The Straggler season got off to a flying start in glorious sunshine chez Smallwood with the pre-season drinks, a look forward to the coming season, the presentation the multiplicity of awards for 2016, and remembering those Stragglers no longer with us.
Jimmy Cox passed away on Boxing Day 2016, and many Stragglers were at the memorial service for Jimmy in March. Jimmy was a Straggler stalwart, playing nearly 200 times, serving as the second President of the Club, taking over from Wyndham in 1997, hosting the pre-match lunch for the SAC game for many years, and generally being a very generous and amusing supporter of the Club. We will miss his witticisms from the boundary. In 2016 we also lost David Watney (who played from 1959 to 1964) and Christopher Green (1966 to 1980).
The fixture card for 2017 is particularly strong, and really shows a Club in rude health, with the tour to Bergerac (13 players and 3 sommeliers signed up), a game against the Southern Hemisphere Owls, touring from the antipodes, and a first ever fixture against the BB. Match Managers are busy recruiting (I hope), and it is good to see that Patch already has a side for the opener at Kings – usually recruitment starts at Easter!
And now to 2016, a great fun season, with few games lost to the weather or cancelled, which makes a huge difference. Highlights included the tour to St. Tropez (touring French supermarkets to secure enough sun cream to shield a large Straggler Viking, now somewhat more svelte); the second 2 day, 4 innings game against the SAC, which Jasper took to the wire with a memorable draw; a second consecutive victory at Provender; and a first ever victory at Otterden, of which more in a moment.
We start with the batting, with plenty of runs scored, and some big totals, but only three centurions, and clustered into high summer. Archie Hammond scored the first, 119* out at Egerton, carrying his bat; George BW got into his stride at Hollingbourne with 116; and finally, Ben Methven, unable to attend as he is celebrating his 21st, with 114 at Tenterden. Charlie Munton became the 42nd Straggler to pass 1000 runs. And Jasper is on a charge, the 17th to 2000 runs, almost up with his father already, and with Nige in his long-term sights. There should have been another century at Otterden, when Toby, who seemed to be the only Straggler able to see the ball, was left stranded on 98*, when I ran myself out, absolutely determined to get off strike – more on the Otterden match in moment. Toby, however, had done enough to secure the batting honours, topping the averages with 312 runs at an average of 62.40.
It is not often that we have 5 five fors or better in a season, and 2016 saw two 5 fors, 2 six fors and a 7 for. This last was in the inter-Straggler game, when Toby’s team were in complete control, cruising to victory, 50 runs needed, plenty of batsmen to come, and the lower order already dressing down for the BBQ. Up stepped William Fenwick, Carl Brown took a miraculous boundary catch, and batsman fell in an accelerating procession. William proved unplayable, ending with 7 for 39, and victory for Hugo’s team by the narrowest of margins.
Hollingbourne were in complete control of a big chase, when Hugo tossed Benny the ball. The hat-trick ball, carried over from the FS game, was repelled, but not much more, and Benny finished with 6 for 17, having removed the pride of Hollingbourne’s imported firepower. The other 6 for was by way of redemption at Otterden. Having run myself out to leave Toby 2 short of a century, and the side 40 short of a decent score, and aided by some spectacular support in the field, particularly from Ricky Churchill, the Chairman ended up with the unlikely figures of 6 for 43. Jasper has to feature, of course, and he managed the challenge of the 2 day game against the SAC with great aplomb, picking up 5 for 25 in the second innings. And Theo showed great persistence at Tenterden, finally winkling out the last batsman in the 49th over and taking 5 for 38. In doing so Theo topped the bowling averages with 15 wickets at an average of merely 13.55.
Fielding and catching was not up to the exceptional standards of 2015 and varied from the quite extraordinary to the more prosaic. There were a string of wonderful catches, some in the slips even – Hugo, Rory DD, Will Hilton, Simon Schilder, Patch Clews and Ricky Churchill among those showing great skill, but there were the days when the Stragglers could not catch a bus, most notably at Smarden.
In conclusion, we must focus on the wicket keepers. Long gone are the days of “Iron Gloves” Barlow and “Teflon” Denne, when catches behind the stumps were an accident of physics. We are blessed today with three of the top 10 all time Straggler keepers and two of them in the barest flush of youth – Al, Theo and Blair. In 2016 keepers took the most victims in Straggler history, a total of 26; Al equalled the all-time record for keeper victims in a season – 14, and at Street End took a keeping 5 for with 3 catches and 2 stumped. And I am sure that this is a Straggler first for three brothers to receive awards in the same season.
And so to the champagne moment. Since this award was instituted, it has almost always been awarded for an exceptional catch; and once for an exceptional umpiring decision. This year it gives me really great pleasure to present it to Blair, one of the triumvirate of special keepers, for his electric leg-side stumping at Belmont, while standing up to Billy Richardson, who was roaring in at pace. In less than the blink of an eye, Blair had whipped off the bails and was racing up the wicket hand aloft.