It might not be a rivalry to match the great local derbies of our time (AC-Inter, Everton-Liverpool, Cowdenbeath-Dunfermline…), but there was still a healthy amount of pride at stake as the Ramblas made the short journey up Pickhurst Rise to take on Wickham Park – the scene of the first ever Ramblas game, no less.
Looking to recover from the 45-run defeat the previous week against Cuddington Casuals, the Ramblas were forced into a few changes. Injury, weddings and unknown pleasures saw for Geoff Parrett, Skipper Stocks and Ash Harriss respectively, so in came Ahsan Haji, Chris Thomas and, making his début, Rich Ford – father of Ramblas stalwart Sam and the increasingly-playing Pete.
Winning the toss, Cap’n Cooper opted to bowl first, with Mark Loughlin and Ian Dacre taking the new ball. Alas, that ball didn’t last long as it was unceremoniously dumped into a neighbouring garden for six. However, Dacre soon got his revenge as the batsmen chased something of a wide one down the leg side only to successfully loop it up for a comfortable catch for the onrushing Sam Ford at ‘keeper.
Loughlin’s four-over burst was as tight as we’ve come to expect, as Alex Danks and Thomas came on to replace the opening bowlers. The former took a little time to find his radar, but he was soon troubling the batsmen as inside edges evaded the stumps and outside edges evaded the fielders. He was soon rewarded with one that slipped the bottom edge on an attempted hook as the big-hitting Bala departed.
At the other end, Thomas was offering up a mixed bag but having beaten the bat a couple of times and seen a couple of presentable chances put down, something of a rank ball tempted the new batsman to chase it outside leg and present Loughlin with a simple catch coming in from square leg.
Meanwhile, Danks was really steaming in now and – along with the slip cordon – was convinced he got his man with a nick to ‘keeper. However, despite some fervent appeals, the umpire adjudged it was bat to pad that had made the sound, which helped take the hosts to 119/3 at drinks.
The Ramblas returned post-refreshment knowing that chances had to be taken and a strong second 20 overs could still see them restrict Wickham Park to a chaseable total.
Danks continued to finish his eight-over spell and was again cursing his luck as one ball zipped directly between slip and ‘keeper, while the stumps somehow remained in tact. At the other end, Haji was showing no signs of rustiness having been out of action for a month due to Ramadan (Eid Mubarak, Ahsan!). The pair in tandem had managed to slow the run rate somewhat, but the hosts were still looking to hit out.
Replacing Danks from the Pavilion End was James Dilley, in for only his second Ramblas appearance. His six-over spell underlined his promise, often causing the batsmen problems before bowling the 50-making Raga. He continued in tandem with Pete Ford, who got rid of the well-set Sami with a catch off his own bowling that, shall we say, had him double-checking that he had the right ball in his hand…
In his third over, P. Ford struck once more, this time claiming the wicket courtesy of a sharp catch behind the stumps by brother Sam (that makes him sound a bit like a monk…). Changing ends, Haji replaced Dilley and it certainly paid dividends. First, a miscued hook was claimed in the deep by Loughlin. Then in the next over, a plum LBW decision gave him his second wicket before getting one to crash into the stumps of the new batsman with his very next ball. Alas, the first-ever Ramblas hat-trick was not to be, as the third ball was patted nervously back down the wicket.
Somewhat generously, Thomas was brought on in place of Pete Ford and, with the first ball of the last over of the innings, took a simple catch off his own bowling to leave the hosts all out for 226. Given the state of play at drinks, that wasn’t a bad comeback from the Ramblas, but the onus once more was going to be on a batting line-up bereft of some of its stars.
Heading back out after a solid feed, it was down to the Ford double-bill of Sam and Rich to open the batting and set the platform for what was a chase that seemed simultaneously eminently gettable and just out of reach. Which way would the coin fall..?
Solid base, soft centre
Showing few signs of the cobwebs he feared would be in place having not played for a while, Ford Snr looked comfortable in supporting his son who was soon in the swing of things, finding the boundary at regular intervals and pushing hard for some well-run singles.
Having got off the mark with a smart four, the elder Ford was looking to get it on the action, too. Alas, an attempted pull over square leg didn’t quite make it and a smart catch on the run brought about his demise and brought in Cap’n (for the day) Cooper. With the batsmen having crossed it was left to S.Ford to face the next ball and he should’ve been a goner as he nicked one through to the ‘keeper and was already on his way back to the hutch before turning to see the ball slip from his gloves. Was that the bit of good fortune the Ramblas had been waiting for?
Cooper and the younger Ford managed to put on a half-century partnership to take the Ramblas to drinks with them still needing over 140 for victory. But with wickets in hand, and Sam Ford well set that was not quite the imposing scenario it could have been.
Looking to up the ante, Cooper eventually succumbed for eight, to bring in the elder Ford brother. Again, the Ford double-act worked well for the Ramblas, as the pair found the boundary with regularity and still hunted down the all-important singles to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
With the younger Ford on 73, the partnership was broken, as he failed to get right through an attempted scoop over mid-wicket. Despite the disappointment at not going on to make a ton, he could still be proud of an innings that had set the right kind of platform to give the Ramblas at least half a chance of chasing down the runs needed to win.
That brought in Loughlin to join the last Ford standing with the former racing to 10 before getting caught in the deep. Pete Ford followed him shortly after in an inevitable Ramblas mini-collapse having scored his seemingly staple 16.
All that left the Ramblas needing to score at 10-an-over from the last 10, but the writing seemed to be on the wall with that flurry of wickets.
Haji and Dilley stuck around for a short while, but the runs were beginning to dry up and Haji went for four, with Thomas being bowled the very next ball (at least that was what he was told. He never even saw the ball…). Dacre saw off the hat-trick ball and, buoyed by last week’s 11, rarely looked in danger.
He was soon joined by Danks as Dilley departed for one, leaving Danks and Dacre (our Double Ds, if you really want to go there…Geoff…) time to enjoy themselves, both scoring 10 not out as the Ramblas closed on 162/8, meaning a 64-run defeat.
The scorecard of what was still an enjoyable contest in lovely conditions can be found on Play Cricket. The Ramblas were left cursing some loose bowling and their failure to take a few presentable chances in the field, which would have surely left the hosts posting something nearer or under 200. Still, given there were a few players turning out for the first time in a while, and some decent showings with the bat, there are seeds of hope for the rest of the season.
Ramblas MVP: While Ahsan Haji bowled two delightful spells that reaped rewards, Alex Danks delivered an unerring eight-over spell and Pete Ford put in a cracking all-round performance, this week’s award can only go to Sam Ford, whose 73 set the perfect platform for the Ramblas chase, while his ‘keeping was also top notch.