatter he started by practicing his forward defensive stride, leaving David to accelerate, his elegant dabs and nudges now supplemented by a few lusty blows, culminating in a lofted four over long on. By the looks of it the bowler was about 60 years his junior. Visions of a record breaking fifty loomed but with time pressing on David took a swing too far and was caught off the bowling of Kieran’s son, leaving us on a healthy 96-2 off 21 overs.
The arrival of Shahrukh - fresh from a 50 the day before - galvanised Kieran, who suddenly was approaching 50, despite batting on one leg following the aggravation of a hamstring injury, as he started to target the undergrowth. After getting his 50, he then holed out on the deep mid-wicket boundary off his own daughter! Cue whoops of delight from all her team mates. 178-3 off 33.
At this point Sharukh was looking ominously purposeful but before he had a chance to really cut loose, calamity. David from the oppo had been celebrating his 40th birthday by feeding Kieran’s penchant for carting balls into the woods but suddenly got one to keep low, the unlucky Daniel dragging onto his stumps. Jules strode out with purpose but immediately strode back again, bowled first up by the best ball David had produced all game. Jules was perhaps distracted by the captain's discussions on how he needed his bowling in the second half of the game, but it left us on 179-5 in the 34th over. By the time Wilmot arrived at the crease, the field had closed into New Zealand Iron Ring formation for the hat trick ball.
The oak tree leaned in to get a better view: could the birthday boy get his hat trick?
David put down a gently in swinging floater on the line of leg stump which rapped - if that isn’t too strong a word - Wilmot on the front pad. Following an 11 man (actually a 9 man and 2 women) appeal, the oak tree took a sharp intake of breath. Would umpire David Lowen make the other David’s day? It was not to be: our David was unmoved by the popular outcry.
Unnerved by the tension, Wilmot could hardly get the ball off the square. Fortunately Sharukh took things into his own hands, especially in the 38th over. Bringing up his second 50 in two days with a 6 off the first ball, the over continued 61166 and we finally closed at 233-5 off our 40. A competitive total - but only just given their past form.
After sausage rolls and salad for tea, and universal admiration for their David’s 40th birthday cake made in the form of a cricket square, complete with stumps and green batting strip (pictures please) Captain Zac assembled his troops for a team talk: this was an opportunity to put one in the history books. A welcome breeze had now sprung up and as it hit the big oak one could have sworn it made a sound like “Nah”.
We soon discovered why- their captain thrashing Rob’s first ball straight back past him for 4. A repeat attempt yielded just a single but we had been warned. Indeed, having played against him several times no one could recall him playing a defensive stroke of any kind. Zac decided to call on his secret weapon: Daniel was invited to open at the other end- left arm over off a shortish run up, but quick. Not quite Jonno quick but pretty rapid. Their captain insisted on the site screen being moved - which required 4 strong men due to tree roots and overhanging branches.
The oak tree leaned in again. The first ball from Daniel drew another expansive drive - with the thinnest of contacts rocketing between wicket keeper and slip. Four runs. Miraculously there followed 2 dot balls as Daniel probed outside the off stump. At pace. The next was even more rapid but down the leg side and sailed past the grasping keeper before he even got sight of it. Four byes. The oak tree chuckled, Wilmot hung his head in shame and the captain wrinkled his nose as the young batter at the other end imparted the helpful information that their captain had scored back to back hundreds in his last two games. This could rapidly get humiliating.
Undeterred Daniel dug one in, the ball heading towards their double centurion’s rib cage. Like Travis Head he couldn’t resist having a go, only for the ball to hit high up in the bat and travel conveniently straight to mid-wicket at catchable height, albeit at some pace. On another day no doubt we would have contrived to put the chance down and then watched helplessly as the ball spent more time in the woods than on the pitch. But this was Mandaking Sharukh in the firing line. He calmy pouched the chance and the biggest danger departed with an air of disbelief and a shake of the head. Massive for us.
The next over made history. Their other opener was of the teenage variety but had looked handy already. As he tried to turn Rob’s gentle outswinger on leg stump through mid-wicket the ball looped instead in the direction of wide mid-off. Jules at mid-off and Raki at extra cover set off on a collision course towards the ball – at a pace not always associated with the Mandarins in the field. Sharp intake of breath all round….
At the very last moment, Jules shouted, Raki sidestepped like a Welsh fly half and Jules took the catch low down behind him. Plaudits for Jules and a big round of applause for Rob, who had just become the Mandarins’ highest wicket taker of all time – our very own Jimmy Anderson! A moment to treasure but not to relax. Nos 3 and 4 were a couple of burly characters who clearly knew how to bat, and the last two balls of Rob’s record-breaking over were clubbed unceremoniously towards the boundary. But this was going to be Rob’s day. Bowling beautifully he sent down a couple of maidens, even as they helped themselves to a few off Daniel, using his pace to their advantage. 43 off the first 8 overs including 2 maidens.
And then came the 9th over. Rob was in the zone, Their no 4 – an Australian ringer it turned out – calmy defended the first four balls, happy to wait out the spell. But the 5th was a little quicker, pitching on a perfect length 6 inches outside the off stump before jagging back sharply to hit the top of middle. Absolute perfection! Cue respectful disbelief from the batsmen and further disbelief when we found “Jimmy” had shattered one of the bails.