It is always disappointing to end the season in the rain, but faint hope of enough dry weather to get in a T20 brought the Stragglers to Stowting, and thus the season came to its end in an appropriate spot – The Tiger – but sadly without a ball being bowled. And it was a season bedevilled with cancellations – 5 lost to the weather in one of the driest summers in a century (we were really unlucky in having games on 2 of the 3 wet days in 60 in high summer), and four opposition failures to get sides out (we did manage to find a last minute replacement for one of these, thank you Sissinghurst). We only managed to play one game between June 10th and July 22nd.
With only 15 games played from a card of 23, the momentum of 2017 was hard to maintain, with fewer records broken and milestones set. Among the highlights were the presentation of the inaugural Peter Budden/Shepway Straggler award to Inigo Pullen in recognition of his “most ably and consistently demonstrating a high degree of enthusiasm for cricket while contributing to the spirit of the game”. The Club toured Amsterdam, and celebrated the King’s birthday weekend in a sea of orange, and sadly only played one game, the rain blowing in from the North Sea on Sunday. And 15 players made their debut for the Club, including former Kent captain, Matthew Fleming and three members of the Kent U-18 squad. With Pullens, Pollingtons and, newly moved to Kent, the Elliotts, families with numerous cricket players, and a very youthful group of new Stragglers brought in to face the Junior BB, the Club continues to spread down the generations.
As ever, the banter was relentless, and games played in the very best spirit. As well as the Dutch opposition on tour, we made new friends with Tarbarrow in Gloucestershire (invading the Welsh Marches does not quite count as touring), West Peckham and Sissinghurst, and returned to Folkestone for the first time in at least 3 decades. And we were welcomed by many old favourites on the days when the sun managed to put in an appearance.
Behind the stumps, there seemed to be fewer opportunities as well as fewer games, with a modest return for the season of 15 victims, Al was to the fore again with 11. Perhaps the keeper catch of the season was the one taken by Theo in the Inter-Straggler game to remove George BW, taking the ball one handed while airborne in front of second (possibly third) slip. In the outfield, Straggler catching and fielding varied, as ever, from the sublime to the truly terracotta. 56 outfield catches was a good return for the season, but a number of regulation catches went to ground (most notably at Sissinghurst and Street End), while others were truly remarkable – among the contenders for champagne moment.
Jasper began the season with the bat much as he had ended the last, with a century at Milstead, but then tailed off, with his first golden duck in any cricket at Tarbarrow. Having broken the 5 century season limit in 2017, Stragglers went on to score tons at will, with 8 scored by 7 batters during the season. No one was dominant with the bat, and in the end Patch Mitchell did enough to top the list with a 106* at Tarbarrow (his fourth Straggler century), and an average for the season of 53.25. Ben Simpson rescued the Stragglers from ignominy in Amsterdam with 109* (his second Straggler century), and came second in the averages for a second season on the bounce, averaging 46. Al scored his third century with 110* at Sissinghurst; Hugo scored a first Snape Straggler ton, 114* at Hollingbourne; Joe Gordon hit an electric 109* not out against the Babes; and Theo, unable to buy a run at the start of the season, ended with a wonderful flourish, playing himself back into form in the Inter-Straggler game with 113, and then finishing with an innings of real elegance at Street End with 122* (his fourth for the Stragglers) but just too late to put Patch under pressure. As can be seen from the averages, a lot of batters got close to half-centuries, and a couple just sneaked over the line.
In a season with no “5-fors”, and what look like modest returns for the very varied attack, Hugo bowled himself into top spot with sustained pace and accuracy, giving very little away; he did put himself under a bit of pressure in Amsterdam with his kit locked in the boot of David Mitchell’s car and the keys heading for lunch elsewhere in the city. The Chairman continued to give batters enough time to sow doubt and for them then to surrender, and it is good to see Seb and Toby up the list. Memorable debuts were made by Tom Burge (3 for 39 at West Peckham), Louis Gray with 1 for 19 against the Junior BB, Oscar Pullen (3 for 18 at Sissinghurst) and brother Rufus, who has the happy knack of taking wickets in the first over he bowls in each game. Albert Courage with 4 for 12 against the Junior BB made a second, and very effective, Straggler appearance.
The Straggler Committee met in October to decide on the award of the champagne moment for 2018. There were perhaps fewer outstanding contenders this year, a function of fewer games (as well as some woeful drops), but those very worthy of consideration included Nick Wright’s diving catch on to the concrete outfield at West Peckham, Felix Taylor grappling with the umpire in the Junior BB game before hanging on to an excellent grab, Theo to catch George in the Inter-Straggler game one-handed while the slips remained motionless, Richie Palmer for Hollingbourne (a rare mention for an opposing player in the list, so good was his catch), Al’s boundary full-length if unsuccessful dive at Folkestone, Harry Churchill looking over his shoulder while running backwards to take a memorable catch at Sissinghurst, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Jonathan’s selection issues at Otterden.
After much discussion, the 2018 Champagne Moment is awarded to Nick Wright for his catch at West Peckham off the bowling of Tom Burge. The Committee also asked that a special award should be presented to Richie Palmer for his outstanding catch for Hollingbourne; and that the fine levied on the Master Brewer for his selection management was inadequate, and could be paid in monthly instalments.