What makes a good day of Sunday cricket? How about sunshine, cheap beer, dreadful umpiring, a tense finish, a guy who doesn't own whites taking wickets and an electronic score board? This game had it all.
Octopus fielded first after a negotiated toss (oppo skipper "we're strong, how are you looking"? BR "very weak..." oppo "OK you field first and we'll hold back our 2nd team bowlers."). Holtwhites were soon 3 down after great opening spells from Dempsey and Max. One catch behind, one totally done for pace and an outrageous take at short extra cover from Khartik, holding onto the ball for (just about) long enough before hurling it to the ground in excited fury. The season had begun.
Bowling changes didn't stop the wickets falling. Max clung onto a great catch at slip off Karthik, and Edmund Curtis ("I think I'm a bowler") took the important wicket of their number 4, the owner of a lovely technique and matching G&M kit, who ballooned one up in the air when looking nicely set. His replacement also couldn't keep track of Ed's magic balls and missed a straight one. With 6 down at drinks, Holtwhites inevitably settled and steadied the ship, taking cautious singles against Graham's turn and Felix's bowling in a straight line. Felix did ultimately break the partnership off a fine catch from Ben at mid wicket and Dempsey and Karthik made short work of the tail, with the final wicket pouched by Graham in the 39th over. 191 to win.
With Octopus 50-0 in the 9th over, Holtwhites began to suspect they'd been had, bringing on their 2nd team bowlers and deciding that Harsh and Karthik had done quite enough damage. "He can bowl all day he's not getting me out," said Harsh, and he was right. Almost inevitably it was the 12 year old who did the damage. Soon we were 3 down, including an lbw given by their umpire against Ben that was high, wide and - let's be honest - only done to make the game interesting with Ben looking dangerously settled. Karthik then fell just short of a fine 50, Felix's innings was shorter than Javier Hernandez and suddenly the Octowobble was in full flight. Thankfully the Derbyshire Destroyer was in Test Match mode and Benjy blocked like he'd never blocked before (literally) and hit every bad ball to his well-known favourite part of the fence (editor's note - he did also score on the off side). Edmund was very unlucky to be well caught on the boundary, Dempsey also fell to a good catch in the outfield and with 7 down it was looking bleak. In walked Max to join a calm and defiant Benjy with 30 still needed. Further controlled Benjy biffing took the runs required down to 10, before Benjy and Graham both fell, having brought us agonisingly close to victory. I ambled in with time on our side and, most importantly, headed to the non-striker's end. With two superb strikes to the mid on fence Max brought the scores level at the end of the over. Max was seeing the ball so clearly that I decided the leave was our best strategy. I left everything, including one ball to the balls, and played out a maiden. Max finished it off with a single through the hands of the diving gully fielder. A tight Octowin to start the season. Cue wild polite celebrations led by Harsh, a memorable grainy video of the final overs and everyone making themselves available for the following weekend.
Bohemians CC vs OCC - Sunday 19th May 2019
There are ten overs left, we are down to ten men and the compact surrounds of Ferme Park are closing in. Bohemians are 152-3 with two good batsmen well set, chasing 221 on the smallest ground we know. 69 needed off 60 balls, 7 wickets in hand and Dempsey is off the field for a 5th and final time - a combination of beer, weed, career-best batting and something at tea leaving him accumulating unexpected bonus runs in the squat little pavilion. Light in the field, we watch Sajeev patrol the sidelines, our 12th man padded up and ready to go, having nobly agreed to play for the opposition earlier in the day. Two key middle-order wickets already pocketed and now there he is, a potential match winner in waiting. From 13 players on Thursday, to 12 on Sunday, to this. Only Octopus. Peak Octopus! The spring sun slips behind evening cloud as Bruss and I pass each other in the field. “You know that feeling that it’s just not going to be your day?” he says.
We had wagged the tail so well too! The middle third of our innings having stalled a little, almost as if we weren’t sure how to handle 35-over pace; the time feeling strangely rushed after last week’s league marathon. On a small ground, too. We must kick on! Joshi had continued his great form with a brisk 49, but when he was out at 173-7 with over five overs left it had felt too soon. Demps and Russell lifted our spirits – or rather Russell lifted Dempsey’s perhaps – an injection of energy, a shot of conviction! The middle of the bat; boundaries! Cheers! Momentum! An 8th wicket partnership of 47, brilliantly made off the last 33 balls, with Demps sacrificed on the last for a 10 year best of 34. 220 for 8 left us in good moods over tea, offering Hayward ample chance to bask in personal statistical milestones. A 10th half-century, two thousand runs (after a long wait) and a third-ever six, swept in a generous parabola over square leg to everyone’s general astonishment. What a day for a wagon wheel! Francies voluntarily in situ as an extra scorer with A4 paper and coloured pens to offer a masterclass in dedication and concentration.
Earlier, VC Hindle had won the toss on the occasion of his 150th cap - the team grateful to London traffic for slowing the skipper’s arrival. Hutchinson and Hayward had ridden their luck but punished the bad balls to give the innings a decent start, before a change of bowling brought a change of fortune: 58-2 in the 12th as both Jamie and Prasad fell to tempting off-spin. Karthik followed them back for 12 shortly after, beautifully bowled by the oppo’s charming ringer, and he would get Gokul cheaply too; the second of three wickets to fall for nine runs after a flurried 4th wicket stand of 55 had restored some rhythm. Pete and Harsh rolling back the years again after their 71 last week, with the former outscoring the latter an exquisite rarity, before departing leg before. Ogilvie went third ball to make it 135-6 from 24, before Harsh rallied then fell, leaving the 8th wicket pair to make a match of it.
At the scorer’s table, Adam was not content with merely an excess of stationery, he had technology on the go too. An app! Stats! A graph called the “worm” was building as Bohemians marshalled their reply, their line interweaving on top of ours as the overs ticked by. What did this mean? It meant they were on the required rate, just ahead in fact, but never by far, as tight overs, good overs and loose overs fought with some fine shots and technical defence for supremacy. Cricket, they call it. At 10 overs they were five runs ahead. At 15, they were nine. At 20, just four. Neck and neck but with wickets in hand; just one each lost to Ogilvie, Murthy and Hassett – all spectacular in their different ways and celebrated fully. Lbw, caught, bowled. 69-3. The second by Murthy perhaps the pick, an instinctive reflex take as the ball thundered back towards him. The fourth would not come, however. Five wides and five overthrows added to the score in irritable fashion. At 25 overs they were 13 runs ahead. We were down to ten men and the compact surrounds of Ferme Park were closing in.
Our volume seems to increase in the field, as the spring sun slips behind evening cloud. The energy goes up a notch; a renewed focus finding gear. Hutchinson, Murthy and Gurunathan are not beaten yet and bowling well; every dot cheered, every stop applauded as our tentacles start to tighten. We reach 30 overs and they are now five runs behind, plus a wicket down too: the pressure bringing Hyde out swinging to nick behind and end a century stand. Six runs are scored off the next over, then another six off the next, the veteran Leece still there but tiring. It is not enough. They need 29 from 18. Back comes Stu to suffocate the possibility: four dots, a single and a bye. “I love a bit of death bowling” he will tell us later. The game is all but won as Mayer top edges in vain for a simple catch. Only Octopus. Peak Octopus! Although the worm’s not quite dead yet. The wicket brings Sajeev to the crease, but it is surely too late? His karmic threat now reduced? His first ball is chest high and fenced through gully for five. 18 now to get from 8 on "the smallest ground we know". Is it our day or isn't it?
It was; we made sure of it. It is later now. We are in the bar and the beer tastes good. Eight of us still here to savour it, merry with relief and satisfaction at a hard-fought victory. A gracious Bohemians would finish eight runs short, after Murthy had dismissed Nair twice, just to be certain. Not everyone heard the nick on the first one but we all saw the wreckage on the second, and an over later, after some minor shots, our efforts were complete. We admire Adam’s statistics, ponder exactly what Demps had eaten for tea and relish a great day of wagons, worms and water closets; but also winning wit and will.
Piccadilly Pitchers CC vs Octopus CC - Sunday 26th May 2019
The second May Bank Holiday weekend took Octopus to the salubrious surrounds of Merchant Taylor’s School on the fringes of north-west London. The weather was overcast - and this being a long-weekend - several Octopi were also somewhat under the weather. After a long and considered inspection of the pitch we all agreed it was a very good surface… and were promptly told our match would be taking place on the field next door. Fortunately this pitch was also of considerable quality – Tony Grieg’s car keys stood no chance of breaking through the surface.
Octopus lost the toss and were consigned to the field. But the opening partnership of Cowie and Hassett benefited from the cloudy skies and firm pitch. Cowie – a Kiwi ringer from Chiswick – produced a glorious spell of quick, short-pitched bowling. Hassett supported him with a full length and a consistent nagging line just outside off. The partnership produced two early wickets, and several close escapes for the batsman.
Piccadilly still fancied their chances. Their best batsman was at the crease – according to the opposition he was coming off a string of high scores. Malone bowled one outside off stump, and then it happened - the Piccadilly batsman nailed a cut-shot out off the middle of the bat. Many commentators would have said the ball raced off “like a tracer bullet”. But ringer number 2: Guy Watts was fielding in the gully. He moved to his right, cupped his two tentacles together, and plucked the ball out of the air with a grace that would have made Mark Waugh or Paul Collingwood proud. It was unquestionably the greatest Octopus catch this writer has seen in his relatively short time playing for the club.
Goddard’s off-spin kept the wickets column moving along. Piccadilly were 4 down for not many, and the need for match management became a possibility. But Piccadilly held firm. A good tight spell from Prasad went unrewarded in the wickets column, although two maidens is nothing to sneeze at. In an unexpected turn of events, Pearce came on to produce some short-pitched bowling of his own. Four wickets promptly followed. Pearce was merciless. At 9 wickets down Piccadilly sent out a 13-year-old who would have been lucky to come up to Stu Ogilvie’s naval. Perry proclaimed that he wanted to ruin the kid’s weekend. He was a man of his word, producing a devastating yorker that knocked over the wee lad’s stumps. Pearce grinned with satisfaction. Piccadilly were all out for 165. But would an Octopus line-up short on batsmen able to capitalise?
The start of the reply was solid. Lowcock and and Hutchinson saw off the new ball with a 50 partnership. Lowcock was frustrated with his form, but still managed to scratch out 14 valuable runs before Picadilly held on to a rare catch. Aarons-Richardson strode to the crease. He too would be dropped early on – a deserved stroke of good fortune after being caught in mid-wicket’s armpit during his previous appearance. Benjy capitalised on the error with some aggressive stroke-making. More than 75 per cent of his runs would come in boundaries.
With more than 100 on the board for the loss of just one wicket, some naïve Octopi thought the team might be in for an easy day at the office. They were mistaken. Hutchinson fell on 37. Aarons-Richardson followed shortly after on the same cursed score. The team’s total now stood at 114/3. By this stage the pitch had gotten lower, slower, and trickier. Malone did not last long. 4 down. Meanwhile, skipper Hutchinson decided to make use of the school’s quality facilities and have an early shower. Pearce made an executive decision to tinker with the batting order, promoting Watts. With Lowcock also having discharged some of the day’s leadership duties this effectively gave Octopus three captains in one match – shades of England in the 1990s.
The batting also had a flavour of England circa 1995. Watts and Prasad did not last long. Six wickets down. Octopus still needed 29 off the last 36 balls. Pearce and Hassett got Octopus to the second-last over, but the run-rate was climbing. 16 needed off 12. The pressure was mounting. Off the first delivery of the penultimate over Pearce struck the ball straight down the wicket. The Piccadilly bowler reached down to get a finger on it. Hassett turned back to make sure he was safe in his ground. Meanwhile the ball had deflected away and Pearce saw the chance to sneak a run – he called, charging down the pitch, but Hassett did not hear over the appeals of the Piccadilly fielders. The end result was a carbon copy of the Klusener-Donald run-out. As Hassett trudged off the field he described Pearce’s actions using words that rhymed with luck and punt, although a Spanish Inquisition held after the match at the Misty Moon showed much support for Pearce’s side of the story. A tribal council may be required at the AGM to resolve the issue.
Whoever was to blame, Hassett’s run-out proved to be a tactical masterstroke as it brought Schmidt to the crease, who immediately hit a boundary. By the end of the over Octopus needed 6 off 6, with Pearce taking strike. At this point, Piccadilly decided to make a change in the bowling. Who would they turn to for this tense final over - Damien Fleming? Ben Stokes? No, they threw the ball to Yugan, the same 13-year-old Perry had cruelly castled earlier in the day. Would this be revenge for the young’un, or a chance for Perry to really ruin his weekend? Yugan bowled… Pearce middled it… straight to a fielder… who dropped it. One of seven drops by the Piccadilly Pitchers that afternoon. Octopus scrambled a single. Cometh the hour cometh the Schmidt – he hit another boundary to tie the scores. A single off the next ball gave Octopus a three-wicket win with three balls to spare. Octopus breathed a sigh of relief, and took advantage of the Bank Holiday the next day by celebrating at the Misty Moon– a celebration so packed with action it would require its own match report.
Hockerill CC vs Octopus CC, Sunday 9th June 2019
Hockerill, part 2.
Having been turned over earlier in the season, Octopus traveled to the Essex/Hertfordshire border for the second time this season in hope of revenge. Signs were there that it was going to be a positive day. Sun: check. Early Net Practice: Check. Full XI on time: Well, nearly. Toss: Lost...but we were put in. On a wicket that looked decent we were pleased to have first go. Francies and Ingram were enjoying their first caps of the season to bolster a bloated bowling line up, Hutchinson skippered from behind the stumps.
Francies made his way to the station to pick up a Stanstead bound Joshi, only to come back to find our top order demolished. Skipper Hutchinson fell to a good ball (spin opening in Hertfordshire as it is at the World Cup). Then the ball smacked into Nair's middle stump. Two down. Wright came and went but did the job he was called to do: stay in long enough for Harsh to get there.
There is not a good time to have a top order collapse, but 15-3 on a day where there were more bowlers than batsman did not bode well. Nagar was through his shot early to a slow one and when Ogilvie was castled to make it 58-5 things were not looking bright.
However, as Octopus of the last decade and a half will attest: 'Harsh' in English means rough, 'Harsh' in Sanskrit or Hindi means joy or delight, and 'Harsh' in Cricket means always in with a chance. As long as that man Joshi was at the crease, we were in the game.
Joshi was joined by Hassett and slowly but surely runs were accumulated. India and Australia: against each other that day at the World Cup, but in harmony in Beldam's Lane. Beyond the boundary thoughts turned from getting into three-figures, to loftier heights. 120? 130 even? With the 50-partnership in sight, and runs the order of the day, Shaun connected, but not well enough and was caught. And with that wicket, brought the tail. Hindle batting at number eight; a promotion up the order and time to occupy the crease.
And just as the partnership that came before, Joshi and Hindle kept the scoreboard ticking over. Chanceless? No. Breathless? Yes. It was edge-of-your-seat stuff, with boundaries aplenty. Joshi celebrated yet another half century and there was the joy of two 3s. The highlight? Hindle reaching his career best 16 from a decade previous, and obliterating it into a footnote. When they both fell to successive balls, Harsh for 84 and Hindle for 34, they had but on 97 glorious runs and Octopus were looking at 200 and beyond. Bowled out from the final ball of the 40 overs, we ended 221 all out.
With bowling well in stock, and runs on the board, the Octo XI ran out confidently. Francies was back after knee-knack and opened with Ogilvie. The latter was the tighter of the bowlers first up, and deservedly took the wicket of a dangerous-looking opener, and not long after Francies had a victim too, reward for a straighter line. All this was backed up in the field by sharp, smart fielding. Imperfect, but committed.
If the batsmen thought they would be able to have a breather when the first change bowlers were brought on, they were sorely mistaken. First Hasset and Rajagopal, then Ingram and Nair, and finally Nagar and Wright never let up. Wickets fell at regular intervals to make sure Hockerill were always chasing the game. Every time they looked like they were coming back into it, a good piece of bowling or fielding would put Octopus on top once again.
Highlights in the field included Ingram's 10.0 diving catch at point and another that was caught by Nair's groin at slip. Easy to drop, he didn't balls it up. Both off the bowling of the excellent Rajagopal (3-23).
There were also two stumpings for Hutchinson who 'kept and skippered fantastically. Professional behind the stumps, and social around the field, the bowling shared around and everyone kept in good spirits. The stumpings were a result of quick hands and quicker thought, and especially important to remove Hockerill's set opener for 67. With his wicket, the game.
With the run rate required soaring, Hockerill could not keep up. They shut up shop and looked to bat out their allocation, only for Ogilvie (2-14) to deliver the final blow: lbw with 4 balls to go to end the innings. 171 all out.
Beers after a game are always a pleasure, but all the sweeter in victory. Adding to that the number of individual performances and it was a fine day all-round.
Octopus CC vs I Don't Like Cricket Club, Sunday 16th June 2019
If Octopus CC were an international cricket team they would be Pakistan; eminently capable of pulling off the most mercurial of wins, while equally proficient at completely ballsing things up from the strongest of positions. So it would prove when the molluscs took on I Don’t Like Cricket Club at Ally Pally on a blustery Sunday in June.
When Sam Grant organised the game he asked whether IDLCC wanted to play 35 or 40 overs. The opposition responded, “we’ve never managed to bat 40 overs, so 35 should be plenty”. Was this the truth, modesty, or a ruse to lull Octopus into a false sense of security? We would have to wait as the opposition duly won the toss and elected to field.
Schmidt’s previous match-winning heroics down the order saw him promoted to partner the in-form Joshi. Schmidt helped see off the new ball, but a lovely outswinger had him edging the ball to the keeper on 2. This brought the skipper to the crease. After a frustrating performance last time out Lowcock was hungry for runs. After negotiating a few tricky deliveries that stayed low, Captain Ed waited for the bad balls and punished them with commanding confidence. Meanwhile, Joshi was hunting for a third consecutive half-century, but a mistimed shot to mid-on saw him depart for 30. Nagar didn’t last long and Octopus found themselves at 104 for 3.
But if one bowler failed to score runs, a different Bowler would succeed - James Bowler to be precise. The ringer would score 30 in his Octopus debut. But it was Lowcock who was really tearing up the place. At one point he channelled Glenn Maxwell, nailing a cross-batted swat for six over extra cover. It would have been a six on any ground. Ed found it immensely enjoyable. Less enjoyable was his dismissal to the IDLCC skipper on 73.To be fair, the delivery could best be described as “Gatting-ball lite”. Most leg-spinners at this level get by on a mix of filth and other variations of filth, but this ball actually drifted out to leg before spinning back considerably to deceive Lowcock and rattle the stumps.
The two new batsmen Berry and Malone fought hard to steady the ship, but they fell for 7 and 0 respectively. Ringer number 2, Eavis was next to go, edging the ball to the ‘keeper on 2. Despite people hearing the nick in neighbouring Hornsey, Eavis ignored the umpire’s raised finger and stayed in his crease. After a good 20 seconds he was finally persuaded to leave, passing his bat to the incoming Rajagopal – this will be important in a moment. Rajagopal in turn was plum LBW for a second-ball duck. He handed the bat to Hassett, who had been using Schmidt’s bat, but now needed to pass Schmidt’s bat to Schmidt (are you still following?), who was returning at number 11 for a second innings to even out the numbers – yes, Octopus were playing one man short again.
Hassett knew something was wrong when he planted his foot down the wicket and creamed a shot back past the bowler for four. What would have been a one-bounce boundary with Adam Francis’ bat (RIP), instead resulted in a limp struggle to roll past the white discs. A couple of balls later Hassett would attempt a standard pull shot when the bat… exploded. It cleaved in two, transforming the willow into a right-angle. When questioned afterwards, Eavis replied that the bat had cost him 30 quid brand new. IDLCC kindly provided their club bat for the remainder of the innings. As Octopus entered the last over Schmidt decided to hit out, but was caught at mid-on for 7 – giving him an average score of 4.5 across his two innings. Hassett finished not out on 12. Octopus were all out for 185.
During the tea-break, an absent Hayward predicted the opposition would be “40-4 after 10. All about that plumb lbw in the first over being given”. Hayward didn’t know the half of it.
To continue the Pakistan analogy, Shaun “Waqar” Hassett opened the bowling, making use of a fierce cross-breeze. The third ball of the innings was an in-swinging yorker that crashed into leg-stump. The last ball of the over produced another successful inswinger, this one hitting the top of off. A double-wicket maiden to start – not too shabby.
If Hassett was “Waqar”, Nagar must have been a right-armed “Wasim”. He was “all about that plumb lbw”, trapping the opposition opener right in front. After two overs IDLCC were 3 for 3.
What’s even better than having the opposition at 3 for 3? Having them at 3 for 4. Hassett struck again – another inswinger, this one hitting middle stump half-way up. Earlier, Hassett had admitted to consuming 14 pints at the Oval with Francis the day before. Captain Lowcock suggested Hassett should drink 14 pints before every Octopus match… an enticing but dangerous proposition. Whatever the trigger, Hassett was considered so dangerous Lowcock decided to take him off after just three overs to make sure the match lasted past 4 o’clock, and to ensure “our ringers get a chance to bowl”.
And get a chance they did. All of Octopus took great delight in announcing that the new bowler was… “Bowler”. Chuckles could be heard from I Don’t Like Cricket Club’s scorers. But Bowler lived up to his name, extracting some bounce from the lifeless pitch. He was unluckly not to have their best batsmen caught behind. With Hutchinson, Russell, Pearce, Jaulim, Selvaraj, and even Gurunathan all not playing, Schmidt was going above and beyond by filling in behind the stumps. He managed to get a glove to the edge, but couldn’t make it stick. He kept valiantly all day in extremely windy conditions that would have seen byes run up against any ‘keeper.
As the fifth-wicket partnership gathered pace Lowcock brought himself on to bowl. He too almost took the key wicket, as a mis-timed shot swirled high-above mid-off, only to fall to the ground. Somewhere around this time Octopus started getting nervous. The opposition had gone from 3 for 4 to 86 for 4. The sundries were piling up [although observers felt IDLCC had been less generous on the wides than the Octo umpires], and heads were going down. Then, out of nowhere, Malone produced a dipping delivery to secure the team’s second LBW of the innings. Those heads – ever so slightly - started to lift.
Lowcock decided to turn back to Hassett. Could he reproduce the magic of earlier? By now the ball had stopped moving, and without any sandpaper on hand the Australian was unable to get any reverse swing. Not quite Waqar after all. Even so, an over-pitched delivery confused the opposition danger man, who popped the ball up in the air to Malone at mid-wicket. Out for 46. It also gave Hassett his best Octo figures of 4-28. But the IDLCC skipper was still at the crease and determined to grind out a win. He was joined by a stubby partner who was effectively batting on one-leg. As the saying goes: beware the wounded warrior. The one-legged batsman had no intention of actually running for his runs, and instead went about scoring quickly in a flurry of well-timed drives.
And just like that the game slipped away from Octopus. I Don’t Like Cricket Club won by four wickets with 16 balls to spare. Perhaps it was never meant to be- after all, Pakistan were also playing that afternoon. They lost their World Cup match to India by 89 runs.
Octopus CC vs Camel CC, aka "The Animal Cup", Sunday 23rd June 2019
It was a fine Sunday afternoon at Alexandra Palace where Octopus met Camel CC for the second time. Last year’s game: a close encounter taken by Camel after a fine innings by their captain. This year they turned up with ten. A great start. But then again Octopus was loaded with ringers this week, could they stand up to the test? Not only that, but ten minutes before we were due to start our captain hadn’t actually arrived. He’d been collected a bit late to say the least.
Suffice to say Captain Hutchison did turn up and skipper he did. As Octopus took to field on a fine day to bat it was going to take all his skill to mastermind this one. Bowling was opened by Stu Ogilve to mark his 150th cap. Camel’s openers looked strong and confident but Prasad looked stronger and more confident. Numbers 2 and 3 fell in successive balls. Batsmen 4 and 5 looked to be settling in too, reaching the twenties before Naman caught their skipper off his own bowling, simply holding out his hand and waiting for the ball to return to him. Batsman five’s wicket required more drama. Shaking off a 4 and a 6 off the previous two balls, ringer Adam showed the Octopus what they’d been missing by diving down the track and catching the ball at the last second.
The bottom order was not to last long. Naman bowled batsman six soon after his arrival at the crease and Prasad finally ended the opening batsman’s innings with an LBW shout that was plumb. Prasad clearly liked his wickets in pairs this weekend because he dispatched the next batsman with his next ball. Another golden duck. Not only this but Prasad was confident, announcing “bowled” before the ball had hit the stumps! Batsman 9 would hit a 4 before Goddard’s bowling had him caught with Oli Brook back-peddling and take it. Finally it would prove to be Mr 150, Stu, who was the straw that broke the Camel’s back. The final batsman came out and with his second delivery Stu hit the stumps and ended Camel’s innings.
Time to show them that Octopi rule with bat as well as ball. Captain Hutchinson and fellow opener Schmidt strode out full of confidence that this was a chaseable total. Hutchinson faced three balls. A four and two dots. On that third ball disaster struck. The captain watched the ball roll past the stumps at the other end. “Yes!” he called but all was not well. His face quickly turned to one of fear “no!” he yelled. Mid off was somehow scooping the ball off the ground and throwing a direct hit at the wickets. Schmidt was out. 0 runs, 0 balls faced. A diamond duck. Naman was the new man at the wicket just three minutes into the innings. He was to last just five minutes before being bowled by a low ball from the Camel opening batsman and bowler Jonny. Prasad was next in line scoring 12 before the ball hit his pad. Not out. But the next ball was undeniable as it his pad was hit again. LBW. The Octopus was collapsing, it was 28-3.
At times like this a hero is needed and in Ben Wright it would be found. Facing 38 balls, playing at all of them and scoring 8 runs, Hutchinson finally found a partner who could stay at the crease and frustrate the opposition. With Ben holding down the fort at the other end Jamie began to score freely to make it past fifty. Clearly Ben had had enough of blocking and had a swing, however the hands of the fielder at point were patiently waiting. 8 runs for Wright in a vital 55 minutes at the crease. Together Jamie and Ben took Octopus from 28-3 all the way to 102-4. 158 runs needed.
Not content with a wicket and a maiden to mark his 150th appearance Stu strolled out to the crease ready to see this one home. And this was done within half an hour. Stu ended with 16 runs and Jamie completed a captain’s innings, carrying his bat with a fantastic 112 not out. 12 4’s and a 6 were the highlights of an innings that saw Hutchinson’s perfect record as captain extended. Octopus win with four overs to spare. The five unused batsmen breathed a sigh of relief.
The captain got the beers in, one he felt he owed, the others to toast his victory and it would be bitter of this report’s writer to not say it was a great innings. Octopus had taken the possibly imaginary Animal Trophy (they wrote it in their scorebook first) with both sides keen to play again.
Ivanhoe CC vs Octopus CC, Sunday 30th June 2019
Cricket as horticulture. A timed game. A game of time. Sow the seeds with hope and expectation – early excitement, even – and then prepare to wait. Some tingles of green keep you interested but just as fast they seem to disappear. Discipline is required now. Some patience. Don't give up! Keep tendering, keep watering, keep giving life a chance. A bit of love and luck and you never know. If the roots spread then beautiful things may not only grow....they may bloom.
Sunday 30th June and Ivanhoe CC in Potters Bar have the makings of an excellent new opponent; a competitive, friendly Sunday XI without doubt in the Octo-mould, but with a history stretching back even further to 1916. Even the ground had a familiar feel to it, albeit with deluxe and superior overtones; the school playing field and changing room building both in immaculate nick but still with noisy echoes of St. Aloysius in Crouch End, Octopus’ home ground for nine years until 2016. The tea was also faintly nostalgic – home-made and carrier-bag transported from the boot of the oppo’s car. It meant our old caretaker Malcolm was all that was missing. Such reverie would jar with the news from the toss – what, a *timed* game? 20 overs from 6pm feeling anything but familiar. Ivanhoe had chosen to bat and (in theory) were permitted to do so up to a max of half past five – four hours away! When was tea? worried Hayward. When were drinks? We all took the field slightly uncertain of the format.
We were soon much less worried. A sparkling start as Dempsey blew away the top order with sparkling form – the ball swift and swinging to leave them reeling at 33-3. The first given LBW, the second bowled and the third caught spectacularly to complete the initial hoeing – a thick edge zinging to first slip where Grant took A BLINDER; a blur of hands and chest and grins, cheers and whoops as 21 months of knee knack melted from view. Welcome back, Sam. Welcome back! If nothing else his reflexes were clearly in fine form – the first wicket’s leg before having also ricocheted to him in a briefly joyous flurry. Ivanhoe would prove experienced gardeners, however. A veritable team of Monty Dons. Safe in their natural habit, they remained calm and while Octopus rotated the bowling nicely - and celebrated some nice moments with wickets for Schmidt, Wright, Nair and two for Hutchinson - by the end the oppo had tackled the problem at hand. Some pruning here, some nurturing there, and with the odd scythe thrown in by 46 overs they had grown their score to a respectable 195-8 declared. Two vibrant, stretching catches from Wright – one at cover and one off his own bowling – had made the crucial middle-order break-throughs.
Only 2 hours 40 minutes in the field then. Not too bad at all. But there were still some tired hearts and minds at tea, as we took a break from the sun to contemplate how to pace the task ahead. Well, ONE tired heart and mind at least; too long in Saturday’s scorching heat not the ideal match preparation for this correspondent. Any sense of drowsiness – real or imagined – was certainly not improved by our start as we quickly fell to 8 for 2. The damage caused by two wicked deliveries at polar ends of the quality spectrum: a hurtled full toss removing Schmidt’s off-stump, unsighted, and then Hutchinson seeing his own pegged back by some expert seam. Time for Hayward and the returning Grant – batting four after four neat overs with the ball – to hunker down and perform basic maintenance; a drawn game now very much a preference. 20 overs later a little order had been restored to our humble plot; 120 balls of block and grimace encouraging 59 for the third wicket before Hayward pricked himself on the roses and swept a sweepable ball tamely in the air. 26 off 77 for him and 30 off 66 for Grant, who would follow once Nair had been bowled for a rakish five. Both out just as the last 20 were being called to leave us 85 for 5 in the 27th over. 19 more to play.
At the risk of extending this particular metaphor too far, I have never been to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. What must it be like, I wonder. An extravaganza?! A celebration! An experience? A delight! A spectacle of flaunt and flourish; a sight to inspire and to admire. A tonic for the spirit and a rest for the soul. Nature as nature intended. The best of it. The best of us. The best in show. But it cannot be a patch on what we saw next. A warm, sunny evening drawing in as we witnessed Aarons-Richardson and Curtis at the crease, confident, zestful and green-fingered. The 100 came up within three overs. The 50 partnership within 9. 59 runs to win now off the last 10 overs and our summer garden suddenly lush and plentiful. 20 runs came off the next over - new buds BURSTING through - as a long run-up and fast bowling proved no match for Ed and Benjy’s dash and dazzle. Five runs to the latter, 15 to the former including an incredible six: Curtis – in borrowed whites and with an aching back - clipping with panache over deep mid-wicket to furrow the oppo skipper’s brow. The game now ours to lose, the work left to do a mix of trimming around the edges and the stunning final touches.
50 for Curtis came off 35 balls – joy for an occasional cricketer but a forever sportsman. Three balls later the 100 partnership arrived in 88. 11 more to win, then 10, then six, then four. Aarons-Richardson on 49 and facing. He doesn’t flinch: another proud, committed hit – emotional, personal - sailing back whence it came to complete the perfect set. 53 off 57 balls for him, 57 off 39 for Ed and an unbeaten 111 off 96 for the pair. A win by five thrilling, wonderful wickets, and a victory our knowledgeable and gracious hosts could appreciate too. Desire, graft, vision, passion and skill; the resulting flowers a reward for all of us to stand back and admire.
2019 BRISTOL TOUR
Henleaze Old Boys CC vs Octopus CC - Sunday 21st July 2019
(or "Octopus and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day")
HOBs won the toss and elected to bat
The trouble for Octopus started when most of the team got out of bed. Heads were hurting and stomachs were queasy after a barnstorming Saturday on Day 1 of the Bristol Tour. 10 Octopus players had hit the town the night before, compared to just two from the opposition. But a mixture of coffee, Lucozade, bacon, and love of the game ensured the entire XI made it to BAWA Sports Club on time and ready to play.
Not that all of the team were on the pitch for the first ball. Hassett suffered a nosebleed and left the field for treatment just seconds before the first ball was bowled. But playing a fielder short did not bother Stuart Ogilvie. Opening the bowling against his old club, Ogilvie rattled the stumps a few balls in, dismissing the HOBs opener for a duck. Meanwhile, with the flow of blood now stemmed, Hassett returned to open the bowling from the other end. A few balls later HOBs’ other opener popped up the ball to mid-wicket, where it was safely taken by another former Henleaze Old Boys player - one Jo Pandya-Smith. JPS had flown in to Bristol from Singapore for this match (and some other events apparently). Two wickets in the first two overs for Octopus – was it worth getting out of bed after all?
In short, no. Ogilvie looked like getting a second wicket shortly afterwards when the batsman hit the ball to Hindle at mid-off. But the skipper lost sight of the ball in the overcast conditions, and the chance went to ground. Ogilvie was replaced by Francies, playing just his second match of the season. The left-armer’s line and length was on point from the start, triggering a miscue that went up high above mid-on’s head. Perhaps it was the pressure of playing against his old club, or the number of ciders he had the night before, but the ball bounced off Ogilvie’s thumb, rebounded off his solar plexus and dribbled meekly away along the ground. And yet, there was another opportunity for a wicket the next over when both HOBs batsmen ended up at the keeper’s end. Jaulim did great work taking off his glove and throwing the ball in at the one stump he had to aim it – a direct hit… at the keeper’s end. Ogilvie’s cries of “Bowler, bowler, bowler” had been drowned out by a cacophony of less-focused calling.
Even so, the two fortunate batsmen had not yet capitalised on their luck. After Hassett produced four straight dot-balls outside off-stump Pandya-Smith shouted “pressure building”. The next ball went for four, as did the next, and what seemed like the majority of deliveries for the rest of the innings. The two batsmen in question scored 69 and 82 in no time at all.
But if Pandya-Smith’s sledge had started the onslaught, he also helped bring it under control. Having spent some time on the boundary he asked Hassett if he could have a rest in the slips. This proved to be a fruitful swap when the HOBs batsmen showed disrespect to Sam Grant’s off-spin, reverse-sweeping the ball hard into the slips where it was plucked out of the air by Pandya-Smith. It was a truly wonderful catch, and the most memorable dismissal off a reverse sweep since Mike Gatting in the 1987 World Cup Final.
Grant would pick up a second wicket later when a sustained and united appeal produced a positive LBW decision. Curtis had the honour of dismissing their top-scorer – he bowled one on the stumps and reaped the rewards when the batsmen swung hard and missed.
By this point HOBs were moving along at a run rate of more than 8 and the ground was resembling a triage ward. Grant had started the day playing with no knees. Francies also had to be carefully placed in the field to guard against his knee problems. Ogilvie managed to strain a thigh muscle while reaching for a catch on the boundary (the catch was not taken and deflected off his fingertip for four). Along the way Pandya-Smith had managed to fall over, crushing his pinky finger under the weight of his own considerable body. This resulted in his “little” finger swelling up in size to become his biggest finger. With Hassett’s nosebleed from earlier the casualty count was already standing at five. But the coup de grace was yet to come…
As old-man Ogilvie shuffled in off his three-step run-up the HOBs lower-order batsmen slogged the ball out to mid-on, where yet another former HOBs player was fielding. Perhaps Pearce thought he was still wearing wicket-keeping gloves, or perhaps it was just the hangover from the night before – but the ball was due to go “straight down his throat”. Instead the ball flicked Pearce’s fingertips and crashed straight into his forehead. Pearce was down for the count. He left the field briefly to have a head injury assessment. There was apparently no concussion (no medical officer was actually on site), but the stitching had left a comical mark on Perry’s head just between the eyeballs. Octopus CC was now Crockedopus A&E.
Francies came back at the end of the innings to get a couple of consolation wickets with some straight bowling on the stumps. HOBs finished on 237 for 7 off their 30 overs. The chase wasn’t going to be easy.
Both teams had agreed to forego a mid-innings tea break in lieu of a post-match BBQ. Unfortunately this left little time for players to answer the call of nature. Joshi was due to open with Hayward, but was nowhere to be found. Pandya-Smith was quickly sent in as a replacement. Joshi’s need to do a Number 2 saw him demoted to Number 3.
Pandya-Smith looked solid on his return, making his way to 9 before a brilliant bit of left-arm swing bowling hit and removed the off-stump bail. Hayward showed solidarity with his opening partner - he too was dismissed for 9 when his leg stump was knocked out of the ground. 32 for 2. Jaulim lasted 3 balls – bowled for a duck. 37 for 3. Curtis came to the crease with memories of his last innings – a match-winning 50 – fresh in his mind. On just his second ball Curtis took an almighty swing, almost lifting the bat above his head. If he had connected the ball may well have traveled all the way to Bristol Harbour. Instead he missed and was bowled for a duck. 37 for 4 and the required run rate was climbing.
Joshi and Pearce steadied the ship, the latter showing no signs of his earlier head injury. The pitch could be tricky to navigate early on, but these two batsmen proved that once in there were runs for the taking. By this stage Octopus’ immediate goal was to avoid a triple-figure margin of defeat. The pair gave some respectability to the innings, putting on 86 runs before Joshi fell on 37 while looking to up the run-rate. Pearce scored 52 off 65 before being removed by a sharp caught and bowled.
It was now time for some more duck action. The previous ducks had taken place on the third and second balls of the batsmen's innings. Hassett continued the downward trend. When the ball hit his back foot right in front of the stumps Umpire Pandya-Smith had no hesitation in lifting the finger. To be fair, it couldn’t have been more plum if Professor Plum made a plum pudding and put actual plums in it. A golden duck. Ogilvie lasted one ball more for his quacker – he became the fifth Octopus player to walk off after hearing the dreaded death rattle.
Specialist batsman Sam Grant briefly lifted spirits with a lovely boundary through the covers. But he was bowled next ball for 7. 134 for 9. At this point Octo were still 4 runs short of avoiding a 100-run defeat. Could Hindle and Francies get them past the threshold. Yes, they could. The last-wicket pair got the score to 140 before Francies became the 7th Octo player to have his stumps removed. The margin of defeat was 97 – Michael Vaughan would call that a “moral victory”. Thankfully the BBQ held after the match was delightful and almost made up for the horrors on the pitch… and the lack of skittles at the pub. Overall a successful tour off the field, if not on it.
UCS Old Boys CC vs OCC – Sunday 28th July 2019, Oxford, 1 day Test match
On a cloudy Sunday morning in late July, Octopus set off for their annual fixture against UCS at Queen’s College in Oxford. With some bloodshot eyes and no time to sleep off any hangovers, coffees were taken en route and when the bell rang at 10:55, Hutchinson and Wright were ready to walk out to the square. The toss had been agreed. Octopus, short of recognised batsmen, would bat first. A two innings game with 20 overs from 6pm. Chances of victory against a strong UCS outfit were slim, but if we could avoid being bowled out twice then the game would be drawn and we’d keep eight limbs on the trophy.
“20 wickets lads. 20 wickets is all we need”, came the calls from the UCS fielders between balls. And they soon had their first. Hutchinson clean bowled by Bloom, attempting to drive a straight one back down the pitch, and in came specialist batsman Sam Grant. The UCS bowlers were making good use of the overcast conditions and when Wright was bowled for a handy 11, Curtis came to the crease. “Get yourself in. Block a few”, had been the skipper’s advice.
The first ball went sailing back over mid-off’s head. But there was to be no repeat of the heroics against Ivanhoe, with Curtis and then Aarons-Richardson picking out fielders to leave Octopus 40 for 4. Kotamsetti then came in to join Grant, pushed one into the off-side and called his partner for a run before deciding against it. Unfortunately he forgot to tell Grant about the change of plan, who by this time was three quarters of the way down the track. They crossed and Kottamsetti had to walk. That partnership was over. For now…
With lunch scheduled for 1pm, Grant was digging in to ensure our innings ended as close to that time as possible. Russell stuck around for a bit, as did Yuvraj, but when Grant went for a stoic 14 from 63 balls and Madhu followed for a golden duck on Octopus debut, everyone was ready for some smoked salmon and a cheeseboard. 69 all out from 29.4 overs, with Hassett left stranded on 2.
On the ground where his countryman Tony Abbott used to play, Hassett was chucked the new ball and told to lead from the front, with Yuvraj asked to steam in from the other end. Some tight bowling was rewarded when Di Lieto skied one off Yuvraj into the eager and ever-reliable hands of Wright at mid-on. And 1 soon became 3, Maurya slashing one to Curtis off Yuvraj again, before Hassett cleaned up Ullah for a golden duck. “Hang on lads, they’re 34 for 3 here, that’s what we were…”
Grant (he used to be a bowler, apparently) trapped the dangerous Craig LBW for 11, and Russell smartly caught Vignoles' feather down the leg-side off Kotamsetti to leave UCS 78 for 5 off 23. But UCS bat deep, and runs were starting to flow more freely. And then came the moment of the day. Schmidt bowled to Goldsmith, who launched the full-toss high towards deep backward square leg. Surely Curtis can’t get there, can he? Sprinting backwards, arms outstretched, he clung on and turned around to his teammates, chest puffed out and arms raised à la Cantona vs Sunderland. Unfortunately the Umpire’s arm was raised too. Horizontally. Clearly above waist height from Schmidt. Unlucky Curtis, now chuck it in. But Schmidt wasn’t going to be denied. He got one to jag back to the dangerous Goldsmith who could only play on to his off stump and UCS were 114 for 6. Bloom came in and could only score 13 off his first 36 balls, the draw looking more and more achievable with every ball that Octopus bowled.
“Mad-dog” Madhu came into the attack (he’s never bowled before, apparently) and went for a mere 12 off his first 5 overs in Octopus colours. When tea came around at 4:15pm, UCS declared on 180/8, having batted for 43 overs. Yuvraj more than justifying his trip from Northampton to finish with 4-34 off 13.
For anyone that had managed to work up an appetite since lunch, coronation egg sadnwiches and tea out of pretty silver pots helped fuel us for the task of batting out 40-odd overs. “I want to see us leaving the ball this innings” said Hutchinson, before he pushed at one that could have been left and was caught at first slip. When Curtis and Wright fell cheaply too, Octopus were 8 for 3 and UCS could smell blood. But if Hutchinson didn’t heed the advice of his own lecture, luckily there were others that did. And they issued a tutorial on how to defend properly. Aarons-Richardson and Kotamsetti put on 41 for the 4thwicket before the former was bowled by Goldsmith for an excellent 24 from (more importantly) 52 balls. As the clock struck 5:30, in came Grant. “Let’s be here at 6, Pras”. “Here comes a run out boys” chirped Chapman from behind the stumps, and apart from another mix-up that should have proved the UCS skipper right, they batted impeccably, Grant looking as solid as Yuvraj on a night out, Kotamsetti accumulating like an over-used WhatsApp group.
6pm came and went with UCS still unable to find the breakthrough they needed. “Perhaps we should have declared earlier, but these two have batted very well” admitted Chapman to his slips, with 7 overs left. “I think I’ll offer the draw in a minute”. “What’s Prasad on?” Hutchinson, umpiring from square leg, asked the scorers. “47, but don’t tell him, Pike!” came the response.
When the draw was offered by Chapman next over it was politely declined, but after Kotamsetti brought up an excellent half-century next over and Octopus got themselves into the lead, the two captains were happy to shake hands with 5 overs remaining. Chapman was less happy to see Russell running on to the pitch shouting “We’ve retained the trophy, we’ve retained the trophy!” But we had. Great game, chaps. See you next year.