Sunday 12th September 1999 - Old Pilotonians v New Ash Green: (Friendly match)
Old Pilotonians usually played in the Dartford area, but for this match one of their contacts had arranged a game down in the suburbs of Tunbridge Wells, at a ground where we had previously played against Linden Park II's. At this time the wicket was very dry and firm, and was one of the most peculiar I have ever played on. Bouncing the ball on the wicket produced an almost hollow sound, as if bouncing it on the steel deck of an oil tanker, and a bounce to match. Andy Stuart was playing in this game, and had he bowled he would have been a truly frightening prospect, probably hitting people in the head off a length, but he had chosen to play as an opening batsman for this game, and left the bowling to those who would be less dangerous on this wicket. Probably Vaughan John and I, who would have been the next fastest bowlers in the side at ordinary medium pace (we were both younger and fitter in those days…) would have been dangerous enough, but we left the bowling to the likes of Alan Cottrell, Sharad Bawdekar and Matthew Pennell, who were enough of a handful!
Old Pilotonians batted first and I remember little of the early part of the innings, but I think they scored steadily enough against our fairly gentle bowling until an incident about two thirds of the way through the innings when John Howland, who was keeping wicket, was hit in the face by a ball from Matthew Pennell, which bounced sharply, and had to leave the pitch with a severe nosebleed and distinct dizziness. I took over behind the stumps and I seem to remember getting a catch first ball and a very close stumping appeal next ball. A bloke came in for them who I will forever remember as 'the bouncy bowler' (see later!) but who was also a big hitter, being fairly tall and broad shouldered. He smashed a few off Sharad, but was so full of his own importance that he was desperate to keep the strike at almost any cost towards the end, to the extent that I was keeping with one glove off ready to throw to the other end to catch him backing up too far. In fact I didn't need to do that as he tried to take a suicidal run when his partner had hit the ball only about 5 feet and I was able to retrieve the ball and run him out easily.
Old Pilotonians eventually declared on 166-7 and we opened up against the bouncy bowler. Now he clearly thought he was a quick bowler, though in fact he was probably no quicker than Matt Pennell. What he was, though, was tall, and he had a good high action. On this wicket this meant that he got very steep bounce off a length, and was very awkward to play against. Andy Stuart got a few before getting out and Vaughan also took him on with a little success before he also fell. With John Howland injured and only batting in emergency and a number of youngsters in the side this seemed to leave us with little hope. However I had worked out a way of playing this bowler, and this is one of the reasons I remember this match with such pleasure. I can't ever remember another time when I have so successfully worked out an unorthodox method for dealing with a particular bowler and pulled it off so well, and the fact that the bowler himself was very much full of his own brilliance made it all the more sweet. I decided to come down the wicket to him every ball, taking three or four big steps. If the ball was a good length I would get to it and drive it straight, as apart from the bounce there was nothing else dangerous about the bowler. If the ball was at all short I'd just step out of the way, with complete confidence that it would bounce over the stumps. With the extreme bounce the wicketkeeper didn't want to stand up and put an end to this tactic, so I kept using it against this bowler to the very end with great success.
Before reaching the end though there were a few more twists and turns. I think David Howland had come in at number 5, then aged about 15 and a reasonably capable batsman, but looking about 10 years old. Clearly believing that he would be dangerous to such a young batsman the bouncy bowler asked to be taken off, and David made a few runs. After that the bouncy bowler was forever telling his captain when he should bowl, insisting on being brought back on every time we seemed to be getting on top, despite the fact that by now it must have been obvious that I was finding him quite easy to deal with, whereas I was struggling with some of the slower bowlers who were awkward to deal with on the bouncy track with the keeper standing up. Indeed I was dropped off an absolute sitter at one stage, but the fielder who dropped it was clearly a complete non-sportsman who was just making up the numbers, and had he been actually capable of taking a catch he might well have been fielding somewhere other than the position a second slip would stand to a quickish bowler when the bowler was actually a spinner!
Runs were not easy to come by, and despite my successful method against the bouncy bowler we seemed to be in some difficulty in keeping up with the required rate. With quite a big boundary around most of the field a lot of running between the wickets was required, and the next two partnerships were the main reason why the match stands out in my memory. I can't now remember the order, but I think it was Alan Cottrell and then Sharad Bawdekar who batted at 7 and 8 respectively, and my feeling was that they were not noted for their speed between the wickets. Both, however, astonished me as we kept up with the run rate with brisk singles and in Sharad's case two all run threes, in one of which I can distinctly remember thinking there would only be two only to find Sharad looking at the fielder, assessing the situation, realising that I would be running to the danger end and calling the third run! Running like that, completely out of character from two players who would normally have been considered to be two of the worst runners between the wickets in the club, aided by the strange reluctance of the bouncy bowler to place men back at long on and long off despite my consistently hitting him there in the air enabled us to get close to the target. The bouncy bowler insisted he be brought back on for a last try when I was struggling to score runs off their spinner and I took a few runs off him to bring us back on target, before he at last used his head a bit and began to drop the ball a bit shorter, making it more difficult to score off him. Having faced five dot balls at a stage when we needed 6 an over I decided to go for the pre-determined shot, faked to charge as usual and then stepped back and across and pulled towards the relatively short cow corner boundary. This shot is the third reason why this game is so memorable, for a number of reasons. Firstly the bat I was using then was on its last legs and starting to crack down the inside edge. When I played this shot a huge chunk came out of it! Secondly the bowler clearly thought he was fast and bouncy rather than just bouncy and couldn't quite believe that anyone could play such a shot off his bowling. Finally, to go with my strategy for dealing with him generally this was a very successful pre-determined shot, because I hit it as well as any I ever have hit. I got under it a bit, so it didn't go as far as I would have hoped, but it went very high and comfortably over the boundary for six, and although I may well have hit a few better sixes I don't think I have ever hit one quite like this.
Avoiding the maiden kept us on track and shortly afterwards, accompanied by one of the youngsters after Sharad had got out I hit the winning runs, ending on 92* as we won by 3 wickets. Although my personal contribution brings back pleasant memories, it is the team effort and particularly the extraordinary running between the wickets by Alan and Sharad in complete contrast to their usual reputations which makes this game stand out particularly as one of New Ash Green's great wins in my mind. MQ
New Ash Green won by 3 wickets
WebEd’s note: Although I have been unable to trace down a scorecard, I can see from a handful of matches twix us & them that made it on to play-cricket, that they seem generally to come off best, hence no doubt making this NAG victory all the sweeter. If anyone has a scorecard, please let us know.