Four captains and a funeral: A 1st XI review of 2013 by Jamie Mitchell
After a 2012 summer that couldn’t end soon enough, many of the same faces reconvened for the new season that little bit older, some that little bit wiser, and a good few that little bit wider. With a few experienced heads departing the scene, to be replaced with a combination of precocious youngsters (or ‘whippernappers’ in Wyatt-speak), an overseas signing, and the eligibility and increased availability of some seasoned campaigners, led to a sense of cautious optimism that the 1st XI would be a more competitive outfit this summer under existing captain, Jamie Scott.
Pre and early-season
By way of what were effectively a couple of competitive pre-season friendlies, we emerged comfortable winners and distant losers in home National Cup fixtures against Billingshurst and Alton respectively. From those games, we took a great number of positives into the new season. Them being Bobby Jones’ appetite for runs after a stint of grade cricket in New Zealand over the winter, the increasing repertoire of Jack Marston’s strokeplay, and the introduction of Vikram Dawson. Other discoveries made during pre-season was that no one’s daughter was safe (not even the Club Chairman’s) from our new overseas player – Liam Duffield, and the birth of Nicky Wyatt’s “known facts”.
Another plus, was the addition of seasoned stumper, Martin Collins-Ballands, providing some overdue competition for the incumbent wicketkeeper Alex Hammond. This became the only selection issue to discuss going into our first game of the season, the always tricky trip to Trojans, and Hammond’s lusty late-order hitting followed by a more vocal and assured presence behind the stumps ensured that it was an issue that wouldn’t arise for the remainder of the summer. This was after Farshan Jemildar (95) and Dave Henderson (34) steadied a distinctly shaky ship at 60 for 5, by initially seeing off the hosts’ more effective bowlers, before thriving against their more ordinary backup options, in putting on a century stand. The aforementioned contribution from Hammond (22), and a serene 22 from Vikram Dawson, saw us post an imposing 236, despite not batting the full 50 overs.
As the teams made their way off the field for tea, to our surprise, we could see a fallen sightscreen and a few people surrounding a man lying next to it. It was then to everyone’s horror when upon recognising the prone man’s footwear, Nicky Wyatt uttered “It’s my old man.” The blustery conditions had kicked up a notch or two, causing one of the sail-like sightscreens to topple over onto the head of an unsuspecting John Wyatt. In a strange way, Trojans Sports Club were rather fortunate that it landed on possibly the hardest head this side of the M27. In a testament to Wyatt Snr’s toughness, upon hearing of the incident, Arthur Shaw instantly responded, “Is the sightscreen ok?”
After tea, it was the turn of Duffield, our Australian import, to take the new nut. Unfortunately, his eagerness to make an early impression led to a malfunction in the radar. While he sent down his left-arm seam at a good pace, the quick-scoring nature of Trojans’ ground made Duffield’s wicketless opening spell an expensive one to boot (much to the delight of the p*ss-taking masses after the game). At the other end however, skipper Scott (4 for 40) had settled into what is his more natural role in the bowling attack, maintaining a consistent line and length with some shape away from the right-hander. And it was he that started steadily working through the Trojans batting order, aided by Dawson and Jemildar upon their introduction to the attack. A partnership in the middle-order briefly threatened until an innocuous misfield from Jamie Mitchell led to a calamitous mix-up between the batsmen, leaving a straightforward run-out opportunity which was taken with so much glee that Mitchell indulged in a celebratory dance that one hopes is never witnessed again on a cricket field, or anywhere else in public. The quiet, reserved, suspiciously-inked, sunbed-owning, veteran, Tim Bailey (2 for 16) then handily mopped up the tail in his only 1st XI appearance of the season, to dismiss Trojans for 137.
Whilst sipping on a beer on Trojans outfield, the connection between how last season ended – being on the way to yet another thumping before rain mercifully intervened, on the same ground – to how we’ve started this year’s campaign, gave this opening fixture a symbolic importance in terms of how the team, and the club, has transformed in eight short months.
The theme of the top-order struggling for runs, only to be bailed out by the middle/lower-order continued into the second game against South Wilts II. An example of this came during Matt Shaw’s dogged 28, where his most cleanly-struck shot boomed off the inside edge of his bat, into an area of his calf/ankle that was unprotected by padding. His subsequent non-treatment of the injury (unless whinging about it is deemed the modern equivalent to rest, ice, compression, elevation) kept him on the sidelines for the best part of a month. Portsmouth’s batting effort was led by Henderson (37) on this occasion, with useful contributions from Duffield (21), Wyatt (24), and Jemildar (28), aided in setting 186 on a seaming St Helens deck with inclement weather on the way. The conditions were ideal for Duffield to display what he’s capable of, and he did so with chilling efficiency, taking four top-order wickets (en route to 4 for 20), and Dawson picked up where the Aussie left off, taking 4 for 27, in routing the visitors for 134. The talk of promotion had already started.
However, a disappointing post-drinks fielding performance, followed by an abject batting effort made such talk premature, as we meekly surrendered our unbeaten start to the season with a 31-run defeat to St Cross II, despite Bobby Jones’ 6 for 51, and Zo Hassan’s 46. In the aftermath, while the promotion chat had quietened down, the panic button was still gathering dust as we approached our toughest assignment of the season.
There’s never a good time to visit Havant Park (a potential “known fact”). Whatever the level, Havant put out combative, competitive teams, against whom you always know you’re in a contest, and this outfit had yet to taste defeat this season. On the back of a defeat, and after Havant II’s top-order got off to a decent start (at around five an over), made our winning of this early top-of-the-table clash all the more remarkable. The fightback started with Andy Marston (1 for 30, from 10 overs) bowling in tandem with Dawson (3 for 38, from 10). As they made inroads into Havant’s batting order, the run-rate slowed down. Duffield (3 for 22) and Scott (2 for 34) were pressed into janitorial duties, in cleaning up the tail, leaving the hosts all out for 193. A welcome return to form for Bobby Jones guided us to our victory target with a composed, unbeaten 60, aided by Jemildar (36) and Henderson (28), before seeing us over the line with Wyatt (11 not out). The result was crucial in terms of getting our season back on track (and sending us to the top of the league), but the determined performance was a fitting tribute to our much-loved scorer, John Harvey, who had sadly passed away during the week leading up to the game, after a brave battle against cancer.
We returned home to face Southern Electric League newcomers Basingstoke & North Hants II. Once again, early wickets meant that a rebuilding job needed to be undertaken by the middle-order. And once again, it was Henderson who was back to the fore, compiling a masterful 91. Although, his eventual score had promised to end up well beyond three figures, but he faded considerably, like the rope-a-doped George Foreman in his Rumble In The Jungle with Muhammad Ali. It was revealed that Henderson’s tank had emptied as a result of a six-mile run his wife and he had embarked upon earlier that morning. As to whether this is a euphemism has yet to be confirmed or denied. Our total of 220 was too distant a target for the visitors, falling 45 short, the highlight of which was Duffield’s outrageous one-handed catch, on the boundary, whilst running at full tilt, to remove the increasingly dangerous Grant Rouse.
The following fixture saw a return to the most local of local derbies, one where Matt Shaw returned to the fold just in time to face his old club, Portsmouth & Southsea. It was our turn to make the short trip north to St James’ Hospital, and their free-scoring playing surface. The hosts won the flip and batted first, before a pattern of play-and misses interspersed by the odd boundary. Our seam attack in particular (Duffield, Scott, Dawson, and Jed Whitecross) bowled without much luck, aside from Scott’s comical slower ball that even more hilariously cleaned up P&S’s overseas player. Former Portsmouth player, Lewis Russell, biffed a brisk hundred in the home team’s 259. Shaw for a time looked as though he may out-biff his old teammate, before perishing on 67. This left Bobby Jones, having been promoted to No.3 (due to the initially listed No.3 being in mid-response to a call of nature, at the fall of the first wicket), to plunder the innings of the day, depositing the P&S bowling to all parts of the ground, registering his maiden league hundred, and leaving the St James’ patients literally drooling. Jones finished unbeaten on 112, as he and Jemildar (43 not out) accumulated the winning runs with overs to spare.
Our last blip of the season came in the next game, at home to Bashley II. A lacklustre fielding display assisted the visitors to post a tricky 242 to chase down, while we lost wickets at regular intervals, unable to build a substantial partnership needed to get us over the line. Despite Vikram Dawson’s majestic 69, we fell an agonising 9 runs shy of victory.
It was a mere seven days before we were reacquainted with winning ways, with a more convincing effort away at Fair Oak. Jemildar made 32, Bobby Jones finished unbeaten on 36, and Jamie Mitchell made an about-bloody-time return to form with 46, as we set Fair Oak 196 to win, on a poor pitch. The home side were never in the contest, as early inroads by Whitecross (2 for 30) were followed up by Dawson (3 for 15), with the finishing touches applied by Jemildar’s off-breaks (4 for 19), as we shot out our hosts for 110.
The halfway point of the season saw table-toppers host table-proppers, and the form book was followed to the letter, as Bournemouth II were handed a sound pasting. Batting first, Mitchell took advantage of some generous fielding and bowling to notch up his long-awaited maiden league hundred, finishing on 109. Hefty contributions from Jones (59) and Henderson (43) saw us amass a season-high 288. Dawson (4 for 22), Whitecross (2 for 37), and Duffield (2 for 20), were in the wickets again, as the visitors managed just 106 in response, despite Jamie Scott’s attempts to reciprocate the opposition’s inability to take straightforward catches.
Our return fixtures that made up the second half of the season kicked off at home to Trojans. It also marked the first game in charge for new skipper Dave Henderson, as Jamie Scott would largely be unavailable due to the opening of his new business venture. The day was most memorable for what has become known as Henderson’s pre-game polite war cry, making his intentions clear that he wanted us to win the league, and was happy for individuals to reach their own personal goals, as long as it’s aligned with those of the team. And it was a case of “message received”, with Whitecross (3 for 35) and Dawson (3 for 31) instrumental in dismissing our Southampton-based rivals for 180, before chasing down the sub-par target with several overs to spare, with Henderson (62 not out) and Jack Marston (23 not out) guiding us home.
That momentum was maintained into our away trip to title and promotion rivals, South Wilts II. On one of the hottest Saturdays of the summer, Duffield and Whitecross (1 for 23) tore into our hosts’ top-order, and the wickets continued to tumble when Dawson (3 for 54) and Scott Curwood (3 for 19) were introduced into the attack. Duffield donned the janitor’s overalls once again (2 for 30), while Whitecross fielded wherever there was shade by dint of a touch of sunstroke, and a shell-shocked South Wilts were demolished for 152. Light work was made of the required runs, as openers Duffield and Mitchell got the reply off to a flyer (at around 7 an over), and the finishing touches provided by that Henderson-Marston combination, sandwiching a slight wobble where three wickets fell in quick succession.
Revenge was exacted at St Cross II in our next assignment. On a turning track, Jones (35), Mitchell (30), and Duffield (26) made starts, but no one kicked on to make a sizeable score, and we were dismissed for 185 as a result. Our seam-heavy attack may not have been suited to St Cross’ surface, but it was enough to dispatch the Winchester outfit for 121.
The season-defining fixture was our welcoming of Havant II to a green St Helens pitch. In the days leading up to this top-of-the-table showdown, there were reports in the local rag regarding the probability of the visitors drafting in some first team players, but it proved to be just mischievous talk, designed to add more needle to what is already a fierce rivalry. Amid forecasts of thunderstorms of apocalyptic proportions, Havant batted first, and were unable to overcome our own four horsemen. Duffield (2 for 44) and Whitecross (3 for 37) bowled with hostility and intent, setting up Havant’s top-order to be knocked down by Dawson (3 for 34), while Curwood (1 for 9 from 10 overs) consistently beat the bat to anguished cries of “my golly gosh”. Havant limped to 180 all out, with ominous-looking clouds heading our way from the Isle of Wight. This may or may not have prompted Mitchell and Curwood (32) to set off on a blaze of boundaries at the start of our reply, but some friendly bowling certainly contributed to the rattling run-rate. With the storm clouds getting ever closer, Havant indulged in some delaying tactics that would’ve embarrassed Alistair Cook and his England colleagues (yes, I went there), in the hope that heavy showers would arrive before 25 overs could be completed, making the match a no-result. Havant’s ‘efforts’ were to be in vain, as we reached the end of 25 overs, meaning we could return to playing a proper game of cricket once again. Shortly after the resumption of normal service, Mitchell departed for a swift 61, leaving Jones (31 not out) and Henderson (27 not out) to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on an emphatic victory, reaching our target with nearly 18 overs to spare, and thus giving ourselves some breathing space atop the league standings.
Basingstoke & North Hants II were the next to cop it, as two wickets from Whitecross’ first over set the tone for another one-sided contest. Some late-order resistance from the home side pushed their total up to 198, when it appeared 120 would be a more realistic score. Dawson (3 for 22) was once again among the wickets. We lost Mitchell early in the reply, but any hopes of an upset were soon dashed, as Curwood (67) and Duffield scored freely, and looked untroubled in the process. Duffield in particular, looked destined for his first league hundred, but one attempted reverse sweep/switch hit too many cost him his wicket, and he had to make do with a personal best score of 79. We cruised to victory with just over 15 overs to spare with Bobby Jones (29 not out) and Jack Marston (13 not out) at the wheel.
A sense of complacency appeared to set in, as we hosted our cross-town rivals, Portsmouth & Southsea. In compiling 248, batting first, unconverted starts were made by Mitchell (29) and Duffield (35), while Jones looked set to torment P&S with another ton, but a lapse in concentration led to his downfall on 52. A welcome return to form for Farshan Jemildar (43), and a typically stylish unbeaten 43 from Vikram Dawson, gave the innings some late impetus. Five dropped catches contributed to a lacklustre fielding effort, and our opponents were very much in the contest at the 25 over drinks break. However, as the required run-rate started to rise, P&S’s batsmen began to panic, allowing Scott Curwood (2 for 37), Jamie Scott (2 for 26), and Jemildar (3 for 35), to condemn our relegation-threatened rivals to an eventual 36-run defeat.
The championship rounds
Inclement weather induced our first abandonment of the season, meaning we were unable to serve up a lukewarm dish of revenge for Bashley II, so the focus shifted quickly to our home tie with Fair Oak, where we could wrap up promotion, and the league, all in one glorious afternoon. On a dry St Helens deck, we won the toss and batted first. Once again, Duffield (42) and Mitchell (30) made starts, but failed to kick on, while the remainder of the line-up largely made scores of between 10 and 18, in posting 213 all out, in testing batting conditions. Bobby Jones donned the mitts in Alex Hammond’s absence, and did a more than admirable job, only conceding one bye, and taking a stumping off Andy Marston’s bowling. Marston helped himself to three wickets, as did Curwood, but it was left to Duffield to take the final match/promotion/title-clinching wicket, to dismiss Fair Oak for 173, sparking scenes of overindulgence (Curwood, Wyatt), p*ss-poor pouring of jug contents into pint glasses (Mitchell), and comic stump runs (just about everyone else).
To tie off the season into a nice little bow, we had the small matter of travelling to now-relegated Bournemouth II. It was an opportunity to experiment with the batting order, which Alex Hammond (40) and Farshan Jemildar (35) took advantage of, with entertaining efforts. Henderson (65 not out) and Jones (59) were able to fluff up their batting stats, while Duffield displayed some clean hitting in the latter overs, to help post a superfluous 267. In response, Bournemouth provided gravity with some competition in plummeting from 40 for 1, to 80 all out, with the primary damage being inflicted by a change of ends for Jed Whitecross (4 for 27), and two wickets for Vikram Dawson, ensuring that he remained the league’s leading wicket-taker. Andy Marston breezed through the tail with 4 for 1, enabling us to get an early start on the journey back to Pompey, to quench some sizeable thirsts.
More than just results
The final league table gives off an impression of complete consistency within the team, but the results only tell part of the story. Over the course of the season, we had four different captains. As mentioned, Jamie Scott led the side until he had to commit to his fledgling business, thus passing on the proverbial armband over to Dave Henderson. Prior to this handover, Jamie Mitchell took charge for a couple of games, and Scott Curwood deputised for a game in Henderson’s absence. In addition, Mitchell went through opening partners like Liam Duffield’s extra-curricular companions. At one time or another, Matt Shaw, Jack Marston, Zo Hassan, Scott Curwood, and Dave Henderson, had the dubious pleasure of Mitchell’s company on the stroll to the middle at the start of the team’s innings.
Positions within the batting order often changed from week to week, in part in search for the right combination, but also to give players an opportunity to press their own claims. The bowling attack remained largely unmolested, except for Jed Whitecross stepping up to take the new ball when Jamie Scott became unavailable. Jed’s example (taking 24 wickets at 18.62, by the way) is just one of many this season, and it’s why this campaign has been particularly memorable. There hasn’t been a reliance on any one player to win games of cricket. Sure, there have been some excellent individual performances (Bobby Jones’ ton at P&S for instance, after he was promoted to 3), but almost all of our wins have come as a result of a more collective effort. Batting and bowling in partnerships, and taking our chances in the field (holding catches, effecting run-outs) have been key in our title-winning run. Our catching behind the stumps (wicketkeeper, slips, gully), and the depth of bowling resources is what has set us apart from our opponents in the league this season. This gave our batsmen more freedom to take on the opposition bowling as the summer progressed.
It’s all well and good to boast a strong bowling line-up, but slotting these bowlers into the right roles and situations is another challenge altogether. Opening up with Duffield’s pace, swing, and seam, at the preferred end, with either Scott’s steady line and length, or Whitecross’ skiddy aggression, from the other end, proved to be ideal compliments. Once their opening bursts were coming to an end, and opposition batsmen thought they could relax against the back-up bowling, on would come the likes of Dawson and Curwood, to prolong their torture, or swiftly put them out of their misery. On at least three occasions, did our first/second change bowlers pick up a wicket with their opening delivery, which neatly illustrates our seamers’ ability to hit the ground running, in not serving up any looseners.
Vikram Dawson finished the season as the team’s – and the league’s – most prolific wicket-taker, with 40 in total, at 12.3. What’s more impressive than the numbers, is that Dawson played a good portion of the season with a broken finger. The damaged digit didn’t affect his bowling performances, and being hidden from his customary fielding position in the slips, and batting at No.11, did not deter him from wanting to contribute to the team. Liam Duffield took 33 wickets (at 14.55), to end up 5th in the league’s list, a commendable effort for his first season in England (we hope there’ll be more in Portsmouth colours). As mentioned earlier, Jed Whitecross responded wonderfully to the responsibility of taking the new cherry, and his 24 wickets effectively came in 12 games. Jamie Scott, claimed 15 scalps (in effectively 8 games, at 13.93), as did Farshan Jemildar (at 25.8). Bobby Jones claimed the only 5+ wicket haul, and must have been close to 10 wickets for the season, while Andy Marston’s outrageous 4 for 1 in the season’s last game must have him near double figures in victims (neither are mentioned in the Southern League website, and I wasn’t willing to undertake the research to find out). Late arrival to the party was Scott Curwood (also known as Kirwood) helped himself to 12 wickets at 13.33, and with a miserly economy rate of 2.71 per over. If there were a play-and-miss-per-over stat, Curwood would be a distant front-runner this season (complete with swear-free demonstrations of frustration).
Bobby Jones led the way in the batting in terms of aggregate, piling up 521 runs at 52.1, with the highlight being the unbeaten 112 at P&S. Dave Henderson topped the averages, scoring his 437 at a staggering 62.43. Jones and Henderson often found themselves unbeaten at the end of a successful run chase, so their positions in the league run-scoring charts could’ve been higher if it wasn’t for them miserly bowlers of ours. Jamie Mitchell (434 runs at 27.12) and Farshan Jemildar (432 at 27) posted similar end-of-season numbers, having solid but not spectacular seasons. Liam Duffield amassed 372 runs at 24.8, managing a highest-ever score, and beating P&S’s Aussie import by 29 runs over the season’s course (boast-worthy achievements, I’m sure). All five of the aforementioned batsmen finished within the top 15 run-scorers in the league (with Bobby finishing 3rd). To accompany his season’s swag of wickets, Vikram Dawson donated 208 elegant (bordering on the rude) lower-order runs at 29.71. There were also useful batting contributions from Jack Marston, Matt Shaw, Scott Curwood, and Zo Hassan. Only lack of games prevented these guys from making an impression on the league stats.
In the field, Alex Hammond finished atop the league wicketkeeping stats, taking 16 catches and 5 stumpings. Hammond was ably deputised by Jed Whitecross and Bobby Jones in the two games he missed. Jones also clung onto 10 catches, and Liam Duffield held 14, primarily in the slips, with one or two decent grabs in the outfield. Jed Whitecross and Jamie Scott will arm-wrestle for the title of ‘dropped dolly’ of the season (my money’s on Jed).
Thanks and apologies
On the playing side, an apology, and a big thanks, to the guys that have the occasional 1st XI appearance, but didn’t get much of a game. Tom Havers (who managed to bag a handy wicket vs Trojans), Jordan Palmer-Tomkinson/Goddard, Dom Wood, Josh Jones and Martin Jones helped the team, and by extension, the club by effectively giving up a Saturday to turn out for us.We also have Martin Jones to thank for preparing the ground for us to play and practice on, your work has not gone unnoticed, and hopefully Dan Cornish can carry it forward.
Most importantly, a massive thanks to Michelle Jones, along with the other the WAGS and mums that have helped out with creating the best teas in the league (there needs to be a stat in the league website for this), as well as preparing the in-game drinks, and tending to the bar before, during, and after games.
To a man that has been mentioned several times on these pages, but has not set the league stats alight. This may be due to the fact that those who update the Southern Electric League website do not deem stats such as prolific profanities and inappropriate comments, ratio of body hair to bare skin (see pic), or aggregate bottles of Doom Bar consumed, to be worthy of inclusion.
But he has made some on-field contributions with the bat, and his fielding, and he has become the heartbeat of the team on and off the field. Whether out on the field, in the dressing room, or in the bar, Nicky Wyatt is often the focal point of any banter that’s being dished out. Anyone who was there during the ‘big licker’ scene still talk about it today, even those who weren’t there talk about it as if they were.
At times, he has been reduced to the role of chauffeur and cheerleader, and hasn’t complained (much), and everyone was delighted to hear of his scoring 80-odd for the 2nd XI towards the end of the season.
He has charmed some, and offended many, and I’m sure that I speak for the club as a whole, when I say: Nicky, from the bottom of my heart…
Thanks for coming.