“Neighbours. Everybody needs good neeeighbours” the song goes. And while Eden Park and Kent Ramblas are strictly co-tenants, I couldn’t think of a song that related to that. Anyway…
It was the rarest of occasions for the Ramblas on Sunday, as they were in the visitors’ dressing room as they took on the more established Eden Park on another sumptuous day in West Wickham. Leading the team again was Michael Cooper – fully recovered from a nasty blow to his hooter last week – while Sam Ford and Steve Cleverley were welcomed back. In what was a vastly-changed side from the previous week, Ahsan Haji returned for his second game in Ramblas colours, while Alex Danks and Peter Ford – brother of the aforementioned Sam – made their debuts.
Defeat at the toss saw the Ramblas put into the field, with Mark Loughlin again tearing in from the Tennis Court End to great effect – cutting the batsmen in half on more than one occasion and finding an extra yard of pace for one delivery that fizzed through, taking an edge that was through slip and ‘keeper for four in the blink of an eye. At the Garden End, Haji was showing no signs of rustiness having not played for over a month, proving extremely economical in tandem with Loughlin as the pair’s opening 10-over salvo yielded a run-rate of just over two an over.
Having earned a breather, Cap’n Coops turned to Geoff Parrett to replace Loughlin, and Thomas to come on for Haji. Parrett was again in stunning form, befuddling the batsmen with his high, floated deliveries and decent turn – getting his reward as he cramped the opener for room and crashed the ball into the stumps.
From the other end, Thomas was again offering up a menagerie of quality, with some decent balls and plenty of bad ones getting short shrift from the well-set opener, J Patel. This spell helped Eden Park recover from their moribund start and Patel reached a well-earned 50 as he dominated the strike.
In the hope of making a breakthrough before drinks, Harriss was brought into the attack, but the change wasn’t enough to make any headway as the hosts were 80 odd for one at drinks.
Parrett and Harriss continued briefly post-refreshments, but despite remaining pretty resolute in the field, the Ramblas were still left to watch the big-hitting Patel reach a deserved ton. The skipper turned to Danks and then Cleverley to restore a bit of pressure to the batters, with the McGrath-like Danks putting paid to Patel who misjudged one that hit middle and off. That was a huge wicket for the Ramblas and they looked to turn the screw.
Cleverley overcame a shaky start to pitch it on a good length on occasion, leaving the batsmen with no answer, while Danks then took his second wicket, eliciting an edge that was well taken by Sam Ford behind the stumps.
With eight overs to go, and plenty of wickets in hand, the possibility of an imposing total of around 250 was still very much on the cards for Eden Park, but that didn’t deter Cooper bringing back Thomas for potentially his last over of the season as he hunted a landmark wicket. Despite going for a few runs, that elusive wicket did come, the left-hander flashing at one to point, where Harriss took an extremely sharp catch.
That left the opening pair of Loughlin and Haji to close proceedings with a cracking six-over spell. First, Haji tempted the big-hitting No.4 into one down the ground that was caught by Mr Safe Hands himself – Geoff Parrett; encouraged, shall we say, by the supporting words of the bowler: “Easy catch. Easy catch.” Indeed it was… Next up, Loughlin was the beneficiary of Parrett’s catching prowess as a mistimed hook looped up to the back-peddling fielder at square leg.
Those scalps only briefly put the brakes on an accelerating middle order, but as the batsmen pushed for every run, sharp work in the field forced two run outs. Loughlin reacted quickly at fine leg to launch one in for Sam Ford to whip off the stumps, while on the very last ball an unorthodox attempt (to say the least) by Cleverley to prevent a boundary saw leg and foot stop the ball and a smart throw to the bowler left Haji to calmly rattle the stumps with ball in hand to leave Eden Park on 234/8 from their 40 overs.
From food failure to batting bravely
A frankly sub-standard tea was consumed before the Ramblas headed out in search of what would be their second highest ever score – and their highest ever successful chase. In what has turned out to be a fantastic season, could they continue to break records?
It was up to Danks and Harriss to set the platform, but the former was back in the hutch for 0 in the second over as his stumps were dismantled, while third man Peter Ford got a very Ramblas-esque streaky four before getting cleaned up attempting a big heave. That wasn’t quite the start the de facto away team were hoping for as Stocks came in at 27 for 2.
While the revolving door of batsmen was occurring at one end, Harriss was going about his business at his brutal best – trading primarily in boundaries as he raced to 50 to keep the Ramblas comfortably above the run rate. In unison with Stocks, who got off the mark with a cracking streaky edge for four, Harriss maintained his efforts slashing and hoiking for boundary after boundary as the pair put on a(n admittedly one-sided) century partnership for the third wicket.
With drinks approaching, Stocks got cramped for room and departed bowled for a hugely important 11 to leave the Ramblas in need of 108 runs from the remaining 22 overs. With a far from daunting run-rate, and Sam Ford in next, the Ramblas were still not in panic mode.
Having reached an excellent hundred, Harriss got a rush of blood to the head and came charging down the pitch to get stumped for 104. Departing to warm applause from both sides, the fear amongst the Ramblas was that losing those two wickets so close together could precipitate a classic Ramblas collapse. Those fears certainly looked to be well founded, as Ford feathered a ripper to the keeper and – in a fine show of sportsmanship – immediately walked to avoid putting the umpire in a tough spot.
Five down and the fairly serene run chase had taken a turn. Still, it wouldn’t be the Ramblas if it was straight-forward, would it?
Parrett joined Loughlin at the crease and after initially trying to rein in his natural game, the former opened his arms and belted some wondrously huge sixes to all parts of the ground, while Loughlin too struck some cracking blows. The pair knew that if they could get their team to 200, they’d be in a great position to claim what would be a fabulous win. Having put on a partnership of 41, though, Loughlin toe-ended a big shot that looped high in the air as he departed for 27.
Haji was next in but he was gone in the blink of an eye, given LBW with the Ramblas still 49 runs shy of what was now looking an improbable victory. Coming in to support the big-hitting Parrett was captain-for-the-day Cooper, having selflessly dropped himself down the order. And though he took a while to get off the mark, courtesy of a streaky four, he did well to stick around with Parrett who continued to smite the bowlers like an unhinged god does to the unbelievers.
Sixes and fours, and some well-run singles, kept the scoreboard ticking over and left the Ramblas needing 28 from the last six overs. That’s 28 from 36 balls (in case you’re not Carol Vordermann). And that, dear reader, is very much in favour of the batting team. Surely they couldn’t muck it up?
Well… remarkably, they couldn’t.
Parrett toned down the big hits in favour of sensible running as he reached his maiden 50 and – with seven balls to spare and one run needed for victory – a flash outside off stump by Cooper raced over the fielder’s head for four to bring up the 50 partnership and, more importantly and impressively, the winning runs. The scorecard can be found here, on Play Cricket.
It was another stellar all-round performance by the Ramblas, with Haji and Loughlin impressive with the ball, while Danks, too, proved devastating, while the runs of Harriss, Loughlin and Parrett were particularly well-supported by Stocks and Cooper. The closeness of the game underlines the quality on both sides and a tense finish such as that is what makes the hard graft worthwhile.
Ramblas Men of the Match: I’m breaking with protocol here by anointing two MotMs. Any century is worthy of accolade, particularly at this level and Ash Harriss‘s blistering, boundary-filled effort is no different. From the same school of run accumulation (if not the same technique school), Geoff Parrett‘s first half-century is equally commendable as he maintained his composure to see the Ramblas over the line.