This was the fixture we had been talking about for the last half of the season. Whilst Halverstown maintained ascendancy in the league we have been tracked all the way by Bagenalstown. You will recall that we had a fractious encounter with them when we played away. Despite the ground being swamped by rain during the tea break they insisted we stay around for 3 hours in case it dried. This was something akin to expecting sunrise at sunset.
It has to be said that Bagenalstown arrived in the mood for a sporting encounter and thus it proved to be. They have led a parallel existence to us over the years and we welcomed back old friends like Ray Stapleton and Sean Farrell. We were also grateful for the presence of umpire, Peter Thew, who laid out his expectations at the beginning of the match and enforced the rule of law throughout.
We won the toss and decided to bat. This appears to be the captain’s preferred option and both Ray and Moon seem happier posting a score rather than chasing one. However, after a few overs we were in all sorts of trouble. Bagenalstown opened with pace from one end and spin from the other and after a few overs the 3 top scoring batsmen this season were back in the pavilion for 18 runs. It looked like we would be home for tea and second place in the league.
The wonderful thing about cricket is that it’s never over until the last ball is bowled. Gunter (102*) who has picked up the pseudonym of “boom boom” for his powerful hitting came in at no.3 and steadied the ship. He understood that with the exception of JT the ‘tail’ was long and so he played himself in quietly. He is a big presence both at the crease and in the field. Once he had his eye in he hit the ball very hard but avoided risky shots. It was an innings of total responsibility and Richard who is Halverstown ‘man and boy’ said it was one of the best innings ever played on this ground. The captain gratefully remarked that it was more ‘brains than boom boom’. We were fortunate that JT who is a good all rounder and understands the games nuances as well as anybody was there with him. His was an innings of unselfish behavior as he fed the strike to Gunter who clubbed the ball to the boundary on a regular basis. Their partnership yielded 75 crucial runs and set up a defendable score of 159.
It should be recorded that Neville Case has been scorer for most of the games this season. This is not an easy job when you are fielding questions, being a good parent and keeping an eye on the umpire.
After a convivial tea both sides knew it was ‘game on’ as we took the field. Our bowling attack has established itself over recent years as the unit we could depend on in a crisis. Whilst Gunter and JT had given us breathing space it was certain to go down to the wire.
The name of the game was containment and by over 20 they were 44-0. Our strike bowlers had done the job ably assisted by Des and Kevin. Des is a seasoned campaigner and has taken on the 5th bowler role before. Kevin is relatively new to the team but has put in a lot of time in the nets to bring himself up to the standard necessary to share that role. They conceded a very creditable 3.6 an over to keep us in the game.
This meant that following drinks Bagenalstown needed a run a ball to win. Neville took the first wicket and the opener was replaced by Uddin who we knew to be an accomplished batsman. The satisfaction that Uddin had in dismissing Ray was short lived as Ray put him back in the ‘hut’ for 1. Whilst we breathed a collective sigh of relief there was more to come. Batsmen 3,4 and 5 got runs but it wasn’t enough. O’Neil (15) skied the ball and 2 of our best catchers went for it. Fortunately Richard yielded to Ray at the last minute so that he could complete a caught and bowled. JT dismissed the danger man Mumtaz (33) and Moon got rid of Riaz (17). The catch of the day was taken by Gunter who specializes in waltzing down the Halverstown hill. Most fielders fail to take these catches because of the 45 degree slope. Gunter executes the High Veldt Two Step by descending from altitude whilst keeping perfect balance and scooping the ball up just before it hits the ground.
As we came to the last over of the day the excitement was palpable. My recollection is that they needed 7 to win with 4 wickets standing. Who do you throw the ball to in these circumstances but JT aka the ‘Iceman’. He bowled a nerveless over conceding 2 runs and securing victory.
It has to be said that this was once again a team effort and the strategic thinking of our captain particularly in his bowling changes was vital. Michael Coyle should be mentioned as he has turned out despite a back injury and has acquitted himself well in the field and with the bat.
Bagenalstown were magnanimous in defeat and their captain, Stephen Hadley, came into our changing room to congratulate us on our victory and to pay tribute to the sportsmanship of both teams.
It was an amazing match to play in with all the ups and downs. Victory never certain until the last ball. I will sign off with a quote from the great John Arlott ;
“It is a game complicated enough to be a science-or a joke: competitive enough to be an epic-or futile; compelling enough to be mania-or anathema. In short, it is such a blend of ceremony and slapstick, tragedy and humour, greatness and insignificance as to be completely human.”
Our final match of the season is against Greystones 3 at home next Sunday.