Walsall Health CC (139-9) def. Alrewas CC (135 all out) by 1 wicket.
After an enforced two-week break thanks to the British weather, Walsall Health returned to the field in a match that meant more than most fixtures to certain members of the Health. It was the first fixture between the two sides since the passing the late Andie Oliver (who was highly respected by both sets of players). They were also trying to keep their unbeaten start to the season going after winning 4 from 4. The weather was superb, as was the atmosphere and that was before the game even began. Plenty of Health representatives turned up (without kit), which showed the number of people whose lives’ Andie touched and wanted to pay their respects. It was mentioned by certain members of the Health that it was the largest crowd they had ever played in front of.
Before the game, both captains came to a gentlemen’s agreement that Alrewas would bat first. Due to the numbers present, the elf were in a fortunate position to have rolling subs (with 14 players available), all of who made a contribution to the team effort.
So the first Elf XI, was lead out by captain for the day and club stalwart Richard Fell, who was intent on making the day one to remember. The opening bowlers were none other than true legends with a combined 657 wickets between them – Chris Hall and John (Johnty) Nicholls. This was to be J. Nicholls’ first game of the season, but he looked as though he’d never been away. The class and control was there for all to see. Hall’s first 4 overs went for a total of 2 runs (including 3 maidens), the start that any side would dream of and this great start was backed up at the other end by Nicholls who in his first four overs went for 12, but crucially got the breakthrough in the 8th over, trapping opener M. Burns LBW for 6. The Elf were on the board.
The 10th over saw the first set of rolling subs, which saw the introduction of Jonathan Preece, Andy Gorton (who was later to show his abilities in the field) and Rob Humphries. One player who stayed on the pitch was the golden oldie, Nicholls, who quickly picked up his and the Health’s second wicket bowling Moss with his deadly ‘la la’ ball in which the batsman did not read and the ball clattered into the stumps. This threat by the opening bowlers was supported flawlessly by another Health legend; with 210 wickets, 4,415 runs and 125 catches behind the stumps, the one and only ‘Doc’ – Gary Reeves. Once again, a player who hadn’t donned the gloves since the last game of last season (against Alrewas) made it look ever so easy, as though he too had never been away. While Johnty finished with figures 2-35 off his 8 overs, C. Hall finished off his spell, bowling superbly without reaping the rewards that he duely deserved finishing with figures of 8 overs, 3 maidens, 0-11.
The first bowling change saw J. Preece (affectionately known as ‘The King of Spain’) replace Nicholls in the 15th over. His first over brought spectators of the Elf persuasion to cover their eyes with anything they could find, as he leaked 9 runs. Thankfully, for all concerned, this was not to be repeated. His next over saw a marked improvement in which he conceded 2 runs, but importantly, picked up the wicket of opener T. Aston, who had just reached his 50. JP was to finish with 5 overs 1-21, figures he could have only dreamed of after his first over.
Dan Dunn, the club pro was to replace C. Hall in the 17th over and with the exception of his first ball, Dunn jr definitely lived up to the title bestowed up on him. His first over went for 4 runs but took the vital wicket of D. Stewart, for a well batted 21, caught incredibly well in the slips by Andy Gorton, who it could be argued, was in unfamiliar surrounds, but took the catch as confidently as a shark in water. However, the next wicket was the one Dan really craved for as he took wicket number 39 after Orton fell to the same combination (ct A. Gorton b D.Dunn) as Stewart, but for 12.
Having taken that wicket, the club pro was quaking in his boots, as three overs after drinks saw the introduction of Senior Club pro Alan ‘Nicka’ Dunn. As captain Fell claimed, it was to be “…the battle of the Dunns” (one of 3 father-son involvements for the Elf on the day). At this point Dan had moved on to wicket number 39 for the ‘elf while Nicka was stuck on number 37. However, this was to change soon after as Nicka joined the party, picking up the wicket of O’brien for 10. He’d been threatening it ever since he came on, but kept missing the bat and into the gloves of Reeves. But a straight ball did the trick and O’brien was on his way after his stumps were dislodged. Soon after, Nicka caught up with son – Dan in collecting his 39th wicket of his Health career. It was a wicket he didn’t appeal for, but those behind the stumps did. Unfortunately, the batsman had to go without scoring. The impression was that Dunn senior didn’t want, but ‘they all count. Were either Dunn’s going to reach the magic 40. They tried, but with no more success.
Fell had had enough. He turned to the youngest member of the side who was making his debut, the much talked about George Fell who started on the road of gaining Elf immortality. Although he bowled 2 overs, George kept the batsmen on their toes, where his unique variation made it difficult for the two men at the crease to get the ball off the square. Definitely an Elf legend in the making. To top it off, he was the best performing Fell of the day with ball in hand, going for a miserly 4 runs off two overs with 1 maiden. Super effort George. There will definitely be a few nervous figures in the Elf ranks when future selections are made.
George was supported at the other end by a novice from the Elf’s bowling academy. This was to be Nathan Reeves. Not known for his bowling exploits, Nathan came on to show what he could do and he didn’t disappoint. He took his first wicket after bowling Walker for 1. Could this be a new beginning for Reeves as a bowler? He didn’t have to wait long for his second wicket where he once again bowled the batsman in the same fashion as the first for 1 again. As the two wickets went down the man with the gloves down the other end could be heard saying, “only another 200+ to go”. By the end of his 4 overs, Nathan had taken 2 wickets for 23 runs. His bowling deserved more than the two wickets he came away with. However, he hadn’t even batted yet.
The final bowling change was to see the captain Fell bringing himself on. With one wicket still to go and with Nathan keeping it tight at the other end, Rich started to weave his magic. Eventually, Rich’s endeavours paid off by getting the final wicket through the quick hands of ‘the Doc’ who stumped N. Turner for a hard fought 20. Fell tossed one up and Turner tried to end the innings with a 6, but only succeeded in connecting with fresh air. Alrewas finished on a competitive total of 135 all out.
Tea was a delightful affair with everyone getting a chance to catch up with friends (both old and new). This included more Elf legends who had not represented the Health in years, but were always mentioned in stories of bygone days. It was like a who’s who at the ‘All England Tennis Championships’ at Wimbledon, where the camera scours the stands for famous faces. Instead of David Beckham and Trevor Macdonald, the onlookers included celebrities like the meticulous Ian ‘Fozzy’ Forrester, who was quick to use his experiences as a top bowler (314 Elf wickets) to lecture Dan Dunn in the art of batting, the agile Frank Jacobs and 007 himself, Roger Moore. The attendance of these members saw all surviving members of the 200 club appear at some point during the afternoon/evening.
With tea over, it was down to the batsmen to attempt to knock the runs off without too much difficulty. Fell thought it a great opportunity to go with club pros Dan Dunn and father Nicka. It was a chance for potentially a good opening partnership. After listening to advice from the I Forrester coaching manual, Dan Dunn strolled out into the middle only to stroll back two balls later without scoring. You wonder what the advice was. It was to be mentioned later that Nicka had told Dan to “…remain at the crease. It is a great opportunity to get some runs”. He was to be replaced by Health’s man of the season so far, Dan Armstrong, who admitted that he wasn’t in the best state to bat. Despite this confession, he went out and after two dot balls, hit a magnificent 6 on his way to a reasonable 15 off 13 balls, something he has been accustomed to in the early part of this campaign (some suggest he has fewer runs than bottles of beer). The pair seemed to be getting a decent partnership going, but just as things seemed to be going smoothly at 19–1, the 2nd wicket fell. Unfortunately, Armstrong’s time at the crease came to an end when he tried another big hit off the bowling of Walker, but only succeeding in finding Parker. Armstrong was on his way. Next in was Elf’s all time top run scorer Andy Gorton. After taking two exquisite catches in the first innings, the current first-choice wicketkeeper (sorry Gary) was full of confidence and aimed to stay at the crease for a good while. Andy, along with Nicka set about beginning a new partnership. Andy went about his batting with precision. Unfortunately, he did not last long enough to impose himself on the bowlers when on 34-2, he was caught off the bowling of Sherratt for 5 (a catch that drew applause from batting partner Nicka).
New batsman, Rob Humphries, a player that was well known to both Rich Fell and Chris Hall for a long time, entered the crease. He came in with all the enthusiasm of a hyena at feeding time, ready to leave his mark on the game and spend some time at the crease. He batted doggedly to keep the Alrewas attack at bay. While Rob was still adjusting to the conditions, he could only stand and stare as the experienced Nicka Dunn was forced to leave the field after being bowled by Orton for 9.
The next batsman to join Rob at the crease was a sight to behold. Another Elf legend entered the crease, by the name of Rick Jarrams. After a slow start, making sure nothing breached his defences, Jarrams came to life with a fabulous 4 which would have had David Gower awestruck at the precision and timing of Rick’s shot. A raucous cheer erupted from a small section of the Elf contingent. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before another wicket fell when Humphries was caught off the bowling of K. Turner. While he only amassed 1 run, Rob made a valid contribution making the bowlers rethink how they were going to bowl. Without even realising at the time, Humphries had set a foundation for which the incoming batsmen could work from.
If the Elf hadn’t been showing signs of panic yet, at 39-5, it was definitely playing on their minds. At this point, victory seemed a long way off. They needed a calming influence to join Rick at the crease. Enter – Nathan Reeves!!! To bring that stability that was needed. Only a few weeks ago did Nathan shock spectators by adding two new shots to his increasing repertoire; the forward defensive and the leave. Credit to him, the first ball was a leave, the 2nd ended up one bounce over the rope for 4. As Nathan was getting ready to go the aerial route, Rick – playing the more measured game – was bowled by N. Turner for 5. While he only scored 5, he, like Rob, stemmed the flow of wickets and provided morale boosting support not just to Nathan, but to the cause as well. This left Walsall Health at a perilous 60-6. Nathan kept on going and with new batsman Lewis Portsmouth at the crease, the two started to amass a decent partnership. This was Lewis’ first game for the Elf since 2011. He wanted to make up for lost time and he surely did that. With the score at 73-6, Nathan eventually tried one shot too many and was bowled by Rick’s conqueror, N. Turner for a very exciting, but more importantly, significant 24. There was still a further 66 runs to get with only three wickets remaining, but Nathan had occupied the crease well. Cracking batting Nathan. There was hope.
Joining Lewis at the crease was ‘the ice man’ Chris Hall, who was experiencing batting for the first time this season. Was there to be any rustiness from our opening bowler? Absolutely not! He set out his stall early playing each ball on its merit. He began to build a telepathic understanding with Lewis and very quickly the number of runs needed started to decline at an alarming rate for the home side. A mixture of smart quick running and the occasional foray to the boundary helped the batting side. As the finishing line was in sight, Elf lost their eighth wicket. Lewis Portsmouth, who had played an outstanding innings in the circumstances was bowled LBW by Sherratt for a well earned 25; a match winning innings. After the game Chris stated that Lewis’ 25 was really important and he “…enjoyed batting with him”. While Chris was knocking off the runs, from the comfort of his seat on the boundary, with beverage in hand, Rick claimed that he deserved half of the runs Chris had got stating “…after all, it is my bat”. It was left to Hall and Rich Fell to finish the innings off. At 120-8, next man in ‘Doc’ Reeves was contemplating having to go in and “bat out for the tie”, but unfortunately for him, the two at the crease were dogged and would not throw away their wicket. Great sensible batting by the two safely got Walsall Health over the line with Hall finishing on an impressive 37 n/o and Fell finishing on a more modest (but still invaluable) 3 n/o.
The ‘Ice Man’ C. Hall with the bat that led the Health to victory
Despite only getting 3 runs, Rich must be commended for his captaincy for the day. It must have been difficult for him to make sure everyone got to play a part whilst only being allowed to have 11 on the field at any one time. A big hand must go to him for the way he managed the occasion. Top stuff Rich!
It was agreed that at the end of the game 139 years, after the original Ashes had been burnt, a new set were being formed in honour of Andie, where his bat would be cremated and the ashes from it, would be played for each year. A fantastic idea.
While Walsall Health won this tight encounter, it was generally agreed that cricket was the winner and it was a game befitting of the occasion. As several people remarked, both before, during and after the game, Andie would have approved of the whole day, the atmosphere and the fantastic weather. Well done all who took part both on and off the field.