Southgate 2nd XI travelled to Wycombe House in deep West London hoping that the strongest 2nd team batting line up in my years at the club would ensure there was no repeat of the shambles at nearby Osterley 2 weeks previously.
Eyeing said lineup, skipper Sam Faruqi won the toss and despite the good looking pitch and sweltering conditions opted to field. As his grumbling teammates slopped on sun cream, shades and caps, Sam informed us that he had lost the toss, a lie that he didn’t own up to until after we had won.
The opening bowling pairing of Ben Elders and Luke Hutton is a cut above anything else in the division, and they bowled with aggression and discipline, removing a batsman each in the early stages. Luke gave way to Dave Woffinden who set about his regular game plan. With limited opportunities to score Wycombe House were frustrated and quickly found themselves 3 down with less than 30 on the board after 15 overs. Their remaining opener ground out a solid 36 and just as it looked as though he might have weathered the storm and got them back into the game Woffers took 2 wickets in an over to reduce the hosts to 53-5. Unfortunately, the second of these wickets was a backpedalling catch by Freddie Wilson who fell awkwardly and we later found out broke his wrist. This is doubly unlucky as at the time of writing he is in Ibiza having booked his flights Sunday – Friday like any good cricketer.
Woffers’ double wicket over looked to have ended WHCC’s chances of posting a defendable total, but his next over is one none of us will ever forget. Or allow Woffers to forget. Before I give the ball-by-ball I should explain that the straight boundary at Woffers’ end was quite short. Not the shortest we play on, but certainly shorter than average.
Wycombe Houses’ number 6 (in the book as simply “Noori”) hit the first ball of Woffers’ next over for a straight 6 into a hedge that separated the ground from tennis courts. Woffers chuckled and beamed as I’ve seen him do before, relishing the challenge of a batsman coming at him and anticipating his downfall. Mid off and mid on were sent back, but told to remain 5 yards in to tempt the batsman into attempting another lusty blow. The second ball sailed over their heads and landed between the hedge and the tennis court fence. This was difficult to retrieve and caused a delay, so we took drinks.
Noori heaved the first ball after the resumption over midwicket for an ugly 4. The next ball was a return to form and landed once more in the tennis courts to shrieks of discontent from the female revellers. (We were shouting “HEADS!” but they were in real danger and there was nothing more we, or Woffers, could do). 6-6-4-6.
Before the fifth ball I recall saying something to the effect of “go on mate, see if you can do it again, one more”. And he did. 6-6-4-6-6.
The sixth ball must’ve cleared the net on the tennis court and again caused indignant squeals from the players. This time ‘PUT ANOTHER BOWLER ON!’ was heard from the now apoplectic Saturday afternoon tennis contingent. A remarkable over finished 6-6-4-6-6-6. I genuinely couldn’t quite fathom what I’d just witnessed.
Watching these remarkable events unfold was an emotional rollercoaster. Initially there was awe and admiration for the display of batting, mixed in with a bit of gallows humour. But after the initial shock it started to dawn on me that this hadn’t happened to just anyone, but to Woffers. Woffers. The Barnsley Express. The kryptonite of many a Premier league batsman. The maiden machine. Gets hit for 34 in an over! Disbelief set in. This surely was the end of days. I saw planes falling from the sky, but quickly realised how close to Heathrow we were and calmed down a bit.
The next stage of my turmoil was similar to when you’re about 8 or 9 and you see your Dad fail at something and for the first time realise he’s not invincible. Was there an Emperor’s New Clothes situation going on? All these years Woffers’ bowling has looked innocuous at first glance but turns out to be incredibly effective. Was the spell now broken? I pictured the next time I’d face Woffs in the nets. Usually I can’t lay a bat on him, but now would I casually swat him over the sightscreen ball after ball before wiping away a tear as my actions cemented the end of an era of wiley medium-slow bowling? Time would tell.
While all that was swimming around my brain a game of cricket had been carrying on (it was a good job the ball hadn’t come to me). The skipper had kept faith with Woffers and Noori completed his half century in what can only have been about 16 balls. Every Southgate player who was still on the field (get well soon Fred/Jeff) shook his hand and then again in the following over when he held out to Luke Hutton at long off. Woffers finally had his man. It was a remarkable innings that will live long in the memory.
Meanwhile, Skipper Faruqi bowled a good spell at the other end with no reward (9-2-26-0) and once Noori was dismissed Woffers’ spell reverted to type. He wrapped up a 5-fer, finishing with figures of 18-4-80-5, which are quite remarkable when you consider that 2 of his overs went for 50. If this was The Emperor’s New Clothes then the fable has been rewritten. Emperor has a suit commissioned that can’t be seen by those unworthy or unintelligent – Emperor parades around in new suit – youth shouts “He’s naked!” causing merriment – short time passes and general consensus is “No, he’s definitely wearing a suit. And I can’t get his bowling off the square”.
In the end, Luke (12.4-1-28-2) and Ben (15-3-31-3) came back on to finish things off and the innings was brought to a close in the 52nd over by a sharp stumping from Scott Ellis standing up to Luke.
Wycombe House’s total of 176-6 in 52 overs seems pretty regular, but it puts a different shape on things when you consider that they only scored 126 in 50 of their overs.
Our response started shakily as Alvin Durgacharan looked to be the victim of repeated passionate LBW appeals putting pressure on the home umpire. Crashing noises from the changing rooms suggest that Alvin thought little of the umpire’s lack of resolve. Max Joseph departed in the next over clean bowled by a yorker and when Declan O’Leary chipped a slower ball back to the bowler we were perilously poised at 23-3, effectively 23-4 as Freddie was in a nearby hospital.
However, with our batting depth we were never out of the game and a steely period of play from Adeel Saeed (77*) and Waqas Kahn (40) saw off the openers and then a devastating performance from both dismantled the change bowlers. Glorious strokes all around the ground were a pleasure to behold, particularly given the match circumstances.
Noori had a short spell and Waqas was determined to avenge Woffers’ pain and after depositing him for one 6, held out to long off. But the partnership of over 100 had reduced the runs required to fewer than 30. Luke Hutton scored a brisk 19 and fell when we needed only 9, which opened the door for Scott Ellis (8*) to come in and bludgeon his way back into form and our way to victory.
In the end the scoreboard reported that we had won by 4 wickets with 20 overs or so to spare, but in reality that was only 3 wickets as Freddie was on his way to pick up some UV paint to make his cast more Ibiza appropriate. It was certainly a hard-fought victory, which you could not say of most of our 10 wins this season.