Another scorching hot Saturday saw us in transit once more, this time making the slightly longer drive to Staplefield, exotic yet somehow forlorn like an empty bottle of Malibu. With the mood sullen following England’s midweek World Cup exit, the 3’s supporters were in need of 11 heroes this week and following last week’s concession of the Turner’s Hill match (in our favour), our brave band of cricketing legends of varying degrees were keen to make their mark. A quick perusal of a dry and dusty wicket led Elph to choose to bat first, hoping there were no demons beneath the surface of the Staplefield track. Shorn of usual opener, the chubby Gower (showing his commitment to the cause by taking on a useful umpiring/scoring combo role), Elph had drafted in Gerard Havenga for his 3’s bow (I think) to accompany Charley Hepburn at the top of the order and the pair began watchfully and in Gerard’s case, painfully as he was content to take a blow or two while assessing the state of the local facilities. Charley was quickly into her stride, batting with fluency and unleashing a couple of trademark pulls for four and with the temperature rising Gerard began to find his feet, punishing anything loose with alacrity.  Between them, our openers forced a bowling change having put on 46 before Charley stayed back to a ball that she could have gone forward to and was bowled for a very well made 24.

Gerard was joined by Niall, who was nursing a wrist injury and struggling to find his usual freedom, instead opting for a sensible knock, running well between the wickets and rotating the strike. Staplefield made their second breakthrough, Razzak removing Niall for his first of what was to be a useful five-for. Leading 3’s run scorer, Joe Hartley came in, returning from a short injury lay off, looking to continue what has been a fruitful season so far, following Niall’s lead and looking to play the ball into space while finding his feet and allowing Gerard to continue dispatching the bad ball to the ropes. Gerard reached an excellent 50 and looked hungry for more only to pick out deep midwicket, who took a fine catch to send him on his way for 53 and bring the messianic figure of Mason to the crease. With the temperature rising throughout the course of the innings, scorching mullets and paper hearts alike, the Masongynist unleashed a flurry of lusty blows in a short space of time, looking to squeeze an afternoon’s worth of entertainment into just a few minutes and produce a Milagro, as the Spanish might say. In an attempt to match Mason’s fluency, Joe took a grotesque swipe at Razzak and missed, sloping off to the changing rooms, a fallen angel in symmetry to Mason’s religious countenance.  Andy McNiven joined Mason and instantly took on the steady role producing another gritty and circumspect innings allowing others to bat around him. When Mason had a ‘moment’, slog sweeping at thin air to be bowled for 26, we were in danger of collapsing in a rush. However, in Tom McCreadie, Andy found an ally and between them they rebuilt, looking to salvage something from the innings, stroking the ball into the gaps, calling (and occasionally swearing!) as they looked to apply pressure to the fielders. Tom settled and began to belt the ball around the park with increasing confidence before Andy was adjudged lbw to Razzak. Tom Booth made it a pair of Toms in the middle (not the slang term oft referred to in episodes of 80’s crime dramas I hasten to add) and more good running between the wickets followed, taking us beyond our next target in terms of batting points. Booth fell stumped for 8 and made the walk back to the pavilion, soon joined by McCreadie who contributed a fine, confident 22. Elph and Adam Hughes looked to try and get us up to 200 but the with a softer ball and the pitch looking like it might be tiring, run scoring was becoming hard work, like a week long Monday. Adam was caught trying to up the pace and with 2 balls remaining in the innings, Ryan Jackson joined his skipper. While unable to connect properly with the first ball, he got hold of the second, launching it over the square leg boundary for 6, returning to the pavilion for a tea which included ice lollies and donuts. We closed on 189 for 9, happy with our efforts and knowing that if we bowled and fielded well we could run Staplefield close.

With all offering prayers to the Rain King at tea and following an English lesson for Mason, Alec dragged his weary body from the benches, like a modern day Tithonus to join Colin for another umpiring stint, Staplefield began their reply and were in trouble early on, Tom McCreadie producing a pacy yorker to castle the opening bat. Staplefield countered and rebuilt before Elph made a change, bringing Charley on from the pavilion end. Samsudeen lost patience and swept, picking out Niall who was grazing in the shadows, pouching a fine running catch. Adam Hughes replaced Ryan Jackson and although he appeared to struggle for rhythm he was to make a vital breakthrough thanks to a superb catch from Niall at a straightish and shortish mid-off, claiming an outstanding grab just inches from the turf. Again, Staplefield came back, Prevett finding his stride and attacking before Charley grabbed her second wicket, dismissing Dray with a tumbling caught and bowled which led to a rip at the knee of both whites and flesh but earned her a hug and lift from Gerard as she made the much needed breakthrough. Elph, young at heart and moving himself with much consideration in the field introduced spin at both ends with Joe Hartley taking over from Adam, the change bringing an almost immediate reward as Razzak was hit on the full in front of middle and leg, enticing a nod and a raised digit to confirm the dismissal from the umpire. A familiar pattern emerged as the left-handed Clarke played back to a ball that hit his back pad in front of middle, earning another affirmative response to the appeal and Joe made it three of a kind when Morley walked across his stumps to be trapped plumb in front. This irresistible game was to take a further twist as Staplefield skipper Mercardo came to the crease and launched a counter attack with Prevett who by now had passed 50 playing a somewhat lone hand.  Tom McCreadie replaced Joe and produced a cracking ball to bowl the well-set Prevett for an admirable 76. Ryan had now replaced a tiring Charley at the pavilion end, removing Mercardo for 15 and it was he who produced the telling moment, having had a plumb-looking lbw shout turned down the ball before, he appealed successfully just moments later as Colin’s raised finger confirmed an exciting end to a great game of cricket.

With 30 points in the bag we reflected on a game played in great spirits between two evenly matched teams in conditions that were testing for all involved. While it was scorching hot, we should enjoy these sunshine days and close games for the release they provide from the humdrum and the everyday. There were individual moments of brilliance on both sides, determination and flair on display and a healthy respect between both sets of players. Hard fought, both teams pushing to win but enjoying the contest, just like it should be. It’s games like this that make cricket what it is. Everything else is just small potatoes.

Thank you to Colin for umpiring once more, to Sarah for regular scoreboard updates and to both sets of players for an entertaining afternoon.

Finally, in a similar vein to my last match report, there are 26 words or phrases that are connected above. Sarah Hughes won the last pint (which I still owe her) and there’s another pint up for grabs if anyone can make the connection. Definitely more difficult than the last one.