Kent Regional League Match - 46 overs per side
Leybourne (4 pts) 152 all out (45.3 overs)
New Ash Green (20 pts) 154-3 (38 overs)
New Ash Green won by 7 wickets
This report should be sub-titled “One Shot Wonder” or “Death by 1000 Cuts”, at least from Leybourne's point of view – it was a subject that got them inordinately steamed up – but more of that later. It was very much a game of two halves in terms of atmosphere, and the first half was the one that (mostly) matched the weather – bright and breezy, one of the best cricketing days so far. The wicket looked well maintained and even, and was screaming out “Bat First!”. Without an umpire Leybourne must have been anticipating a few hot hours in the field, but New Ash Green's batting frailties this season meant that Joe Elisak, skippering in the absence of Andy Mayers, didn't feel able to break the pattern of the season and (once he was sure Dan Lewsey and Lee Saunders were going to find the ground in time) chose to bowl first. Initially it looked as if luck was going to be against New Ash Green. An inside edge in the first over just missed the stumps and ran away for 4, and in the 4th Paul Sumner was unsighted and couldn't hold a drive that wriggled out of his hands for 4. The bowler, Dan Lewsey, was excited enough about that, so when in his next over a leading edge ballooned high in the air and Joe Elisak looked to have completely misjudged the catch and run under it he must have been preparing an explosion. The watching families were saved a likely ear-bashing when Elisak recovered well by sticking a hand up and behind him to snatch the ball one handed. That, though, was the last success New Ash Green were to have for some time. Mick Sumner was bowling another good spell, beating the bat regularly without joy, but Nigel Bacon, the division's man in form with the bat, was looking very solid and Tom Smith was supporting him well. Apart from the occasional powerful shot from Bacon they struggled to raise the run rate initially, but seemed to be playing themselves in and building a solid foundation, and when Bacon launched Dan Lewsey for big sixes in successive overs to hit him out of the attack Leybourne looked to be taking control of the match. Sumner didn't take this slight to his opening partner well, and responded by finishing his spell with two wicket maidens, firstly finding the shoulder of Smith's bat for a routine catch behind and in his next over bringing a ball back in to hit a surprised Jake Bacon in front of the stumps for a duck. Joe Elisak replaced Sumner, and despite finding there was no real turn in the wicket soon found that variations of pace and flight along with considerable bounce in the pitch could cause the batsmen trouble. It was his flight that brought the next wicket, Cusworth playing over a yorker length ball and being bowled. New Ash Green were back in the match, but with the Mayers twins away their bowling options were less than usual, and when Nigel Bacon launched an assault on Ian Mellor that saw him taken out of the attack it looked as if Leybourne were on for a score in excess of 200. However the big turning point of the innings came when Paul Sumner was brought into the attack to replace Mellor. His third ball lifted sharply and took Bacon's glove before ballooning gently into the air and the safe hands of Matt Bushe in the gully. With his fifth ball he swung one back in through the gate of the left handed Burnop and suddenly Leybourne were 109-6, 70 of those scored by the now departed Bacon. In the next over it was 110-7 as Craig Rose charged down the pitch at Elisak and missed, being so far down as the bails were removed that no one even needed to look at the umpire to ask about the stumping, and Leybourne's anticipated charge was turned into a few overs of grafting to try and make sure they could bat out the innings. Sumner picked up a third wicket with a nick behind, and a fourth with another beautiful piece of swing bowling, before the Webb brothers proved a stubborn last wicket pair, blocking resolutely and hitting an occasional 4. With the end of the innings looming Matt Webb spoilt Joe Elisak's figures, taking 22 from his last 13 balls. The final over saw more all out attack, and Matt Webb was extraordinarily lucky to get away with a top edge that landed just behind gully, but which Matt Bushe had lost sight of and Lee Saunders couldn't quite reach from point, before his brother Richard pulled the next ball straight into Dean Freeman's midriff, where he hung onto it safely, giving Paul Sumner figures of 5-14 in 7.3 overs, a spell that converted a likely high score to a distinctly below par total of 152.
And so via a good tea to the second innings, and the strange transformation in atmosphere. Leybourne were mysteriously converted from a team that had been friendly and joking pre-match and whilst batting, treating the game as the end of season mid-table league match it was, into an aggressive side making hostile comments, and treating it as the most serious of win at all costs games. In that mood their temper wasn't helped by a first over in which Matthew Quantrill's mind was still back on tour where he was playing every day and in touch, whilst his body had had 10 days of not playing to stiffen up and slow down. An outside edge just wide of gully for two, an inside edge past the stumps then a cut straight to gully, from the face of the bat but played with no real power, but dropped and let through for a single was his very unconvincing start. After that his mind did at least adjust to the reality of his body, which also woke up a little and whilst he was never at his best he grafted solidly to make Leybourne pay a very high price for the drop. Were this written from a Leybourne point of view, at least from the point of view of their comments on the field, Quantrill then proceeded to score a further 78 runs, all scored with cut shots off the edge of the bat. On that basis it was a truly remarkable innings, with edged cuts reaching the extra cover boundary three times and the deep mid-wicket one twice, as well as singles scored all round the ground. Leybourne seemed to fall for their own propaganda, and believed that these were uncontrolled edges and that their luck would change soon enough, so rather than trying to change the way they bowled they instead put fielders in for the shot and continued to feed balls short outside off stump and watch Quantrill glide them away off the face of the bat, to both off and leg side, often to the short downhill boundary, and seem incensed that he was not getting out. Their frustration was increased by Quantrill's reluctance to be sledged in silence, their rule apparently being that the batsman should be abused in silence rather than having the cheek to answer back, and they were even more confused by the occasional tendency to join in with their piss taking – the response to “He's only got one shot” that he only needed one shot leaving them fuming. The obsession with Quantrill and his technique may actually have deflected Leybourne from the task in hand, though, because away from that subtext this was actually one of the best team batting performances of New Ash Green's season. Aside from the pace bowling that proved so ineffectual Leybourne's skipper had actually made a very good decision to open the bowling with off spin from Jake Bacon. There was still little turn in the wicket, but his height produced some prodigious and steep bounce which made him very difficult to get away when he was on a line and length which he mostly was. He made the early breakthrough when Matt Scanlan tried to pull a slightly leg side ball and was caught in the deep, and afterwards bowled very steadily to be comfortably Leybourne's most economical bowler. However Karl Bartlett at number 3 resisted comments about his “slogger's bat” to play a good solid supporting innings before edging to slip for 19, and Dean Freeman looked superb, straight driving each of the Webb brothers for six, the first of which left the ball lost on the flat roof of the primary school. With Quantrill continuing to score steadily despite the best efforts of three gully fielders New Ash Green were cruising, and even the loss of Freeman, getting a leading edge to gully as he tried to turn one to the leg side after making 32 at better than a run a ball failed to slow things down. With Leybourne's captain now reduced to chanting “He's going to score in front in a minute” and suggesting he was near his century to try and tempt Quantrill into indiscretion they still chose to give him singles and focus on Lee Saunders, but Saunders never looked in difficulty, playing with completely solid defence before unleashing powerful shots for 4 whenever the bowlers strayed slightly in line and length. It was in this manner that he brought up the winning runs with 8 overs and 7 wickets in hand, and playing with sufficient confidence that it was far from a certainty that the missed catch in the first over would have changed the result, though it would certainly have changed the flavour of the game. Leybourne reluctantly accepted at the end that Quantrill's technique was effective, but despite their own win at all costs attitude in the field they still seemed to think there was something wrong with being beaten in what they saw as a dull style, apparently thinking it somehow unworthy of victory. “I don't feel beaten, more ground down” their skipper said towards the end, but in the book it goes down as a win for New Ash Green, and ensures that at worst they will have a fifty-fifty season in the league, and that they are looking very solid in third place in the division, a more than creditable record.
Bexley's 6th XI withdrew from the league some time ago, and with this being holiday season and a few not wanting to play a friendly game no replacement fixture was found.
Rainham pulled out very early in the week, and with no obvious signs of enthusiasm to raise a Sunday side no game took place, a great shame on one of the best days of the year weather wise. Manor Field goes unused for the whole of a sunny weekend, but at least it gave the groundsman a well deserved break.