Hope springs eternal
We had it in our own hands
But we lost again
Arriving to Radley’s second ground in the curious village of Chalgrove, the team were buoyed by notions of glory. Perennial achievers of second place (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2021 and probably others), Wantage held their own destiny in their hands – namely, beat mid-table Radley and win the Division above our friends and rivals Dorchester, who were hosting bottom club Sunningwell.
Concerns about the way the pitch had handled last season were raised, but on successfully winning the toss, skipper Spenny elected to field first, reasoning that we had chased well the previous week. The outfield was slow and swampy, with a few comments made about how traversing it was like running on treacle. The strip, despite occasional variety of bounce was generally low and slow. Mabbs and Mr Harvey opened up as usual and the opening batters were extremely watchful, although Will grabbed two wickets; a catch behind for keeper Colin and a stone dead LBW of the second opener.
At number 3 was the handy-looking Peter Norris, a tall man with a powerful hit over wide long-on which he used once or twice off Mabbs, and subsequent replacement Scotty. The tone was set though; Radley batters eating up lots of deliveries amid generally decent bowling, bar a collection of wides and no balls. Willbury grabbed a wicket (another catch behind) and Scotty got Norris caught by Colin standing up (a very well taken chance).
The run rate remained comfortably below 3 an over throughout the first 40 overs of the innings, a fact later ascribed to Radley aiming for a total of around 140 which is “usually enough at this ground” (according to some post-match analysis between IC and Ali Malik). This meant that wickets taken with regularity gave us the feeling of being completely on top, with wickets for Winston (bowled) and a stunning grab by Timmy Lane at short cover off Mabbs leaving Radley unenviably teetering at 91-6. When Scotty grabbed Liaquat at mid-on off a Willbury full toss to leave Radley 102-7, there was hope we could round off the innings quickly and begin a comfortable chase.
Alas, it was not to be, as a combination of good batting, occasionally raggedy bowling and attacking field placement meant Ahmed and Malik were able to add 45 runs in quick time, including a horrible 3 over spell where we conceded 31 runs which changed the tone of the innings quite a bit. From contemplating a chase of 110-120 there were now 140 on the board and although the last two overs brought the final wickets (Harvester having Malik caught at square leg, before Winston ensnared the last two with catches for Willbo and Colin) more useful runs were added alongside.
All of which meant a chase of 157 – more runs than we felt we should have conceded based on a mad three over spell and an alarming number of bowling extras (14 wides and 6 no balls) but a chaseable total nonetheless.
Opinions on the chasability of the total were quickly realigned, however, on the basis of the first five overs of our innings. Few alarms in the first two overs suddenly turned to emergency blue lights as Timmy Lane gloved one from Malik which really flew off a length, Colin chopped on to his stumps and skipper Spenny wafted outside off to be caught for a golden duck. A ‘team hat trick’ to leave us 4 for 3 was not what the doctor had ordered and positivity deserted a few members of the team.
“Winston got a hundred against this lot last time” we reminded ourselves – and for one glorious over as the ball was despatched to all parts, things were looking up and we reached the dizzying heights of 31 for 3. Two balls later, however, and spirits were on the floor again as Winston was adjudged LBW to Malik and JC nicked to the keeper who took the chance on the second attempt and the score was 31-5. IC, having displayed precisely zero form with the bat all year, trudged to the crease for the second ‘team hat trick ball’ of the innings to join man-for-a-crisis Dave Summersbee. Their approach was to stick like glue and use up some overs but to try and accumulate steadily at the same time.
This was generally achieved nicely, with a couple of streaky boundaries, decent running and some beefy hits off ‘free hit’ balls by both Summs and IC and we made nice progress to 69 before Summs clubbed a loosener from Liaquat to the one ring fielder on the leg-side for 17. “2 more partnerships like that is all we need” was the commentary on Wantage lips as Willbury joined IC at the crease. The pair accumulated steadily, generally not playing very attractive cricket but encouraging talk of a fightback from the boundary.
The drinks break and an inspired fielding change saw the end of Willbury for a handy 13 out of a partnership of 26 and Mabbs joined the crease with Wantage needing another 60 for victory with plenty of overs to spare. Mabbs was more enterprising with the bat than IC, plonking a couple of handy boundaries and Radley turned back to their hamstrung opening star Ali Malik to try and force the issue. With considerable help from the pitch, he was able to; a short ball taking the lesser spotted direct route to the base of IC’s off stump to leave Wantage 111-8. “I’ve taken that well”, he was heard to comment after groaning and moaning for twenty minutes straight.
After Mabbs edged to the keeper for 14 our last wicket pair were left needing 44 for the last wicket. Scotty and Harvester showed some wherewithal and some meaty biffs to give us hope of making it, particularly after one well-struck six from Scotty was followed up by a crunch through the covers by Will. But it was too much to ask and Will was eventually bowled, meaning we finished up on 132 all out, losing by 24 runs.
We already knew that Dorchester had stumbled over the line to a 1-wicket win over Sunningwell (somehow almost failing to chase 77) so that was that – lines fluffed and talk of how to handle 50 over cricket, neutral umpires and longer away trips was put to bed. Truthfully, 20 extras and a combined 28 runs from our top 5 were insurmountable issues in our quest for victory and a runof 4 losses in our last five matches provides a telling story of why, across the season, we didn’t deserve to top the table. Our roll call of runners-up ‘trophies’ was also not to be added to as Oxford Downs IIIs pipped us to 2nd on the grounds of winning more matches and we finished the season in 3rd place.
Once over the desolate ennui, we indulged ourselves on beers and such at the club amid the happy news that the IIs had won their match against Steventon to finish a successful season in 5th place, a commendable effort to all involved. Cricket is never only about winning anyway – but about belonging to the club and finding a sense of community and joy in a shared set of values and interests. It’s been a genuine delight to see the club grow this year and welcome lots of new members who have, I hope, bought into the ethos of the club and are looking forward to 2024 as much as I am.
~ Chairman Challand