Emley Clarence pulled out the Golden Ticket of their chocolate bar. Their Pyrrhic victory over Hall Bower was rewarded with a journey over to HQ in the Sykes Cup First Round proper. It’s not exactly like a share of the gate receipts at a sold-out Old Trafford, but it was a useful run-out for both sides all the same. A new generation of cricketer will be glimpsed today as a pair of 14 year olds make their full-fat debut with the big boys. See, the youth of today aren’t all glued to their X-boxes drinking Sunny Delight.
It’s a sight that never, ever loses its amusement. The visitors Emley inadvertently, yet immediately feel the wrath of Groundskeeper Willie. There’ll be no dancing at this party. Emley didn’t realise that they were practising their moves on the wicket ring-fenced for the illustrious Oldham Town Team match in the coming week. It’s a distinct zero from a nonplussed Les who assertively – well, that’s one way of putting it – informs them that another dancefloor must be found. Sure enough, Emley find another, less cherished wicket to warm up their bowlers on. Could they not see the cellophane still on it?
A toss is demanded by today’s umpires; Barrie Dyson – who most definitely doesn’t call a spade a shovel. And the softly spoken David Collins, who happily, and sensibly lets Bazza take charge. As the Bee-Gees song goes: we win again. Captain Gleave has no doubts: We’ll have first knock.
No change once again with the openers. Mosun Hussain, star of the first few matches of the season will carry on as number one. Nathan Jones on the other hand keeps skidding on a banana skin. A solid innings today will be like a slug of the elixir of life for him. No Lilley today though. He’s needed to prepare for a possible appearance in front of the Western Terrace at Headingley the day after. They love him there and they let him know EVERY time.
“All we are singing, is give youth a chance“. We have our wish and the permanently joyous and annoyingly talented Xander Selby steps into the breach. He’s joined by bezzie mate, strawberry blonde Jack Hague who’s dripping in rich cricketing heritage from his family of ex-Delphers and also dripping in designer clobber. He might be 14 but he isn’t shy of scolding me when I get his name wrong on Twitter and rightly so, too. Other than that, it’s the same team as normal.
Ball one comes in. “Only another 299 dot balls to go” harps an Emley fielding wag, a strange concoction of tongue-in-cheek pessimism and the sort of dry humour that you need to fuel a long afternoon in the field. Mosun takes control and Emley soon realise that anything fractionally outside off stump at a good height gets pummelled mercilessly over the rope. It’s a tough school but bowlers will need to learn fast. A regulation fifty for Hussain and even Nathan’s making hay today. No fifty for the young all-rounder Jones though; on 41 he drills what looks like yet another four but a neat one-handed catch at mid-on by Emley’s holidaying Aussie with the androgynous name, Shannon Clarke takes him out in mid-flight. Still, it’s much-needed runs under the belt.
Today is going to be Mosun’s day. Goswami joins him but before the half-way mark Hussain has chalked up yet another hundred. Better start putting kryptonite in those balls y’all. At drinks with 175 on the board and nine wickets still sat at the side, all itching to give their averages a bloating, most sides would be feeling the burn. Conference dwelling Emley; with a smattering of normal first teamers mysteriously missing have their backs to the wall and their nose against a gun. Nothing a charismatic captain and a whole lotta heart won’t fix though, in any situation.
Emley get straight to work. Goswami is snared on 34. That man Clarke again with hands as safe as milk down at deep square leg. This brings in Simmo. The big G. Runs keep flowing but Simmo also falls under the spell of the bewitching Emley bowlers. It’s a soft shot and it’s another fifty avoidance. The fines pot will be swollen tonight. Then, a few overs later good bowling by Musa Ahmed accounts for Mosun; who by this point has boosted his personal tally to a fine 134 runs. He gets a handshake from the bowler, the spirit of cricket, eh? Lovely stuff.
Wickets have fallen. Can’t count your chickens just yet. We have everything to lose and Emley have everything to gain. Even more so when Shak comes in and tries to waft his bat around like a blind man negotiating a pavement obstacle. Much mirth aside, I believe he was trying to flick the ball for four but only gets to see a flick of the finger as his soft LBW becomes the fifth casualty. Captain Gleave’s in by now and he’ll not see this stellar start reduced to smouldering ruins. A more unorthodox approach is adopted over his usual cricket manual style. “I’m in at five mate. Have a crowd to entertain” he conveyed at tea. Sixes are snotted but he’s yet another batsman to fail in the forties after he’s caught in the deep. Enter the dragon, exit Andy Gleave.
Here he is, pushed up the order and unfurled onto a stage that’s perfectly set. No pressure on Xander’s young shoulders, freedom to express yourself and ten overs to play with. Hargreaves is the live-in nanny; encouraging and cajoling the lad while he exerts his own brand of one-way long handle cricket. Emley’s bowling has improved; skipper John Lee has juggled the weapons he has at his disposal reasonably well. Alright, a few too many runs have leaked. So what?
Rather than take the score into stratospheric level Hargreaves and Selby are reduced to running for their runs rather than smashing them. Luke feels like he’s half-connecting with everything and Xander is simply having an absolute ball out there. Fours are clipped and caressed by the Delph prodigal son. This fifty partnership has taken us into safe waters while Hargreaves mis-hits one too many in the penultimate over and is snaffled in his usual place by a relieved Emley fielder deep on the legside boundary.
There’s still time for wickets to clatter as first Walter whirls through the revolving door, then Super Selby himself gets castled for a thoroughly enjoyable 32. Still time for Grant Jones to thrill his fans both online and offline. Everyone likes to see his famed slog-sweep get an outing at least once a season. It’s more of a damp squib as he creaks forward and tickles it low into the hands of Musa Ahmed at backward square leg. Jack Hague bears witness looking quite piqued that he’s run out of partners on 1no.
Still, another tally deep into the 300’s. It’ll take some getting will that, especially when weighed down by the mother of all teas; cream scones to boot. It can be the clandestine enemy, exquisite food. A dirty trick. A thoroughly, delicious dirty trick. Doesn’t take long for Emley’s reply to hit buffers; 3 overs to be more exact. Shak weaves his magic with the ball and a family of Ahmed’s are the first of the fallen. Over the top and they’ve been gunned down in their prime. Well, it’s fair to say the well travelled and well liked father Safraz isn’t quite in his prime. Even in his salad days he’d have struggled to deal well with Shak’s in-duckers. All he can do is edge behind to Goswami; deputising in case we get done under the cruelty to old wicketkeepers act by making Grant Jones get behind the stumps twice in two days. Ahmed the younger barely sees the ball until hit hits his pad like a plum. The beard to be feared literally runs through the unfortunate Pat Moor who bears the look of a rookie gunslinger against the best in the west.
The opening blunt trauma is enough to send the white flag out on most occasions. Emley’s skipper John Lee needs someone to buy into the core of his plan. Will an appleyard do? Will Appleyard, a bearded and seasoned cricketer might. He normally plies his trade in the second string but today Matthew, he’s going to give it his best shot. Both players see off Shak and Walter, and see in a pair of Joneses. A pair, you say? Aye, Grant has ditched his gloves and will be masquerading as a spin bowler. It’s a tactic that Emley wouldn’t have suspected in a million years. Lee and Appleyard are afforded time and space though, as juvenile Jones and atavistic Jones take a few overs to calibrate their arms properly. Skipper John Lee reaches his fifty too. See, you might have scoffed at a plan of such folly but it’s clearly working out alright for our visitors. Emley have reached 100 in just 15 overs.
Lee’s luck runs out though. A vein-bursting LBW appeal off Nathan’s ball is denied. Looked a good shout. The tone is set and a ball or two later an LBW is given. A great knock by the captain has at least restored pride. The noose tightens though as Grant’s deceivingly pedestrian deliveries render the Emley batsmen incapable of scoring and sooner-or-later mistakes are made. Kasim, arm like a slingshot, runs out one batsman attempting an ill-advised single. Then Grunt ‘n’ Groans slithers one through the gate of another. Another quick wicket an over later gives Grant his second wicket. A third isn’t far behind either. The secret weapon of mass destruction.
Will Appleyard’s still around enjoying himself, mind. It isn’t in his rule book that when your peers start crumbling you must forfeit your wicket to a rash swing and a miss. He cruises past fifty and it seems a crying shame that the bitterly cold weather has prevented many from bearing witness to his enjoyable innings. Grant finishes his ten overs and makes way for Selby. Don’t worry, he got this and tempts Appleyard to wallop the ball down to a grazing Simmo at long-on. His 74 will provide plenty of clubhouse anecdotes in the years to come. A ball later and Xander pillages the last wicket to send us into round two. Thongsbridge await in June, it’ll take at least that length of time for Grant Jones to soothe those aching joints for his next bowling outing. Emley meanwhile should feel supremely satisfied they competed well and naturally we wish them all the best for their season.