Once again the weather delivered a gorgeous Saturday afternoon just perfect for cricket. Dr Nick prepared a fine wicket for what would be the third "Thinking of Oscar" game - Middleton Stoney CC v Leigh CC (I'll forget to mention here MSCC have yet to win!)
As the teams arrived from: Surrey, Bicester and Sathya's wedding, a gentle buzz echoed round the ground, similar to the "hum" Test Match Special so gracefully describe at a Lords test match. David Cole would be Skipper and had pulled together a who's who of missing MSCC players, many not seen together for a good few years.
As with tradition MSCC won the toss and decided to bat first. In a shock move there was no rush to open the batting and eventually Mark Ford-Langstaff and James Mitchell walked out. Now, James to be fair is not known for his "take every ball on its merit/leave" approach to batting and the last time may of us had played with Mark it resulted in a 4 ball duck and a much needed snooze on the far side of the field benches.
However, this was not the case! James played deftly for several overs supporting Mark, before deciding it was time to open up. To be fair he smashed two lovely long drives for his 16 ball 8 before becoming Poenie's first of 5 wickets. This brought to the wicket the retuning Jon Springer. Looking for a good score he made a fine start with some very deft batting before missing a straight one, bowled for 6. As any good Skipper DC was not worried, plenty of time and our line up batted deep. For those with the "Eye Spy book of MSCC" were in for a treat - next in the lesser seen but here today via Africa, Norfolk and soon off to Africa again Ben Green. Mrs Green had been tasked with getting some action shots of this rare sight. For those that have played with Ben will drift back to wondrous cover drives and late cuts from the gracious left hander. As spectators we were not let down: first ball leave, second ball delicious 1 bounce four cover drive, third ball leave, fourth ball caught in the covers! MSCC 40-3!!!!!
Leigh's bowling was tight. Poeni was constantly testing the batsman with a variety of deliveries, whilst their Skipper was rotating the changes at the other end not letting anyone settle in. I say no one was settling, everyone that is except the newly christened Mark FOUR-Langstaff. We all know/have seen Mark bat and bat well. This innings was something different - whilst losing wickets cheaply at one end Mark was playing a game of "4 or nothing" at the other. From this he scored 57 off 32 balls including thirteen 4's! By now Mark had put on 40 with the ever graceful Nick Crossley (30) before becoming Poeni's third wicket. Still MSCC were 123-5, no real need to panic a score of 180ish was looking possible.
That 180ish would be a NO!
Then came the classic collapse - Crossley caught behind just nicking one to Leigh's excellent keeper Smith, next Westcott (2) trapped LBW by Poeni to claim his 5th scalp. MSCC 132-7! Next in O'Neill (7) and Jacob Ford-Langstaff (17no). Both steadied the ship for a couple of overs, O'Neill alarmingly played nothing on the leg-side before customary running himself out. The score book says "unlucky" but he now confirms being out of his ground whilst taking a leaf from Jason Roy's book of running between the wickets - when the ball comes in and you know its going to hit "if you're in any doubt, just take the keeper out" which he duly did! ** A formal apology again to the Leigh keeper who was ceremoniously taken out/flattened! A scene that looked more reminiscent to something James Haskell would and has unleashed on a number of Australian rugby players.
Jacob continued to steady things and keep the scoreboard ticking over with lots of quick singles joined by the Skipper (Cole 12) who smashed several 4's to take the total over 160.
Tea arrived with the fall of the 9th wicket. Our Skipper playing what his internal voice will tell you was a: Boycott, Vaughan, Root esq. cover drive. For those watching it was more akin to Phil Tuffnell replicating a move from his time on Strictly Come Dancing whilst holding a lump of willow.
When I say it was time for tea think more of a veritable banquet, superbly prepared by Hannah Cole and her gang of fantastic helpers. There is no doubt, the cricket tea is a cornerstone of the game and this was another fine example of why Middelton Stoney is famous for this between innings interlude. Thank you again Hannah.
Having spectacularly over eaten both teams took to the field, MSCC declaring, leaving Leigh CC requiring 162 to win.
The Skipper was upbeat, had a plan and we had a bowling roster wanting to take wickets. James "Radar" Mitchell opened, surprising everyone with his new ability to bowl six on the wicket let alone just on the cut square. His time in league cricket is paying off, bowling: in-swing, out-swing, bouncer, slower ball bumper and obviously the obligatory beamer, wide and no ball! Ably partnered at the other end by Stuart Midson, Leigh made slow progress before Stuart struck the opening blow bowling Leigh's opener for just 6 - Game on!
Despite the fixture being relatively young, to both teams there are familiar faces already. As Leigh's no 3 walked out to the middle, memories of last years fireworks made their way around the outfield followed by the lack of anyone wanting to bowl. Radar and Midson carried on toiling as Leigh's No2 & 3 started to apply the pressure with fine expansive shots to all corners of the ground. It should be pointed out that despite the fireworks there were sterling performances from Springer, O'Neill, Green, Mitchell, both Ford-Langstaff's and the extremely acrobatic/diving/leaping/flailing Midson in the filed keeping the scoring down.
As with all good captaincy DC didn't feel the need to panic, still plenty of overs and Leigh's No2 & 3 hadn't quite yet painted a batting wagon wheel that more closely represented wedges on a dartboard. Time for a change, bring on the rising star... Jacob Ford-Langstaff took over from Mitchell and bowled some lovely overs of well thought out pace (clear to see why Jacob is in the Oxfordshire County set up) as the "Middleton Middle Agers" looked on in awe at Jacob's ability to run in, hit the spot and not need a breather or physio between deliveries. I'll skirt over the next few overs, Leigh were accumulating at a decent pace, Jacob was throughly unlucky not to have taken at least a couple of wickets and if the club had a resident optician lets say they would have been incredibly busy come monday morning! Now what??? If in doubt bring on the unknown...
Westcott 6-0-42-2. DC had plundered his contacts and secured an old friend to pop down and play. I say with advanced notice on the basis there was borrowing of kit and a pair of rather flashy spikes (turned out to be golf shoes). Westcott took an over or two to find his rhythm but once he did the Leigh fireworks subdued, Bounds (57) was cleaned bowled for and Richardson (12) caught expertly by Springer. Good selection Skipper!
By this point the game was into the last 20 and things we looking close, Leigh needing just 4 an over for victory. The Skipper, still suffering from a long standing shoulder/protecting his averages injury had ruled himself out with the ball. Leigh's scoring pace slowed as DC rang through the changes bringing back Midson and Mitchell to shake things up. The latter delivering a fine middle stump right out the ground full Yorker ball to claim another wicket. Leigh 5 down needing just 30 with 8 overs left...
What had gone unnoticed by MSCC was that the No5 Myers had been slowly accumulating for Leigh, 20 not out, by dropping the ball into gaps/square leg and claiming a quick single or two. This was finally spotted by finely tuned league cricketing minds of Springer and O'Neill leading to what can only be described as a beautiful piece of deceptive cricket. Both fielders letting Myers have singles for a couple of balls. Pretending to be slow, old and knackered over the ground they led him into a false sense of security. Myers drops one into the gap calling his partner through, only for O'Neill to pounce from midwicket in a Jonty Rhodes meets Paul Collingwood esq. fashion: diving, scooping and whipping the ball in for a direct hit and Leigh now 6 down!
Conundrum, what to do... In walks Jack Morris, who to be fair had already cost MSCC at least 10 runs with some fine fielding for Leigh earlier in the day. By now Mitchell was seeing out the overs from one end and Mark (SERIOUSLY WHY DO YOU NOT BOWL MORE YOU ARE GOOD) Ford-Langstaff was keeping things tight at the other. The Skipper feeling the tension brought the field in, could there be another quick wicket? NO. Jack standing his ground played nicely for his 6 not out with some fine defensive work and a couple of well struck drives.
Bar open and BBQ alight we were joined by more supporters and the newly weds "Mr & Mrs Vadivale". At this point I should make note that I forgot to make the usual Sathya time keeping jokes - you'll be pleased to hear he was actually early to his wedding. Not only did this surprise the MSCC contingent but also his whole family were well in on the gag/surprised!!!!
Thank you as always to everyone: players, tea makers, spectators and especially David, Hannah, Holly and Barney in helping to make such another enjoyable afternoon and a truly fitting way to be Thinking of Oscar.
However, Leigh CC, just because you won the first match and and we have now drawn the last two does not mean MSCC won't be invoking the well known sporting "third time lucky law" when we travel down to you next and bring the trophy back to Oxfordshire next season!