The start of the 2014 season was touched with sadness, as the Club bade farewell to Jim Woodhouse and Roddy Child Villiers. Jim was a stalwart of the Club in the early years, scorer of centuries, when the ball ruled the bat, scoring three in the ‘50s, a feat not equaled until the early ‘80s. Jim sits at number five on the all time run scoring list and was the first to the Straggler double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets. We had the great pleasure of Jim’s presence at the pre-season drinks party in April. Roddy’s Straggler career is of more recent vintage, a regular from the mid ‘80s until the end of the century, with a dazzling cover drive and a safe pair of hands behind the stumps.
The tour to Paris, the first foreign venture for 13 years, saw the Stragglers play the first two day/four innings game in the Club’s history (and be put to the sword by Standard Athletic Club over two days of gripping cricket). The season was good in parts; disappointing to lose three games to cancellation, and four to the weather (in which a start was made in three before a rain intervention, and one of these was then restarted as a T20), but with some high quality and exciting cricket on occasion.
Straggler batting began the season showing signs of fragility, as modest totals were set, and batsmen failed to find the middle of the bat. Ralph Taylor proved a notable exception, scoring his second Straggler century at Selling, undoubtedly the youngest Straggler to have two centuries to his name. As the season progressed, so the runs began to flow, perhaps no more so than in the all Straggler game at Belmont, when 526 runs were scored in a game that went to the final ball. Three more centuries were scored late in the season (George Baker White, Giles Brealy and Jasper Smallwood), as the runs came more readily. Perhaps the most elegant contributor with the bat was Patch Mitchell, who notched up runs with effortless grace, his 70 in Paris a particular highlight. Among a number of brutal clubbers of a cricket ball, Toby Snape was probably the most effective, his 61 at Provender coming in very few balls (and was his only dismissal of the season).
Jasper tops the averages for the second season in succession, following in the footsteps of Patch in 2008 and 2009. In spite of taking half the season off to go travelling, Jasper continued accumulating runs on his return, with the highlight his quick fire century in Paris. Bart Forster, Giles and George were hard on Jasper’s heels, although Parisian indisposition somewhat undermined George’s position.
In the field, along side some spectacular catches (two that remain vivid are Carl Brown’s flying catch at Selling and James Stabb’s running one at Provender), and remarkable run outs, I cannot recall a season which saw so many straight forward catches go to ground. A notable exception was against Wickham and Stodmarsh, which saw virtually every chance held, and three by specialist fly slip, Benny Smallwood. A late season highlight was a string of slip catches at Benenden (Matt and Eliot), Otterden (Giles twice) and Hollingbourne (Hugo); slip catches do not often feature in Straggler fielding. Behind the stumps Al took control, snapping up ten victims, the most notable being his keeping at Benenden, arriving towards the end of the Straggler innings from a hard fought game of rugby to take 2 catches and a brace of stumpings.
If Straggler batting did not quite fire early on, Straggler bowling proved mean enough to defend some pretty ordinary totals, and conjure draws and even victories from unlikely situations. As the averages demonstrate, we were blessed with a pool of regular talent, ten bowlers bowling at least 25 overs, and, although the impact was not quite as overwhelming as in 2013, there was always another option to turn to. Highlights include Finn Hulbert’s 5 for 9 to roll over the Turks, Bart Forster’s spell against Nonington, when carnage was the order of the day at the other end, and Hugo’s 2 for 0 in five overs at Hollinbourne. Jasper, Ed Prest, Graeme Tyndall and Eliot all took wickets at crucial moments, while Simon Allport was the only Straggler tourist to improve his average on the matting wicket at Meudon. Patch Mitchell secured the bowling award as he demolished the middle order at Hollingbourne.
2014 has generated the usual flurry of stats. Giles Brealy joins the elite group of Stragglers who have scored 5 centuries, his 101 at Otterden coming after a gap of eight years to remind us all that class is perennial. The others in that elite group are Joffy Sale, Simon Schilder, Toby Cox and Andrew Cox. Giles also returns to the top of the all time Straggler averages, having been briefly replaced by James Grant. Giles is now the only Straggler with a career average over 50 at 56.35. Patch Mitchell became the 42nd to have passed 1,000 career runs during his second innings in Paris. Benny Smallwood was finally defeated for the first time in his career (it has taken four seasons to winkle Benny out). And Ed Prest, reinvented as a late order pinch hitter, has seen his career average increase by a factor of 16!
Straggler bowlers rolled up to the wicket for 693 overs in the season, the most since 1996, with the Chairman the first to propel (or is that overstating the pace?) more than 100 overs since a (much younger) Will Gow did so in 2001. Simon Allport became the 10th Straggler bowler to take 150 wickets in the game against Wickham and Stodmarsh.
Al Smallwood’s ten victims behind the stumps are the most by a keeper in 33 years, since the glory days of Charlie Barlow, who took 11 catches in 1981. In securing a snow covered catch at Otterden, the Chairman became the 6th Straggler to 50 career catches in the out-field.
There are a number of contenders for 2014: Matt’s catch in the wind at Kings, Carl Brown’s leap on the boundary edge at Selling, Toby’s blazing half century at Provender, James Stabb’s running grab also at Provender, Olly Wardman’s unlikely last ball victory boundary at Belmont, Bart’s steadiness under fire against Nonington, Benny’s trio of catches against Wickham & Stodmarsh, Patrick Clews remarkable one handed catch at Tenterden, the ring of steel at Benenden, Ed Prest’s 36* in quick time also at Benenden, while under instruction to bat out cautiously, a number of extra-curricular activities in Paris, and Hugo’s remarkable spell at Hollingbourne of 2 for 0 from 5 maidens.
After a long discussion about a number of really exceptional catches and other memorable moments during the 2014 season, the award for the 2014 Champagne Moment is awarded to Ed Prest for his peppering of the Benenden boundary.