At its best, sport provides excitement, theatre and drama that leaves spectators on the edge of their seats. Johnny Wilkinson’s drop goal in 2003 and the Edgbaston Test of 2005 are just two examples of evenly matched teams taking the drama right to the end of the final act.
Hampton Hill’s 2nd XI match, away to Wallington, on Saturday had more twists than a Dan Brown novel, more cliffhangers than any Xmas episode of Eastenders and proved that when the protagonists are evenly matched, sport does not have to be about highly paid stars in huge stadia, with billions watching on television.
The script had been written by the powers that be at the Fullers Brewery Surrey Cricket League. At the start of the day, Shepperton led Division 1 of the 2nd XI league by a single point from Hampton Hill. Wallington lay third, 12 points further back. A win for Shepperton at Battersea would mean they were champions, leaving Hampton Hill and Wallington to contest the second promotion place. 45 overs per side – WINNER TAKES ALL!!
Hampton Hill captain, Warren Carr’s nerves threatened to get the better of him. He woke just after 5am and by the 10.45 meeting time, needed some calm reassurances from his team that all of the pre-match, superstitious rituals had been fulfilled. The seating arrangements in the cars, the music – Hello by Lionel Richie – but would it mean that the Hill players would be Dancing on the Ceiling by the end of the day?
Arriving at Wallington’s Hillside Gardens ground, the team found a very green pitch. It had been covered to protect it from Friday’s rain and the heavy shower that fell during the journey, but didn’t look like it had seen a mower for several days. It was an important toss to win. By now, completely shorn of his usual confidence, Carr asked the team what to call. They chose heads. Still in at least two minds, he called tails. The coin, of course, came down heads! Hampton Hill were put into bat.
Conditions proved as difficult as they looked and James Newton-Savage fell cheaply. Stuart Barrs-James and Ian Exworth battled on, taking the score to 37 before Exworth was bowled by Wallington Skipper, Blay. Shadab was the third wicket to fall, the score now 63-3 from 20 overs. Charlie Newton-Savage added some much needed impetus before becoming the first of Aguera’s three wickets. Barrs-James was still there, at least until a disastrous run out saw him trudging back to the pavilion for a patient 37. James Robottom and Jake Wood played freely but both got out, bringing Alex O’Reilly and Tom Rose together for a partnership of 33. Although Rose was out just before the innings closed, O’Reilly’s 33 not out helped Hill to a respectable 179-9. One run short of an extra bonus point. How crucial would that turn out to be?
Wallington made a slow start, mainly due to some tight bowling from Rose and Tahir Butt. A wicket each for Carr and Butt and a James Newton-Savage run out reduced the home side to 48-3. At 73-4 Jack Aguera entered the fray, but Carr took another wicket – 76-5 – surely now the momentum was with the Hill. Anti-hero Aguero clearly hadn’t read the script. Supported by his skipper, Blay, he took the score up to 111. Sure enough, Nelson struck, Blay caught behind by Jake Wood (more of him later).
Aguera greeted O’Reilly’s entrance into the attack by taking 16 from his first over. Charlie Newton-Savage and Stuart Barrs-James came on as Hill tried to apply some pressure. The run rate had reached 7 per over but that was being achieved. Hill needed to remove Aguera. The ball after he reached a well-deserved half-century, he skied a delivery from Barrs-James towards fine leg. Jake Wood set off from behind the stumps and made a good 30 yards to take the catch.
At 149-8, Hill could have been excused for thinking of next season in the Premier Division but Phillips and Kingsbury kept the scoreboard ticking over until Rose removed Phillips. Twenty-seven runs were still required from 22 balls, just one wicket needed to ensure Hill’s promotion. Enter Stuart Pearce – no, not that Stuart Pearce. He and Kingsbury were clearly no mugs with the bat but as Rose ran in to bowl the last ball of the penultimate over, 16 runs were still required. Just to keep it interesting, he bowled a wide and the resultant extra ball was hit for four by Kingsbury.
Eleven needed from the last over and Carr entrusted it to the unflappable Barrs-James. Pearce found the short legside boundary first ball, leaving 7 to win from 5 balls.
First XI captain, Rob Fullicks had been providing regular updates via Twitter all afternoon and now found himself giving ball-by-ball commentary.
A dot ball was followed by two singles. 5 off 2!! Advantage Hampton Hill? Unbearable tension. Pearce gets the next ball away for two. For both of these teams, the endeavours of the entire season rested on whether three runs could be gleaned from the last ball of the match. All those at the ground, not to mention Rob’s Twitter followers, held their breath as Barrs-James ran in. Pearce swings at a ball just short of a length and misses. Kingsbury sets off for an improbable bye, only to find that, instead of Pearce, it is wicketkeeper, Jake Woods, running past him to take off the bails at the bowler’s end. 177 all out. Hampton Hill win by 2 runs and clinch the promotion spot.
Despite the tension, both teams had played in excellent spirit. Hampton Hill prevailed, as they have done in several tight games this season, but both teams should be congratulated on this epic encounter. TAKE A BOW!!
Hampton Hill’s very own thespian, injured vice-captain Paul Thornley had spent a large part of the afternoon on the phone to Battersea Ironsides, at one point being threatened with police action for “making nuisance phone calls”. Just when he thought they had stopped answering, someone at Battersea picked up and told him the result. Shepperton had lost. Hampton Hill had won the league. All pretence of a subdued celebration, so as not to be too hard on the valliant losers, disappeared at the moment Thornley relayed the information. Hampton Hill celebrated as only they know how. All Night Long!!!