The Saints Trinity
Match report by Damian Chalmers.
What is in a number? Well, quite a lot, if it is three. Three is, of course, the number of managers Fulham had last season; the minimum number of train carriages London Saints need to get to North Kent (Nick, please note); the number of captains London Saints have had over the current three games; the number of dropped catches in our game against Kent Ramblas ; the number of runs out against Sunderland; the number of runs Andy scored in his last innings; the number of pints in a round with the skipper; and the number of people in for a historic record in the next three games.
However, so many threes are disorienting and so best to start at the beginning.
The skip, prof, Tony and Wath duly turned up at the allotted time at Charing Cross, and got on the train. This caused some consternation as more were expected, and the possibility occurred that we might have only half a team. However, this more intimate gathering allowed conversation to flow, and it turned to important matters: pool, the World Cup, Where’s Jon’s birthday, and above all the art of captaincy. Andy’s heroic leadership under the keen eye of the skip last week combined with John’s anticipated equally sterling leadership against Coldharbour brought forward a smorgasbord of possibilities as well as offering the possibility for the master (please, do not put me at deep midwicket again, DT) to show everybody how it is done. With all this swirl, my mind began to wander, and, in the interest of journalistic licence, it is worth recording the conversation that could have taken place on the train but did not about the wealth of talent for when DT is not around:
The Absent Brave One: John has put his body on the line not once but three times this season for the team. Playing with a wounded leg in T & T; then chesting the most steepling ball this season (although see Steves’ Ball below) to stop a six at the Nelson Cup; and then turning his ankle. His absence has been sorely missed. And to remind us of that there were a couple of texts late at night saying he was ready for the game. Only for a couple of texts the following morning suggesting that maybe he was not. The anaesthetic of the night before had clearly worn off. Happily, it appears we have 90 minutes for anaesthetic to be applied before starting at Coldharbour.
The Resilient One: Andy has now batted for longer in the last three innings than the average London Saints does in his career. And he is on the verge of a record, namely for the number of runs without being dismissed. I thought this was John’s 123, however Lui got 137 this season and Andy is now on 103 not out. It is all to play for in the next few games, with all three in the game. Andy has therefore led from the front. If others have been slow to follow, particularly in their running between the wickets, such tirelessness of foot and spirit has led to envy, however, with murmurings that Andy is not getting out quickly enough – an unprecedented criticism of any London Saints batsman.
The Prescient One: Something of a curveball, this, but Steve’s name had apparently been brought up in mysterious circumstances at Where’s Jon’s party. The case for Steve was that his unrivalled knowledge of the game and of performance levels would lead to strong, counterintuitive decisions that ran against easy, populist choices. Steve’s Prozone analysis of London Saints pool and relative contributions had revealed some hard truths (apparently, but I do not play pool). His steely analysis applied not only to the performance of others but also to his own performance. He announced – and few can make this claim – before the game that his catching ratio for the season stood at 100% ((previously) one out of one). This acuity, furthermore, extended to his powers of observation on the pitch. He mentioned to DT that Tony was too far back to save a single, and sure enough next ball there was a single. A few overs later, he suggested moving one from on to off. The master recognised the wisdom of such sage advice, moved the field, and a run was saved. However, Steve is less experienced than the others, and, given the unforgiving lens of analysis to which captains are subject, would he be able to sustain the morale of others in the ilk of all great London Saints captains? In particular, would he be there at the acid moment? Leading from the front and putting his body on the line?
These difficult ruminations – going through my mind – were interrupted about Catford as Andy popped in, announcing he had been in the other carriage, waving but nobody had noticed. We duly arrived at West Wickham at which point Dave and Steve also emerged from different carriages, making us a full cohort – able to walk the 5 minutes to the ground together.
I am not sure who won the toss as the inevitable happened and we fielded. The opening pair, Stocks and Harris, went at 5 runs an over off some solid bowling from Dave and Pete, with Harriss particularly threatening. Fielding was tight. To ensure it remained that way, the master reminded us of the importance of good communication. We were told to keep it tight as there was 40 overs to go. This was news to ten people on the pitch (their team knew I think). The explanation about the relative youth of the opposition led to a strong appreciation of Andy’s captaincy last week.
There then followed some truly excellent bowling from DT and Tony which brought the oppo’s run rate back to about 4, and at 20 overs they were 86-0. Tony bowled particularly well. We were hopeful at this stage of a score over 200. This hope increased with a stunning caught and bowled by Mike to dismiss Harris. The ball was belted away from him. He took a fine juggling catch.
We were not taking wickets but things were reasonably tight against very strong batsmen. Off 30 overs, they were 139-1. Then the moment of truth arrived.
Ford, as dangerous a batsman as Harriss did not get to the pitch of the ball. He lofted it high, very high. So high that my arteries squeezed from the pressure on the back of my neck from looking so far up. My recollection consequently now becomes a little bit fuzzy. There was a sound of ‘Shit’ (Ford) followed by a resounding, authoritative, booming ‘STEVE’S BALL’ from Steve. Had he moved 20 yards towards the ball or the ball moved 20 yards to him? I could not tell, my neck was so craned. However, I could see the feet were set; the head still; and the hands strong and in place: an object lesson in leadership from the front.
The ball popped out…
It is difficult to tell the effect of this on morale or on what happened next. I do not know that Pete obstructed my vision at this point, as he went down as if somebody had kicked him in the gut.
And they went from 139 to 235 in the last 10 overs. I certain saw more of the ball (behind me) at deep midwicket than I do keeping. Andy was so disoriented that he said in the 31st over that these last five overs were going to be long. The last ten were bloody long! Particularly, as it had begun to rain …. Fielding, which had been strong, began to droop.
London Saints comforted themselves with a decent tea. And a thought that if they batted as usual, the second half of Netherlands-Mexico might be possible. At that point, a second lesson from the art of captaincy was brought out: an appropriately couched system of incentives. Anybody getting out to a shit shot would be sent to the naughty step and not allowed to watch the football.
Andy and Steve opened and, after two overs, the heavens opened. By the time, players came off, the rain had stopped. Whereupon, the third lesson in leadership was proffered – clear role definition. Andy was told quite clearly by the umpire (aka DT) to ‘GET BACK ON’ when some hesitation was shown about the state of play. Their quick did not follow the instruction so adroitly as he had popped off. And it is possible (only remotely possible) that this might have stirred him. Two balls later, he bowled an unplayable delivery. An inswinging, toe-busting, Waqar Younis style, almost yorker. Happily, Steve had moved his toes far away. Less happily, he did not have time to do that with the stumps.
Prof and Andy moved reasonably uneventfully on to 27-1. The opposition – possibly because they were missing Netherlands-Mexico, possibly because of the state of the pitch or possibly because they realised that after every calm there is usually a storm and the batting had been very calm – then insisted that we come off. We got a draw with some honour against a good bunch of lads and managed to see almost all of Netherlands-Mexico!
The final bit to the day was the post-match analysis. This focussed – in a slanted way – on Andy’s impending record and, of course when it might happen. I have been asked to note that if he had batted through all of Ramblas, he would have been on 17 at the end on his runs per over rate. So 21 short of the record. This would mean that Norton St Philip (two games away) might be the day, but this might be a challenge if it is only a 30 over match. He has nobly foregone Coldharbour on the grounds that its size means it would be insufficient challenge. Lui and John, your opportunity awaits
On the captaincy, Andy is not around next week. The longer term effects of Steve’s Ball will have to play out … John, welcome back!! We need you!
Man of the Match: Mike. Outstanding fielding, a great caught and bowled and some very tight bowling against a strong batting side. Honourable mentions to Tony and DT for their bowling.
Champagne Moment: Steve’s Ball.