In international cricket where staff are on hand 24 hours a day the problems of wickets sweating under a tarpaulin are not an issue. International cricket teams do not often have players acting as the family cab driver. International cricket players usually have 11 selected players and a twelfth man. International cricket is a rarity at Middleton Stoney; although this week a debutant from far overseas added an international flavour and swelled the ranks from last week’s 9 to an almost complete 10.
The captain on winning the toss surveyed the wicket, which had lain under the sheet for 48 or more hours. The soft squelch with which the stumps had entered the turf showed that although the surface had been protected from above moisture had been drawn upward. Soft as fresh mortar, this wicket was going to be helpful to the bowlers from the start. Therefore the captain chose to bat first.
Banbury brought a side evenly balanced between the younger and older sections of the club. Most of the younger end were to do the majority of the bowling and the older the batting. It was a very young pair of opening bowlers, combined age c. 27 versus the rather more experienced opening batsman of Riley and Moorman, combined age c. 120. The bowlers won the battle. The ball was sticking in the damp earth, lifting at the Church End and staying low from the Farm End.
Riley was first to fall, a short ball that dribbled to ankle height was lapped straight to mid wicket. The same type of delivery did for Moorman who contrived to loop a top edge from the corner of his bat over his shoulder and into the keeper's gloves.
Added to the Middleton ranks as a guest for the day was Richard Simpson, a batsman with a reputation both at Middleton and Banbury. He joined Jamie Lumb in a third wicket partnership that was to change the game. Rapidly padded up and waiting his turn was Mark Sheehan, our debutant player. In the following hour Mark stood up ready to bat as the ball was lofted toward fielders, only to sit down as a catch was spilled or the ball pitched and held on the outfield.
Richard was to make the Banbury fielders rue their profligacy in missing early chances. Gradually he, then Jamie, began to work out a method for playing on a difficult pitch. For a while it seemed to involve running twos as neither could reach the boundary. The wicket dried a little, the outfield also. Banbury rang the changes of bowlers and bat began to dominate ball. Richard found his range. The ball found the long grass on all sides of the ground. Jamie joined in the fun. It is of some debate whether Richard was on 88 or 98, hitting his final 6 he retired on what might or might not have been an unbeaten century.
Mark Sheehan rose from his seat, where Michael Simpson had been whispering sweet nothings in his shell-like. First ball to him was short, the ball held in the surface. A shot to the onside was completed. The ball was still to arrive. Agonisingly it looped on to the pad. The fielding team rose as one. The benefit of the doubt was given to the batsman. Second ball was fuller, again a shot to the leg was played. This time it arced softly to square leg who carefully completed the catch. “No ball” called the umpire.
Meanwhile Jamie was approaching a hard earned half century. He fell for 47 allowing Howard Lancaster to walk to the wicket. With Howard and Mark off the mark, an early declaration came after just 30 overs of the innings with the score at 180.
The declaration would allow copious time for Banbury to reach the target. It was a declaration that looked at best foolhardy an hour into the Banbury innings. Asif Kamal and Michael Robinson had opened the bowling. The wicket had continued to show some assistance and batting had been, if not as challenging as it had been in the first hour of the game, still difficult.
Asif couldn’t quite find the right line and Michael not quite the right length as Banbury particularly the elder Armstong built a very solid foundation. After 12 overs Michael Simpson was asked to bowl in partnership with Paul Wordsworth. Despite their successes of the previous weekend, neither were able to prevent the accumulation of runs, both being picked off backward of square leg.
20 overs had been bowled. Banbury were cruising with a run rate required of less than 2 per over. They were already more than half way to the target score. Sometimes one incident can change the nature of a game. Today it was the introduction of Riley who took a first wicket caught and bowled with the score on 94. He followed this up in his next over with the help of Jamie Lumb behind the stumps twice in four balls taking smart stumpings as the Banbury batters overbalanced against the turning ball.
Middleton were back in the game. Banbury’s younger players would find it less easy to find boundaries and Middletons own youth policy - three of the team being younger than fifty saw keen fielding backing now bowling looking ever more dangerous. Richard Simpson replaced his father and the run rate further slowed. Armstrong was the key for Banbury, while he remained at the wicket Banbury had the experience and guile needed to cross the finishing line. The younger visiting batters fell to a combination of catches at mid on and mid off. Now six wickets down Banbury found in Fred Price a partner for Armstrong who would not throw his wicket away.
The runs required were ticked off. Armstrong had the measure of Riley and both Simpsons, Price added occasional belligerence, it was time for Asif to make a difference. Replacing Riley his fourth ball was a full pitch inswinger which did enough to get through Armstrong’s guard bowing him for a high quality 88. The end was nigh, Riley had Price as a third stumping victim for Lumb. Banbury folded 19 runs short with 14 overs of the last 20 still required. There was time for a quick drink and chat before heading home in expectation of an England victory over Italy.