And so, after weeks of weather-induced disappointment (plus the odd batting collapse and some drama-filled games) the regular Ramblas season came to an end with another corking performance at home against Norwood CC.
With a sodden Saturday threatening to quite literally put a dampener on the fixture, members of the Ramblas collective far and wide were glad to see the sun shining come Sunday morning. In the only change to the line-up in the previous week’s tense clash with Chevening, Ian Dacre returned to the fold in the place of Felipe Sanchez-Rodriguez.
Losing the toss, the hosts were made to sweat it out in the field for the first 40 overs. Opening up with his now customary ‘on-the-money’ spell was Mark Loughlin, while from the other end, the ever economical Dacre ensured the Norwood batsmen didn’t start like a train.
The breakthrough soon came via Dacre, who tempted the batsman into an attacking pull that was caught by the increasingly reliable Cap’n Stocks at deep mid-on. Not to be outdone, M. Loughlin soon got into the act claiming the other opener LBW. After 10 overs, the visitors were going at around two an over and it was down to Chris Thomas and Sam Ford to keep the scoreboard moving at a snail’s pace.
With last year’s century-maker Arun at the crease, the pair were aware they could be set for a tonking, but seeing the Ramblas through to drinks – barring a couple of loose deliveries – they ensured the score was kept at a modest 57-2.
Be careful what you wish for
After some thirst-quenching orange juice and with thoughts of another glorious tea prepared by the lovely Ruth Parrett, the hosts sought to get among the wickets and restrict Norwood to a score that was attainable. And with his first ball of the day, Geoff Parrett elicited a nick from the big-hitting Arun which was – after a bit of juggling – snaffled at slip by Ford. Given his exploits last year, the Ramblas felt this was the big wicket; with overs left from Ford and Steve Cleverley and Steve Fitch still to come on, could this be the chance?
Alas, if the Ramblas thought it was going to be plain-sailing their hopes were soon extinguished as new batsman Jafar immediately got on the attack, hitting sixes for fun – racing to a half-century before being dropped at long-off by the worryingly buttery fingers of Thomas.
Jafar continued to hit out, ably assisted by Ahmed, before falling on 74 after a quite sublime bit of fielding by Ford (with more than a helping hand from Skipper Stocks) off the bowling of Fitch. Fielding at Cow Corner, Ford moved to his right to take a catch but soon realised that his momentum would take him over the boundary rope. A quick bit of thinking, though, saw the newest Ramblas member throw the ball to Jonny Stocks before he fell over the line, while the captain gladly clasped it.
While Jafar went off to warm applause from both sides for his explosive innings, the Ramblas took it as an opportunity to regroup and again rein in the Norwood batsmen.
And the last 10 or so overs saw the hosts drag themselves back into the reckoning, with Cleverley claiming his first wicket of the season thanks to another sharp catch by Jonny Stocks. Given the big man’s struggles with injuries over the past couple of years, not many wickets have given the team as much pleasure as that one.
Coming back for one last stint was M. Loughlin who again produced a fierce three-over burst to get more wickets, while a great last over from Cleverley gave nothing away to leave Norwood on 230 for 7 at the end of their 40 overs.
When Jafar was smiting the attack to all parts, it looked likely a truly unachievable score was going to be set for the Ramblas to chase. However, some fine bowling and collective determination in the field saw the hosts haul back their opponents and, while looking unlikely, the 231 needed to win was just about in sight.
Appetite for the fight
Those hopes for a gourmet tea after 20 overs were about to come to fruition thanks to another wonderful spread from Ms R Parrett, tea maker extraordinaire. And whatever was in those sandwiches obviously worked wonders for the brothers Stocks.
Promoted up the order, Laurie Stocks went out with younger sibling Jonny looking to build a steady platform. And the pair certainly did more than that.
Enjoying a couple of lives as balls fell just short or wide of fielders – and thankful for a bit of, ahem, extra padding following one low full toss – the elder Stocks soon looked comfortable against the Norwood bowling, while at the other end Jonny was going about his work in his usual businesslike manner.
The pair survived until drinks, notching up 62 and headed back out seeking to up the run rate so the team’s big hitters could take the battle to Norwood. The requisite Ramblas post-drinks lull was soon put to bed as the openers hit out, before Laurie finally departed for a career-best 35 as the brothers in arms notched up the first hundred partnership in the Ramblas’ short history.
As he returned to the sidelines to plenty of fist pumps, bat packs and high fives, Jon Loughlin headed to the middle knowing that he had to go down flashing (his bat, that is). After three singles, though, an ill-advised hook brought to an end his spell, while at the other end, Jonny Stocks was getting closer to another half century.
Ford motors on
In to support the skipper was Ford who wasted no time in getting after the bowlers, smashing some glorious boundaries – including one fine six over the bowler’s head, supporting the skipper’s reaching of a fantastic 51. Alas, while Michael Cooper hung around for a little while, looking to force the play but unable to beat the fielders, he was on his way back to the hutch and in the blink of an eye, Fitch followed him to leave the Norwood bowler on a hat-trick.
Mark Loughlin survived the hat-trick ball and set about dismantling the bowlers with the incumbent Ford – the latter racing to 30-odd before departing.
Despite the wonderful platform set by the Stocks, and the fine counter-attacking batting from Ford and Mark Loughlin, with six overs to go the Ramblas still needed over 60 to clinch an unlikely victory – and coming in was Thomas, renowned for scoring as fast as the M25 moves on a Bank Holiday Monday.
Yet, after a few streaky edges and smart running between the wickets, he hung around with M. Loughlin – who continued to find the sweet spot… and the boundary rope. With the run rate creeping up, there were a few more worry lines on the faces of the fielding side and a few more hopeful eyebrows being raised amongst the Ramblas faithful.
Although Thomas was now at the party and finding the odd four, that faint hope looked extinguished as M. Loughlin was caught going for a pull and left after scoring an entertaining 30+.
With under four overs to go, it was left to Parrett and Thomas to launch one last salvo. Parrett took the hosts past the 200 mark with a fine four on the off-side, but despite some quick running and plenty of scoring shots, the Ramblas closed on 217 for 7 – an agonising 14 runs shy of what would have been a remarkable victory.
Despite the defeat, the Ramblas to a man (and woman, sorry Ruth!) could hold their head up high, with everyone contributing in the field, with the ball or with the bat. Having suffered so many cancellations due to the rain, the performances of the last few weeks have left them wondering what might have been.
Still, with a two-match tour of Bristol on the horizon – plus the obligatory end-of-season bash – the Ramblas continue to go from strength to strength.
Man of the Match: A half-century and three excellent takes in the field would normally be enough to secure this award for Skipper Jonny Stocks, likewise a quickfire 30 and some excellent bowling for Mark Loughlin. But this week, a career-high 35 ensures Laurie Stocks gets the vote, as it was integral to the valiant attempt at chasing down an imposing 231 target.