A big Saturday dawned for Wantage which saw us travel to promotion rivals Thame Town III knowing it was a ‘winner goes up’ affair, with the possible outside chance of a league winners play-off for us if Dorchester’s result at home to Aston Rowant went our way. An early start was the order of the day, with one of our longer trips of the year, and giving ourselves plenty of time was, in the end, necessary, as confusion reigned over where we were supposed to park. Spenny, IC and Chief had a scenic view of the ground from multiple angles before settling on a spot near the school and leisure centre, soon to be joined by Robbo, who then heard the same joke three times but at least he was on time for a change (sorry, Rob, make that four times).

Facilities on the school playing field were rudimentary but the pitch seemed to be in reasonably good shape, though a few rabbit holes in the outfield looked a bit concerning and there was a notable slope which alerted us to the possibility of some high scores. Spirits were high as we contemplated whether we would play with the style and panache of the England cricket team (who at that moment were running through the Indian batting order on the way to a win at Headingley) or whether we might choke our big match and play with the meekness of Arsenal FC (who at that moment were crumbling to a 5-0 defeat to Manchester City).

After losing the toss, Colin and Robbo faced up to the pace and bounce of McStay Junior, who generated some decent pace and thus hit different, awkward lengths to many of the bowlers we have faced in 2021 – a new and enthralling challenge which, though it had a Covid-recovering Rob in particular in a bit of difficultly early on, was dealt with admirably by our openers as they put on a handy 53 run stand, boosted by a big eleventh over in particular off first change bowler Penny.

Unfortunately, disaster struck as both Robbo and Colin gave away their wickets in the same over after having made good starts – something which was to become a feature of our innings. Robbo leading edged to point for 25 whilst Colin top edged to square leg for 28 and a very handy 53-0 quickly became 55-2 with two new batters in Summs and Spencer. There were a couple of big hits before Summs aimed a rather too expansive drive at Penny and was bowled for 9 after looking good, so Bingo joined Spenny at the crease amid talk of ‘needing to bat time and bat properly’.

Thame clearly scented an opportunity as they went immediately back to James McStay who had four overs left to try and rustle out the Wantage middle order. Dave Spencer was no doubt considered the prize wicket after his hundred in the return game at Wantage earlier in the year, so you could see the logic in the decision-making. It was Binners who faced up first though, and he looked very confident against the pace, smearing a couple of fours nicely through the off-side, before Spenny played an airy shot off McStay senior and was caught at deep cow-corner for 19 – another solid start not capitalised upon.

That brought IC to the crease with the score on 96 off 21 overs. A good run rate, but the need for some consolidation was clear, so the plan was set to see off James McStay and to keep the scoreboard ticking over at the other end. In the event, runs ticked along at both ends, although IC was clearly struggling a bit with the pace at one end, whilst conversely Binners looked less confident against the ‘nibblers’ of the Thame skipper – eventually nicking to slip and falling for 12 (another start!) to leave Wantage 106-5.

That meant Wonga (in at 7 – not 11 – to the apparent surprise of the Thame umpire) and IC were tasked with ticking along the score in the middle overs, and talk of ‘the magic 4 an over’ meant that the runs were coming with regularity but not excessively. The opening bowler was seen off after a swipe from IC over cover, and a couple of airy prods into the leg and off-side, but there was some satisfaction on the sidelines as the pair put on 35 good runs before perceived pressure to increase the scoring rate saw IC sky a hoik and he was caught for 34 (another start!), stopping briefly at the scorer’s table on the way back to the changing room to make an unnecessary criticism of the top 5 ‘not going on’ which was considerably hypocritical in the circumstances, but at least augured well for the fines pot.

Partnerships of 13 and 14 between Wonga and Anand, then Anand and Bimalka ensued, bringing welcome runs, but not, it was felt, match-defining runs, and with the regularity of wickets we were starting to fear we were below the necessary par score as we struggled to 168 before two wickets in two balls did for Anand (bowled) and Harvester (LBW, given by our umpire Tweekey). A good effort from B and from Chief saw us to 177 before Chief finally gathered a batting average for the season and skewed to mid-wicket, Bimalka left not out on 15.

It was felt we were below par owing to the apparently fast outfield although opinions differed on how far below par we were – some feeling we were 70 short, others guessing a more conservative 25, but our adage this year has regularly been that 170 runs is “a lot to get, even if you have a good start” – a prescient notion, as we were to discover.

After a quick trip to the nearby school toilets (“it smells like a comprehensive” said Will, and we trusted him to know – Andy wouldn’t go near a school during the holidays so could neither confirm nor deny) ) we warmed up for the all-important second innings. Early signs in our warm-up were concerning as we were dropping more than we caught and throws were, to say, the least, wayward. Unfortunately, the lethargy of our warm-up translated to the start of our fielding, with some poor misfields from Rob in particular seeing a couple of fours sail through point. But in order to have the opportunity to misfield at point, you also need some misdirected bowling, and Will and Anand looked to be really struggling to find their right lengths as we gloomily watched the runs pile up and up, exclusively through boundaries and wides.

Whilst not under-selling the powerful, effective hitting of Carr and Avery, our bowling seemed to be making life easy for them and heads dropped very quickly as we contemplated the truncated loss we seemed to be heading for at 50 off 7 overs, then 74 off 10. The quick outfield and batsman preference for seam bowling demanded the introduction of slower/spin bowling, and fortunately we had three to pick from in our side – Bimalka “loves a Man-of-the-Match” Liyanarachchi, Oliver “Chief-row” Haine and Ian “Don’t ask him about his economy rate” Challand. B started us off with a solid over which went for just 4 (another misfield, nice one IC) before the ball was perhaps surprisingly given to Ian despite Chief’s maiden 5-for the previous week.

It proved a tactical masterstroke from Skip, however, as IC trapped opener Carr LBW with his second delivery, a decision given by our umpire Tweekey, disagreed with by opener Carr but not disputed by many others; certainly not Colin, at any rate. After IC and Bimalka tightened the screw a little further with some accurate slow bowling, another breakthrough was achieved in the 16th over with hard-hitting opener Justin Avery caught at mid-on by Anand off Ian for a well made 45 and Thame were ahead of the rate on 85-2 but having lost their two leading batters.

Being that far ahead of the game meant, we felt, wickets were crucial, although as it was, pressure was built up more through tight, run-shy overs by Bim and IC than by wickets. The Thame number three Subesinghe did crack a few fours down the ground before greedily eyeing up a short ball from IC (accompanied by a shouted ARGH from the bowler – village) and succeeding only in getting a top-edge straight into the gloves of Binners. 110-3.

Dots and the occasional single were the order of the day for a few overs until Bimalka tempted the Thame number 4 down the pitch only to see him stumped by Binners for 10 – this completed Bim’s 9 over spell and he finished with good, tight figures of 9 overs, 1 for 30, and Thame were left on 114-4. When IC had the obdurate Towell caught at slip next over by Robbo for 1, the shift in momentum was starting to become noticeable and belief was returning to the Wantage fielders.

After Bimalka’s spell, the ball was thrown to Chief who continued his decent form with some mostly tight lines, only the occasional four being cracked, once over cover and once behind square leg, but continuing to prove the assumption that slow bowling was best for the wicket we were playing on. IC’s spell ended, however, in the 28th over with the score 120-5 and personal figures of 9 overs, 4 for 15, and Skip contemplated who to hand the ball next with no other spinners available (well, there was one option, but the leg-spinning hero of North Moreton was currently busy misfielding balls at point and wearing four caps at once).

As it was, the ball was thrown to Will H, keen to atone for a disappointing opening spell. He did not achieve this first up, with two fours and a no-ball contributing to a very underwhelming return, but you can’t keep a good man down, so his sixth over instead saw the prising out of not one, but two wickets. The first a sharp chance by Rob at gully, the second a slightly less sharp chance, also by Rob, also at gully. Eagle-eyed readers may note the jug-adjacency of this third catch of Rob’s – see you down the club next week, Robbo – but more importantly, 136-5 had quickly become 136-7 and perhaps for the first time since the 12th over of our innings, we felt on top of the game. When Will took a screaming one hander off his own bowling in the 34th over to dislodge the handy-looking Zak Harris, blood was being scented, and even the news that Aston Rowant had conceded to Dorchester couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

Two more catches – Bimalka at square leg giving Chief a well-deserved wicket, and a spoon to Spenny at extra cover off Will (who ended with 4-45 including a spell of 4 for 1 off 17 deliveries to finish the innings) saw us to an unexpected but excellent victory by 31 runs as Thame finished on 146 all out – a remarkable collapse of 90s England proportions from 110-2 but testament to a good, characterful performance from the Wantage side which hadn’t relied on Spenny’s runs, which we have so often been indebted to this season.

We finished the day observing Thame’s Second XI somehow contriving to lose their match after conceding a partnership of 77 for the 10th wicket to Oxford CC. A great watch for the neutral, but evidently a day to forget for poor Thame. Nonetheless, their Third XI had worked out that with a match against Steventon to come next week they needed only 7 points to secure a promotion alongside ourselves and Dorchester, who we ourselves meet for the final match of the season, hoping to gain some revenge for our comprehensive defeat earlier in the year. We anticipate an enjoyable return match with Thame next season, should we be considered part of the same region again!

Pig’s Ear was contested between Robbo’s early misfield at point and Anand’s own misfield (and boo-boo) later in the match at mid-on. Robbo won out fairly comfortably.

Champagne Moment was a toss-up between two outstanding catches: Robbo’s sharp chance at gully or Will’s one-handed diving caught and bowled. Memories of Will diving on a grenade were put to bed as he secured the bubbles for his diving grab.

“Match Hero” was awarded to IC for his 34 and 4-15, with Will H the other nominee for his match-concluding spell of 4 wickets.

Net Result: 26 handy points, promotion secured and a promotion party for both sides next week at the Wantage WACA. See you there!

Author: IC, who did, indeed, headline the match report with his own nickname, which he expects to be fined for.