A grey day came to an early end on the outskirts of Abingdon on the 19th June to the tune of Gala’s Freed From Desire: the World Test Championship final may have being played in the Southampton gloom; Germany may well have been taking Portugal apart at the Euros; but there was a little slice of Wantage’s own history being made in Marcham as they bullied the opposition into a considerable defeat, among good performances from a number of batsmen and some stellar opening bowling, backed up by a near-faultless fielding performance.

Early signs were positive as Wantage rocked up to the attractive new clubhouse and set-up hidden in the Marcham ‘suburbs’. News from the opposition was that not only were they shorn of some key players, but one player had pulled out at the last minute owing to the complication of needing to catch a couple of buses. They were fortunately able to call in a late eleventh, all paperwork carefully undertaken the Marcham skipper, Summs and the Umpires. Our new coach, Les had encouraged a proper warm-up and we skipped, jogged and chuckled our way around the outfield as we mused what impression this might give to our waiting opposition (“bloody hell, that’s keen” we concluded) and our coach (“please validate us Les!”). The wicket had a couple of damp patches on after some recent rain and most concluded that it was a bowl first sort of day. So naturally Dave “Nasser” Summersbee lost the toss and we were put in, Colin and Summs himself donning the helmets to go and observe the ball coming from the lesser spotted half-sightscreen at one end and the slightly stained white sheet at the other.

Colin took the first over for 8 in an unusually brisk scoring rate, and then Summs carefully watched the Marcham skipper, Palmer, bowl some offies from the other end. The score proceeded sedately to 18 until Summs missed a good one and was bowled by the other opener, Mooring, who was bowling nicely and making use of the variable bounce available from the pitch. Generally OK, but with the occasional ‘tennis ball’ bounce and ‘gizunder’, was the watching batsmen’s conclusion. 18 for 1 quickly turned into 21 for 2 as Wonga found himself surprised to receive a rank full toss and managed to top edge it to slip after trying to hit too hard, and we gave away some early momentum.

Fortunately Colin and Spenny, in at 4, were to have a good day and they ensured the score ticked along handsomely at around 4 an over for the next 15 overs, with few alarms. Dave was unusually circumspect at the start of his innings, taking 16 deliveries to get off the mark, proving that the pitch was a tough one to really feel ‘in’ on. Early signs were that grinding out to start with might provide the opportunity for rich reward, although Dave in particular was going to have to watch his shots as Marcham placed long-off, long-on and deep cow corner from an early stage.

Long ten over spells from the two opening bowlers were completed and Colin was frustrated to get out in the first over from second-change bowler Horseman for a very nicely played 42, caught at mid-off after trying to hit over the top and getting it high on the bat. A disappointing shot after a good innings, but a good stand of 76 with Spenny. That brought Bhu to the crease who looked less assured against the slower bowling than he often does against the seamers, and he was trapped LBW by Horseman for 3 after wandering across his crease and we were 108-4 in the 26th over as IC came to the crease.

A couple of airy shots early on from Ian were suitably admonished by Dave from the non-strikers end, but that aside the middle overs were well-handled by the pair, Dave being offered singles all over the pitch and happily taking them in-between punches for 6 over the leg-side and long-off, whilst IC slowly got to grips with the wicket, bashing a few poor balls for 4 over square leg but otherwise contentedly watching the ball and knocking the occasional single. Spenny brought up a fine 50 from 54 balls and continued to play in the same style, looking good for a huge score before the opener Mooring was brought back and managed to extract the demon ‘worm-tickler’ from the wicket which bowled Dave for an excellent 79 from 74 balls. His partnership with IC had built excellently on the base provided by the top order and realised 59 good runs.

But with 10 overs to go, new boy Sandeep joined IC at the crease and looked assured, getting nicely behind the ball and successfully deflecting it for some singles behind square on the leg and off side, and running well. Mooring then claimed his 3rd wicket, bowling Sandeep for 7 with a well disguised slower ball, which brought Bimalka to the crease with the score on 183 and the need to inject a bit of pace to the scoring rate with 6 overs to go. B successfully chivvied IC into some better running, encouraging 2s where previously there had been 1s. He was less successful in encouraging IC to play the ball late off Horseman, accidentally encouraging a leading edge straight to mid-wicket which was somehow dropped by the fielder, thus giving Ian his second life of the innings after he had also been dropped at deep cow corner.

B and IC drove and hoicked their way over 200 with a couple of back foot drives from Bimalka in particular raising the overall quality of the game a notch. Scoring wasn’t exactly straightforward, however, as fielders were found repeatedly and we had to be content with 1s and 2s, leaving us on 199 at the end of the 43rd over. 225 is always a popular benchmark owing to the potential final bonus batting point, and fine efforts were made by the batters to hoist us there: IC finally found the leg-side boundary off Horseman before being accused of not being able to play any off-side shots and therefore subsequently launching the next one over mid-off for another 4 to leave us with 212 on the last over. Miscalculation or design required a one-over spell for the 45th over and skipper Palmer stepped up, seeing the first ball disappear for 6 over cow-corner before IC received his 3rd life after slicing the ball to cover and seeing the ball drip through the fielder’s hands. Bim was less fortunate next ball, watching the same fielder take a ‘leaping salmon’ catch over his head and departing for a momentum-increasing 8 and a good partnership of 32 with IC. Anand had the plum job of ‘running’ after the batsmen had crossed (meaning IC was facing), and blows over long-off for 6, a 2 through cover and a hoick over midwicket for 4 saw our total climb impressively to 231 for 7 at the end of our overs. IC blasting 71 not out off 65 balls.

As often happens in such situation,s the momentum of the last few overs had put us in the driving seat, and after another round of Les-endorsed warm-ups we entered the field feeling confident that we could gather 10 wickets, but with little idea at that time how it might play out. Initial confidence gave way to fear as Anand fired 3 balls closer to Dave at slip than Colin, in a rare appearance behind the stumps. But alarms were soon qualmed. First Will had Jeacock caught at mid-on by Ian at mid-on (straightforward despite some “Hokey Cokey” footwork to start with) which brought biffer Mooring to the crease at 3. He seemed to enjoy any width at all outside off stump, punishing a couple of short balls from Anand and the field was reset accordingly, with the off-side fielders put back on the ‘imaginary ring’ to try and counter his preference for aerial off-side hitting.

So, to the 5th over with the score on 22 for 1…

A single was taken first up, bringing Mooring on strike, who failed to read the game situation, planting the ball straight into the ‘hands’ of Wonga at slightly-deeper-cover (I say hands; they were used, as was his chest). A big wicket – followed up instantly by the leftie Horseman misdirecting the ball into the off-side where Bhu ‘the Knee’ B-G took a solid catch after making it round to his left. That put Anand on a hat-trick, and the field was set: 2 slips, a gully, closing-in fielders on the off-side and on-side. These fielders were totally unneeded, as Anand bowled the perfect hat-trick ball, wicket-to-wicket, pinning the batter absolutely plumb in front as we leapt around appealing to Tweeky, who gave the most reluctant finger of doom ever seen on a cricket pitch, replete with apology. The non-existent loudspeakers were metaphorically booming Freed From Desire as we got to enjoy our new player-themed song (‘An-an-an-an-Anand-Anand-Anand’!) and we joyously celebrated a first (we think) league hat-trick for Wantage.

After tearing the heart out of the Marcham top-order, confidence was high, despite the continued presence of opener Barnes, who had played a couple of nicely timed shots past the bowler in his innings. As if to prove that everything we touched turned to gold, though, Will asked IC to set himself back at mid-on for Barnes and in the 10th over the ball went straight to him and he pouched his second catch to leave Marcham 31 for 5. Tight bowling from Anand in particular followed as the score crept to 46, before Anand decided to get involved again: a beauty to bowl the obdurate-looking Barrett at the top of off-stump in the 15th over. The same over, the 5-for was attained as Palmer mis-timed one to Skipper Summersbee, who took an excellent low diving catch at mid-off and covid-safe high-fives were distributed around the team. Anand proved he doesn’t do quiet overs by then bowling Mugglestone for a duck to finish out his second triple-wicket over (this time a triple wicket maiden). That wasn’t good enough for Skip though – “cheers Anand, take a blow” was heard among the amused fielders and we turned our attention to the last two wickets.

Will took one of them (his third) next over, another good catch running back by Summersbee who bemoaned the need to buy a jug after taking three catches – the eagle-eyed may have noticed that he actually had only taken two catches at this point, but since Wantage CC don’t need an excuse for a jug (Bhu also bought one later: a first-catch-for-Wantage jug) we encouraged the beer to flow.

In order to ensure a happy game for all, Bimalka and Chief were both handed the ball to try and snare the final wicket, which was not long in coming, a lovely quicker ball by Chief that burst through number eleven Webb’s defences, and Marcham ended their innings on 55 all out, 6-19 for Anand, 3-27 for Will and 1-5 for Chief. We completed our victory by 176 runs and enjoyed a quick beer at Marcham before returning to Wantage to see out the last overs of a draw between Challow and Hendred and enjoy some of the aforementioned jugs.

Pig’s Ear went to a case of mistaken identity by Mr Harvey, construed by some as a good old-fashioned colonial faux pas. Nominations also included a humorous diving catch attempt by Will off his own bowling and some not-so-fancy footwork by Wonga which saw him open his legs to let the ball through instead of, well – catching it. “But the umpire had called over!” he protested, to little avail.

Champagne Moment: Of course, Anand’s hat-trick moment, but Summs’ diving catch at mid-off and IC’s blasted 6 to take us to maximum batting points were also worthy contenders.

Man of the Match: Anand, also, for his 6 wickets. Spenny and IC were also good nominees for their important runs, as was Will for his 3 wickets.

Result: Won by 176 runs, Wantage receiving the full 25 points (plus an extra point for Tweeky as umpire), leaving us in third place with two big upcoming games against Thame and Dorchester.