It was a day of toil and trouble for the Kent Ramblas as they suffered a chastening defeat at the hands of neighbours Wickham Park.
Giddy from a rare win at the toss, Michael Cooper had little choice but to put the hosts into bat, with a damp pitch only going to get drier and, theoretically, making batting easier as the game progressed. That, though, didn’t account for a sub-par Ramblas performance.
With recent battle scars against Wickham Park still fresh, the skipper wanted to rein in the hosts’ big-hitting line-up and opted for the control of Mark Loughlin and Doug Danks from the off; the former unlucky not to claim a scalp early on as a chance fizzed through the inexperienced slip cordon. While the pair were largely keeping it tight and the Ramblas saw a few chances go begging, the boundaries did begin to rack up as Wickham Park raced to 52 without loss in the tenth over.
Giving Loughlin a breather and retaining the option to bring him back on later, Cap’n Cooper turned to Ian Dacre from the Pavilion End. Having spent the last six months traversing the southern hemisphere and Asia, Dacre was understandably a little ring-rusty, but still displayed glimpses of the old magic with the ball (and, at the match’s end, the bat…).
As D. Danks finished another fine eight-over spell unlucky to remain wicketless and Dacre’s lack of game play forced the skipper to rethink, Cooper called upon Steve Fitch and Chris Thomas to see through the final four overs before drinks.
Fitch was immediately into his (shuffly) stride, beating the batsman with just his fourth ball to dislodge the bails and give the Ramblas a much-needed boost.
He then repeated the trick with the fourth ball of his next over, this time having the safe hands of Cooper to thank; the skipper running in from the boundary to position himself well under the high, looping ball before having the composure to take the catch.
Despite not finding as much rhythm as his partner, Thomas was still finding some interest when he stuck to his line and was rewarded at the start of the final over before drinks as the new batsman chased one outside off and played on to his wicket.
That salvo from two of the Ramblas’ longest-serving members had taken the score from 112/0 to 135/3 in the space of four overs. Still, as drinks were gratefully imbibed at the halfway stage of the innings, the visitors knew there was plenty of work to be done to ensure Wickham Park were restricted to a manageable target.
Refreshed, revitalised and raring to go, the Ramblas resumed with tails up. A further well-deserved wicket for Fitch – thanks to another very well-taken catch at long-on by Ed Gibbs in the 27th over – had the Ramblas hoping to soon be in the tail, but that was as good as it got as Fitch and Thomas both finished their eight-over spells. In fact, the only other moment of note was the latter’s inexplicable amnesia of how to bowl a cricket ball, getting no-balled for one of the clearest ‘chucks’ seen. No-one, least of all the bowler, really knew how that happened, with even the umpire adding salt to the wounds as he told a red-faced Thomas that he “hadn’t seen one like that for a very long time”.
The final eight overs were taken in tandem by Dacre and Gibbs; the former unlucky to see one tough chance go down and another plop straight to where a fielder had just moved in from and Gibbs unable to capitalise on a strong first over as the hosts closed for 303/4 from their 40 overs.
The Ramblas were left a little perplexed as they consumed the hosts’ fine tea, wondering how so many ugly leg-side slogs had gone unpunished, while also acknowledging that the all-round fielding performance had largely been below par. However, the beauty of cricket is that there’s always a second innings to seek redemption if you’ve ballsed up the first, and it was with hope (if not expectation) that our Danks double of Alex and Tom headed out to open the batting.
Not often a feature of the Ramblas game, but executed well in the opening stages here, A. and T. Danks were alert to every quick single, as they nudged and nurdled to keep the scoreboard ticking – albeit below what was a challenging required rate. Alas, the partnership was cut short on 25, as A. Danks was out caught for 12 as he chased one outside the off stump. Cap’n Cooper was in next, but was just as soon trudging back to the sidelines having been bamboozled by a fizzing delivery that tickled the bail off…
Next man in was Dave Green, who, having gamely laboured in the field, was now ready to bring his own brand of ‘see-ball-absolutely-belt-ball’ to the party and was handed a reprieve second ball as an ugly swipe across the line was somehow dropped by a back-pedalling slip to prevent three wickets falling in the same over.
Having winced at these antics from the other end, purist T. Danks knew he would have to guide the Ramblas through as far as possible if they were to have any chance of running Wickham Park close. The change of bowling clearly met his tastes, as the scoreboard ticked along nicely following a few profitable overs of well-struck boundaries and sharp singles. However, a very sharp take down the leg-side by the keeper from one the umpire adjudged the batsman to have nicked brought about the demise of T. Danks for a very solid 27.
In next was Matt Rudgyard, another who had done unsung work in the field, as he and Green resumed what is becoming a very common partnership for the Ramblas. The batsmen took advantage of some further charitable bowling to take the score to 65 in the 14th over, before Green’s luck ran out and he was caught for eight. Loughlin joined Rudgyard next, but he could only score a brace before being bowled.
While Rudgyard was looking in fine nick, the rest of his team-mates were making a meal of things and Gibbs was the latest to come and go, this time, though, courtesy of a tempter outside the off stump that was edged to the diving ‘keeper. Sometimes, there’s just a ball with your name on it. Next up was the man who talked up his average (55, y’know?) as much as Tim Sherwood did his win ratio as Spurs manager. Yes, Deadly Doug was intent on preserving that all-important figure as he looked to offer some sustained support to Rudgyard.
Despite the running sometimes appearing as though it should be accompanied by the Benny Hill theme tune, the pair presented a bit of fight, as Rudgyard biffed his way to a string of boundaries – including a six that was eventually called by the fielder who had let the ball slip through his fingers on the rope. Alas, his maiden Ramblas half-century was not to be on this occasion, as Rudgyard was bowled for an outstanding 42.
With two genuine number 11s left on the sidelines, it would be down to D. Danks and new man Fitch to offer the final semblance of resistance in what was becoming something of a procession as we entered just the 29th over. Given the Ramblas’ score was only on 133, there was little more to play for than a bit of personal pride. And Dank Snr’s average…
Unfortunately, the wicket-taking machine couldn’t protect that average, D. Danks getting caught for 11 to bring in Thomas who managed to sneak a few runs in tandem with Fitch, who was looking on his game.
Whatever the situation, there’s always a way for the Ramblas to produce some high drama or entertainment and the next six balls proved that. First, with Fitch getting run out as he dawdled on a second run…
…then, Dacre proved what you’ve never had you can’t lose as he simply stood back and all but welcomed a turning ball on to his stumps:
That left the Ramblas some 204 runs shy of victory, as they were bowled out for 140 from just 30 overs. In truth, the hosts seem to have something of a hex over the Ramblas, who have rarely performed well against them, but the visitors have also seldom put on such a ragged performance in the field, which left them immediately on the back foot.
As ever, it was a game played in the right manner (if not the right technique at times…) and it’s now off to Bickley Park next week for the Ramblas to see if they can build on last year’s brilliant win.
Ramblas MVP: Despite a cracking showing with the ball from Steve Fitch to garner three well-earned wickets, this week’s award goes to the Matt Rudgyard for a fine innings that almost single-handedly dragged the Ramblas’ score towards respectability.