The 2016 season started well in the south of France, and, while played in generally improving weather conditions as the summer progressed, maintained great momentum, with only the first and last games rained off. There were a number of debutants, some of whom had been waiting for a year or two, and the first female Straggler at Egerton. The level of enthusiasm was such that, by the end of the season, most Match Managers had waiting lists of volunteers to play – a rare luxury indeed. With so many games played, more Stragglers bowled sufficient overs or played enough innings to qualify for the averages than we have seen in the recent past. And only the late cancellation of the final fixture prevented the Master Brewer attempting a late season charge for the top of the batting averages.
On the field of play, the quality of performances varied (when do they not?), but was generally high. Batsmen piled on plenty of runs, and 3,614 scored from the bat is the second highest seasonal aggregate (best of 3,781 in 1996). Three of the ten largest Straggler totals were posted in 2016. Bowlers took 153 wickets, and, while not a record, is well up with the more successful seasons. Fielding and catching (59 out-field catches the 6th best total) varied from the sublime to the more prosaic, with moments of one handed brilliance interspersed with serious outbreaks of terracotta.
However, this proved to be the “season of the wicket keeper”. Wicket keeping is such a strength today, that three of the top ten Straggler keepers of all time regularly play in the same side, sharing duties with the gloves – Theo, Al and Blair. Collectively keepers have never been more successful; individually Al equalled the most victims in a season; and a magical moment of keeping brilliance has won the 2016 champagne moment for Blair. Long gone are the days of the unwilling, one handed and partially sighted keeper being bullied into unfamiliar borrowed kit, and then trying to stop byes being leading run scorer for the opposition.
Highlights from such a good season are many, and I will pick out three of particular note:
– The tour to St. Tropez, while unsuccessful in the middle, was hugely enjoyable, with generous hosts and a splendid way to start the season;
– The second Straggler two day, four innings game against Standard Athletic Club in May went to the wire, a credit to the skills of both captains declaring appropriately to try to deliver a result;
– And, inevitably, a victory at Provender will always rank highly. Hugo lead from the front in the field, posting himself in the line of fire at short extra, picking up three exceptional catches, and setting the standard for a fielding display of the highest calibre.
As ever a cricket season throws up plenty of stats to keep the most assiduous cricket obsessive happily engaged for weeks.
Jasper passed 2,000 runs early in his innings at Tenterden, the 14th Straggler to do so, and now sits a mere 39 runs behind Matt on 2,098. Jonathan (4,549) is only 120 behind his father, and is beginning to threaten the position of Nige (5,281) as leading all time run-scorer. Charlie Munton is the 42nd Straggler to pass 1,000 runs. Toby leads the batting averages for 2016 with 312 runs at 62.40, one of only 11 batsmen to average over 60 in a season. Archie Hammond has leapt into third place in the career averages on 49.30, having just qualified with 10 completed innings. Behind him in fourth is James Grant (45.78), and now at ninth equal Jasper (43.56). The longest standing record for a Straggler wicket (the 10th dating from 1952, when Paul Smallwood and CE McCausland put on an undefeated 75 against Ashford) came under pressure in the two day game at Belmont, when Jasper declared to cut short Blair in full flow, two short of a half century and 6 short of the partnership record. Only three centuries were scored in the season (Archie, George BW and Ben Methven), coming in a rush in high summer, but there were 17 half centuries, including Toby left stranded on 98*, and Jasper falling 3 short at Tenterden.
Both Theo (54) and Jasper (61) went past 50 career wickets during 2016, the 39th and 40th Stragglers to do so, and, with career averages of 19.61 and 18.15 respectively, are respectably placed in the all time list, when one considers that they are bowling in the ‘age of the bat’. The Chairman is the fifth bowler to take 250 wickets and now has 275 career victims. And five bowlers took a ‘five for’ in 2016, a rare event indeed.
Fielding and catching varied in 2016, but a total of 59 catches is the equal sixth best for a season, although with a catch per match rate back in line with the long term average, well down on the exceptional 2015 season, when Straggler fielders had hands like fly paper. There were a number of exceptional one handed catches, all of which are worthy of consideration for the champagne moment (see below). Behind the stumps the Stragglers are blessed with a plethora of expertise. Al and Blair both moved into the all time top ten Straggler keepers, with 33 and 25 career victims respectively. 26 keeping dismissals is a season’s best, beating the 25 of 1959 and 2013. And Al is the third to join the very select group, who have taken 14 in a season.
2016 produced some wonderful contenders – Blair’s leg side stumping off Billy Richardson against SAC, Rory DD’s remarkable running slip catch against the Turks, Blair’s leg side catch at Selling, Hugo’s one handed catch at short extra at Provender, indeed Hugo’s inspirational captaincy in the field that day, when he could do no wrong, Will Hilton’s diving slip catch again at Provender, Patch Clews’ one handed effort at leg-slip against the BaBes, another exceptional boundary catch by Carl at Belmont, Benny’s unplayable spell at Hollingbourne, Simon Schilder’s one handed slip catch at Smarden (in a game when almost all other catches went to ground), and Ricky Churchill’s remarkable juggled catch at Otterden, finally grasped with one hand.
After a long discussion about a number of really exceptional catches and other memorable moments during the 2016 season, the 2016 Champagne Moment is awarded to Blair Hart for his wonderful leg-side stumping off Billy in the game against Standard Athletic Club at Belmont.