Report by Chris England
The much anticipated top of the table clash between Waltham St. Lawrence CC and Shinfield CC lived up to all expectation and beyond, with WSL winning by one wicket off the very last ball of a rain affected game. An often ill-tempered match swung one way and then the opposite as it went to the wire.
Just after midday, the inevitable rain clouds appeared and it wasn’t long before rain started to fall and the prospect of another washed-out Saturday’s cricket looked ominous. Fortunately, it didn’t last long: the toss was taken, Shinfield won it and opted to bat and play resumed twenty minutes late.
The Shinfield openers started steadily, dispatching anything loose to the boundary. However, they struggled to push on against the excellence of Siva Kumar who bowled 11 consecutive overs for only 24 runs. The breakthrough for Waltham came when Zee Gujjar had Deshmukh caught behind with the score on 41. With only 6 more runs added the visitors lost another wicket when Kumar deservedly bowled the other opener Nasser for 27. The game was interestingly poised when the heavens opened up after 21 overs with Shinfield on 60 without further loss.
Again the torrential rain did not last long but it had been sufficient for a significant delay. However, with the sun now out, the covers having done their job and discussion of further rain a thing the past, play resumed with the overs reduced to 39 a side. This clearly favoured the home side as Shinfield only had 18 remaining to amass a challenging total.
Now playing more aggressively, Ali and Amit Gandhi set about the Waltham changed bowling of Chris England and Sree Venkata – the former taking unusual punishment. Just when they were looking threatening, having added another 60 runs, Ali holed out to England at backward point off the bowling of Venkata for 34. This was one of several important turning points in the game as from here on, Shinfield seemed to lose their way and felt the pressure of needing to score more runs and the overs were slipping away. Firstly, Basra was neatly caught behind down the leg side by keeper Ankush Gandhi and Joseph followed shortly after bowled– both wickets to Venkata. The tail attempted to throw the bat but Venkata was in the grove and soon picking up his first “five for”for the club(5-37) and the returning Gujjar(4-23) had too much pace. Shinfield slipped to 160 all out in the 37th over. Not only had WSL picked up maximum bowling points, they had secured 2 crucial extra overs to bat with. At times Waltham had shown their frustration at some dubious umpiring but were satisfied with the bowling and fielding performance, especially as catches were well taken – foremost, a high catch on the boundary by Chris Waghorn.
The chase was never going to be an easy one with the quality and range of Shinfield’s bowling. Ankush Gandhi and Sree Venkata started confidently against the pace of Shinfield skipper, Shanks Garg and Anuraag Shukla; the former playing well within himself and taking a good deal of unsavory sledging from the opposition. He finally fell caught behind for 26 off Shukla, to the first of many vociferous appeals from the fielding side. Chris Sharpe joined Venkata but struggled to penetrate the field despite several elegant drives. The run rate was rising and boundaries hard to come by – the pressure was mounting. Sharpe, trying to force the run rate, was dismissed by Prakash Gandhi, after a controversial decision when the umpires had to consult on whether he was bowled or the wicket keeper had shifted the bails first.
Zaheer Gujjar quickly made his intentions clear but his innings was all too brief. Over half the overs were now used up and WSL were not quite half way to the score needed. Asif Ali joined Sree Venkata and immediately upped the scoring rate with some quality shots for four. The pair looked to be swinging the game back in the home teams favour with the score nudging towards 120 when Venkata went after spinner Jay Deshmukh but skied it into the safe hands of the fielder. He had anchored the innings with an excellent 54 but was it enough to see the home side to victory?
Shinfield scented blood and when Chris Waghorn and Sid Sainani went cheaply, Waltham found themselves 6 for 122. The game was on a knife edge: 7 overs remained, 39 runs needed and only 4wkts in hand. And when Ali(26) went in the next over, Waltham’s chances were dwindling. Ravi Sainani and Chris England began to steer WSL closer to the total with quick singles and the occasional four. Shinfield resorted back to their opening attack. The score crept up steadily to 142 when the Shinfield skipper picked up Sainani’s wicket. The season’s fate was now in the hands of the WSL captain and chairman! The pair scampered singles and twos now from almost every ball. The target was getting closer. 150 was passed; single figures required; England hit a precious three through midwicket bringing concerns for oxygen! The finishing line in sight. Skipper Malliff went for glory but his stumps were skittled by P.Gandhi. With 4 runs required, the smiling Siva Kumar arrived at the crease. The fielding side were closing in for the kill as the senior pair intensely discussed their tactics. The spectators were on their feet, some even on their seats to get a better view of the ensuing climax- four outcomes still possible. When Kumar edged a two and then snatched a single in the final over, England had two deliveries to seal victory. The first was dug out, everything hinged on the last ball of a very tense and fractious game. As Chris England took guard, Siva Kumar was on the blocks ready to go; the fielders circled the bat aiming to stop the single. The bowler bowled, the batman nudged into the off side and set off; his partner sprinted to the other end. The fielder threw the ball in and the wicket keeper removed the bails just as Siva crossed the line.
Waltham had done it by the slenderest of margins- the width of a line. Sadly, this set off a catalogue of complaints from the Shinfield players and accusations of cheating, which continued well after stumps were drawn. This was such a shame, as two good, competitive sides had given everything and brought about a thrilling match.