After a season of never-ending cherished moments and unforgettable experiences, the much anticipated, though unquestionably dreaded club day had finally arrived.
For many it marked the final day of Ploughmans cricket for the season, a season which surely can only be revered as one of the greatest seasons of cricket in history.
When I look back and reflect upon my decision to stay in London for this year, at a time of multiple uncertainties with pro’s and con’s tipping the scale this way and that, a deciding factor proved fateful: The Plough. Sure, Sydney’s got nice beaches, but has it got the inconsistent bounce of the Hollies? And sure, I miss my mates, but there’s scarcely a void Chris Silvapulle or Niraj Tailor couldn’t fill. The weather? Well yeah, it’s better, but who wouldn’t want to travel 90 minutes to Ottershaw to spend 3 hours fielding in the pouring rain, all for that tantalising experience of ‘being out there’?
For me, The Plough is London, and 4 months ago the thought of being here without being able to don the blue and yellow cap smelled worse than Max Gumpert’s helmet. Who’d have thought that in the face of all that adversity, the 2020 Ploughmans season would be half as spectacular as it proved. A season of personal milestones, broken records, new faces, and devastating goodbyes all leading us to Saturday 26th September at the Hollies, where England and Ireland, led by an intoxicating and intoxicated Oli Lonsdale, would take on an immovable force in Trent Catanzariti’s, Rest of the World.
The pre-game antics kicked off at Herne Hill’s Off the Cuff for a Captain’s breakfast of the highest calibre. Oli Lonsdale, in charge of ordering, saw Trent unsettled early as the breakfast burrito was, in fact, not what he wanted. The toss followed as Trent called heads, thus losing the toss, Lonsdale sent the Rest of the World into bat on a bitter and blustering morning.
The stage was set, the bets were in and Matt Hickson and Alex (Cake) Julliene were padded up. England and Ireland opened their account with an all-star partnership in Matt Ridgway and Liam Gray. With bragging rights up for grabs, first blood was drawn in the 4th over through Liam Gray and an exceptional catch from Louis Wilby at mid-on. 2 consecutive boundaries off the bat of Hickson seemed destined to be 3 when he made decent contact with the tactical low full toss, lofting it over the infield, or so it seemed, the right mit of Wilby plucked it out of the air, one handed over his head. OUT! The score was 1-15 and the danger man was out of the innings, a crucial moment, and didn’t they know it. Suri came to the crease to meet fire with fire, connecting with a few but ending up caught, ever so easily, by Max at cover, bowled by that man Wilby.
Wickets continued to steadily fall as the runs proved hard to come by. The Hollies played as it so often does, poorly. Lonsdale’s decision to bowl first seemed to be paying off as Catanzariti’s boys hoped for heroics. Ridgway bowled beautifully with tight lines and lengths, bringing him the wicket of the Cake off a classy caught and bowled. He could have had another if only he really wanted it. Finishing his 6 overs with an impenetrable 1-17.
With Captain Trent at the crease with his Aussie prodigy Bharat, consolidation was in order and the rebuild was on. The pair combined for a steadying 20 runs before the Captain was on his way for a gutsy 13, but it was Bharat who would prove the pivotal role. Latching on to anything short, playing to his strengths and waiting for the bowlers to miss their lengths he carried his bat for an unbeaten 50 in an admiral performance. It would be the only 50* of the day on one that suited the bowlers and where those we’ve come to expect plenty of, would fall short. Batted mate.
Captain Lonsdale seemingly getting his fix from departing internationalists, with cringeworthy vocals and stare downs that lasted longer than an untimely sex scene during a film with your nan, ended with two prized scalps. The in-form Niraj and the notoriously dangerous Mr Pretorius thanks to a remarkable catch on the boundary by Max Gumpert. The skipper finishing with a Captain’s figures of 2-13.
Contributions down the order from Dave Graydon and Duray along with a flurry of late boundaries from Silva in his final innings for the Plough saw the rest of the world reach a respectful, and at one point unlikely, 157 from their 40.
At the break the UK locals seemed confident. Too confident? Time would tell. But in its fighting spirit the Rest of the World’s troops were rallied, heads were raised, and spirits were lifted, as, if there’s anything our Tyrannosaurus-rent can do, it’s inspire his teammates to keep working hard. Chris Silvapulle didn’t need a second invitation, bringing Iskander onto his least favourite foot, the front foot, first ball. The bait taken, Izzy lofted the ball straight to the Cake at cover, the ideal start for the defending champions there for the taking, suspended in mid-air, the whole ground held its breath as the ball went in, and bounced out. Dropped. The chance goes begging, how costly would that be?
Opening bowlers Chris Silvapulle and Matthew Hopper kept chipping away and got the oppo off to an optimizing start. Hanzi Shaffique and Iskander’s back foot fought valiantly until Silva, choosing to take the bat out of the equation, broke through the defences of Hanzi. Jon Ryves arrived at the crease for a tantalising boundary before his defences were broken by Graydon.
That brought the prized wicket of Max Gumpert to the crease to join Iskander, who continued to guide the ball effortlessly to third man and allowed any half volleys through to the keeper. Max got on with business, blistering his first ball to the fence and at 2-50, with these two in, the Rest of the World would need something special.
Unphased by the arduous task of selecting who should bowl to a triple centurion, the Captain turned to experience in Dave Graydon, the very man who was undone by Gumpert in the opening innings. Revenge was on the cards, the clouds gathered, Archer and Smith like, the whole atmosphere evolved around them. Not a peep from the side-line, spectators fixated on the context, the scorer couldn’t see and not for the last time would we hear Mr Ryves pipe up with his new catch phrase: ‘Move, I need to see’. And see we did; Gumpert’s infamous wander down the wicket would finally be his undoing as he attempted his signature ‘don’t-know-where-this-is-going-but-it’s-going-far’ shot, only to find the bat would only meet a slither of the ball, which then crashed into his middle stump. Bowled for 10. Job done. Game on, and everyone knew it.
It didn’t get any easier from there. Grant Wolledge, a rock at the crease with a shot selection as long as your arm entered to settle proceedings and get his team through to drinks. He paired with Iskander, and calmed the mindset of his compatriots for a 40-run stand. Drinks were taken, the score read 106-3 and the UK noses were slightly in front and sniffing hard, but the settlement would quickly be breached in the first over after the break. Duray Pretorius bowls Grant Wolledge for 15. 106-4.
It was time to rip through that middle order, and what better man to front a demolition job than the Plough’s very own Decepticon, Niraj Tailor. Not only does the man know how to take a wicket, he knows how to let you know he’s taken a wicket. Having heard it all from his time in the middle, it was his turn to set the wheels in motion. He took one wicket. Two wickets? Three wickets! FOUR wickets and the game had turned on its head. Catanzariti’s boys raced after Niraj as he flew across the Hollies, hands to ears pleading for some more banter from the dishevelled opposition who couldn’t quite believe what they were witnessing.
Iskander his first victim, falling for a classy 49, 1 away from that cherished retirement deal.
But the man wasn’t alone, Silva was brought back on and would take his final wicket for the Plough. One that would see Duray Pretorius’s uncanny impression of Russell Crowe in Gladiator through a quite remarkable one-handed, right-handed catch, inches above the ground in the gully, getting rid of the man of the momomoment MO off the bowling of Silva, confirming that we on the sidelines were, in fact, entertained.
Chris Silvapulle’s final wicket for the Plough proving a special moment.
What an innings it has been for Silva. He leaves behind him a legacy of the purest gentlemanly class, the ability to Plough on deep into the late hours of the following morning and an infectious proclamation that that, is in fact, ‘outstanding’. Played mate.
Amidst the collapse, as Oli Lonsdale convinced those on the sidelines that his lofted cover drive straight to Suri (who took 2 wonderfully sharp chances in there) off Niraj was actually a good shot, Louis Wilby was getting to work, keeping the UK hopes alive. The man had well and truly decided that the best way to dampen the spirits of the bowlers was to loft them down the ground for 6, which he did to both Hickson and Pretorius, two remarkably respectable bowlers.
With the fall of Mo, the score read 156-9. 2 runs to win. 1 wicket to win. Wilby on strike. Who would bowl it?
Who could be more intimidating than the Captain himself, the T-Rent, the hard-worker. With a confidence lacking Damo at the non-striker’s end, this was the over. The first two balls didn’t interest Wilby, one interested umpire Lonnen who shaped to end the game on a wide, only to the vicious dissatisfaction of all those involved, the call would be revoked and the score unchanged.
2 runs to win, 1 wicket to win.
Catanzariti charging in, belief in his eyes and hope in his step, he bowled it short. Wilby, on 25*, pounced, pulled and connected as the ball sailed through the air, over the rope into the hands of a handsome spectator.
6 runs, England and Ireland win by 1 wicket.
A game of cricket fought until its final breath, intoxicating as it was unnerving, a summary of the 2020 season: a laugh, a surprise, a great time, with exceptional people, amidst outstanding cricket and unparalleled sportsmanship.
Well done to the captains who fought valiantly until the end, to Oli; for de-crowning the reigning champions, to Louis Wilby; for getting his team over the line, and to The Plough, for being exactly as it is.