After an interminable winter break, that saw Jonny Stocks hand over the captaincy to Michael Cooper, it was finally time for the Kent Ramblas to return to action.
Not only was the trip to Headley Cooper’s first game as skipper, it also marked his 100th official game as a Rambla; a milestone marking seven years of dogged persistence, innumerable knee slides, some stellar catches and, perhaps most impressively, the coining of the phrase “a dot ball’s a hot ball”.
Inheriting his predecessor’s fortune, Cooper lost the toss, but was pleased to be put in the field, to ease the Ramblas into the new season. That said, there was some trepidation amongst the bowling fraternity at the sight of the short boundary.
Opening up, Mark Loughlin was on the button from the off and saw some sharp chances fly through the slip cordon as the hosts made a steady start. From the other end, Steven Fitch battled the left and right-hand combo gamely (something about as tantalising to him as a haircut is to a hippy), probing on a good length, but the Ramblas opening bowlers, backed up strongly in the field, were unable to make a breakthrough.
Changing things up, the Ramblas called on their twin spin of Doug Danks and Geoff Parrett. The pair were in fine fettle, drawing the batsmen forward and back, before Deadly Doug claimed the first scalp of the season – Stocks doing brilliant work under a steepler. Not to be outdone, Parrett got in on the act to cap his own splendid seven-over spell; a low full-toss eliciting a sharp catch by Sam Ford at deep square leg(ish).
In an abbreviated 35-over game, the hosts were looking on course for an imposing total; the short boundary proving fruitful for the batsmen as Headley got to 140 at the halfway stage. The break offered a chance for refreshments to be taken on board and for the visitors to scratch their heads at the umpire’s request for one of our number not to wear his cap back to front. Apparently, that’s not the done thing in this neck of the woods. Who knew..?
With Danks and Parrett bowling their seven on the bounce either side of drinks and seeing tough chances go begging in the field, Cap’n Cooper called Ford and Chris Thomas into the attack. In tandem, the pair put a bit of a squeeze on the well-set batsmen, drying up the boundaries with good line and length – and more than ably supported by strong groundwork in the field. Alas, neither could snaffle a wicket, but Loughlin returned for his last two overs and got the reward he deserved, sending the timber flying.
The pressure remained tight on the hosts’ batsmen, despite two half-centuries, and they finished up with a commanding total of 231/3. However, the good work done strangling the flow of runs in the second half meant the Ramblas felt there was a sniff of a chance.
With tea consumed (mainly by Ash Harriss) and lovingly-knitted wooly jumpers adorned, the Ramblas sent out Alex Danks – again sharp behind the stumps – and the aforementioned Harriss to take the early fight to Headley.
Continuing where he left off in the nets, A. Danks was in fine fettle straightaway – finding the boundary regularly and, although some of the running was casual, the pair rarely looked troubled. In an unexpected – and rarely seen – turn of events, Harriss played the role of supporting cast, as A. Danks pushed through for twos and added to his array of boundaries.
Having put on a one-sided 57-run partnership, the pair showed how much they wanted to spend more time together by departing in successive balls; first, Harriss departing as he tried to force the issue and then the very next ball, A. Danks following his partner to the hutch for a brilliant 40-ball 48.
That left Stocks and new boy Jeff Brown with some rebuilding to do and although the opening pair had put on a fine partnership, the run rate was still not going in the right direction for the Ramblas.
Stocks remained stoic against the new bowlers as they began to find their rhythm with the ball, while Brown followed up his strong work in the field with a fine display – cutting and pulling for four where possible, but also ensuring the scoreboard ticked over.
The two stayed together for an important 60-run partnership over 11 overs before Brown was adjudged LBW for a 36-ball 43 that had the Ramblas still in the hunt. Stocks lasted a few more overs supporting Ford before a well-hit drive down the ground found a fielder.
Cap’n Cooper entered the fray knowing that, while there were still 10 overs to go, he couldn’t afford to spend too long seeing himself in. Working well together, Ford and Cooper called through for singles and twos to keep the fielding side honest, while the former looked to punish any bad ball with a boundary – alas, these were becoming few and far between as the hosts successfully put the brakes on the run chase.
Knowing that it was now or never, the two looked to up the ante, before a mini Ramblas collapse finally put to bed any lingering optimism that the total could be reached.
First, Ford was brilliantly caught in the deep on the run. Cooper followed suit shortly after, succumbing in similar fashion, before Parrett went four and out on his two-ball cameo.
Loughlin and D. Danks stayed together for a while as the sun began to set, both literally and metaphorically on the Ramblas’ day. On the sidelines, the last two men – Thomas and Fitch – had scrambled to get their batting paraphernalia on as the wickets tumbled, but this last partnership looked to have robbed them of the chance of a brief stay in the middle.
With three balls to go, Fitch saw his chance disappear, as D. Danks stole a single, and with Thomas already unpadding and deboxing, Loughlin went and failed his teammate by getting out to the penultimate ball. A mad dash to get suitably re-attired ended with the batsman not getting near the final delivery, but that all-important not out remained intact.
In terms of the bigger picture, though, the Ramblas found themselves on the end of a 56-run defeat, as they just couldn’t build on the partnerships of Danks and Harriss and Stocks and Brown (both of which sound like legal firms with slightly less than legit practices…).
The setting was great, the hosts hospitable – and definitely the stronger side. The Ramblas did well in the field, particularly in the second half of the innings, and kept themselves in the game until the final third of the innings when time ran out and the batsmen were forced to live more dangerously.
All in all, a decent (you’re here in spirit, Peter…) start to the season and we look forward to returning to the hallowed turf of Ex Blues next week to take on Locksbottom.
Ramblas MVP: Despite the defeat, there were some strong candidates, as Alex Danks set his stall out for the season with the bat, and Mark Loughlin, Doug Danks and Geoff Parrett all showed they’ll be forces to be reckoned with when in the attack. However, on his Ramblas debut, this week’s honour goes to Jeff Brown. His innings ensured there was no loss of impetus after losing two quick wickets and it was at the perfect rate to keep us in the game.