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Montgomery CC vs Leigh on Sea CC - Sunday 5th September 2010 - Chalkwell Park

Montgomery CC: R.Clayton, D.Chilmaid (wk), O.Pidgeon, T.Smith, K.Baker (cpt), J.Threadgold, D.Tidman, L.Bull, P.Groves, D.Champ, G.Thurlow, J.Seal

F

ifty.

In cricketing terms, it is a number that carries certain significance. Fifty represents the first landmark within an innings, the first opportunity for those on the outside to show their appreciation for what has been achieved. Many celebrate with a humble raising of their bat, some offer a low key celebration reflecting their understanding that the job is not yet done, and some decide that kissing the Club badge and waving their bat around frantically, pointing out loved ones from the amassed throngs, is the only way to truly mark the occasion.

Since 2006, the achievement of passing 50 runs has been applauded on 32 separate occasions and has had 12 different MCC recipients. However, the plaudits on this day were for the Club, not an individual.

For it was on Sunday 5th September 2010 that Montgomery Cricket Club welcomed its 50th player. So, the MCC raises its collective bat in acknowledgement of Dan Tidman, the half-centurion, and gives an affectionate nod of acknowledgement towards the other 49 people who have given up at least one Sunday afternoon to have their name etched in the green-and-gold history books.

Fate, not to be upstaged on a day set aside mainly for sentiment, pitted the MCC against the loveable rogues of Chalkwell Park, Leigh-on-Sea. Indeed, in the pre-match build up, tensions had been running high across the available social networking sites, with promises of bloodstained wickets, stumps being destroyed beyond recognition and the resumption of 'Rumble in the Park - Baker vs Renvoize'. This sideshow had threatened to overshadow the game, and whilst it provided a pleasant back story, it was evident that cricket would remain the primary focus for all concerned.

With many core MCC players unavailable - Couzens merging in almost anonymously with our over-sized relatives from 'across the pond', the better Aggus recovering from 18 holes of top golfing action as part of the inaugural Montgomery Society Day, Captain De Vito hoping that his Teflon-coated suit would ensure that nothing Her Majesty's Police Force threw at him would stick, and the weaker Aggus attempting to hide his new 'thumbprint' haircut - it was left to a makeshift MCC side to deliver the knockout blow to their feeder club. Stand-in skipper Baker had called in a few favours and managed to drag eight players kicking and screaming to an overcast Chalkwell Park. Alongside MCC regulars the Peach, El Destructo, Vogue and the Tank Engine, Baker welcomed Jon 'Me Average!' Threadgold, Dan 'Hockley 2s boys, Hockley 2s' Chilmaid and Dan 'Scamp' Tidman.

This tri-Dan, hard-hitting side was supplemented by Patrick 'Paddy' Groves, Liam 'Warney' Bull and MCC T20 specialist bowler, Jack 'Avatar' Seal - all kindly donated by Leigh-on-Sea to ensure the fixture was fulfilled.

With Renvoize running late, Baker made his way to the middle with Billy 'Wayne' King to conduct the toss. Minutes later, Baker was walking back to his gathered troops turning his arm over in the universally approved sign language for 'We're bowling first lads'.

Baker gave first use of the new cherry to the MCC's leading wicket taker and Champ was straight on the money, keeping both Leigh openers quiet for the first few overs. With Seal bowling with his usual pace and bounce, the opening salvo was a nervy affair with both sides looking for a good start. And it was the MCC who made the early breakthrough, Bannister being sent on his way after Champ snuck one through his defences. The Peach's 26th wicket of this campaign and thoughts must now be turning to breaking 30 for 2010. The scorebook doesn't reflect JT's input into the wicket however, with a well placed comment about Bannister having a sparse repertoire of shots to call on, ensuring that his mind was elsewhere when Dan hit his straps and blasted through a shaky defence.

Next up the ramp was Matt Renvoize. After a cold reception from the MCC, he set about his work with gusto and soon had the scoreboard ticking as he picked out the short boundary at will. Despite losing Keeley for 3, bowled by Seal, Leigh were setting their sights on a 200+ score and with new batsman Slack digging it at one end, the early punches of this heavyweight clash had the judges scores level.

For the second game running, shouts of derision from the sideline forced the first bowling change. With Seal bowling at young Slack, it was evident that the height of both the ball and the batsmen were of particular concern. Baker brought on Pidgeon for his promised over of pace at Renvoize after he had become a viable bowling option having given up the gloves to Chilmaid, who was proving an excellent understudy to El Destructo. Sadly his solitary over went for 16 and the experiment was dropped.

With Renvoize now eyeing his 50, Baker rang the bowling changes once more- Paddy Groves replacing Champ and Baker himself taking the Thames Estuary End, mainly so that the sightscreen didn't need moving. Paddy bowled with great control and proved the perfect foil for Baker's skiddy pace from the other end. Renvoize set to work on reaching his fifty, and having sent Baker for two fours and a quickly run double in his first over, celebrated the feat to the shouts of '50 and out' from the MCC.

The sideshow had swiftly become the main event with both men determined to gain the upper hand and it was Baker who took this round when he lanced one through Renvoize's defences and uprooted his middle stump. Reports of it actually cartwheeling along London Road are unsubstantiated, but a satisfactory twirl onto the floor signalled the end of a 29-ball innings that had been the main contribution to the scoreboard for the first 15 overs.

Tom Lister was next to the crease, and having chosen the wrong line to another good delivery from Baker, he saw his stumps rearranged and was on his way back to the pavilion for 1. Slack soon followed for a battling 3 when his leg stump was knocked out the ground by a full and straight delivery from Baker. Leigh were wobbling and the MCC could sniff a below-par total that would be comfortably chased later on. Unusually, Baker decided to take himself out the attack (selfishly hoping to bag a few 'easy' tail-end wickets and grab a 5-for) and that move saw the introduction of Dan 'Scamp' Tidman.

Scamp's introduction was part of a double change that saw Liam 'Warney' Bull get into the game from the London Road End. Liam was getting good flight and some sharp turn and was rewarded when Mazhar was stumped for 4 after some great work from Chilmaid behind the sticks, and then managed to prize out Bill King for 46 with one that kept a little lower and clattered the timbers. Liam ended with figures of 5-0-23-2, certainly more good things to come from him in the future.

With the tail now exposed, Baker brought himself back to search for those 'easy' wickets. Having bowled H.Mazhar for 21, both he and the MCC sensed another name to be etched on the Honours Board. Alas, it was not to be, and both Steve Thurlow and Jack Power saw off the last few overs and dragged Leigh to 192-8 from their 40.

What followed next was quite possibly the most incredible thing ever witnessed at Chalkwell Park. The tea, laid on by the fair hands of Mrs Thurlow, was ridiculously good. From curry and rice (with naan bread - inspired!) to a freshly cooked pasta dish, roast potatoes, sandwiches, and the complimentary plate full of biscuits, it was a veritable feast that had everyone purring at its quality and quantity. Some took full advantage of the MCC batting after tea and tucked into three pieces of cake having been unable to decide between the strawberry cheesecake, the toffee treat or the lemon tart. It was agreed by everyone that batting should be postponed in favour of a siesta to fully work off the calories consumed. Top work Mrs T.

The skipper's siesta plans were cut short and the MCC set about chasing the target. With a makeshift side, Baker shuffled his cards to get the right balance of aggression and discipline. To this extent, it was decided that Jack Seal should bat at 12. The man (well, sort of) who the MCC would pin their hopes on in the dying embers of the game? 6-year old George Thurlow. The excitement at the prospect of George sending his dad's first ball into the pond was growing, but first the MCC had to get George into that winning position.

Fresh from his opening exploits at Southend, Rob 'I wish your dad was my dad' Clayton made his way to the middle with Dan 'Hockley Hurricane' Chilmaid following closely. With the MCC needing a modest 5-an-over to secure victory, it was important that these two set an early tempo and navigated through the tricky first overs. After 18 balls, the scoreboard read 15-0 and everything seemed rosy. Clayton's cavalier approach had got him into double figures before Cousins picked the lock and sent him back to the hutch for 10. The MCC's shouts of foul play fell on deaf ears as, whilst Leigh's opening bowler was called Cousins and indeed looked from a distance like he enjoyed the finer samplings of many restaurant menus like his MCC namesake, it soon turned out that it was not the MCC's beloved Chairman attempting to gain easy wickets, but a young pretender to the Couzens throne!

The better Cousins made another breakthrough in his next over, Chilmaid chipping a catch up to mid-wicket where Power snaffled the chance and sent Chilmaid back along the A127, across the Tesco's roundabout, down past the Cock Inn and through Hawkwell, back into Hockley.

With Bill King bowling from the Thames Estuary end with little reward, it was yet another Cousins wicket in only his third over that accounted for Pidgeon. El Destructo taking the cover off the ball only to see a low catch taken in the off side - cue wild celebrations and a stunned Pidge departing having made 4. The MCC were wobbling in their run chase, now 27-3. It needed a Collingwood-esque innings from the next man in, the sort of back to the wall innings that defines a career. Next up the ramp? Baker. Having never scored more than 7 with the bat against Leigh, the bar of expectation was taken down a few notches and collective MCC fingers were crossed. Baker joined the Tank Engine at the crease after walking through a guard of honour, hoping to recreate some of the 2010 vintage batting that had seen these two succeed more times than they had failed.

The Tank Engine was playing a different kind of innings to normal, carefully picking the right ball and giving himself time to make an impact. At the other end, despite a streaky 4, Baker succumbed yet again to the mental disintegration of his Leigh peers and edged a good* delivery from Mazhar (*please read as 'unplayable') to a grateful Renvoize at first slip and departed for 9.

JT next up, and he set about repairing the damage that the MCC had inflicted on itself once more, and despite losing the Tank Engine for 12, bowled by Jack Power, he found a partner in Tidman who was in no mood to let his new team-mates down.

The pair came together at 55-4 and for the next 19 overs, JT and Scamp mixed caution and care with superbly timed and placed scoring shots and together they took the MCC past 100, then onto 142 before JT holed out on 41 attempting to fire one too many bullets into Leigh's spin-bowling body armour. As JT departed, the MCC still needed 51 runs from 7 overs and with the gloom setting in, the balance of a battle which had shifted throughout the day took one final, critical turn.

When Tidman edged behind for a well-constructed 47 off the returning Cousins, who then saw Paddy Groves come-and-go for a swift 8 to claim his 5-for, the outlook for an MCC victory in Leigh's backyard looked as bleak as the impending weather. Champ joined Bull at the crease and the two batsmen attempted to reduce the deficit, and as the balls ticked past, some great shots from Bull meant that going into the last over, the number 8 and 10 batsmen were staring at a gettable 22 from the last 6 balls.

The man to bowl the last over? None other than Steve 'Twirlo' Thurlow. Mixed emotions for Steve, all day he had muted his celebrations having seen his MCC pals falter, but had offset that with a realisation that he was to be on the winning team in this contest. So how to stop the Arsenal-loving big man in his tracks? Emotional blackmail. When Mazhar held onto a rare chance from Bull, the young leg-spinner departing for 15, the MCC sent his son George, the 53rd and youngest ever MCC player, to the crease with the sole instruction to take his new charges across the line. Yes, there were only two balls left, and yes, he needed to go at almost 10-per-ball, but the choice of Thurlow or Seal to guide the MCC to this victory was an extremely easy one.

Sadly, it was not to be, and despite George taking a run off his second ball - which cemented his standing as a better player, batsmen and human than Greg Bannister - the MCC came up short, reaching 176-9 from their 40.

Many people will wonder whether or not Leigh deserved the victory against a patched-up MCC XI, but once more the MCC had landed some telling jabs, had given Leigh a few 'jelly-legged' moments, but Leigh had somehow managed to land the better blows and send the MCC back to the Garrison to regroup and come again.

Special mention to all those who helped out - Chilmaid for doing an outstanding job behind the sticks, Tidman for taking the MCC to the verge of victory, JT for putting his average on the line yet again, Paddy Groves for providing some extra bowling ammunition and to Liam Bull for proving that it's the little ones you have to keep a watchful eye out for.

The MCC now has it's 50th player, in only it's 5th season. The question must now be, can the MCC get its head down and push on to 100? Who will be '100' and how long will we have to wait to find out their identity?

Keith Baker

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