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Lichfield hopes, but there’s a catch, and then another . . .

13 September 2013

Stephen Fay sees London triumph at Southgate

richard watt

SHORTLY before tea, a spectator who had travelled from Lichfield for the Church Times Cricket Cup Final was spotted making for Christ Church, Southgate, across the road from the cricket ground. Asked why he was leaving, he replied: "I'm going off to pray. It's the only thing left."

He was too late. At the tea break five minutes later, London were 12 runs short of victory, and Lichfield's high hopes of winning the 63rd final were all but dashed. The church clock showed 4.40 p.m. when Jez Barnes struck the ball to the mid-wicket boundary to give London victory by eight wickets, on a cloudless, hot, late-summer day at the Walker Ground in Southgate. It was the most decisive win anyone present could remember.

Both teams had had narrow escapes in the qualifying rounds, and each had been the losing finalists, London in 2012 and Lichfield in 2011. Both had tasted cup victory, too: Lichfield in 2010 and London most recently in 2008. They appeared evenly matched, but they were not.

Some of this was down to a smart call before the match began. With heavy overnight mist, and a pitch newly prepared and rolled, London calculated that the wicket would prove most difficult in mid-morning, before flattening out under the sun in mid-afternoon. When they won the toss, London put Lichfield in to bat.

London's captain, Joe Moffatt, set an attacking field: three slips and a gully - more like the start of a county game than a Church Times final. The tactic worked right away. Jeff Reynolds, a Methodist minister who captains Lichfield (three players from other denominations are permitted) had scored only four runs when he was caught by Barnes, low at first slip. The next four wickets all fell to catches behind the wicket by the keeper or first slip.

The ball was moving fairly sharply off the pitch, and the bowlers kept to a penetrating line, maximising the advantage of a sporting wicket. The two bishops in Lichfield's team were gone before lunch. Clive Gregory, Bishop of Wolverhampton, was the first of four catches taken by Nico Marais, London's keeper.

Like a number of England's Test team, Marais is from South Africa, where he played schools cricket. He arrived in London 18 months ago and works at St Luke's, Redcliffe Gardens. He must have been well coached at home, since he proved to be an accomplished player in a position most diocesan teams find hard to fill.

Marais caught Paul Darlington, and then Mark Rylands, the other Bishop (Shrewsbury), who had hit five boundaries in a bright 29. By lunch, Lichfield had made only 91 for five wickets: three catches to Marais, two to Barnes. The second of these, taken diving to his right, was the best of the five. The bowlers had contributed, too: four wickets had fallen to Ed Kendall and Ali Marshall, and Pat Allerton bowled four maidens in a five-over spell before lunch. The fielding had been un-usually efficient, especially at mid-on and mid-off.

LUNCH did not diminish London's appetite for quick wickets. Barnes's slow spin brought the first clean-bowled dismissal, and Marais took the most spectacular catch of all when Simon Taylor, Lichfield's top scorer, swung at a poor ball outside the off stump and edged it. Marais leapt high to his right to take the catch one-handed, and leapt again with delight at his coup. It emphasised the difference in quality between the teams.

The last four wickets fell for six runs, and one dismissal exemplified the disaster that had befallen Lichfield. Throughout the innings, the batsmen had been reluctant to turn an easy single into a dashing two - until too late. Andy Ackroyd, having taken a run when he was dropped in the covers, was rashly called for a second, and run out by an ac- curate throw, three yards short of the wicket. Lichfield looked uniformly sheepish as they trudged back the pavilion.

LICHFIELD's innings had lasted only 43.4 of their 50 overs. London were to need less than half their allotment to achieve the modest target of 133.

Marais proved to be less skilful with the bat, but Matt Beeby and Barnes were untroubled on a wicket that had indeed flattened out: both passed 50 on their way to a one-hundred partnership.

They were only five runs short of victory when Reynolds, to the apparent hilarity of his team mates, called on Rylands to bowl one of the final overs. His one over produced the best analysis of the innings. Beeby spooned a catch to mid-wicket, and an unintentional donkey drop so confused Joe Moffatt that Rylands nearly got a second.

The winning runs were hit by Jez Barnes, as always striking the ball cleanly, and scoring 12 fours in 61 not out. In addition, he had taken two excellent slip catches, and bowled economically (one for 32), and so had no competition for the Man-of-the-Match trophy.

After the match, members of the Church Times  staff retired to the magnificent Christ Church - whose people had kept the church open all day - where they enjoyed tea, cake, and a warm welcome from the Assistant Curate, the Revd Hazel Miall, churchwarden Phillip Dawson, and their team of helpers.

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