Prior vs Bulbeck - The Cricket Match
IT WAS A FINE SUNNY SUNDAY AFTERNOON when a Swaffham Prior cricket team, assembled with a perfect blend of youth and 'experience', took to the Denny to face up to its age old foe, Swaffham Bulbeck. The weather was all the more surprising considering it was a weekend that also included Wimbledon and Glastonbury, the two great rain bringers in English history.
Under these sunny skies the Prior team got together for the first official meeting, and the ever important question was raised of what to do upon winning the toss. However, Prior skipper Josh Willmott bravely lost the toss and Prior were put in to bat on a tricky looking wicket. The Prior players were all well aware that Bulbeck were taking this years cricket very seriously, mainly from the fact that all of their players were wearing whites and the large majority even had their own kit. This however acted only to boost the spirits of the Prior XI, knowing that they were to be tested against a team of seasoned players, all of which play more than once every 3 years (more than can be said for most of the Prior players).
In an Ashes cricketing summer, where the likes of Pietersen, Flintoff and Strauss will all become household names, it was Bodger and Mead that were sent out to blunt the early onslaught of the Bulbeckian opening bowlers. A job that was done admirably with solid defence and a smattering of elegant strokes (mainly from the young Chris Bodger's blade) getting Prior off to a good start. Bodger however was the first batsman out, undone by a crafty Bulbeck bowler who, rather not in the spirit of the game, decided to bowl straight. This brought to the crease the Prior captain Willmott, who with Mead set about building a good partnership from which to launch a late assault on the Bulbeck bowling. Some lusty blows from both batsmen, including consecutive fours off the bat of Mead and an agricultural swipe from Willmott which managed to go for six got the score rattling along. With the score at 48(ish) for 1 off 9 (ish) overs, a score in excess of 120 seemed to be on the cards (much more than was hoped for in the pre game team talk).
However, Willmott's dismissal brought about the noblest of English cricketing traditions. Stretching further back than the Ashes contest, further back than the likes of Jack Hobbs and W.G. Grace could ever have imagined... the legendary English batting collapse. Only a true Englishman can be involved in such a collapse, and there was clearly a plethora of true Englishmen on show on that Sunday. The crowd by this point had swelled and the atmosphere had turned in to a cauldron of noise. It should be noted that as is often the case in a batting collapse, no batsman threw their wicket away; all went down fighting, or often just swinging. Tom Wood, Phil Hubbard, Dominic Bowers, and David Blocksage all fought but fell gallantly.
Elegant strokes from Bowers and sheer defiance from Blocksage and Hubbard were not enough in the face of the Bulbeck onslaught. Mike Carrington was the next to fall in the most unlucky of manners. It was initially believed that the ball didn't bounce very much after pitching. However, after much discussion it was decided that it seemed to have stayed so low, the only explanation anyone who was witness to it could give was to suggest some kind of witchcraft by the Bulbeck bowler. Unlucky indeed.
Young William Kingsmill was another of the promising youth on display, however he was also unluckily out before another promising young player, Tom Pumphrey, came in and played some nice shots; including one which he managed to hit in to his own face. Fortunately he was wearing a helmet, which is more can be said for the writer of this report who found out to his peril that it hurts a lot LOT more when you hit the ball into your face without a helmet on. Tim Doe, one of the heroes from three years ago, bravely decided to come in at number 11 bat, deciding that by that point all of the good Bulbeck bowlers would have finished. There was however one fatal flaw in his plan, that being that if he is batting at 11 there would be no one to bat with if the other person got out. This inevitably was the case as Pumphrey got out leaving Doe stranded. In the spirit of the day though, Bulbeck allowed Doe to continue batting on his own as long as he was always on strike, therefore requiring him to hit only 2s and boundaries. This was no problem however, as two balls later he was out and the inning was over for a slightly disappointing 75.
A superb tea was provided by Bulbeck and swiftly demolished by Prior allowing time for the Prior bowlers to loosen up and the fielders to test out who was able to catch and throw, providing bountiful entertainment to the masses of the watching crowd. It was at this point however that a hammer blow was landed on the Prior team with the withdrawal of Phil Hubbard due to injury. Having stepped up to play just the day before, he had clearly had too little time to fully prepare himself physically for the challenge. This however serves to give him even more credit for being able to bat at all in the first innings. Hester Bowers was then swiftly roped in to the team and was handed a pair of white trousers that Harry Potter's Hagrid may have found a bit roomy. However she rolled up her sleeves (and trousers) and set about the task at hand. Carrington and Pumphrey were given the honour of bowling the opening overs and both did so extremely well, bowling tight probing lines and not allowing the Bulbeck players to score runs. The first to strike was Carrington, quickly followed by a brace for Pumphrey putting the highly rated Bulbeck top order back in the hutch (for non cricketing people, that is simply cricket speak for 'getting them out').
Assisted by good fielding all round, not least by Doe behind the stumps, the Prior bowlers continued to mount the pressure. Kingsmill then out-thought the next Bulbeck batsman by bowling a crafty number of wides before firing in a straight one to put the middle stump lying flat on the turf. Chris Bodger was then brought in to the attack and proceeded to bowl far too fast for any of the Bulbeck batsmen. Indeed they were unable to lay a bat on anything he bowled, which is perhaps the reason why he was unable to pick up an absolute hatful of wickets. Blocksage was then brought on to bowl, and after assuring the captain that he would be a rubbish bowler, he proceeded to bowl the tightest 2 overs seen for many a year on the Bulbeck Denny. Good catches from Kingsmill and Doe bought more wickets for Prior, and after some tight overs from Willmott and Bowers (D), the asking rate was soaring. However, Prior made the fatal mistake of taking too many wickets, as in at number 9 strode a giant of a Bulbeck batsman, Ben Raynor, who proceeded to smite everything that was anywhere near him to wherever he decided he wanted to smite it. Unlike Blocksage's modesty in saying that he couldn't bowl, Mead was in fact unerringly accurate in his own assessment of his bowling as 'not great'. With about 12 needed off the last 2 overs the game was set up perfectly, Chris Bodger was brought back on and after going for a few runs of the flashing blade of the Bulbeck batsman, he held his nerve and picked up another wicket thanks to a superb one handed catch by Wood. This left the equation as 2 needed off the last 2 overs with 2 wickets in hand. When the question was put to the team as who would like to bowl, all of a sudden people had untied laces or had spotted something in the distance which was they were unable to look away from. Tim Doe then gallantly put up his hand to bowl the last over and after giving up the keeping pads and gloves took the bowl to face up to the big hitting Bulbeck batsman. A fairytale finish was on the cards for Prior as the atmosphere in the crowd reached fever pitch. Doe charged in to bowl; the fielders crept in, the crowd held its breath. Everything stood still for that moment as Doe released the ball. As it happened, it turned out to be a really slow full toss on leg stump which the Bulbeck batsman dispatched for four and it was suddenly all over. Bulbeck had won by 2 wickets.
As the game finished and the players were walking off the field, the clouds came over and the heavens opened. A deluge of rain sent to seemingly wash away the bitterness of defeat. There was no bitterness from Prior however, who were all aware that they had been involved in a superb game of cricket and had only narrowly lost to a team containing people who genuinely class themselves as 'cricketers'. A "Man of the Match Award" had been donated by Mr Gary du Plooy from Cricket Stick, a new cricket shop opened in Burwell (for anyone wanting to buy any cricket supplies I would genuinely recommend going to see him) and this was given, by a unanimous vote, to Chris Bodger of Prior for his superb all round display of batting and bowling. Bulbeck should also be highly commended, as the cricket club offered to pay for the teas and for the use of the facilities meaning that all the money raised from both teams could be put towards a charitable cause. Plans are already in the pipeline for a rematch next year, so for those hopeful of playing, take a few weeks off to recover then back in to the nets for training, remember line and length, let the pitch do the work, head over the ball, play in the 'V', back up the stumps, long barrier and watch the ball.