After the deluges of 2007 and 2012, and the gloom in the intervening years, 2013 had the benefit of a more typical English summer, with only one game interrupted by the weather, and many played in glorious conditions. In most games the Stragglers rose to whatever challenge was thrust before them, managing 10 victories and only losing 3 times (excluding the loss in the inter-Straggler game). The percentage of victories (10 in 15 games) has only been bettered once, in 1952 (leading batsman in 1952 AJP Woodhouse, and leading bowler PJC Smallwood).
The batting was never quite operating at full throttle (with the elegant exception of Jasper), suffering some notable early collapses, even with 5 centurions. However, there was nearly always someone to step up and save the day, if things looked really tough. Perhaps the highlight was the record-breaking 7th wicket partnership of 115 between Toby and Owen at Belmont, to drag the Stragglers back from 44 for 6.
In the end the batting totals seemed almost irrelevant, as the Straggler attack were up to defending almost any total. At last 2013 swept away a decade of dominance of the bowling by two old, fat blokes and a brewer with a twitchy trigger finger, as the new generation of Straggler strike bowlers launched themselves on to the cricket fields of Kent. Toby, Theo, Ed, Jasper, Al, Archie, Louis, and even Benny tore through batting line-ups with a mix of intimidating pace and deftly spinning control. Adding muscle to the attack came Eliot, Graham and Owen, perhaps no longer quite in the prime of youth. It is a long time since Straggler match managers have been blessed with such variety of pace and style, and such ability. To have six bowlers average under 20 in a season is a throwback to the early days of the Club, when the ball dominated.
Of course, the bowlers tend to rely on a few of the outfielders holding on to the odd catch, and, on the whole, they were not let down. There were some notable drops, of which the two at Provender may have been instrumental in the eventual result – you just don’t get second chances in that game, but a hatful went down at Benenden, and still the Stragglers emerged victorious.
And we cannot forget the men behind the stumps, who also set about creating records. 25 keeper victims in a season equals the best ever in 1959. It would not be that hard to put out an XI of keepers, such is the pool of talent.
2013 has generated the usual flurry of stats.
There were five centurions in 2013 (five has never been bettered in a Straggler season), and Andrew Cox joins the elite group who have scored five Straggler centuries – Toby Cox, Joffy Sale and Simon Schilder. In scoring his century at Belmont, Andrew passed 2,000 Straggler runs, and was followed in that milestone by Matt Smallwood two months later at Egerton, the 15th and 16th respectively to do so. In the same Egerton game, Jasper passed 1,000 career runs, the 40th to pass that landmark. Otterden became only the second ground to see two Straggler centuries in a game (Benenden having witnessed it twice), as Simon Allport and Al Smallwood notched up the 99th and 100th centuries for the Stragglers.
Theo’s winning bowling average of 7.77 was the 11th lowest season’s average in 67 years. In the victory against the Turks, the Chairman became the 6th Straggler to take 200 wickets as he tidied up the tail.
James Grant now has completed 10 innings and enters the all time Straggler career batting list, topping the averages with 58.67. Unlike the batting averages, with 57 Stragglers averaging over 20, and most at the top still playing at least occasionally, the career bowling averages of the Stragglers are dominated by those who played much of their cricket before 1980. The balance then seemed to swing strongly in favour of the bat, so it is very pleasing to have both Theo and Jasper move into the group of 67 whose bowling average is under 20 – Theo at 18.26 and Jasper at 18.28.
As ever there are a number of contenders for the Champagne moment (or moments) of 2013, featured being the exceptional running at Wellesley House, Jack Wood’s denial of a century for the Master Brewer in the same game, the Tyndall hat trick at Belmont, Benny’s first Straggler wicket also at Belmont, Toby and Owen’s record breaking 7th wicket stand to rescue the Stragglers from humiliation, Nigel’s use of bone in the field at Egerton, and any number of catches in the same game of high quality fielding, Hugo’s 19 ball half century at Nonington, reckless umpiring by the Master Brewer at Goodnestone, Theo’s acrobatic slip catch to win the game at Tenterden by the slimmest of margins, Benny remaining undefeated for a fourth successive time in his Straggler career, and then showing his elders how to catch at Benenden, Jasper’s extraordinary return catch at Otterden, Al and Simon sharing centuries also at Otterden, Al’s being the 100th Straggler century, and the miraculous one handed catch by Jonathan at Hollingbourne.
After a long discussion about a number of really exceptional catches during the 2013 season the award for the 2013 Champagne Moment is awarded to Theo Allport for his diving slip catch to win the game at Tenterden.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Jimmy Cox for his very long service to the Club on the Committee, from which he has recently retired. Jimmy was invited to join the Committee for the 1977 season, and succeeded to the Presidency of the Club at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Club in 1997, serving in that role for 10 years. Jimmy’s contribution to the success of the Club over many decades has been considerable, and the Committee already miss his sage counsel.