After a first week wash-out, Saturday finally saw a return to league (Covid) cricket, with some now familiar requirements, including changing outside, ‘washy-washy’ on a recurring 6 over basis, and the strict absence of traditional handshakes. Some changes, though, with our first away fixture in our new, ‘localised’ Cherwell division and a visit to a new ground (for most of us) in Stokenchurch. Early weather forecasts saw confident predictions of a 45 minute drive to look at some rain for 4 hours, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that every single team member took a pre-game trip to the local pub : not for a warm-up pint, but to turn round having missed the lane to the cricket ground. Arrival at the ground saw some creative approaches to parking, with the majority driving on to the designated car park, Skipper and Spenny dangerously pulling up at deep mid-wicket and Rob taking the apparent approach of having walked from London, though subsequently it transpired he had parked at long-on instead of parking in the correct place.

To everyone’s great surprise, we started the game on time in grey conditions, and Will and Colin took on opening bowling duties. Early signs suggested that Stokenchurch opener Joe Brown could quickly take the game away from us; to prove the point Will’s opening over full-toss was despatched for 6 through the open doors of the clubhouse off Brown’s first ball. After Brown also crashed a marginally short ball from Colin through the covers next over some things became crystal clear: the boundaries on the on and off side were quite short, the pitch was a good one despite the recent rain, and we had to get him out quickly.

Despite some confident hitting, we quickly ensnared the other opener, Bingo taking the catch behind off Colin, who bowled a very handy spell indeed in an unaccustomed ‘new ball’ slot. Runs were flowing quickly, however, and when Mabbs took over from Will after a brief 4 over spell, he also conceded at a high rate, although he did see one very tough chance at backward point spilled by a diving Robbo. Colin’s spell finished with a tired-looking 8th over which ruined his figures, and Chief took over: the theory being that taking the pace off the ball might make timing it harder to achieve.

To some extent the theory proved correct, with the ball hit hard and fast to Summs at mid-off who unfortunately spilled it, before a top edge went high but not far – but far enough out of Bingo’s vision that it unfortunately fell to safety with him looking in panic in all directions except for where the ball was. The spurned opportunities saw Brown bring his up hundred with the score on 130. Tweeky had come on to bowl at the other end and heads were starting to drop as the ball started to disappear over the boundary with regularity: nearby petrol station customers took cover, a clubhouse tile was broken, and then the ball landed in the gutter: an apt metaphor for the direction the game was going from our perspective.

Despite bowling well, Chief was rested in favour of Ian’s leggies, and it proved a shrewd tactical call by the skipper as Brown mistimed the ball in the air twice in two overs: he got away with it once more after skipper dropped a steepling chance at mid-off before Bingo had his eye on the next top-edge and he pouched the chance to leave Stokenchurch 172-2. The feeling was that tight bowling could get us back in the game but some lusty hitting from Stokenchurch number 3 Leppard meant runs continued to flow. Ian’s overs continued to bring both wicket-taking potential and comedy with an ‘off the strip’ wide which counts as a no-ball these days, to some decent turners, to a harshly called no-ball shout from the stand-in square leg umpire, to a dropped Wonga catch (knees are less reliable than hands for catching, it transpires), to a solid catch by Colin at point to give IC 2-44 off his 6 overs.

In the meantime, Mabbs had replaced Tweeky (0-63) and bowled a fine second spell, capturing the important wicket of Leppard for 75, and we exerted a mite more control for the last 10-15 overs of the innings, owing to some tidy bowling from the returning Chief (1-53) and Will (1-44). Robbo took an excellent running catch at deep mid-wicket that left him with a bruised hand, and nearly grasped one soon after, but couldn’t quite get a hand on it (or could he?) and the ball instead slammed into the nearby brick wall for 6. A short rain break with 5 overs to go worked in our favour and some tight last overs kept the total below 300 as Stokenchurch finished up on 289-6.

After home-made teas and a towelling down of the scorers table, Summs and Robbo opened our innings. It felt a steep chase, but achieveable on a small ground and with a ball that was getting damp in the drizzly weather which we hoped might make life difficult for bowlers and fielders. We started well, the openers putting on a handy opening partnership of 55 at a reasonable rate which kept us in touch, and some poor catching worked in our favour as we built a base. Summs was bowled for 24 before Colin proved the adage “one brings two” correct as he went back to a ball of a good length and was also bowled first ball. When Robbo offerred up his third chance to a catcher in the deep and was caught for 29, we’d quickly turned a good start into a bad one as we slipped to 66-3.

Fortunately the change of bowling brought some scoring opportunities and Spenny and Bingo looked to be positive in bashing the bad ball as they built a partnership of 55. Bingo hit the ball over the tree at square leg, and Spenny purred a number of boundaries, including a lovely hit over the top for 6. Drinks came and went and we were in the chase but Spenny tried one hoick too many and was bowled by the impressive youngster Fox for 35. That brought IC to the crease admid talks of scoring a run a ball minimum but matters were considerably confused by Bingo’s pulled quad muscle, and a partnership became a trio as Summs became Bingo’s runner. Matters did not improve when IC pulled his hamstring second ball and our middle order took on the mantle of the walking wounded – but we were just about keeping in touch thanks to some big hits from Bingo before he top edged one straight up in the air to be caught by the keeper for 41.

That brought Mabbs to the crease with the run rate now up at 8 an over but with two of Wantage’s ‘hitters’ in, there was still hope. Some time was taken to see the ball before Mabbs brought out the railway sleeper and thundered a couple of hits through the offside and a magnificent blow over the top into the trees for 6. Alas it ended soon after as he tried to power Maddock out of the attack and only succeeded in missing a straight one – a fate which also befell Will as he departed for a duck and suddenly at 179-7 the game felt out of reach. IC started to find his range at this point though and having found a willing running partner in Wonga 53 runs were added in extra quick time as the gloom descended. IC brought up his 50 and some excitable plans were being considered for an unlikely victory parade, but IC put paid to this by trying to run out Wonga twice in 2 balls: unsuccessfully the first time but ensuring Alan’s reliable run-out records continued after calling him through for a cheeky single after Wonga had dropped the ball at his feet.

Chief joined the fray just as we suffered a rain delay that saw Duckworth Lewis change the target from 70 off 5 overs (almost impossible) to 60 off 3 overs (actually impossible – as it turned out). IC was eventually bowled for 63 before Chief saw off the last over and prevented Stokenchurch receiving maximum points but it was a disappointing end to the game despite Wantage receiving the full complement of batting points. We reflected that the early flow of runs had made all the difference as we set about the business of fines.

Memorable moments included Colin being listed as ‘D. Mercer’ in the opposition scorebook (“D for Duck” suggested some wags), and a considerable drama where Robbo finally admitted at approximately the eighteenth time of being asked to getting a hand on the one at deep mid-wicket: a fate as financially punitive as dropping it, it turned out. Mabbs then received an RSCPA fine for nearly braining a red kite when hitting a six into the trees, whilst IC took one sip of beer before turning into a gibbering vegetable, earning himself considerably higher fines in the process.

Pig’s Ear nominations were plentiful after a sad day in the field, with Spenny and Tweeky both getting noms for stopping a fast travelling ball with their knee and shin respectively. Mabbs top-edging into his helmet grille and IC running out Wonga were also nominated but Skip took the prize in the end for dropping the Stokenchurch century-maker.

Champagne Moment: Rob’s running catch at mid-wicket, Bingo’s 6 over the tree and Mabbs’ confidently struck 6. Mabbs won out in the end for his 6 over the top, despite endangering some of the local wildlife.

MotM was IC for his 2-for and 63, with Bingo the runner up after 41 and a good keeping performance.

Result: Lost by 53 runs on D/L, but 10 Bonus Points.

– IC