For some, July 11th was an historic day because some other game was being played in north London v the Italians; for the Shepway Stragglers, the day was historic for our fixture v Egerton. On another steamy, damp day we played on the greenest pitch and slow outfield, I have seen for a while. It was however true but offered little bounce for our quintet of pace bowlers. How we wished for the gentle (almost motionless) pies chucked by our Chairman, who had decided to evade COVID restrictions and lie on a sunbed in Greece working out his average. Traitor! The Master Brewer won the toss and confidently opted to bat in this 40 over game, knowing we had Wills Falcon and Fenwick to open, and obviously expecting we would post a score of 250-1 of more, and then win by tea. However, in true Straggler style we managed to get starts and then get out. We lost our first wicket with 6 on the board, and then, in what seemed only a matter of overs we were 72-6. Will Fenwick had got to bed at 5.30am – in his words trying to get a girl’s address. If only he had shown the same doggedness in his batting. Arthur Collins was recruited at 11pm the night before as Max Linington – allegedly – contracted COVID, just in time for the Euros. Harry Churchill had another diary malfunction and so Will Renwick was also recruited at the last minute. Thankfully these call ups proved very beneficial. Arthur, grandson of Jeremy Barnes who played SS cricket in the 1960s, and fresh from Warwick University, showed great timing and good application. He scored a solid 16. Ben Simpson, fresh from the beach in Antigua scored an elegant and confident 22. But Harry Pattinson and Rufus Pullen came and went for 1 each, leaving the Master Brewer’s meticulously planned strategy in tatters. Any comparison with Mr Gareth Southgate OBE was now inaccurate. But the innings was restored somewhat by Ricky Churchill (aged 60) and Will Renwick (aged 54). The two old warhorses dug in for career best – and career defining – innings of 15 apiece. They put on 36 and took the score to a more respectable, but still dire 108-7. Such was the occasion that two Spitfires flew past and dipped their wings in honour of these two old timers showing – at last – the spirit of the Battle of Britain. In hobbled the Master Brewer, – lame and weary – who managed a few elevated drives to post the highest score of 30, ever mindful of closing in on Nigel Snape’s career aggregate of over 5,000 runs (accumulated over an extended period between the Pleistocene and Holocene eras). He then holed out to deep mid-wicket before Ed Prest followed suit a few balls later, all out for 151.
In spite of this somewhat modest batting, the Stragglers bowled magnificently to defend a below par score. Will Falcon was super rapid, aggressive and hostile, and snorting like a rhino in his run up. During his spell of 6 overs, a lone buzzard circled overhead, smelling blood and seeking carrion. At the other end, Ed Prest bowled a metronomic spell. Once the artillery had adjusted his sites, the batsmen were not allowed out of the trenches for 6 overs. As a newly qualified auditor, Ed demonstrated meticulous accuracy, with 8 overs, 2 for 26. Rufus and Will Falcon took 1 for 36 and 1 for 33 respectively. But the star bowler was Ben Simpson, who speared the ball into the stumps and took 3 for 20, including wickets in consecutive balls. Sadly, our other strike bowler Seb Leggett limped off after 4 overs with a sore toe, that turned out to be a fractured bone under the big toe! The run rate was slow but approaching our meagre total. We needed wickets. We managed to restrict them to 119 for 7, and then soon after an 8th wicket fell, at which point we sniffed victory. But two stalwarts of Egerton rebuffed our assault and saw them home in the 35th over. This was a tight and hard-fought game, with runs hard to come by for either side. As ever Egerton proves a great club to play against and a competitive fixture enjoyed by all – until Italy scored the last penalty later that night.