With the England cricket team finishing off the Sri Lankans in double quick time up at Headingly on Saturday, the job of entertaining with bat and ball was left to the Kent Ramblas as they played host to (last-minute replacements) Horton Kirby.
Skipper Stocks could call upon Sam Ford and Howard Hardy-King again, who stepped into the boots of Alex and Doug Danks in the only changes from last week’s brilliant all-round win against Petts Wood. Against new opposition (including some players from their regional league side), Stocks won the toss and opted to bowl first in familiar conditions.
With the new cherry in hand, Mark Loughlin was steaming in from the Tennis Courts End and was in fine form – hitting the right length consistently and using the odd change of pace to keep the batsmen guessing. It was remarked that it was the finest spell we’ve seen from the Ramblas all-time leading wicket taker for a little while. In tandem with Loughlin was Steve Fitch who continued his own recent distinguished performances, niggling away on a tight line to keep the pressure on the visitors’ openers.
Although the run rate was still manageable from a Ramblas perspective, half-chances were as good as it got in the opening burst. However, Loughlin soon took things into his own hands to get a beauty through the gate and bowl the opener for the breakthrough. Alas, it was a case of be careful what you wish for, as the new batsman survived a hostile opening to suddenly burst into life and begin a rampage of boundaries and lost balls.
With Fitch departing for a well-earned breather after another excellent five-over spell, Hardy-King came on from the Gardens End… just as the new batsman was finding his stride. That saw a flurry of big sixes to really put the pressure back on the Ramblas.
Loughlin bowled through and in his penultimate over was part of the second dismissal, taking off the stumps after an arrowed throw from deep by Chris Thomas saw the other Kirby run out. Replacing him was Geoff Parrett who bowled with guile against an attacking pair – getting his just desserts (an hour or so before his actual desserts…) courtesy of a sharp stumping by S. Ford.
That wicket was just the boon required by a flagging Ramblas fielding collective, with the prospect of facing a target of 300-plus looking likely and acting as a trip back in time to the early days of the Ramblas journey.
However, the Ramblas never (well, rarely…) give up and a wicket for Ian Dacre thanks to a smart catch low down at mid on by Hardy-King meant they now had two new batsmen to bowl at and real hopes of keeping the target down to something approaching chaseable.
Another threatening partnership was burgeoning before Peter Ford bowled smartly to stem the tide and Thomas then got in on the act, claiming his fifth wicket of the season as P. Ford held on well at deep square leg. A surprise final over of off-spin added an element of the unknown to proceedings, too – especially for ‘keeper S. Ford on the first ball.
Tom Danks was then called upon and duly sent the stumps flying before an unexpected declaration came from the visitors with 4.2 overs remaining of their innings. So it was with quizzical looks and high expectations for a good feed that the Ramblas traipsed off having taking a bit of a pasting, but doing well to restrict Horton Kirby to 280-7.
Having enjoyed a tea that was of the usual high standards set by Mrs C – and that was utterly devoured in record time – the Ramblas readied themselves for a chase that, while improbable given the quality, felt tantalisingly in reach. Allied to that a sense of wanting to prove a point to a side that had declared, the hosts were ready to go down swinging. And if that’s your ethos, what better man to have opening up the batting than P. Ford, who joined his brother Sam in a slightly rejigged batting lineup?
The Ford double-bill certainly paid dividends, with watchful defense married with some mighty blows suddenly making the visitors’ fielders sit up and realise this was going to be no walkover.
A 21-ball 26 from S. Ford had really set the tone and he looked in one of those moods where he could go big against bowling that was certainly to his (and his brother’s) liking. Alas, a promising 40-run partnership was ended as he was caught. Still, it was just the tone-setting innings that had been required and the required run rate was at a manageable level.
Joining P. Ford was Danks and the pair maintained the powerful start in what would be the first of two successive rather one-sided 50-run partnerships, as the already-late-for-dinner P. Ford opened his arms and drove and pulled his way to 53 off 57 balls before being well caught in the deep. The score was on 93-2 at the end of the 17th over and the opening triumvirate had created a platform to get Ramblas’ fans dreaming of an unlikely win.
Skipper Jonny Stocks stepped into the fray next, with Danks taking over the aggressor’s role after a steady start. He and Stocks put on a 61-run partnership that left the Ramblas needing 127 from the final 10 overs, with seven wickets in hand. A tall order any day of the week, let alone against a bowling attack that offered little in the way of gimmes and Michael Cooper headed to the middle knowing that there was a need to counter-attack if there was any hope of pulling off a famous victory.
However, the high-risk strategy – also meaning he had to abandon his normal game that has seen a successful start to the season – did not pay dividends, being bowled by a nippy delivery. A similarly brief stay by Hardy-King at least garnered four runs, but he departed in the same manner and when Stocks was bowled for nine, the score was suddenly 161-6 with seven overs to go.
With Parrett and Loughlin now in, the Ramblas at least knew there were likely to be a few fireworks to celebrate as the innings drew to a close. The pair did not disappoint, with some lusty blows and smart running showing the Ramblas don’t go down without a fight before their 30-run partnership was brought to an end with Parrett LBW for 14.
Fitch was next man in, with three and half overs left as the rain started to come down heavier. He and Loughlin hared between the wickets and found the boundary rope with regularity to take the Ramblas over the 200 mark, as the hosts completed their 40 overs. Loughlin had made another important innings of 23 not out, with Fitch 14 not out at the close, as the Ramblas ended on 220 – some 60 runs shy of victory.
The all-round effort was again encouraging to see from the Ramblas and if a few of those tough chances had been taken in the field, the outcome could have been different. Alas, the superior opposition rode their luck and duly punished the bowling attack. It was, however, great to see the opening batsmen take the game to the visitors and at least give the Ramblas a whiff of victory.
Onwards to Norwood and a ground that holds very few happy memories. Although, we might at least be able to locate Laurie’s batting gloves…
Ramblas MVP: Despite the fairly heavy defeat, there were some strong performances among the Ramblas. Despite the all-round efforts of Mark Loughlin and the batting of Sam Ford and Tom Danks, this week’s award goes to Peter Ford. The aggressive nature of his batting means he’s not going to die wondering, but when he makes contact that ball knows that it’s been hit and it was a fine half-century that gave a glimmer of hope.