Aston Tirrold is a village and civil parish at the foot of the of the Berkshire Downs, about 3 miles southeast of Didcot. Not really your standard away fixture, with a journey of just over 100 miles. However, for several years, WHCC travelled to this picturesque place to play a friendly game of cricket. The pitch had its own version of The Travelator. While it was advisable to re-mortgage your house, before buying a round of drinks from the local pub. Former British No1 tennis player, Tim Henman, whose house overlooked the ground, would often be spotted having a stroll around the boundary, hoping to see a close game and trying to get John Nicholls autograph. He certainly got his wish on this memorable day.
June 19th 2005..Richard Fell’s first game as WHCC Captain, and like any good Skipper, he decided to lead from the front, and open the batting with the Reverend John Davis. It wouldn’t be long before a few prayers were being said after a top order collapse. Didcot’s pitch took a bit of knowing, so our opponents local knowledge gave them an early advantage. Opening bowler, Larry Gray (Who was employed as Tim Henman’s chauffeur at the time) cashed in. With Davis (17) Fell (2) Chamberlain (7) J.Preece (0) and Jarrams (2) all back in the hutch, WHCC found themselves in a spot of bother. In tennis terms, we were already two sets to love down and staring at a 1st round exit.
With the score at 39-5, there were two more breaks of serve, as WHCC slumped to 67-7. A 200 mile round trip to be bowled out for under 100 wasn’t in the R.Fell masterplan. This was a time game, so the instruction from the Captain was for two people to dig in, and get us a total that would give us half a chance of defending. The unlikely combination of Frank Jacob and Chris Hall managed to do just that. Both men had their own ideas about batting. Frank with his customary late cuts, plenty of Yes/No/Wait style calling, and Chally, patiently playing out 21 consecutive dot balls, before opening up to score a few important boundaries. From 67-7, this priceless 54 partnership was finally broken. Chally going for one big hit too many, caught on the square leg boundary for 40. It was left to the Nicholls Mafia, Jonty, Paul and Mark to help Frank add a few more runs to the total. Three members of the same family playing in the same game, is a rare occurrence at the club, but the extra runs Team Nicholls provided would prove vital later on in the contest. When Frank departed for a brave 31, the innings concluded…..135 all out. A decent score, on a tricky pitch, the Captain believed we were still in the game.
After a quality tea, The Didcot innings began. With Ralph Smith and Nick Clark opening up. The intent was clear, score quick, and wrap the game up before Songs of Praise started. Chasing 136, the score moved serenely to 65-0. Plenty of time and overs to score the remaining runs. Rich Fell had 71 runs to play with, and 10 wkts to take. The Rev John Davis sank to his knees at mid on to say a few more prayers. However, the divine intervention came, courtesy of John Nicholls, trapping Ralph, plumb in front for 23. Didcot didn’t panic, with Barnard helping to move the score on to 85-1, despite Fell moving the field around, and encouraging his bowlers to keep going. Didcot were serving for the match.
Fell decided to turn to the canny bowling of Andie Oliver, a shrewd move which paid dividends. Andie getting the prize wicket of opener Clark for 36, Shea for 0 and Barlow for 6. With Chris Hall getting the dangerous Barnard, for 27. Caught at slip by the safe hands of Rick Jarrams. (One of a record 109 career catches for the club) Didcot, cruising at 85-1, were suddenly involved in a battle at 102-5. John Nicholls showed high levels of composure to trap Dew for 1 to take the score to 103-6. With the match now hanging in the balance, Bonwell and Gibson steadied the ship. Taking Didcot to 124-6…..12 runs to win, 4 wkts in hand. The new Captain had another tactical mountain to climb.
It was at this point that Richard Fell introduced a puzzling new ploy, never seen before at WHCC…Bringing a bowler back for a second spell. The mercurial Frank Jacob was told to warm up. The same Frank Jacob who NEVER bowled a second spell. Andie Oliver, with figures of 3-22 was taken off, a brave move indeed. What happened next has gone into club folklore. Frank bowled Gibson for 16, then trapped Gray lbw for 1. Frank also caught Bonwell off the bowling of Hall for 10. A bit like the Stanley Matthews Cup Final, Frank was everywhere. So with 1 over remaining in the match, all three results were still possible. Didcot, who had been 85-1 were now on the brink at 131-9, chasing 136. Still thinking clearly amidst all the tension, Captain Fell decided to give Chris Hall the responsibility of a final set tie break.
The two nervous Didcot tailenders failed to score any runs from the first 4 balls of the final over. A great contest looked destined to end in a draw, until Fell calmly walked up to his bowler with some advice…”Just bowl him”….The inspired plan to fire his bowler up for one final effort worked, as Chally hit the middle stump of Didcot’s No11 batsman for victory, with just one ball remaining in the match…. A match we never really looked like winning. Its fair to say that a few people were quite pumped up in the moments that followed. A superb game to be a part of for everyone who was there that day.
The Didcot fixture continued until 2012, and was a trip we always looked forward to despite the distance. Who could ever forget in 2010, Nathan Reeves 64 off 35 balls, losing 3 cricket balls in the process. John Nicholls top scoring with 36 not out, batting at No 10 in 2006, and Chris Hall being hit for six, straight back over his head into Tim Henman’s garden. With Sam Stephens ringing the Henman doorbell to ask for our ball back. The matches were always quite close and hard fought. But the 2005 edition was just one of those games that still gets talked about to this day.
Man of the Match…Frank Jacob, 2 catches. 2 Wickets and a priceless 31 runs, all at a time when we needed them the most.
Walsall Health beat The Astons of Didcot by 4 runs…Game Set and Match WHCC.