Strong Sussex = Strong Highgate?

“In Sussex, if it’s not the devil that makes an appearance, then it’s likely to be a dragon.” – Michael O’Leary

Initially a Sussex theme was settled on here to try and challenge/justify my own suppositions regarding its place status, specifically the way Sussex is perceived outside of its native population. I would propose that Sussex’s contribution to UK life is often overlooked, with neighbouring Kent, (dubbed ‘the garden of England’ by Henry VIII), attracting a far higher level of recognition and intrigue. Sussex County here is being referred to as the area encompassing East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton, in accordance with its cricketing boundaries, albeit politically they are run as separate authorities. And whilst I have an intense urge to detail the legend of Horsham’s folklore dragon (1614), and discuss the social impact of Brighton pride in normalising LGBTQ relationships, this report is notionally about the 2s county league fixture against Hampstead. A match where two proud Sussexians(?) were appropriately decisive in a tidy Highgate performance.

Following a narrow loss to title favourites Shepherds Bush in our first game, the magoos now hosted a gifted (on paper) Hampstead side at the Field of Dreams. Ollie Deme was the standout performer from week 1, with a fluent 79 against a probing Sheybu attack. Our Ditchling born number 6 could not make this one due to exam commitments, but fittingly a couple of Sussex southpaws bolstered the ranks in his place. Sam Dorrington (Crawley) was making his Highgate debut, slotting in at number 5 and bringing some seam up wobble to the bowling attack. This of course came alongside the much anticipated return of Ed Atkins (Midhurst) following a five year work stint in Singapore.

Hampstead triumphed in the coin toss and predictably stuck us in on a damp/green May surface. Skipper (Rags) and wicket keeper (JDS) opened up, but it soon became apparent their trademark scoring shots were restricted by a lack of pace and bounce in the pitch. Both unfortunately fell early on and I joined Akky at 14-2, as we attempted to cautiously rebuild before the drinks interval. It was far from pretty but we slowly began to grab a foothold in the game, mainly through a combination of healthy edges (Highgate runs) and the occasional wide. When I nicked off with the score on 61, Sam arrived and combined with Akky to enact the defining partnership of the match. Having seen off the new ball, Atkins now began to expansively drive over extra cover with increasing timing and shot power. Meanwhile Dorrington was mercilessly punishing anything above the eyeline, with a graceful straight mixer onto North London being the notable highlight. The Hampstead skipper then boldly introduced a part time leggie to a short leg side boundary, and both men sought to pepper the tennis courts at will. This welcome torrent of boundaries saw the scoring rate soar and the gators begin to find their cheerful voices on the Highgate balcony. Atkins eventually departed for 64, top scoring with a well-paced knock that included 5 mixers. As sporting returns go, it probably ranked somewhere between Thierry Henry’s comeback goal against Leeds and Tyson Fury’s redemption fight against Wilder. Fair play Akky (clapping emoji).

Adnan arrived at the crease under instruction to go big, and characteristically finished the innings off with a flamboyant 31* off 22 balls. In amongst all this this Sam was stumped for 39, and a few wickets fell in the latter overs. The end result though, was that the gate had racked up 210-8 off their 45 overs; a sizeable total to chase in bowler friendly conditions.

The Hampstead top order would have to go some but they certainly had the players to do it. A stacked batting unit boasted R Keen, (1st team prem hundred against us in 2018) and S Sharma, (former Finchley 1st team gun). However, a strikingly youthful opening attack of Newell and Holloway took the new nut, and immediately exploited the favourable conditions. They ripped two priceless poles each as scoreboard pressure began to tell, with Keen caught driving after a string of dot balls. At 36-4 Hampstead were looking ropey at best, and seemingly oblivious to conditions they continued offering catches to Highgate’s ring fielders. Sharma was still there however, and emboldened by me shelling him at short extra (peepers gone), he raced to an assertive and boundary laden 50. He appeared to be playing a lone hand though, as Thaxton and Addy crucially picked up wickets at the other end. Eventually the pressure told and Sharma was caught by in the deep off Addy, his departure signalling the realistic end of Hampstead’s chase. This just left Dorrington to mop up the tail with a couple of debut scalps, confirming a superb 64 run victory for the magoos and 10 points.

This match of course belonged to the Sussex boys, but all 11 gators played with an appreciation of the discipline required to win early season fixtures. A perfect template to follow, there is no reason we cannot continue to trouble the wins column this season. Next week we travel to rivals North Middlesex for a local derby, and hopefully we will carry through the same mentality that got us on the board here.

Say it with me: Strong Sussex, Strong Highgate.