5thXI Report

From Jamie Bowman

In his seminal book on the connection between cricket and suicide, By His Own Hand, David Frith catalogues with elegance and sensitivity the massive and profound pressures the game exerts upon the individual during long hours at the crease or wandering for days on end round the boundary rope with nothing to do but chew over his last and most desperate failure.

I reckon there might be a second volume to be written. This time he could concentrate on the connection between suicide and waking up on a Saturday morning at 9.00am with a stinking hangover, last night’s kebab solidifying in your stomach, with Robin Surtees on your poorly receptive mobile phone telling you he now has only seven players and will have to take the last of my eleven who isn’t a) crippled b) 12 years old or c) knows how to hold a bat.

Such are the joys of life at the bottom of the pile at Sefton Park Cricket Club. This was my first season as captain (indeed it was the first season for the 5th XI) and no matter how many horror stories I heard from previous incumbents (now mostly found shaking and talking to themselves in Sefton’s car park) nothing could have prepared me for the rollercoaster ride of emotions that was our debut 2008 season. Soaring highs were inevitably coupled with plummeting lows but surely that is all part and parcel of the game we love – in this speech I’ll attempt to describe a few of them.

My expectations for this season were simple – I did not want us to be an embarrassment. I hoped we’d compete and I was determined that come what may we would a team out every week. Personally my aim was simple: don’t fall over more times than you manage to take a wicket.

Our first game took place at the picturesque but freezing Caldy. Within minutes of the toss I was running off the field blood pouring from a cut above my eye. I would like to tell you that I had bravely opened the batting and had been struck by vicious bouncer, but no I had dropped a catch at mid on through my fingers and on to my face. The die was cast. Or was it? After this early calamity we began to click into gear. Three wickets from Mark Garnett saw Caldy’s middle order removed. I even hung on to a catch and they declared for gettable 167.

By some quirk of fate we had managed to claim Jay Harrison to open the batting. He proceeded to hit 2 sixes off the first over and then went on to hit 7 more in an innings of 67. You do the math.  An opening 50 partnership saw Jay on 46 and Kev Walton on 2. It was truly one of the best displays of hitting I’d ever seen. Thankfully after he got out there was more to come – Simon Gozzard hit an unbeaten 48 including 3 sixes and there was a vital and impressive debut knock of 23 from 13 year old Adam Flynn. We had won and all the way home there was excited talk of promotion.

The next week was even more remarkable – Huyton 3rds were bowled out for 21 at the Commonwealth ground with some remarkable bowling figures not least James Manley’s 3 for 5 and Stuart Lomas’s 3 for 3. With Caldy 4ths then conceding we were sitting pretty on top of the league and the excitement was contagious.

A severe reality check was probably needed and lo and behold we got one. Defeat followed by Southport Trinity (despite a fantastic rearguard action which saw us only a few overs away from securing the draw). The game against eventual title winners  Northop Hall saw us declare on 187 with a stunning debut innings from Jay Shankar of 65 and a 4th wicket partnership of 80 between him and a returning Steve Briggs. Sadly Northop hit the required runs losing only one wicket.

The next game against Liverpool 3rds produced the most remarkable game of the season. After Liverpool declared on 223 for 7 we felt we had little to no chance. A great opening stand of 67 between Adam Flynn and Steve Briggs saw us on our way with everyone’s favourite grounds man swatting balls away to all corners. Just a few months previously Briggsy had assured me his cricketing days were over. Indeed there were rumours that Briggsy himself was almost over. Those of us who saw him pre season, showing off his scar to all and sundry like some kind of roller driving Robert Shaw in Jaws certainly feared the worst. But on he went eventually succumbing to an amazing score of 105 – the 5ths only centurion to date. Sadly the rest (excluding Tom Robertson who hit a lovely 33) could not be inspired. It was left to yours truly to spoil things by being last man out with only 2 required. Still a remarkable game to be involved in and it was a privilege to watch Mr Briggs.

A thrashing at Northern followed by their excellent and friendly 4ths side with only a fine bowling performance from new boy Paul Stairmand who took 3 for 31 worth mentioning. Perhaps more importantly though this was the day that Adam Flynn discovered what ham was. Southport and Birkdale also proved too strong when despite hanging on for 44 overs for only 74 runs we couldn’t quite hang on to the draw despite a great effort from Kev Walton who almost carried his bat.

Thankfully the next week saw us finally back to winning ways against Birchfield Park. From 43 for 6 Sefton reached 175 for 8 thanks to a wonderful century partnership between Simon Gozzard and Jay Shanker. A brilliant bowling performance saw every bowler take wickets and when Jordan Kevan hung on to a brilliant caught and bowled with only a couple of overs left it was one of the sweetest moments of the season.

Quite how we managed to lose to Northern 6ths the next week is beyond me. Perhaps it was down to Northern fielding the fattest player I have ever seen. Despite a valiant 47 not out from Ted Williams this was perhaps the most dispiriting result of the season.

Games against Maghull and Northern 5ths were both abandoned – both teams we may well have beaten. A great game at Ainsdale follwed which again saw us unluckily defeated despite great performances from Chris Mitchell and Tom Baird and a welcome and long overdue return to our very own Dr Grace – Naj Ahmed.

Sadly we now on one of those runs that’s hard to get out. At this point I decided to follow Michael Vaughn’s lead and have a break from the captaincy – it was clearly affecting my game and it was time to perfect my forward defensive on the notoriously slow sand pitches of Southern Spain.

My absence was missed and we slumped to a ten wicket defeat to the previously defeated Caldy 3s. My return in August thankfully brought a turn around – a great game against Caldy 4ths played in beautiful sunshine brought a tenacious and satisfying draw. Desperate for players we had literally resorted to asking strangers in pubs the night before but it was two of Sefton’s youngsters Matt Shore and Michael Boyes who steadied our ship and a great 30 not out from Chris Mitchell saw us home. On a personal level I had the Labour MP for Wirral West out LBW – something which made up for the fact I was also out caught one handed at second slip by a 73 year old.

All of a sudden we had become draw specialists. Southport and Birkdale were the next to suffer from our now famous rear guard reputation. Under the captaincy of Paul Stairmand, a brilliant 50 not out from Chris Mitchell saw us frustrate one of the better teams in the league and remain unbeaten in August.

By now with the end of season in sight we had problems off the pitch. Northop Hall and us arrived at our College pitch to find Wavertree already playing on it. Little could be done to shift them and a very annoyed Northop Hall returned home to complain to the league. We were not to play on our ‘home’ pitch again and to be honest the experience has left me wondering if we should next season. Definite food for thought.

And so homeless, battered and rather dispirited we played our last three games away from home. Two of these were against promotion chasing Northern 4ths and Northop Hall and so it was a big ask to get anything out of them. The game against Northern saw us recover from 6 for 4 to 108 all out thanks entirely to a wonderful knock from Tom Robertson who scored 63. Tom was one of our heroes of the season. Opening the bowling every week he never seemed to get one decision go his way. The fact he bowled 17 maidens out of 77 overs bowled this season and took only 9 wickets shows just how unlucky he was. Well done Tom!

The return match against Northop Hall saw us take to the field for the first time with less than 11 men but the 9 we had gave a creditable performance in scoring 112 against a fine bowling attack.

It was light relief then when we took on Birchfield Park for what turned out to be our last game of the season. The home team went from 40 for 0 to 49 all out in a barmy 30 mins that saw Robin Brown take 5 for 5. It was wonderful to end with a win!

Conclusion:

The aim of this team was to give both kids and 30something stalwarts like me a good game and in that the new 5th team has been a great success.

Youngsters

Adam Taylor, James Manley, Adam Flynn, Eddie Parr, Sean McCrae – will all go on to play at a higher level.

Thank yous

Marilyn + Joe, Ted, Robin, James, Dave, Briggsy and all the dads!