Walsall Health participated in another entertaining game when they travelled away to face Lichfield Nomads at Walsall Cricket Club. For a few of the Health members, it wasn’t the first time they had played there, but it was possibly one of the most entertaining games they had taken part in.
Just like last week, captain Alex Nunns came back from the toss having lost it and Walsall Health was put in the field. It was to be the only call that Nunns got wrong all day. This was all taking place as Health legends appeared from nowhere. Regulars John Nicholls and Rick Jarrams were in the crowd, but another famous face in Health circles made an appearance in one Steve Fell, father of current player, Richard. However, Uncle Tim wasn’t able to make it.
So the Health went out to the field knowing they needed a strong start if they were going to make early inroads in to the Nomad batting card. That job was given to DS and new boy (not so new now) Dave Clive (DC). Dave Stephens was set to bowl the first ball of the game. He charged in with the control and guile of – well, a man in control. The ball whistled past the opener Gardner and was snaffled up by keeper Andy Gorton. There was so much force behind the attempted shot that the bat went further than the ball. However, after that surprising start, things calmed down. Gardner and opening partner and keeper Rolfe buckled down and batted in a fashion that showed they wanted to be there for the long haul. A magnificent opening partnership of 71 had everything; good running, controlled shots, flashes to the boundary and some cagey running between the wickets. No matter what Clive and DS did, the batsmen had an answer for everything. Despite no wickets being taken, both bowlers could hold their heads up high with encouraging figures of 0-15 off 8 overs for DS and 0-19 off 6 overs for DC.
The first change came when Dan Armstrong replaced Dave Clive in the 15th over (for one over). His introduction could have caused a potential problem, if Dan’s first over was anything to go by, the batsmen were going to find it hard to score. However, the breakthrough came from the second change 7 overs after the first (of two) drinks breaks. Andy Ince (replacing D. Armstrong) got the breakthrough when opener Rolfe skied a good length ball straight up in the air where serial fielder of the year winner R. Fell steadied himself (hoping to claim his 100th elf catch) when all of a sudden bowler Ince took it upon himself to call “mine” and took the catch comfortably. After a good start Rolfe and Gardner made, the Health had got the breakthrough. After 21 overs, the score read 71-1. Could the Health build on that success? Like the opening bowlers, Armstrong and Ince looked composed and confident. New batsman Brannigan was hoping to build the same sort of score as the opening pair did. However, this was not to be the case as wicket number two came soon after. Once again, Ince showed his quality with the ball as he removed Brannigan for a 6 ball duck when he bowled him and sent the bails flying. Ince was on a roll. Could he make anymore inroads to the Nomads innings? Unfortunately, the answer was no, but he left his side in a more positive position than when he entered the fray. His final figures were 2-35 off 6 overs. Good spell Andy.
While Andy was taking all the glory from the car park end, it was tougher for Armstrong (who by this time was bowling up the hill), where he huffed and puffed and toiled for 6 overs for 32 runs without any success. However, despite not getting a wicket to his name, he probably felt he deserved partial credit for the fall for the next wicket when David Preece, fielding at point, threw a pinpoint accurate throw to keeper Gorton who whipped off the bails and removed the opener Gardner who had played so well for his 47. It was great fielding all round and Gort’s reactions showed just why he is so reliable behind the stumps (no matter what gloves he is wearing). While the credit went to D. Preece (and probably deserved), it was all down to the build up of pressure by both Armstrong and Ince. Super teamwork.
All those of the Health persuasion felt the tide was turning. From a strong opening 20 overs of patient batting, for the next 6 overs, the score went from 71-1 to 110-3. Still a good score, but the Health had just pulled it back a little. Nunns felt the atmosphere on the pitch change and decided to bring on the other half of the Preece double act – Jonathan Preece – to see if he could add to his 95 wickets he had taken for the Health. Preece, not always the most consistent bowler started off decently with 2 runs off his first 5 balls. However, his 6th ball couldn’t have been more perfect. He came in and bowled, batsman Loxley’s eyes lit up and missed it. The ball crashed into the stumps and JP had his first wicket of the day. Unfortunately, the control that JP showed in that first over went missing for the next 6 overs. Despite being hit for more 4’s (8 in total), Preece picked up his second wicket of the day in the same fashion as his first wicket. JP finished off with figures of 2-58 off 7 overs.
Preece was ‘supported’ at the other end by Health stalwart R.Fell, who for the first time in almost a decade, was performing in front of one of the Health originals and legend that is his father Steve Fell, a man who represented the Elf with great distinction. Rich kept plugging away at the car park end, where the batsmen were intent on going over the top time after time. His first 4 overs went for just over 5 an over. After that his luck began to change. However, not before a 6 cleared the boundary and then the main stand at Walsall. A change of ball obviously did the trick. The very next ball, Turnbull, tried exactly the same shot, but the middle stump went flying. However he wasn’t satisfied with the one wicket. The very next over, he removed Mahmood after he was caught brilliantly by R. Hewlitt for a destructive 64. If Mahmood had stayed there to the end, the game might have been tighter than it ended up being. Well batted, and well bowled Rich for that crucial wicket. Fell finally finished on 3-49 off 7 overs when, with the last ball of the innings, he clean bowled Westwood for 13 who tried to clear the boundary with one big swipe.
After 40 overs, Lichfield Nomads finished with the respectable total of 218-8. A total that was competitive, but by no means unreachable. It was rumoured that Fell sr stated that he witnessed “a bowling master class”, before adding “until the last two came on”. We will have to see what comes of that.
It was Walsall Health’s turn to bat after the tea interval. It was a call that Nunns had to get right if the Elf were to make a decent fight of it if they were to knock all 219 runs off. So he decided to go with two batsmen, who on their day could take the game away from the fielding side; D. Armstrong – with his powerful, no-nonsense hitting, and D. Preece – the grafter. Health needed a good solid start to calm any nerves. It started positively with a boundary off the first over from Armstrong. However, that would be the only scoring shot Armstrong would enjoy as he fell with the score on 5 after he tried to bludgeon the ball to the boundary but only succeeded in finding the hands of Mahmood for 4 off the bowling of Bryars. Not the start the Health needed, or wanted. But one thing that the Health can count on, is their formidable club pro; Dan Dunn. He strolled out to the middle with the knowledge that another quick wicket, and Lichfield Nomads would have their tails up. If Dan felt the pressure, he didn’t show it. The second ball he faced was dispatched to the boundary for 4 and Dan was off the mark. While both Dan and Dave Preece were going about their business of knocking the runs off, a fascinating conversation was brewing in the stands where both players and fans were seated. The conversation was to decipher who actually hit the shots. Both batsmen looked a similar build and they both wore blue helmets. It was decided the batsmen could be identified by their bats. While one observer stated David had a lighter shade of blue helmet, another mentioned “At least it’s not Tom or Greg”, at which the family enclosure erupted into hysterics. This was not to be the only time they were to break out into fits of laughter. Shortly after, bowling machine Richard Fell, fresh after the departure of his family, came to the conclusion that if he was to have another child, they would be called Tripton! (Unorthodox, but it’s got a good ring to it.) How scorer Andy Gorton managed to keep concentration while all this was going on was exemplary.
D. Preece and Dunn were motoring along nicely. After every ball, the confidence was growing. They played sensibly, with flashes of brilliance. It was one of the few things that Dai Preece managed to see with clarity, even if he couldn’t tell who was who. An example of the flashes of brilliance was when on 75, Dan Dunn hit a magnificent 6 over mid-on and towards the Health followers. If it hadn’t been for one Mrs S. Preece, some might have been nursing cracked bones in the aftermath. Her quick reactions enabled her to catch the ball and return it to the field of play. The first major milestone came when firstly Dan Dunn reached his 50, shortly followed by former captain Preece to record his fifty. The next milestone came in the 19th over where they got their 100 run partnership. It was neck and neck as to who would blink first. It was then that mumblings of records being broken. There were still over 20 overs to go, but neither of them looked like getting out. No sooner had that been mentioned, David Preece skied one and the on rushing keeper Rolfe called it, but was unable to steady himself and take the catch. Thankfully, for the Health perspective, David took full advantage of his second opportunity. Both batsmen grew increasingly confident as their scores progressed and it wasn’t long before Dan reached his maiden century after hitting a sumptuous 4. Could they bat to the end? The next major milestone was reaching the 200 run partnership with 10 overs to go. There was hope both could go all the way.
While most were reasonably confident of victory, there were some who still thought of a potential ‘England-style collapse’ even with 19 runs to get and 9 wickets left. One remark from Gort was “If we lose from here, I’m never playing cricket again”. Just as he finished that, Preece was caught behind off the bowling of Westwood for a well deserved 71, but he was to be outshone by Dunn. In to replace D. Preece at number 4 (a promotion up the order) was another former captain R. Hewlitt. He entered the crease possibly hoping to be there at the end of the innings. Unfortunately, his time at the crease didn’t last long, but still came away with one more run to the total. He was bowled unluckily by Westwood, where it hit Rob’s bat, trickled down and spun back onto his stumps. After his recent performances, he would have felt confident of batting to the end, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Really unlucky Rob.
That left the score at 212 for 3 and in walked Alex Nunns to finish the job off. Only 6 more were needed and D. Dunn was still at the crease. After scoring his century, could the ‘club pro’ hold out to the end? However, it turned out to be one shot too many for Dunn who succumbed to Hughes for a magnificent 108. It was a tremendous knock and he received a well deserved standing ovation from all who watched. Not only did he reach his maiden Elf century, but he also contributed to an outstanding second wicket partnership of 206. Super knock Dan. It was left for the captain Nunns and opening bowler Dave Clive to knock off the runs and pull off an exceptional win. Although the final two only contributed 8 runs (with DC getting all 8), both men were invaluable. Dave’s tidy bowling at the very start of the game set the foundations for the Nomad’s innings and Alex’s all round performance as captain making tricky calls and a quiet encouraging word for anyone he felt needed words of wisdom – or should that be Wisden.
After the dust had settled, after the celebrations had died down, the overall assessment of the game was that it was played in the right spirit and win, lose or draw, everyone had a great day out.
Title photo curtesy of Lichfield Nomads CC @lichnomadscc