The Sum Of All Fears
Wellington’s 4th team recorded their first win of the season away to table toppers Ludlow in a pulsating encounter.
At a little before 7.30pm on Saturday, Martin Fears checked his guard, adjusted his helmet and looked up, straight into the eyes of the young Ludlow bowler. This was his moment. With six runs required off the final ball of the innings, the veteran bowler knew exactly what he needed to do. 100 overs and over five hours of cricket had boiled down to this single delivery.
Chasing 251 for victory would be a great effort in any circumstance; however, considering that Ludlow II were league leaders at the start of play – whilst Wellington IV were rock bottom – this would rank as a truly monumental upset. Fearsy knew this only too well. Without a win all season, his side had their first genuine sight of victory in three long, hard months of cricket. He knew it was a tall order - having only hit one six in his entire time at the club – but it was a shot to nothing. Could he deliver the impossible?
Since tea was taken on this strange Saturday afternoon, the 4th XI – almost to a man – were invested in the same baseless conviction - that this would be our day. Alan Denver had been reassuring anybody who’d listen: “It’s meant to be,” he kept repeating, “I had a dream last night…we’re going to do it.” So when the Ludlow bowler wheeled in to deliver his final ball, and the entire ground held its breath, the Wellington players awaited providence. Skipper Derick Benting clung tightly to his rosary beads and recited a few verses; the rest of the side crossed whatever they could – and hoped. In the changing rooms, Lewis Gough peered through the small window and described the unfolding drama to those back at Orleton Park over the phone. Everyone was gripped by the pure theatre of the moment.
As Martin watched the ball leave the bowler’s hand, images from the day flashed through his mind. Nursing a knee injury, he remembered all the plans he had made for a Saturday free from cricket – plans he’d had to cancel after a last minute cry-off saw him drafted into the side. He remembered the anxiety that had gripped the players when both opening bowlers Naz and Azaad – neither of whom can yet claim mastery of the Sat Nav (or the wristwatch, for that matter) – failed to show up at the ground until 10 minutes before the start of play. He remembered how, shortly before taking to the field, Derick had suggested a special huddle and a new chant in an effort to foster team spirit; plans which, it must be said, were unanimously rejected by the rest of the team as potentially embarrassing and slightly cringe worthy.
It’s true; this had been an eventful day. Much earlier, Ludlow had won the toss and proposed to bat the league’s basement boys into submission. They did indeed bat well, losing just three wickets in the entire innings. All five of the batsmen called upon made telling contributions to their side’s overall total of 250-3. For their part, the Wellington bowlers had lacked control and once again the fielding had been sluggish. As the innings wore on, Ludlow began to run riot, scoring very heavily at both ends; so it came as some relief when they opted to declare after 45 overs and leave themselves an extra five overs to secure the ten wickets they required for victory. Or so they thought.
It’s fair to say our opponents had a spring in their step at tea. One of their fielders was so confident that he washed down his sandwiches with a cold glass of Stella Artois. (Interestingly enough, he was their gully fielder, a bold undertaking for a man who had been on the super-strength European larger.) Yet when Jamie Micklewright snicked off on the second ball of the innings, Ludlow may have been forgiven for thinking that, true to current form, Wellington’s batting line-up might well be rolled over.
Nevertheless, Wellington had some cause for consolation. Ludlow’s declaration had come very early, meaning the side had 55 overs to get the 251 runs required, an asking rate of a little over four-and-a-half-an-over - on a pitch they knew to be playing more or less truly. If the side could bat their overs out it seemed plausible that they might not end up too far away from their target.
Mark O’Connor (35) and Derick Benting (14) gave the innings foundation. Having taken the score past 60, they both fell in quick succession to be replaced by Alan Denver (60) and Bruce Harris (77). At this point the scoring rate began to increase markedly as the latter played his usual bullish game, dispatching several balls into the nearby tennis court. Under the onslaught of this rapid-fire partnership, which added 122 before it was broken, it gradually dawned on our opposition that their declaration might backfire in spectacular fashion.
Bruce’s dismissal checked the Wellington advance, as did the return of Ludlow’s opening bowlers. There was rebuilding to be done as the hamstrung Simon Topper (15) – who was injured whilst fielding – went out to bat accompanied by his runner. The team was anxious to avoid the sort of batting collapse experienced in recent weeks, so proceeded with greater caution, looking to set up for a late assault on the target with wickets in hand – which is exactly what happened.
With 35 runs required off the final four overs, Azaad, Naz and Simon pushed the game towards a grandstand finish with good hitting and running: for that elusive first victory of the year, Wellington would need 10 runs off the last six balls. At this point Fearsy entered the fray and after some dicey quick singles the equation became even more straightforward: six needed, one ball remaining.
To Martin’s evident delight that last ball when it came was short and outside off stump, giving him room to free his arms and swing through the line with a flat-batted heave that was in equal measure awkward, unwieldy and profoundly beautiful. The ball took flight down towards long-off to the sound of eleven Ludlow chins hitting the floor. The game they had dominated completely in the first innings had been stolen from them in a bold, exhilarating and unlikely run chase, sealed off the last ball of those five extra overs. Not one of Wellington’s players uttered a sound until the ball landed cleanly on the tin roof of the adjacent tennis club. With that loud ‘Clunk!’ came the celebrations. Azaad, the non-striker, sprinted down the pitch and mounted the disbelieving Martin. On the sidelines, Derick danced, Alan roared, Lewis shouted the result down the phone to those listening back at the club – but no one would believe him. And why would they? This was totally unbelievable.
In the end, Derick got his wish. His jubilant teammates agreed to the new celebration in the changing rooms after the game. Everyone put their hands in the middle and like the Power Rangers of the 90s' TV show, raised them in unison shouting: “WE ARE THE FOURS!” The skipper had clearly spent some time coming up with this; no doubt he intends to repeat it every week from now on.
Nevertheless the side’s celebrations were not without consequence; in the heat of the moment Bruce mistakenly picked up Derick’s car keys, leaving the irate skipper abandoned in Ludlow. Eager to toast a famous and eternal victory back at the club, he was forced to wait an extra 45 minutes while the keys were returned to him. Still, the celebrations back in the club on Saturday night, like the victory itself, were well worth the wait.
Match report by David Ross