And so to Medstead, on a scorcher of an afternoon. The previous day’s Test themes of exciting young pacemen; challenging left-armers; unplayable rippers; misbehaving pitches and the quiet guys playing bold, match-winning innings fuelled much of the pre-match chatter and provided a convenient (lazy- Ed) template for a close, intriguing game.
Cap’n Bix won the toss and deeming the pitch of baked white thatch unreadable, sagely snubbed convention by inviting the opposition to bat first, with nary a snide comment from a keen Rioteers side boosted by debutants Max, Phil and Oscar. Harry and Bertie hit the pitch hard and their groove early, and the wicket delivered sufficient variability to reduce Medstead to 27/3 – all wickets to Harry with the seemingly luckless Bertie suffering 2 dropped catches. Phil then added drift and bounce with his left-armers, producing 3 fine catches, one by Bix via the ‘keeper’s helmet (which had the pub quizzers rushing to the rules book to verify ICC Rule Amendment, 26/9/17) and two worldies from Damian that had Brazier (R) coo-ing in appreciation. This left the innings looking flat-footed at 35/6 before Pearce (37) and first Fonz (18) and then Cooper (17) took the pitch out of the equation with some controlled hitting to get Medstead to 103. This despite Marty locking up one end with a marathon spell of wrong ‘uns and flippers that drew breathless (if inaccurate) comparisons with Yasir Shah, and Max’s no-ball lob shattering the stumps early in his spell.
Tea was leisurely, as the teams rehydrated before Simon and Oscar strapped up to take on what euphemism dictates be called a ‘tricky’ total. Simon’s customary watchfulness was compounded by a very late night, but Oscar opened his shoulders to settle early nerves with a brisk 29 before the #3 neglected his off-stump again, Damian fell to a fine stretching catch (he who lives by the sword etc – Ed) and Max caught the mood for the obligatory mid-innings wobble. By now, nerves were shredded by SJ’s 5 maidens in a 7 over spell of mesmerising spin, which drew breathless (if inaccurate) comparisons with Marty (admittedly only from Marty). Whatever Simon and Bix had at the drinks break didn’t help, as each fell to their first ball afterwards, leaving the Rioteers at 51/6 – halfway there (for the Tiggers), but more than halfway not (for the Eeyores). Tense.
Cue calm counter-attack from Bertie, who in the space of a couple of overs broke the back of the run chase and added a cool partnership of 48 with Phil, who with 11/4 and 15* played the all-rounder Woakes to Bertie’s Buttler (similarly angst-ridden by dropped catches). Damian’s chiselling insistence on enforcing wides threatened to finish the game on a dull technicality before Bertie steepled a huge 6 to take the Rioteers home by 4 wickets.
With Brazier (R) channelling Statler and Waldorf as he scored from a bench at 3rd man, musing loudly about which grounds at which he’d like an end named after himself (Ian Bell is said to prefer a Stand – ed); Hugo backfilling club history to the new boys (you wait years for a left-arm bowler, and 2 come along at once – welcome to the club, chaps) and Dessie and Val brewing up, there was a quiet sense of both rejuvenation and continuity at the game. The beer garden at the wonderfully named Castle of Comfort deserves special mention for its herd of ornamental Ganeshes, which added a trippy element to a thoroughly wonderful afternoon’s cricket. Cap’n Bix’s merry bandwagon rolls on.