Detail: 17-04-2021 - Hindhead
Result: Won by 8 wkts
Match report: Blues vs Hindhead
I like to compare the Blues current rich stock of talent to a fine cocktail. As we all know a good cocktail has to have balance. It needs a solid spirit at its bedrock, a tasteful mixer to bring out the flavour, and of course it needs the finishing touch of garnish - a slice of lime, a twist of orange, or an olive, if you will. The situation the Blues finds itself in is the result of that perfect cocktail creation. The foundation of the team, the strong spirit that is the basis of the cocktail, has to be the stalwarts who have carried the Blues forward through thick and thin, playing for countless years as their fathers did before them, or indeed since they were first roped into playing when at school or university. This core has created a welcoming environment that has always been inviting and eager for more troops for the tribe. On top of this we pour the mixer: the influx of young bucks that has swelled the ranks, chaps eager to set aside half their weekend and search yearningly for that one moment of brilliance that might bring forth the fabled headpat we all so crave. And lastly, the garnish. The slice of cucumber for this G&T creation is of course Covid. Covid has created a sporting/social vacuum that remarkably Blues cricket seems to have filled. With Boris knocking out winter sports, nightclubs and foreign holidays, it seems that the hottest ticket in town is to be on a 22-yard strip sporting a blue cap.
As the days counted down to the first game of the season, the roll call was sounded, and in a moment I had personally been anticipating with more dread than excitement, about 20 blokes were frothing at the bit to play. A fantastic problem to have. This being historically a very un-Blues situation, how would we fairly balance the rich arsenal of exuberance now at our disposal?
Post Whatsapp being the Anno Domini of the Blues' exponential growth, it was decided that technology had gotten into this situation and technology would get us out of it. If you ask any consultants these days how to improve productivity and efficiency, 'Digital Transformation' is the order of the day, and indeed just throwing those 2 words into a statement of works means you can increase the day rate by about 300.
Tawney senior was excused from family Easter celebrations due to 'an important work emergency'. The Eucharist was put to one side and HT was able to take a break from making millions disappear from balance sheets and instead put his skills to good use. Crafting a mighty spreadsheet, HT went back to his roast lamb and HJ was able to migrate this to the cloud in the form of a google-sheet. The Blues' unstoppable march into the digital age continues.
Amazingly, after the boys had all filled in their availability, the first 3 teams almost picked themselves and all Blues stalwarts were able to play at least once, with even room for a bit of new blood to keep the Blues gene pool healthy. I want to say a big thank you for everyones patience with all matters of selection and availability, it is not an easy job balancing it all and Im sure we will make mistakes along the way. "To err is human; to forgive, divine" and all that. A big thank you to any relative newcomers for their energy and also for understanding that it is not always possible to fit everyone in, especially when entering a team already overflowing with excitement. If at any point people are frustrated at being overlooked, my advice would be: 'see off the new ball', bat time and keep plugging away. If you are still here in a few years time, then you too might be lucky enough to spend your holidays writing match reports, checking spreadsheets and fielding calls from Youcef.
We shall start with the assembly at clapham junction, which saw 8 of the 11 meet up. To a man there was shaking all round, from nerves or hangovers it was hard to tell, but it was quite clear that the big day had come and all could feel it, pre-wedding jitters plain for all to see. Both openers, Harry Tawney and Jack Ward, spent the train journey out-competing each other with how hungover they were, both desperately readying excuses for the potential failure to come. Rory, sporting both sun cream and shorts, was in an optimistic mood, buzzing to be given the new ball and ride into battle for the Blues. As we know it wouldnt be Blues cricket without a last-minute scramble. All had been going swimmingly. However, an innocent message from this author to Das enquiring about his train time was greeted with 'what, the game is today?!' It had all been going so well...
A beautiful day greeted the assembled cricketers. The sun was beaming and not a cloud was in the sky, giving the day a heady air of summer rather than mid-April. A sight that pleased all, expect the Blues resident strike bowler, Glenn, who was not amused. He had been promised dense cloud cover, a green soft top and guaranteed swing. To compound matters, Hindhead CC's geography saw their pitch sit atop a hill, high in the forest upon reclaimed land. This hill therefore results in fantastic rain run-off, which meant that we were greeted with a dry pitch thoroughly compacted by Hindhead's new heavy roller. Scowls spreading around the bowling camp and slightly less shaking amongst the assembled batters.
We won the toss and a decision had to made. The decision to field first was driven by the very real fear that if we batted first and the openers nicked off in the first over, they may jump straight back into the taxi and save themselves a day of watching other blokes play cricket. Instead they had a few more hours to stew on what was in store for them.
Once Das's taxi had arrived, Glenn and Rory shared the new ball. The first 10 overs were an exceptional display of how to bowl on a dead wicket. The pitch offered no lateral movement and with blue skies all around no swing was to be seen. The oppo opening bats played very cautiously, seemingly reluctant to play an aggression shot. Suppressed by Rory one end charging in down the hill, they were equally bamboozled by Glenn's unerring line and length at the other.
The one misbehaviour of the pitch was that the occasional ball would stay low or rear up, with a tendency towards sitting down rather than jumping up at the throat. After 10 overs the oppo had not put on very many, potentially 30-40 runs. Seeing as the Blues regularly scored 200 last summer, this was well below the scoring rate and this opening 10 over spell from Collett and Moore in retrospect must have played a crucial role in the days outcome. It transpired after 10 overs that the oppo thought they were playing a 45 over game, and were slightly concerned when their mistake was pointed out to them by their captain. Whether this is true or not we will never know, as it sounds far too much like a batsmens excuse for playing a Boycott innings.
After a few overs, Rory was really warming into his stride, hitting a great length and forcing the batsmen to play. After his customary growl, an effort ball hit the deck hard, reared up and found the outside edge and headed towards second slip. Now, here it is important to draw notice to the catching hoodoo that has haunted the Tawney brothers (Harry and Archie) for a few years now. In a bold effort to front dog the catching curse, Archie had decided to place himself into the slip cordon, driven by the rationale of taking the brain out of the equation - no time to think and catch purely on reflexes. The closer you are to danger, the further you are from harm. Well, as this ball fizzed towards Archie Tawney, all gathered held their breath. The ball, catapulted by a winter's worth of rage and resentment, had fizzed from Rory's hand and gathered pace on the willow it had caught. The ball fired right into Archie's midriff, causing him to double over arms clutched to his chest, elbows down, clenched fists pointing to heaven seeking salvation. All waited as Archie performed a crouching embryonic figure and every Blues boy expected to see the tell-tale trickle of a ball falling out from beneath the elbows. After what felt like half an hour but could have only been seconds, Archie righted himself and held the ball aloft for all to see. Like Rafiki holding Simba aloft on Pride Rock, Archie had defeated the catching curse and emerged triumphant. The scenes of jubilation that followed were quite remarkable and must have been the cause of much confusion to the oppo. All covid restrictions went out the window as Archie was mobbed, held aloft as if he had won the World Cup. Who would have given odds on the first wicket of the 2021 season being a Tawney catch? It remains to be seen whether Harry T will also be as fortunate when the ball, as it inevitably will, next finds him in the field.
With one down and Hindhead keen to 'kick on', Hamish Fyfe and Richard Mullett were brought into the attack. Hamish started out brilliantly, with a few unplayable deliveries, but then lost his way slightly. They say every great sportsmen is a perfectionist and indeed it is well documented as to how key this was to Jonny Wilkinson's exemplary career, and Fyfe holds himself to the highest of standards, even at times heard to mutter 'I knew this was a bad idea'. At times looking disgusted with bowling that was certainly very hard to face, and beyond most of the assembled cast, Fyfe kept running in, keeping the keeper and slips busy, but going for very few runs from the oppos bat. As they say: cometh the hour, cometh the man. The standing umpire got Hamish riled up, calling one too wides for Fyfe's liking. As Hamish ran in, steam coming out from both ears, the batsmen pulled away. Hamish, not to be deterred followed the batsmen and send down a full zinger straight at him - luckily the batter must have played a fair bit of squash in his day and remarkably flicked it away one handed and all was well. A few balls later and Hamish had his man. An absolute jaffa of a delivery that pitched on a good length arcing in with a touch of inswing, went straight through the retreating batsmen's defence, smashing into all 3 stumps. Unplayable.
Drinks were called, we had reached the halfway mark 90 odd for 2. Still work to be done, but we were in the game.
After drinks, Hindhead accelerated. One of their bats hit a 6 second ball and that really set the tone for his innings. He has an incredibly good eye for the ball and started dealing out punishment all around. Due to the aforementioned excellent drainage, the outfield was rock solid and a ball fizzed at a poor expectant fielder had a tendency to go either way on every bounce, and a rather worrying habit of rearing up over an outstretched leg or hand. Long barriers were in full use and the Blues put on a great display of fielding for the first game of the season. The bowlers worked out that the batters couldnt play of their legs as well as they would have liked, so they started darting it in legside and Das at backward square leg was in the game, scampering around stopping 1s and 2s.
After some big hitting from the 2 set batsmen, Mo was brought into the attack, to see what magic he could conjure up. With a pitch that offered little grip, Mo utilised his length to pin the batters back. Sadly the batter was a hard lion to cage and was swinging with abandon. After a bit of verbal jousting between bat and ball, Mo started to go to work on the other lad. Moving Jack out of the slips and sticking him sweeping on the leg side, Mo tossed it up and drew the batter into a tempter that he didnt quite connect with. The ball flew hard and true to Jack, who had time to shuffle forward, think about the possibly of dropping a catch on a day of few chances, and then thankfully did the right thing and engulfed the ball in his massive paws. Kudos to Mo and Jack, and one more wicket for the Blues. 3 down, about 10 overs left and still work to do for the Blues fielding side.
Richard had received a bit of tat from their set batsmen, and was swapped to come down the slope in a bid to find a bit of swing. With the ball getting older, Rich was able to start finding a bit of shape and got the batsmen searching outside off stump for balls that weren't there. Hindhead, with wickets in hand, starting racking up the run rate and 200 looked in their sights. Not daunted by the challenge, the Mullett delved into his bag of tricks and produced a proper cricket wicket. A ball that started on 4th stump pitched just short of a good length and started moving towards 4th, 5th and then 6th stump. The batter couldnt resist, wafted, caught an outside edge and was duly caught by the keeper. Delight at last, smiles and head-pats all round.
Glenn and Rory then returned for the last 4 overs and continued their miserly bowling. Aided by some quick fielding by the assembled Blues, the lads were able to keep the score below 200 and Hindhead posted 192-4 from 35 overs.
On a good deck, slightly slow at times, with the odd one that kept low, and a rock solid outfield, the boys felt this was possible. A lot would depend on how we started, but as we all know the Blues bat down to 11, and love a run chase more than Eoin Morgan, so this was definitely on the cards.
Time had come for HT and JW to put words aside and take up the mantle of opening up for the Blues. After losing a shaky rock-paper-scissors, Harry T took the first ball. Sticking to his guns to bat like Icarus, flying as close to the sun as he dared, HT slapped the first ball for 4. What a start, 4 from 1, strike rate of 400, but most importantly, he had survived and was not out. Second ball, a proper cricket shot, a lovely little leg-side flick around the corner to dab down to fine leg for 1. Off strike and he could breath a little easier. JW, hunkered down and blocked the rest of the over. 1/35 down, 34 overs to go. HT facing the first ball of the second over was obviously seeing it well. He had used up his 2 sighters and was ready to go big. In golf they talk often of the powers of visualisation, imagine the shot going in the hole, visualise the putt rolling in. Well HT had barely slept the last week, waking up each night in a cold sweat imagining nicking off, and moreover had spent most of Thursday night telling all who would listen (in Coach Carter style) that this was his greatest fear. Well it seems the powers of visualisation are indeed profound. First ball of the second over, the opening bowler Will Hams pushed it wide across the left hander. Harry T couldn't say no and swiped at it in a trademark cross-batted fashion. A faint 'nick' was heard and it was collected safely by the keeper. 34 overs now to watch your mates bat. HT took it nobly, repeating 'I love cricket, I love cricket' as he tucked his bat under his arm and strode purposefully to the bar. Much like a racing driver keeping his helmet on after a bad crash, the sun glasses were donned and he didn't say another word for about 90 minutes.
This meant Youcef was in next to accompany Jack. In the Blues brains trust there was a feeling that these 2 would bat nicely together, both proper cricketers who played cautiously and valued their wicket. Steadfast rather than scintillating was the order of the day as both lads went about their work with barely a chance shown to keep the fielding side interested. Batting solidly, rotating the strike, nudging the 1s and 2s, the lads kept the scoreboard ticking over and slowly exasperated the oppo bowlers. Amazingly, the Blues got to the half way mark only 1 wicket down, for about 70 runs. Holding the waiting middle order at bay, a quiet word in the ear of both bats was delivered at drinks, 'keep up the good work, push a little now, but be there at the end'.
Now given a license to express themselves both Jack and Youcef upped the ante and started hitting out. Youcef seemed to transform into the lesser spotted aggressive batsmen and smashed a couple of 1 bounce 4s back over the bowlers head. We even saw a Youcef cow corner slog, certainly one for the scrapbook. After some hasty arithmetic on the side-line we realised Youcef had reached 51*, and we decided we had better clap for his next run. However, on this next run Youcef and Jack had a a mix-up and came very close to running each other out. Indeed, a botched run out did seem the most likely way Hindhead were going to dismiss either of these batting goliaths. After Cef successfully passed his 50 he kept up the destruction and continued to bat with full throttle. After 3 years of nurdling his way to batting glory, is 2021 going to be the season Cef brings fireworks to the lush green fields of Surrey?
Not to be outdone by Youcef, Jack also started upping the ante and began to slap it leg side to find the 4s. Keeping the fielders in the game Wardy did a great job of nailing it right at them and often through them. In his 40s now and keen to push on, Jack showed that when it's your day everything goes your way. The poor oppo bowler was steaming in now and Jack was swinging hard. 3 times in the same over Jack hit it high and right at a fielder, only for it to be fumbled and dropped 3 times. One of the drops even featured the hapless fielder fumble it, have a second bite of the cherry and drop it again.
Youcef finally departed for a superb 79. As David Bowie knew too well, it is vital to reinvent yourself to stay relevant. Embodying Ziggy Stardust himself, Das strode to the crease as the new modelled Blues' finisher. After wearing his pads for about 30 overs Das was keen to show the Blues what he could do and bring home the big W. Jack and Youcef had got to such a stage where the run rate was now heavily in our favour, we had gone from behind the 8 ball to needing less than 6 an over. With about 25 to win off the last 5 overs, this game was certainly alive and with countless wickets in hand the Blues had a fantastic chance of chalking up their first win.
Das, eager to build a narrative, blocked a few to get his eye in and sent the watching crowd into a panic. Would we fall at the final hurdle? Every great start is always forgotten unless it is finished off. Never fear, Das soon loosened up and started playing some lovely offside shots to pierce the field and get those vital runs on the board. Hitting double figures in only a few overs, he was seeing it well and the Blues looked in great touch. With a couple of overs to spare Jack Ward did the honours and smashed a ball right at the oppo fielder, who somehow fumbled it and it went for 4. That had sealed the victory. Jack had carried his bat, 69*, to continue his traditional early season form and the Blues had amassed 196 runs for just the loss of 2 wickets. Featuring a 163 run 2nd wicket partnership and only losing 2 wickets in 34 overs, is a fantastic way to start the season. A top team performance that required all 11 for the victory. Ultimately the game came down to run rate. Our bowlers did a better job of restricting their bats from going ballistic, our fielders stopped boundaries and took vital catches, and our bats brought it home and batted superbly.
With the game over and the sun still beating down, the Blues did what they always do well and got well and truly stuck into the oppo bar. Hamish Fyfe led a round of bird watching and gave all a lesson on the local fauna, eulogising on the merits of buzzards over kites. After taking a superb wicket for the blues and earning his 6th appearance Fyfe was presented with his very own Blues cap from the smiling Mullett. Well earned and a superb bowling effort from Hamish means the Blues well and truly have another genuine all rounder to bolster their ranks.
Once Hindhead moved us on, forth we went into the local village to spread our patronage far and wide. As we all know cricket is about far more than just runs and wickets, and one's value to the team is often measured in the intangibles. After a long train journey back where Youcef had regaled the entire train carriage through his innings ball-by-ball, 8 lads arrived at Clapham junction many pints deep and riled up ready to carry on their innings. Harry Tawney stepped up amazingly and bravely guided us all back to his house. Once there HT continued his pub-crawl rep fame and got the lads playing games. We learnt that not only can he bowl, bat and field, but Mo can also beat all challengers at ping pong whilst many pints down. And lastly, to finish of his day of triumph - Archie T, led his quartet of slightly swaying boys to beer pong glory over his elder brother Harry.
A big thank you to Will Hams for hosting us at Hindhead. Will has played for the Blues a few times before, invariably taking wickets with each outing - so a big thanks to HT for doing the decent thing so that we get invited back. Jack did his best, but for once the Blues catching was a source for pride rather than embarrassment. Big thanks also to Glenn for throwing in some dollies at the end to keep the run chase interesting and enabling Will to hit consecutive 6s for the first time in his life, which he will now dine out on forever. Youcef and Jack are already lobbying that we play at Hindhead 6 times a season, so I'm confident this will become another fixture to re-add to the Blues calendar.
Onwards to next weeks game at Odiham, where we shall see if the Blues can continue their winning run.
[updated 24 04 2021]