Middleton pilgrims, welcome to the start of another season! Our historic penchant for playing in conditions which are hostile to any notion of playing cricket did not change as this weekend started with a flurry of snow on Saturday morning. I remember thinking as I was greeted by this sight that there would be no way that we’d be playing come 2pm Sunday! Note to self, do not write off that unique weather pocket that seems to take residence over Middleton Park during the mid-April to October! A combination of the cricketing God’s and Nick Thompson’s hard work ensure that 90% of the time the hallowed game of cricket is played come 2.00/2.30 Sunday afternoon
After a superb “warm up session” of wonderful food and top quality bubbly (or Shloer for the scribe) at the lovely home of new captain Simon Lee and his wife, Patricia, the players reluctantly meandered down to meet the opposition, change and prepare for the first game of the season under predictably cold and cloudy conditions. Today’s opposition were The Min CC who have now become the regular first game fixture. As first games go I could not ask for a better opposition, they always play it in the right spirit and we always have a great game! This game was not to disappoint. Middleton won the toss and elected to bat first.
Usually, in the early April games scores of 130-150 are usually tough targets to set and this provided no exception to the rule. After a watchful start in the first hour from openers Stevyn Jackson and Nick Moorman the new ball was duly tamed. The Min bowled tight lines and judged the slow pace of the pitch very well. Runs provided hard to come by and boundaries even harder. After sedate progress to 40 Middleton lost their first wicket, followed by their second, followed by their third….followed by their fourth! Seasons come and go the quick Middleton collapse is ever present!
Enter Richard Simpson…now scoring boundaries along the ground was hard, any semblance of a well-timed shot was quickly swallowed up by the outfield. So what was the solution? Forget reaching the boundary through the ground just miss the ground entirely and hit it in the air over the boundary for 6! Richard proceeded to do this….7 times in quick succession! Suddenly 140 looked entirely gettable! However, Richard fell after an entertaining 27 ball 50 and the rest of the batsmen manfully took the total to a respectable 119-7 by tea. With good bowling and fielding it was a defendable score and so we declared.
After a wonderful, dreamy tea provided by Mrs Cranston and Mrs Springer (those cakes!) Middleton took to the field in slightly warmer weather and with sunnier dispositions! Messrs Cranston and Wordsworth opened up with tight, accurate and clever bowling taking the first two wickets. Paul Wordsworth took the first wicket of the season a feat not achieved by him since the 80’s! The Min equally struggled to score runs fluently and the Middleton bowlers kept it tight. However patience is the key in early April and the afternoon sun dried out the wicket slightly to allow Barrencliff to capitalise with a few lusty blows with able support from Pitcher at the other end. Middleton kept fighting until the penultimate over. Once again our man Richard Simpson provided a sliver of hope when he snuck out the set batsmen Barrencliff (53) and Pitcher (38) in successive balls. With 5 runs needed off 7 balls Richard challenged the incoming batsman with getting the runs. In came Richard, bowled a lovely flighted ball, off went the ball with equally lovely flight over the straight boundary for 6!!!! The Min win with an over to spare and with five wickets to spare. Great Game!!!
With the sad recent loss of Michael Martin, the season began with a slightly bittersweet tone for me. Before the game began we honoured Michael with a minute’s silence to reflect, remember and celebrate the time and conversations we each shared with him. There are a few people within Middleton who I consider true bastions of the club, Michael being one of them.
Imagine if you will a nervous, young 9 year old who has been told by his keen mother that she has got a game for him for the local Village team. He’s then dropped off at the game at around 2.10pm and left not knowing anyone! A kindly man, the scorer of the club, comes up and asks who he is and which team he is playing for. He then directs the boy to the correct changing room and introduces him to the captain for the day. As the game progresses this man talks to the boy, putting him at ease and dissipating his nerves. A friendship grew from there and that man was Jim Rycroft another bastion. 26 years later and many times after the game is played and fought, with the sun setting on the wonderful vista that is Middleton Park I still imagine and see Jim sitting on one of the benches finalising the facts and figures of the game played. These figures, of course would be the narration blocks of how the game went each with an individual tale to tell. I will miss his presence and conversations, his geniality and his humour but for me he will always be a residual vision in this place, our very own Field of Dreams. So too for Michael Martin.
Walking up to the pavilion at the start of the game, it was odd to not see Michael there welcoming the opposition (as he often did over the season) as they arrive. He was the epitome of what the club stands for: to be welcoming to all players of all abilities. And he loved a good game! So today’s game was a fitting tribute. I thank the Min and Middleton for providing such a game. I will miss Michael’s presence and conversations, his geniality and his humour.
Michael my friend, you are gone….but you’ll never be forgotten.