St. Clement's Strollers at Magdalen College Ground. 20 overs.
Friends, Oxfordians, and ne'er-do-wells ....another season of the Greatest Game begins! Deservedly and triumphantly, this year brings up Bodley’s quarter century. We’ve seen off the bouncers, the beamers, and the sledging, can settle in for the half century and then, after doing it all again. get to our inevitable hundred. The smart money has it that the evergreen Andrew Milner will likely still be playing for us when that happens.
But to today’s action. After a very enjoyable pre-season Whippersnappers at the start of May, this is our first proper game – against opponents taking it more seriously than ourselves, that is. We’ve beaten the Strollers on occasion lately, but have generally been on the losing end of things over the years, so our superheroes assembled with cautious optimism. Bodley's walking (shuffling) embodiment and today's skipper Stu accidentally won the toss and opted to bowl first in the balmy evening sun that yearly signals the start of the cricket season. Taking to the field with Stu was debutant Steve McGranahan, Matthew Neely, Phil Burnett, James Shaw, Tim Philipson, His Grace Andrew Milner, Gareth Jones, Andy Hudson, with Miten Mistry and Alec Paton manning the tail guns.
So, first innings. Stu had a plan, and though the fielders were mainly concerned with getting a spot with the sun on their backs (except Jones who didn't really want to field at all, playing here for the first time since a carelessly broken nose on this ground eight years ago, gah!). The Francophone non-dom Mr. Milner was keenest and most pleased of all as regular slipper Gav Robinson's absence meant he could take up his favoured first slip position and rest those storied knees. But as if to remind him this was not to be a common occurrence, Robinson appeared mid-innings, Titan-like and unimpressed with the scoreline, to watch from the boundary. Shaw and McGranahan opened the bowling with gusto and after a streaky first couple of overs that revealed, to our dismay, the short, quick outfield, the bails were sent flying by a Shaw seamer. Next over saw McGranahan join the action – a first Bodley wicket for the young buck – finding the edge and keeper Neely taking a superb reaction catch with outstretched arm. Then the next over saw Shaw again find that deadly length and take off the bails. 29-3 and Bodley are ecstatic, dreaming of a sub-par total and a gentle chase. Shaw was bowling a terrific line and McGranahan was getting some serious movement on the ball. But alas, it was not to be - it's never to be, is it? The Strollers batted fairly deep and fairly well having powerful strikers and quick runners, and making full use of that fast outfield. One batter in particular struck some damaging blows and rode his luck to bring up a well-deserved half century and with good support from the other end helped guide the Strollers to 122 before the fourth wicket fell – a lovely bowled by Milner, finding low bounce and a good line. Sadly those four wickets were all the cricketing Gods would give us, despite Burnett, the skipper and Hudson trying in vain to remove any more. The Strollers ended on 152-4 having wobbled early on, built in the middle, and hit out at the end. Certainly a chaseable score, but one requiring a big score from someone, and good support elsewhere. Well, off we went.
With Shackleton still missing, presumed netting, a new opening partner for Neely had to be found. Like Alistair Cook after Andrew Strauss’s retirement, Neely has never quite settled on a new partner, and today saw the 107th pairing at the top of the order as Phil Burnett padded up and walked up the metaphorical aisle to get things going. Well, knock me over with a feather …things got off to a flyer! The Strollers were littered with cricketers from very good local teams, and as such we expected a tough time of it in the middle, but Burnett in particular quickly found his range and whacked boundary after boundary before finally holing out to a sharp catch at square leg for a well-made 26. Neely was getting into his rhythm with Shaw when the bowling changes toughened things up for Bodley, and both fell to leave Bodley 56-3 in the twelfth over. A promising start strangled by some sharp fielding and handy bowling. Bodley’s finisher Philipson came to crease at number four, to be joined by Milner, and the two set about building a partnership before Milner played and missed to a good ball on a still low pitch. Jones joined Philipson and the two ran plenty of singles to tick the score along – by now up to 80 odd and in danger of staying the wrong side of 100. McGanahan joined a scratchy Jones as Philipson fell, and those two took the innings to a close with Jones hitting a few boundaries to take the score up to 105-5 and finishing the innings with a satisfying four driven back past the bowler. After all that exertion the team unwound with a gentle debrief over a beer and a lovely selection of rolls - the BLT being particularly delicious when paired with a refreshing pint of Hobgoblin.
So a loss by 47 runs, and Bodley left to wonder what might have been had that one big Strollers score have been arrested. Some good performances, runs through the order, and a promising start to the season. We play Blenheim Park CC at Blenheim Palace (South Lawn) on Sunday 20th, all welcome – not a bad spot for a picnic, though make sure you’re smartly turned out or the Duke will tell you off.