The question on every cricket fan’s lips was not whether Australia could drag themselves back into the Ashes. No siree. It was whether or not the Kent Ramblas could make it a remarkable four successive wins, as they headed south to old friends St Mary Cray Red Dogs.
Captaining the side was Michael Cooper, stepping up to the plate in place of the absent Stocks Jnr, with James Benson coming in for his first game in over a year and Sam Dacre – younger brother of Ian – making his debut in competitive cricket (the term ‘competitive’ being liberally used, here…). Alas, hopes of a full XI were cut short moments before the game, as news reached the Ramblas that Bradley Scoates had been involved in a car collision on his way to the game. Thankfully, driver and car escaped unscathed.
So it was 10-a-side, as Cooper won the toss and opted to bowl first in what turned out to be yet another gloriously sunny day. Opening from the House End, Mark Loughlin was causing the batsmen all sorts of trouble with his pace – despite having to bowl into the wind. From the Pavilion End, Ian Dacre shared the new ball and elicited a flash outside off from the right-handed Woodford that was well held by Laurie Stocks at slip.
Although the early breakthrough was cheered, it brought together a punishing partnership for the second wicket, with the left-handed Watts – a last-minute call-up himself – seeing the ball like a beach ball and finding the boundary at regular intervals.
Opting to change it up after eight overs from his openers, Cap’n Cooper turned to Chris Thomas and Geoff Parrett. The former struggled for line and length and proved costly before taking the next wicket, somehow bowling the batsman around his legs. At the other end, Parrett delivered eight overs of textbook slow bowling, with neither batsman able to get after him and his miserly spell was unfortunate to yield a wicket or two. With Thomas proving expensive, the captain for the day – realising there were eight overs to find from somewhere due to a rare scarceness of bowling options – brought himself on to change it up just before the drinks break. Well, what an inspired decision, as one floated delivery tempted the batter into a big heave that was confidently taken on the run by new boy Sam Dacre.
At drinks, the hosts had nudged over the 100-run mark and – with wickets in hand – looked set to post a score approaching 250. The Ramblas knew it would take hard work all round in the field to keep the pressure on and restrict them to a chaseable total.
With Parrett continuing post-drinks, Harriss came on from the other end to launch a double dose of spin. The pair continued to suffocate the batsmen as the runs dried up, with Harriss particularly unfortunate not to claim a couple of wickets as a tough chance went down via wicket-keeper and slip, while an even harder caught and bowled opportunity went begging.
Continuing to rotate the bowlers, Sam Dacre was given a short, steady spell, with James Benson behind the stumps for the second 20. In tandem with Jon Loughlin, who had the gloves for the first 20, the pair hardly let anything past them and it was like the big guy had never been away, Meanwhile, sensing the time was ripe to strike, the skipper brought back his big guns.
Mark Loughlin – operating from the Pavilion End this time – was again on the money and tied the batters up on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, Dacre was uncharacteristically wayward, but got his reward for perseverance when Parrett took what has become a trademark catch at square leg, using every part of his body to claim the scalp. Despite having four wickets down, the big-hitting Watts was still entrenched and worked his way to a fine century – having survived a couple of tough chances in the field.
Looking to preserve his leading bowlers until the final overs, Cooper brought himself back on. This time, though, there was no fairytale ending. Looking to prevent a couple of runs, the bowler leapt like a salmon (maybe like Mike Salmon…) but only succeeded in palming the ball down onto the bridge of his nose. A short break in play as the aftermath was cleared up, Cooper gamely completed his over before leaving the pitch shortly to ensure his devilish good looks were not permanently harmed.
Loughlin completed his allocated overs for a commendable 8-1-22-0, which left Dacre and Thomas to bowl at the end. Dacre finally accounted for the centurion as he attempted an audacious (and poorly executed) reverse sweep, before a few big hits from Patel and Moir Snr helped bump up the score. Patel succumbed to a straight one from Thomas as he went for another heave in the final over, with Moir Jnr then getting the pleasure of hitting a six off his brother-in-law before the hosts closed on 226 for 6.
Up for the challenge
A delightful tea and well-earned break (with plenty of winces for the wounded skipper) gave the Ramblas the chance to plan their course of attack. In essence, this boiled down to scoring one more run than they did, but it was still worth talking about…
Leading the charge were Stocks Snr and Harriss; the former looking to capitalise on less hostile umpiring and the latter hoping to continue the good work of his ton the previous week. And things started fairly serenely for the pair, with Stocks unleashing a couple of fine fours as they steadfastly watched for the bad balls and blocked the good ones.
Harriss was in fine fettle, trading primarily in boundaries, before the pair were split as Stocks played around a straight one from Moir Jnr to depart for nine (which would prove to be the Ramblas’ unlucky number this time around).
In next was Jon Loughlin who, despite not looking at his fluid best, was striking well at times on his way to nine, before being bowled as he neither played or defended at another straight one. In the very same over, two became three, as Harriss was caught in the deep having made a brutal 36 – all but four of those coming from boundaries.
That left two new batsmen at the crease in the form of the still-shaken Cooper and Mark Loughlin. The captain looked to steady the ship and supported his big-hitting team-mate well, but fatigue and an understandable lapse in concentration saw him bowled for one – not before putting on (an extremely lop-sided) partnership of 31 with Loughlin.
Sam Dacre was next in the firing line and after a nervous-looking start, played some fine shots in support of Loughlin, before the latter departed – stumped by sharp work from Moir Snr – for another good knock of 34. Debutant Dacre continued to belie his novice status, before departing for nine to bring together Benson and Parrett at the crease.
With wickets running out, the pair knew they had nothing to lose. If they could score at a healthy rate for a few overs, there was still a chance the Ramblas could push it to the wire.
And the big-hitting duo did their best, putting on 38 together amid a flash of fours, sixes and comically run twos before Parrett – having been denied a certain four by the slow reactions of umpire Mark Loughlin who took one in the chest – was caught in the deep for 26.
That brought in Thomas, as the Ramblas needed 67 from the final five overs. Call it blind faith or a bit of sunstroke, but there was still a bit of hope it could be done – despite the lack of any kind of batting prowess. A drive four down the ground and a single saw him steal the strike, before a wild swipe across the line led to the inevitable crash of ball on timber.
Last man Dacre Snr joined Benson with the situation more dire than Kieron Dyer and Danny Dyer at a Dire Straits concert. But they didn’t give up, with Dacre protecting his average with one not out as Benson opened his arms and reached 27 before just failing to middle one that was caught in the deep to leave the Ramblas all out for 178 – 48 runs shy of victory. The scorecard can be found here.
It was a decent performance by the Ramblas, with one ton-making batsman really the difference between the sides. Given they were shorn of their usual plethora of bowling options, it was a strong comeback in the field by the Ramblas and the scarred Cooper did well standing in as captain.
The Red Dogs again proved hospitable and friendly opposition and both sides are looking forward to the end-of-season clash in September. Although not the inevitable hangovers…
Onwards to next week, then, for the Ramblas as they play fellow tenants at Ex-Blues, Eden Park.
Ramblas Man of the Match: There were some strong contenders this week, with Harriss and Mark Loughlin both economical with the ball and strong with the bat. Likewise, a cracking comeback behind the stumps – and a fantastic innings – by Benson is worthy of mention. But, for his eight overs of teasing and tempting spin – allied with a fine knock of 26 – we give the nod to Geoff Parrett.