It was the skipper Mick Neville’s last outing as captain and for those of you familiar with old movies we wanted to ‘win one for the Gipper’. 11 strong men and true were required to travel into the uncharted territory of Balbriggan to face North County but as so often happens at this time of year injuries and other commitments reduced this group to 9. Late on Friday evening that figure fell to eight with the possibility of it being seven. 7 represents a long day in the field and ultimately humiliation unless of course you’re Yul Brunner.
Mick who is, despite outward appearances, a democrat at heart consulted and the decision was taken to forfeit the match only if the critical mass fell below 8. At this stage a message appeared on Whatsapp and Stuart Conroy had made himself available. A market maker at Paddy Power, he gave us odds of 4-1 that he’d be there for the start and evens that it would be 3 pm. There were no odds available for a Halverstown victory. Curiously we have done well with 9 players before and so it was game on. The gods who have not smiled on us this season wanted this match played.
The team started to trickle in around midday to be greeted by the grounds man who goes by the name of “Bisto”. He was in a state of high anxiety as he had a Division 3 play off match on Sunday, which required a faultless pitch. He asked if we would like to abandon the match to which the short answer was no. It was our last match of the season and it was going to be played if at all possible.
The skipper had arrived in a pair of immaculate blue suede loafers. What did Elvis say? ‘You can do anything but don’t step on my blue suede shoes’. Was he throwing down the gauntlet for his final outing as captain?
The weather was uncertain and because of the overnight rain the start was delayed by 15 minutes. Bisto suggested that we reduce the game to 35 overs due to the prospect of poor light later on. Given his anxiety over the pitch this seemed like a good compromise and sportingly they offered us a fielder, which we gladly accepted.
A guard of honour lined out as Mick took the field. The Threadgolds opened the bowling with their usual accuracy but wickets did not come easily. In the fourth over Kevin opened our account with a ball that ‘done’ the batsman by moving off the seam, hitting middle and off. It was a thing of beauty.
However the danger was at the other end as Moore (89) amassed runs quickly. He hit the ball so hard that when it found the edge it went somewhere between slip and short third man at such a speed that it would have been difficult to stop. When you have 10 players and the batsman is spraying the ball everywhere a slip is a luxury you can’t afford.
Dave Brown got Halverstown’s second wicket in the 18th over but at this stage they were 2-131. Drinks were a welcome relief after 20 overs. Moore looked in complete control but as so often happens after a break in play he was out first ball. Umer hit the top of off stump with a ball that was just a little quicker than usual and we breathed a collective sigh of relief even though the score was 3-157 after 21 overs. The scoring rate thereafter dropped from 7.5 to 4 runs an over.
JT came back in the 31st over and produced some real magic. His last 3 overs produced figures of 4-8 and rather like the wedding feast at Cana the best wine had been kept to last. In the last over of the day he got a hat trick but it wasn’t his first. It is noticeable that when a hat trick is in play his eyes narrow like gimlets, he paws the ground like an Andalusian bull and then lets slip the dogs of war. An unnerving sight for any batsman. After 35 overs they had scored 212 and we were acutely aware that we had failed to chase 139 the previous week and 101 the week before that.
However the atmosphere at tea was one of relaxed good humour. The weather was not promising and the forecast had proved unreliable, as strange as that might seem! We weren’t sure that we would complete the match but Bisto permitting we would try. Despite the best efforts of our openers we were 3-37. Gunther hit a couple of muscular 4’s but that was it. There was then a brief recess for rain and Bisto took a couple of tranquilisers before he uncovered the pitch and let us back on. The sky darkened and visibility was quite poor.
There were 26 overs to go and North County put on their spinners to try and increase the over rate and get the game finished. You can see the cricketer in both Dave and Umer but they have been away from the game for a bit and there is a bit of rust around. Not today. They strode purposefully to the crease and gave us a master class in stroke play. Nothing was rushed. Dave hit everything along the ground finding the gaps. Umer was so confident that he quite often lofted the ball between fielders. They ran like greyhounds and we watched as the score ticked up. After the first 9 overs we needed 7 runs an over and they scored just that.
We have had a slightly bruising season and therefore we didn’t want to assume anything but these two Titans kept us in the game. The excitement was palpable. However it began to rain quite heavily in the 30th over and Bisto ordered the troops to put on the covers. The umpires tried to overrule him but his word was law. We required 29 runs off 5 overs or a run a ball. ‘Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad’.
It was at this stage that the match could have been called off and there was a general feeling that it was over. However North County and in particular Bisto showed great sportsmanship stating that if we were patient and it looked as though there was a clearance the match would be finished. There were no dissenting voices and no Eminence Grise to upset things. Eventually it brightened and the rain stopped.
Our 2 heroes took to the pitch once again but Dave (56) was soon to return to the pavilion, the break having disrupted his concentration. The partnership yielded 152 runs and established a basis for victory. If North County thought they were off the hook they were mistaken. JT is your only man in a crisis. He steered us to our only other victory at Lucan alongside Tim and he so nearly got us over the line at Bagenalstown and against Merrion. He has been the team’s outstanding all rounder this season and he has an inner steel in difficult situations. The proverbial old dog for the hard road.
In the Stygian gloom Umer (97*) and JT (17*) secured victory with an over to spare. North County were generous in their congratulations and we were just happy to record our second victory.
We also secured victory for Mick who has lead us for 3 seasons and presided over a team that can meet with ‘triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same’. We have enjoyed our season and each others company. I believe that by any measure that represents success.
Ahsan, an invaluable member of our team, missed the final match of the season as his family were involved in a car accident. I believe that they are relatively unscathed but we would like to send them our best wishes.
It is with mixed emotions that I sign off this final blog of the season. It’s over for another year but it’s been a lot of fun. On a personal note I have thoroughly enjoyed your company and friendship and I look forward to seeing you all next season if not before.
The winter is long but there are less than 180 sleeps to go………