To (mis)quote Dinah Washington, what a difference a week makes.
After the shellacking and suffering in the cold of last week down in Hythe, the sunshine in West Wickham brought with it renewed optimism and opportunity for the Kent Ramblas in their first home game of the season.
Not only were the conditions changed, the home side’s line-up also had a different complexion, with Tom Danks, Peter Ford and Ian Dacre out for a variety of reasons. In their place came the familiar faces of Geoff Parrett, Howard Hardy-King and Ash Harriss, as the Locksbottom captain won the toss and opted to bat first.
Opening up from the Tennis Courts End, Alex Danks was looking more like his old self, with his pace flummoxing batsman and wicketkeeper alike on occasion. His partner in crime for the first stages was Steve Fitch who was again in delightfully miserly form, beginning with a maiden and then in his second over, the visitors’ batsmen took an ill-advised single on a leg glance that the on-rushing A. Danks swooped upon and with an aesthetically-pleasing under arm strike ran the batter out with a direct hit.
The opening bowlers continued to crank up the pressure, as the run rate stalled, before Fitch got a well-deserved wicket thanks to a smart catch by the back-tracking Harriss at slip. After nine overs, the hosts had stifled the Locksbottom batters. However, the next partnership proved much more stubborn, with lusty leg-side play proving profitable against a mixed bag of bowling.
Mark Loughlin and Hardy-King, though, were unlucky not to get among the wickets in this spell; the latter seeing a tough chance go down and the former firmly on the money. It began the first of a few swings of the pendulum, as the visitors got back to a scoring rate that dragged them back into the game. With drinks approaching, Skipper Stocks turned to Chris Thomas and last week’s hero, Doug Danks.
Another tough chance went down off of Thomas (with the ball going for six to rub insult into injury), but he broke a threatening partnership as the big-hitting batsman top-edged one that was comfortably caught by ‘keeper Sam Ford.
At the other end, D. Danks was initially struggling to find his rhythm, but it’s impossible to keep that man out of the limelight so far this season, bowling the half century-making opener for his fourth wicket of the season with one that skidded on. Next, the now obligatory vociferous LBW appeal from Thomas – in conjunction with Ford – proved convincing enough for the bowler to claim his second of the day.
Those inroads had the Ramblas in a promising position, as they found themselves deep in the Locksbottom middle order. Alas, regular readers will know that it’s never plain-sailing for the Ramblas, and some monstrous hits from the visitors’ No.6 suddenly saw his side race above the 150 mark and towards a challenging total.
The only solace for the Ramblas was that he was in danger of running out of partners too quickly to take the game away from them, as D. Danks first had Hardy-King to thank for a catch that took him to five for the season (potentially the fast Rambla to hit that landmark) and was soon celebrating again with one that beguiled the batsman with flight. The returning Parrett was next in on the act as Thomas caught one in the deep one-handed at the second attempt.
Despite these wickets, the Lockbottom No.6 continued to punish anything straight or on leg as he cruised to his 50. The Ramblas, now feeling the pressure a little, were guilty of a few slips in the field, but D.Danks completed his four-fer with another wicket that beat the bat onto the stumps. That just left the batting machine to steal the strike where he could and nudge his side’s score above 200 before the Ramblas thought they had their man, as Thomas caught one off Hardy-King. The no-ball decision that halted the celebrations was a little perplexing, but a few balls later, the returning A. Danks mopped up the innings as the batter went for one boundary too many and was comfortably caught at long-on by Loughlin to see the visitors all out for 220.
One of the beauties of being the home side is that the Ramblas know there is a guaranteed win on the tea front and they (and the Locksbottom side) were not to be disappointed by a scrumptious spread courtesy of our Skipper’s mum. Watching the ravenous Ramblas hover with intent was akin to watching a group of lions circling some gazelles.
Fully fed and ready for battle, Ford and Stocks went out to begin the run chase in earnest. Some smart shots from both – including a smashed six from Ford – saw the Ramblas comfortably ahead of the required run-rate after six overs. However, a muted few overs brought some pressure and Ford was first man out for 28 thanks to the sort of catch you only see once a season, with the bowler instinctively pouching low one to his left. That signaled the end of a fine opening 56-run partnership, before Stocks followed bowled for a smart 26.
Parrett was third man in, but also third man out, but not before two boundaries ensured a run-a-ball eight. Cooper, having looked in good nick last week, was joined by Harriss, but the latter was a little unlucky in being bowled.
A 15-run partnership between Cooper and Loughlin steadied the ship a little, but the Ramblas were slipping behind the run-rate and losing wickets in one of those classic collapses. Loughlin was bowled for nine, and Cooper went for a stoic, but much-needed given the circumstances, 27-ball eight to leave the day’s duos of Danks – Doug and Alex – in charge of rescuing things.
Those hopes were short-lived, though, as D. Danks was caught with the score on 93 at the end of the 26th over. That left the Ramblas requiring 128 from 96 balls, with just three wickets remaining. Preparations for the evening’s drinking may have moved towards the forefront of the hosts’ minds, but they may have been a bit premature…
First, smart calls and running from A. Danks and Hardy-King – allied with some huge hits from the latter – suddenly gave a bit of hope to the Ramblas and respectability to the score. The pair batted brilliantly to take the score to 130/8 halfway through the 30th over before A. Danks was bowled for 14.
That brought in Fitch, who allowed Hardy-King to continue his work, reaching a 22-ball 50 with a four. Suddenly, hope had turned to somewhere approaching belief, which was further heightened by the first career six for Fitch. The pair’s fine work had left a simple equation for the last five overs: 38 runs required from 30 balls. However, with only the increasingly nervy-looking Thomas left to come in, there was certainly no counting of chickens from the Ramblas.
A solid 36th over saw only four conceded by the bowler, meaning it was now an even more awkward-looking 34 from 24 left for the Ramblas to take one of their more unlikely victories.
While nerves jangled on the sidelines, the calmest heads for the hosts were at the crease, with Hardy-King turning down singles to stay on strike – a move that was more than justified with six after six after six. At the other end, Fitch was going about his business diligently; leaving astutely and finding the boundary to relieve the pressure where possible.
Come the end of the 38th over, the maths was looking more favourable for the Ramblas, with 10 needed from 12. However, Hardy-King allayed everyone’s nerves finishing six-four to clinch the game with eight balls to spared and end not-out with a remarkable 38-ball 81. The scorecard can be found on Play Cricket.
It will surely go down as one of the great Ramblas games – not just because of the win, but down to the sheer drama and the way momentum swung this way and that, with everyone contributing with bat, ball or in the field.
Ramblas MVP: A first Ramblas four-fer is not enough for Doug Danks to claim successive awards, while a belting 21-ball 22 in that match-winning partnership of 91 to go with his 5-1-13-1 with the ball also sees Steve Fitch just miss out. No, for that blistering 38-ball 81 and calm head that decided the game, this week’s award can only go to Howard Hardy-King.