In the midst of the driest July in living memory there could be found a green oasis on the square of Middleton Park. Paul Worsdworth and Chairman Peter had spent the past fortnight emptying most of North Oxfordshire’s largest reservoirs, by way of sprinkler, onto the turf. Anticipating unbroken sunshine the wicket for Wednesday evening’s fixture had been soaked on Sunday evening. Regular cloud cover had kept evaporation levels down and the expected “belter” had become a soft green bowler's wicket. (As varied as Middleton’s cricketers are, I have yet to see a soft green bowler).
MSCC won the toss and chose to bat, not because they thought the wicket would deteriorate, but more to do with the failing light that even at six o’clock could be described as poor and was unlikely to improve as thickening cloud bubbled up to the South.
A brace of Tim’s strode out to open. Captain Tim never found his stride, but did enough to show that timing on this wicket would be hard. Vice Captain Tim did rather better opting to attack against the skilful legspin bowling of Welch, the same bowler who had caused so many problems in the equivalent fixture last year. One reverse sweep from the captain caused the watching benches to stand and “ooh” at the demonstration of modern batting and then to rise again and “aah” as the fielder dropped the sharp chance. Meanwhile vice captain Tim despatched the ball repeatedly over mid off.
Matt Carpenter has been in good form, but did not bat long enough to show his form. Perhaps his mind was distracted by his upcoming speech. At four Jonty Devine hinted at his hitting power by dispatching his first ball for a mighty six. Leg spinner Welch was not perturbed and with the last of his 24 deliveries had him stumped.
Tim House became the first of the home team to retire having scored 30. Chris Price has played half a dozen games for Middleton over the last four years, in that time he had failed to score more than 30 runs in total. This was to be his chance to shine. First he lapped one handed to fine leg for his first boundary, later he deposited concurrent deliveries to the benches in front of the pavilion. He too retired of 30. Wayne Dibsall continued in attacking fashion but Jamie Lumb struggled to adjust to the wicket with a bat in hand. ( His wicket keeping later made light of it).
Howard Lancaster batted with freedom at no 8. One straight drive so good that a slight amount of swagger was detected by the more observant spectators. Sam Norley teased the opposition by hitting the ball in the air just over or just short of extra cover while fulfilling the captain’s instructions to “push and run”. Matt Dipple and Rob Barton gave Norley support as the total of 125 was made.
As the second innings started, the lights on cars became brighter, and the glow from inside the pavilion was inviting. Rob Barton was given the new pink ball. From the first ball the opening left hand bat came charging down the wicket. On the third ball Rob speared one down the leg side, Lumb was alert, moved across a yard or two and then whipped the bails off. There was no doubt about the stumping, a little more doubt in the ball should be called wide.
SOA had come with an unusual selection in that four fathers and sons were in the team. Two of the younger players were now at the crease needing six or more an over. The run rate mounted as Barton and Norley bowled. Rob took advantage of the ever more variable bounce to take his first wicket of three while first change Matt Dipple was pleased that his inswinger was on target to take his first.
SOA’s most experienced batters were at 5 and 6 in the order. They were in the process of turning a losing position into a winning one, seeming able to see the ball in the crepuscular gloom. The ball was finding the boundary, the run required rate was falling, the fielders were dispatched to the outfield hoping that if the ball came near they might see it. Chris Price performed a move reminiscent of Thumper in Bambi as the ball curved past him at cover. As it seemed SOA would sneak home both batters were required to retire. The replacements were less adjusted to the light, and despite some lusty blows from Welch the finishers, Devine and Dipple were calmly in control for the final three overs.
With SOA’s captain a former Middleton player the bar and barbeque were in full flow, with once more the Hickman’s going well beyond the call of duty. This concludes the evening fixtures with a record of won 5 lost 1 with 1 rained off.