Little Hadham v Octopus CC - 19th April
I wake up and know that it's no ordinary day. I can't shake the feeling as I get out of bed and go to the kitchen. I eat my cereal with a determined purpose, unseen on a Sunday morning since late August. The sun shines through the blinds. There is something in the air. All calm, all resplendent.
The previous Sunday had been a blinder. A beauty of a day. Except that there was no cricket. And so, when I stepped off the train at Bishop's Stortford (the things we do...) and felt light drizzle in the air, I was hit with the stark realisation that - no - all was no fair in love and war. Or cricket.
With half an hour until play was due to start, eleven Octopuses were busy trying to practice fielding. Our lot included Karthik and Ben Frais, both on debut. So far so good as we tossed and won. We were considered the stronger side and therefore - in this timed match - chose to bat.
And bat we did. Captain Jo and Gopi made hay, looking thoroughly untroubled by what the opposition had on offer. The score built and built, and at some point some on the boundary started to feel a bit sheepish. Were we now too strong? Would we have to 'manage' the game? And what did that even mean!
As you would expect, this thought did not have to linger too long. We batted well, with Jo and Vish scoring excellent half-centuries. Good contributions from a few others, with Ben Frais looking useful on his first outing and a collectors edition run-3 from Gopi. Karthik was making a name for himself too, jumping straight out in front of Duck Trophy race.
Octopus - 261-8 dec. 40 overs
Tea: sandwiches, cakes and tea. Little to disappoint, nothing to inspire.
We declared at tea. Having little experience in the timed game area, we plumped that this was as good a time as ever, and set about our task. We were here to win. No one likes going to Bishop's Stortford and returning empty-handed.
A flurry (officially 3) of early wickets fell, which lulled us into thinking we would walk it, and a great spell of bowling by Sam Grant (4/22) meant that maybe we should have. But these were experienced draw-chasing cricketers and then some. Obviously no newbies to the art of staying in, they defended as it the game depended on it. Which, well, it did.
With one wicket needed from a handful of overs to take that elusive last wicket no one could make the breakthrough, so Octopus had to settle for a draw.
All in all, a good way to start 2015. Lots of runs, lots of wickets and a sense of wanting more. Bring on the rest of the summer!
Royal Sovereign CC Away v Octopus CC - 19th April
I check the weather report obsessively. What does Sunday look like?
On Monday it's raining all day. On Tuesday there's no change. Why me? Why do bad things always happen to me?
On Wednesday, a glimmer of hope. A glimpse of cloud in a wave of rain.
On Thursday, more shifting still and Friday the same. By Saturday, as I look at the prediction, I've never been happier to be hoping for a grey, overcast Sunday afternoon. But dry. A miserable, overcast, dull, cold, breezy - but dry - Sunday afternoon.
I lie in bed and contemplate life. And when I say 'life', I mean the day ahead. And when I say 'the day ahead' I really mean cricket. I'm leaving for a 6 week trip tomorrow. I haven't packed. Or checked where my passport is. I don't really know what I'm doing. But that's tomorrow. Today is cricket. Today is Octopus vs Royal Sovereign CC. A new team to us but promising on two fronts: they're a league team so may be decent. And they're a pub team so there will be beers.
We start with the classic won toss. Jo doesn't lose tosses. This week we bowl. It's a green pitch and the conditions are in our favour. No pre-match huddle (much to the dismay of one opening bowler) and straight into the game. Great opening spells from Francies and Davies got us off to the best possible start. Wickets falling and no runs being scored. I feel at one point they were around 15-3 off 10. We were not messing around. Everyone was sharp in the field, Ben Russell leading the charge from behind the timbers. Mike came on and bowled beautifully to nab a maiden Octopus wicket on debut but the star of our display must have been Gopi. Thrown the bowl, charging in and snaring 3 wickets with deadly pace and accuracy. a bowling all-rounder? We'll see.
Without coming close to seeing out their 40 overs, we had them all out for 65.
With 66 to chase, we were confident. We got there 1 down in the end, but the talking point of this was who got the runs. Gokul managed - I'm still not sure how - to bag an unbeaten 50.
With time to spare, it was agreed to have an additional 15 over-a-side match. We batted first and contributions were made throughout but the star of the show was Shankar. With 2 wickets to his name in the first match he added his maiden Octopus 50 (retired) as we reached 120-odd.
This game was a much tighter affair, with the oppo needing about 50 off the last 5 with wickets in hand, but they never kicked on. A more jovial approach from Octopus but still the same level of commitment in the field, which was great to see. Attacking fields set by the captain backed up by good bowling and fielding.
Unbiased highlight of the match was me going all Jimmy Anderson with an above average run-out which seemed to surprise fieldsmen, batsmen and umpires alike.
And back to the pub for a lovely barbecue. A thoroughly enjoyable days work: Played 2, won 2. Almost 200 runs scored, 19 wickets taken and plenty more pints drunk.
Ploughmans CC Away v Octopus CC - 13th Sept
11:12. 78 minutes before a ball is meant to be bowled. And already, today does not look good. Eleven minus one equals a lot of chasing in the field for ten Octopuses. Cricket ey.
We arrive - eventually - at the right ground with minutes to spare as teammates and opposition sweep in. We are met with a green, moist deck.
Jo tosses and - as one does - wins. Even with ten this is a day to bowl first, with the sun promising to improve our playing conditions as the day wears on.
We start with nine players and immediately there's help for the bowlers, with one chance being put down early. A familiar scene.
But then. Click.
I have never, in my brief tenure at the club, seen a more complete fielding performance. Nine catches and only that solitary drop. Sharp fielding, especially considering the lack of an eleventh man.
Special mentions to Grant (adding to/topping his Worldie collection with a very sharp take at short mid-wicket), Francies (a caught and bowled chance that was hammered back at his ankles) and Davies (making a tricking over-the-shoulder jobbie look like child's play).
Ploughmans threatened throughout with a number of decent batsmen, but on the day we did well to skittle them for 153 from 29, stealing 11 precious overs from them. Three apiece for Si (stranded on 99 career wickets through the winter) and Sam (collecting >20 wickets and >100 runs for the season) and all members of our Front Five attack getting amongst the wickets.
Our reply got off to a lukewarm start, Gokul ending the season with a duck and Gopi following shortly after leaving Octopus 20-2. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Captain. Birthday Boy. 100-Capper. A week after the big event, Jo came the party. After seeing off some accurate and pacey opening bowling, we were in store for a classic knock. Ably supported by Vish (22), Adrian and Sajeev (32*), Jo carried his bat for an even 70 runs off an even 100 balls for the decisive contribution in our reply. Finishing the innings with two boundaries through the off-side, it was a fitting way to finish the match and, with it, the campaign.
Post-victory drinks are always sweeter, especially when they come in an 8-pint pitcher. And a welcome addition to the celebrations was Pete as he joined for the closing overs and a lemonade back at the bar.
Here's to a wonderful day, a fantastic season and a first-rate club. And to cricket, for all its wonder and excitement. And stats.
Team: Jo(*+), Gokul, Gopi, Vish, Ed, Adrian, Sajeev, Sam, Adam, Si [10 players only]