Friday, 13 September 2013


They say you learn more from defeat than victory. Probably true in the long run, but in the short term defeat stings. Moddershall’s agonising two-run loss in the Staffordshire Cup final to Knypersley was not a ‘moral victory’, but neither was it a blow to crush the spirit and derail the significant individual and collective progress that’s been made by the side this year. There are, as they say, positives aplenty.

A battling (though not blemish-free) performance in the field was followed by a couple of errors in the run-chase, but the overwhelming feeling – after a rousing partnership between Bagnall and Moores had set up an intriguing endgame, then Moores and Irfan had batted with great composure to take Modd to the brink – was bittersweet rather than bitter. Several cricketers of distinction who were watching on – including at least two former county captains – were mightily impressed by a young team who are in a great environment to learn the game, and at a delightful cricket ground that still looks like a picture postcard.

There are a million ways to slice and dice a close match, but the fag-paper margins in a game like that are epitomised by their two crucial direct hits in the field, the second to seal the deal. No matter, a team that, on paper, is not far off the best in the Premier League, were given a right royal scare by a hugely inexperienced side.

Sunday’s defeat leaves Modd’s record in Staffs Cup finals at played 4 lost 3. However, the tea leaf readers might look back at the previous finals and see some patterns, some positive omens amidst the chaos of events…

The first Staffs Cup final Moddershall reached came in 1996 – when, coincidentally, we were also a second-tier side – playing away at Porthill Park on a balmy late summer afternoon. It was Jon Addison’s third year as pro and, at the third time of asking, after two third-place finishes (following our relegated-at-the-first-attempt season in 1993), we had more or less secured promotion to Division 1. Finally. So, we went into the game with the main target nailed (in fact, on the last day of the season, we scored a then league record 370 for 6, and had it not been for our honorary skipper, Dave Wellings, taking pity on his former team, Kidsgrove, we may well have added another 70 or 80 in the last nine overs) which no doubt relaxed us a wee bit.

The details of the game are a bit of a blur now – and I appear to have mislaid a folder of cuttings from the Sentinel – but I remember the home team batted first on a dry pitch with the small, fast outfield making it difficult to keep the run-rate in check. Even so, we had a strong and varied attack and, despite 80-odd from their Indian pro SukhvinderSingh, did well to keep their score manageable going into the final few overs. However, a blitz from Neil Ellsmore took them past 270 – and a run-a-ball back then was a much more daunting target than it is today. Still, if you’re going to knock them off anywhere, it’ll be at Porthill…

I’m not sure we particularly discussed how to go about the chase at tea – how the runs / wickets / overs remaining equations might work – but we got to around 100 for 1 after 25 overs, with Wellings and Addison [pictured] both in and well set. Perhaps today, in a post-T20 world with bigger, pingier bats, that might have been deemed a strong position, but with ‘Suki’ Singh ragging it there was a distinct tetchiness in our dressing room about when the acceleration was going to come. We felt we had some firepower in the shed, but, after consulting several rocket scientists, we also felt that one of the pair out there needed to tee off, the other to bat through. As it was, they both got out at the same time and John Myatt, myself and Drew Heard (father of Floppy) threw the kitchen sink at it, scoring between 35 and 50 each, at a good lick, entertaining the crowd in the process, but falling around 30 short with three overs left. Still, we had a decent consolation prize: we not only won promotion, but immediately won Division 1 the following year, the first team ever to do that. In that defeat at Porthill were the seeds of a powerhouse team.

It took us another seven years to return to the Staffs Cup final, however (although we did pick up a couple of Premier League titles and a Talbot Cup by then), when we faced Himley, who had beaten us in a tight semi-final the previous year. Could their return to Barnfields in 2003 bring us revenge?

We won the toss and fielded, and just as with the Porthill final seemed to have things under control with five overs to go in the first innings. Himley were 200 for 9 and we had a West Indian Test bowler to finish things off, but Adam Sanford got things badly wrong and somehow we found ourselves chasing 245, which was around 25 over par when we might have chased 20 under.

The momentum shift continued afterward when, in the face of a tidy attack that featured former Worcestershire bowlers Stuart Lampitt and Stuart Wedge, as well as the miserly ex-Staffs seamer Tim Heap, we subsided to 40 for 4, including our best two batsmen, Carr and Cornford. From there on, it seemed a case of playinf for respectability. I made 73 – enough for man of the match, it turned out – yet just as we had got ourselves back to a 25% chance to win at 150-odd for 5, I tickled Lampitt to the keeper while trying to keep the strike. The game was up.

(Here’s how the rest of the day panned out: I had somehow gone since breakfast without eating, something I didn’t rectify in the evening, and several beers later I found myself at the Butcher’s Arms in Forsbrook, where I fainted on the car park and was transported to Longton nick, sans mobile. There, I managed to throw up on my clothes – already removed so that they could dress me in a presumably suicide-proof jumpsuit made of industrial-strength j-cloth material – and, awakening groggily the following morning, I was greeted by the duty officer, former Modd teammate, Dave Stones. With almost no money – the proud parent £20 had been spent on ‘recycled’ booze – no phone numbers, unwearable clothes, and no inclination to get on public transport looking like a giant baby, I had little option to ring the folks and get a lift. Not my finest hour…) 

Anyway, after the loss to Himley it was gratifying to see them bumped out at the semi-final stage in 2004 by Hem Heath, who thus became our opponents for a third tilt at the Staffs Cup. It was their first year at Trentham Lakes and the wicket was far from flat. On this occasion, I won the toss and we batted first. It was hard going. Darren ‘Doc’ Carr and Hawk were nipped out fairly early, before Iain Carr and I slowly laid a platform against some searching seam bowling on an uneven pitch. I felt that 180 would be a good target – and indeed owed a fair bit to reading some of Kim Barnett’s columns about the strategies of the brilliant Gloucestershire side of 1999-2002, for whom he’d opened the batting – but we managed to get up past 200 thanks to a magnificent, brutal, match-swinging knock of 45 by Myatt.

At tea, as we readied ourselves to finish the job, the HH chairman, without knocking, strolled blithely into our dressing room with some guests whom he was keen to show the club’s swanky new facilities. This brought a sharp snap of admonishment from myself – “Excuse me, what on earth do you think you’re doing?! We’re in the middle of a game. Get out!” – and perhaps gave us a little more focus. Still, some felt 200 was under par and a job clearly had to be done.

Truth is, we bowled magnificently, Iain Carr and Shaun Brian setting the tone after an iffy first set of six. Nonetheless, HH were 50 for 1 at around the 17-over mark, with their pro and Brian Sims (both of whom made hundreds against Himley) still at the crease. I had been keeping our trump card, Imran Tahir, back, even bowling Martin Weston before him, much to the consternation of the GET-THE-BLOODY-PRO-ON merchants. On he came. Sims was lbw to a flipper. I snuck in at silly point, telling the No4 how much pressure he was under. A perfectly pitched googly; an attempt to drive it into my shinbone; bowled through the gate for 0. 50 for 3. Jakey Hawkins took a phenomenal legside stumping to see off Ako, wickets were whittled away, and Darren bowled tidily at the end to bag a 4-fer and a frankly fortunate MoM award that ought to have gone to ‘Mauler’ Myatt.

The abiding memory I have of that day is the enjoyment of the last few overs, knowing he result was even beyond a miracle, bowling out the remaining deliveries to conclude proceedings before we had the cup in our hands. I looked around our team. We shared smiles of satisfaction, relief, excitement. The season had started very shakily – we were joint favourites for the league yet the first team skipper had resigned four games in, beating a mutiny by hours, and left the club entirely – and I felt our transformation and growth as a side merited some silverware, especially as we’d already lost in the Talbot Cup final to Audley. This was vindication. The following year, we really ought to have won another league title.

It isn’t an easy thing to win a cup final. I’m not entirely sure it gets any easier with time (I mean, you can, I suppose, be mentally scarred by continually losing finals). There are no mysterious patterns, tea-leaf readers, no hidden fate or destiny, only a series of moments, with multiple causes, that roll into and affect one another, sometimes logically, sometimes haphazardly. Such is the story of a game. And in cricket matches, cricket seasons, cricket careers, those moments, by hook or by crook, have to be seized. Throwing down the stumps, for instance. 

One games. 660 deliveries. Carpe Diem.

Previous columns for Moddershall CC's newsletter, 'Barnfields Buzz':

BB01: The Grass Isn’t Always Greener… | On club loyalty
BB02: The King and I | Early forays in the press box and meeting IVA Richards 
BB03: Chris Lewis: Still out in the Cold | The coldest cricket match I ever played 
BB04: Sam Kelsall: Role Model | How a 15-year-old's standards inspired a team to the title
BB05: Astle la vista, Baby | Surrealism and hypocrisy with a NZ star
BBo6: The Geometry of Captaincy (A Hunch) | Waxing philosophical about setting the field

No comments:

Post a Comment