Many of us hadn`t played against Stoke Newington CC on Hackney Marshes before, so finding the tiny bridge (across the river Lea) to get to the ground proved challenging. Especially when there was a queue of traffic so there was a wait for other cars to leave the car park before our players could get across. We arrived joint top of the league with SNCC and Harrow, all with 3 league wins and 31 points, so this felt like a crunch game. We were still waiting for one player when I tossed with the SNCC 3s skipper. He won the toss and chose to bat. Happily, our final player pitched up just as we were about to take the field.
The Taker, claiming I`d had the temerity to bowl him uphill in the last game (I`d thought it was pretty flat) claimed the end where he could waltz in down a gentle slope, leaving the youthful Raz to come uphill at the other end. First ball, their opener (and skipper) played him off the back foot through the covers. There was an easy two, but he tried to come back for a badly judged third and was run out! Next over Raz persuaded their other opener to nick off, where Chintan held a smart slip catch. So, 2 for 2 after two overs. Could we run through them? John was bowling well, good control as ever. Raz was having some problems with a strong breeze. Their numbers 3 and 4 set about re-building their innings with some watchful and solid batting. There was some uneven bounce and movement, batting didn`t look so easy. I turned to spin, Fergus Carty replacing Raz and in his 5th over he bowled their no 3 through the gate, for 41. John kept going at the other end and had their no 4 caught for 36. He then got another, their no 5 smartly caught at slip, again by Chintan, for a single in his 10th over. They were 95 for 5 and it felt like we were in charge, hopeful of bowling them out for well under 200.
But their no 6 had other ideas. He took on our spinner, Fergus, and the Taker in his closing overs. He had luck in just clearing cover a couple of times, playing and missing often, but did put away anything loose. We attacked the other end too and Carty picked up a second wicket, their no 7 falling for 13 to a catch in the deep. Taker had bowled 12 so had to come off with 12-2-2-36, much the most economical figures of our bowlers. Andrew Jonson came on and bowled a good first few overs. I brought Fergus off after 10 at the other end as their big-hitting no 6 was swinging away. I thought Blackie, with his left-arm line of attack, could ask him different questions. He did, but their no 6 perfected a strange “fetch” shot, where he would drag balls from well outside off stump and deposit them to mid-wicket. In his sixth over, Andrew picked up their no 8, also for 13, but he was replaced by an able no 9 who was also capable of finding the boundary. Their no 6 finally fetched one too many, and Blackie had him well caught on the boundary for 59. But he`d done damage. No chance of bowling them out for under 200 now. They added a few more, finishing on 218 off their 45 overs. Not a bad score on a helpful track. Daniel du Toit excelled behind the stumps, only four byes eluded him.
With no Martin, or Fletch, I asked a few guys who might be on to open with me. Chintan, although he prefers batting 3 to 5, put his hand up. I faced the first over and felt good after clipping a four off the first ball. Chintan was not so lucky. He got a good one, fifth ball, and was out lbw. This wasn`t one of those you would quibble with. He probably walked off wishing he hadn`t let me talk him into opening. Chris Nelson joined me. After a careful start against some decent bowling, and after giving a sharp caught & bowled chance, he found his rhythm and was batting well, scoring quickly. We put on fifty. I then aimed an overly ambitious drive off the first ball of a new bowler`s spell. He looked to be dropping it, but juggled and clung on for a caught & bowled. It seemed to damage his hand in the process, but I was trudging off. Batters joined Chris at 59 for 2. He looked good. The two of them took the score to 88. Then, disaster struck. Chris straight drove crisply and the bowler deflected the ball onto the stumps at the non-striker`s end. Batters, backing up, was run out for 10. It must be one of the most unfortunate ways to get out. Still, at 88 for 3 and going at 5 an over we fancied ourselves.
Blackie joined Chris and went on to play his best innings yet for the 4s this season. He and Chris put on 51 until Chris was out to one that lifted on him and took the glove. He`d scored a fine 87 and had looked good for a ton. The score was 139 when he was out, but Blackie was still going well. The SNCC skipper knew, at 139 for 4, he would have to bring back his opening bowler to take wickets, otherwise we would surely get the 80 we needed. Arthur joined Chris but was out for just a single to one that kept low from the quicker bowler. Unlucky. Daniel came out to join Blackie. They put on 23 before Blackie top edged one to square leg for 37. 183 for 6, loads of overs left. 36 to win. Then it happened again. Andrew had joined Daniel and Daniel drove one very straight. The bowler, again, deflected it onto the stumps. Andrew was run out by a yard. Fergus joined Daniel at 185 for 7. SNCC smelt blood. They brought on a slow bowler who was turning it. Crowded the bat. Fergus looked uncertain. After nine dot balls he tried to break free but top edged a sweep and was gone. 190 for 8. The Taker joined Daniel. Could he be a hero with the bat, like in the game v Crouch End…..Not again, sadly, their slow bowler accounted for him, lbw for 6. In fading light, facing their opening bowler at one end and a decent spinner at the other, Daniel had striven manfully at the other end, powerless as wickets fell. Raz joined him, at 196 for 9. 23 still needed. They were strong favourites now. Daniel hit a four and a two. Raz clipped a two and two singles. But then, the uneven bounce struck again as one on the stumps, from their opening bowler, again kept low. There was nothing Daniel could do to get a bat on it. The scoreboard read 206 but, on totting up the scorebook, we actually finished on 210. Still just short of the 219 we`d needed.
This felt like one that got away. Two very unlucky run outs at non-striker`s end, and uneven bounce, cost us dearly. Next up are Bessborough. Need to win that to stay in the chase for top spot.