Match Report by Ian Garrett
A vital top of the table clash saw Ways emerge from a keenly contested and at times abrasive contest as fairly comfortable winners, a win that puts us at the top of Division 8 East with just two games to go (and the knowledge that Old Halesonians now in second still have to play Alvechurch and Hopwood in third). Once again, the depth in Ways’ line up and the ability in the field to defend seemingly gettable targets was paramount, as was a significantly better performance in the field than our opponents, a wobble in the first half dozen overs notwithstanding.
Persistent and at times heavy rain delayed the start by almost an hour and reduced the game to 41 overs a side, and meant the early overs of Ways’ innings were played in difficult conditions and poor visibility. This affected OH more though, as right from the start, their fielding was below the standard expected from their position in the table – Ian Garrett got off the mark through a misfield and Hamza was under way with a comfortable two, turned to a three, then a four, through a series of overthrows. Ian went early, chipping a catch to backward point from a leading edge, but Hamza and Jim Braddock built a secure foundation to the innings, reaching 70-1 at the 20 over drinks break. Both had moments of luck, and Jim was badly missed early in his innings mishitting a full toss to square leg, where the fielder grassed a straightforward catch. On the other hand, given the length of the boundaries and the wet outfield, fours were few and far between in the first half of the innings, and the bowling was always on the mark, with left arm spinner Anees and medium pacer Ali bowling particularly effectively as a first change partnership. Hamza fell for 41 with the score 96, slicing a cut to backward point off Anees, who should then have followed up by dismissing Khizar Khan as Khizar top-edged the simplest of chances early in his innings, which was shelled by the wicketkeeper, who seem not to be aware of where the ball was at first.
Khizar then made OH pay for the let off, and also cashed in in the later stages of the innings as our opponents rotated bowlers in 2 or 3 overs spells, which seemed not to allow them time to settle. Khizar, a little more restrained than usual, also benefited from poor fielding in the outfield as his back foot drives cleared fielders misjudging the ball near the boundary. Khizar also put away the short ball with ease and struck one trademark six over wide mid on.
Jim batted well in support until bowled by the returning Ali for 41 at 155 as he looked to push on. Khizar went to his fifty with a force through the covers and then was bowled next ball, and from this point runs flowed, with Zo Ahmed playing a useful knock, and wickets tumbled as the latter batters looked to push on. A single off each ball of the final over took the score to 189-8 after 41 – a target that looked defensible but not invulnerable.
For the first half dozen overs of the OH innings however, all chaos broke out, as our opponents’ inability to catch seemed to be – well – catching. As the opener attempted to tee off, he was dropped off a skier to mid off and survived a similar chance to square leg, where the circling fielder was unable to lay a hand on it. There were misfields, one of which gave away four, an over that yielded two successive no balls and free hits, for height and having too many fielders out respectively, and Ways seemed to be collapsing under the pressure as the openers blazed along at close to six an over. Then Anthony Jones got one to kick at left hander Anees to flick the glove and be taken by Zo behind the stumps. 36-1 and an opening. Anthony’s next over was the decisive point in the innings. The hard hitting opener slogged across the line of a full delivery and was bowled, and the incoming batter was yorked first ball. 43-3, and the game changed. The run rate dropped as Iain Wingfield came on to bottle up one end, and Ant struck a fourth time as a rare loose delivery was mistimed towards Craig Heath at mid-on. Craig seemed not to have picked it up then dived at the last moment to scoop it up in those big hands. Iain then dismissed Arif the OH captain, slicing a drive to backward point where Hamza judged the swirling ball perfectly. At the drinks break, OH had made 70 just as we had done, but for five wickets not one. The sixth wicket partnership held us up for a while, but with the score 82, Timmins drove at Iain and couldn’t clear Sabir at a deepish mid-off who judged it nicely. Then Stevenson, who had batted purposefully but also enjoyed some luck with shots that just cleared or fell out of reach of the grasping fielders this time picked out Jim Braddock at deep cover, who took an excellent catch to give Craig Heath a deserved wicket.
Skipper Jon Tovey had now replaced Iain Wingfield and he polished off the OH tail, with the aid of another sharp catch behind the stumps by Zo, Iain Wingfield accepting a mistimed drive at mid-off and finally, Gill the number 11 swung across one to be bowled to give Jon his third wicket. In the end, it was more comfortable than it often felt in the field, the key difference being the quality of Ways’ outcricket and catching compared to our opponents, once the first few overs’ cobwebs were blown away at any rate. And it was an important win – it puts us top of the table with two to play, and with second to play third next week means that at least one of those should slip further back.
Once again, we have proved resilient and difficult to beat, and can go into the run in with confidence.