The 2019 Season saw the 1st XI retain their Division 1 title. It was quite a journey, as captain Oliver Thomas recalls…
Another successful season came to an end with the first eleven being crowned Warwickshire League Division 1 champions, bizarrely, for the second season running. Due to league re-structuring the team were placed in the same division, and were given the unusual task of competing for the trophy that already sat in the bar at The Graveyard. As always, the lads set about that task with great commitment and enthusiasm.
The season began with a short trip to our closest neighbours Kings Heath. As is customary for most opening batsman, there were moans and groans about the green tinge to the playing surface. This is usually just a coping mechanism to soften the blow, as you miss a straight one early on, get hit plum centre of the pad and get given your marching orders. However, it must be said that for once there may have been some merit to the grumbles of discontent. The pitch we arrived to play on was without exaggeration, the worst surface I have ever played cricket on, including the years of backyard cricket at Chez Thomas. Although I would say that, as a pea-roller was good enough to see me off, as well as three other top-order batsman! We scrambled our way to 164 all out thanks largely to efforts from Shah and Jefferies and we knew we had something competitive to defend. After tea the usually irresistible duo of Carey and Jefferies were getting extravagant movement off the pitch but not their usual flurry of wickets. Thankfully Paull and Akeel picked up six wickets between them to help us squeeze home. Very importantly, twenty-four points claimed for our first win of the year.
The next couple of weeks saw a combination of Carey and Jefferies and Carey and Shears run through Nuneaton and Aston Manor teams. The latter being the arrival of the latest Shears off the cricketing production line. Young Felix opened the bowling and gave a great display of away swing bowling and claimed his first league 4fer. This was shortly followed by a thumping home win against Water Orton as the visitors were dismissed for 60 and Ashfield duly chased down the total inside twelve overs, thanks to some hefty blows from Brown and Paull. So a great start with four wins from four games.
However June proved to be a far trickier affair with defeats to Hampton and Solihull and Bablake Old Boys coming in quick succession. On reflection, we got we deserved! This was to be indicative of the topsy-turvy season that was to follow. The season, more than any other I’ve been involved in, was a true collective effort. Not a single batsman went onto dominate like previous years and the bowling unit led by the experienced Carey, Rehman and Jefferies combo shared wickets at regular intervals. This Championship season was certainly no cake walk! There were many fine individual performances along the way but it was the team-spirit and togetherness that got us to a point in the year where we were as per usual, vying for top-spot with our main rivals Solihull Blossomfield. Effectively the summer’s cricket culminated in a one-game shootout for the league title. A winner takes all affair, with the added spice of other teams still mathematically able to gain promotion too. What was to follow will hopefully be spoken about for many years to come during post game refreshments.
We arrived at Widney Lane and as of yet hadn’t decided what we’d do if we won the all important toss. After thoughtful discussion with the vice-skip we decided to go against our favoured plan of attack and inserted the hosts. The mind games had begun, as we were certain the oppo’s preparation would revolve around chasing totals. Having had them 101 for 7 we were pretty disappointed to have allowed them to finish with a respectable 176 from 50 overs. Despite this, we were quietly confident we had what it takes to get over the line. Paull and Shah opened the innings with the latter receiving a lifeline having smashed one into his pad (sorry Kais) and duly caught only to be given not out to the dismay of the fielding side. With both players scoring quickly, Ashfield counter-attacked their way to 50 for 2. However a comedy run-out (or not run-out if you listen to Brown) put us in a tricky spot, with 125 runs still left to chase. That brought Baker and Thomas to the crease with the pair adding 90 together for the fourth wicket. Luker won’t play many more important innings in his life. Whilst I was at the other end struggling to find the middle of the bat, Bakes took the lead and manipulated the field to his advantage and slowly clawed the target into sight. A great knock from a young man who before this season regularly batted in the lower order. So, 141 for 3 and we’re only 37 runs short of a memorable victory. Things have proved never to be that simple in an Ashfield shirt with Baker miss-timing an off-drive straight to short extra cover. Two quick wickets fell shortly after and the opposition were really applying the pressure. Strolling to the crease, young Raqeeb Khan. Despite attempts to rattle him, Raqi played with complete calmness and assurance, a great sign for the future that these youngsters can play such significant roles in the most important of games. Raqi guided us to 168 for 7 and I can assure you that the nine runs required for victory still felt miles away! A sacrificial run out of Iltaf meant we had reached 175 for 8 and fittingly joining me at the crease, one of my oldest friends Phill Jefferies. A very tense affair finished with a clip through mid-wicket for the runs required. Ashfield win the league again!!!!!! We ran off towards the rest of the lads after shaking hands and the sense of relief was palpable. We’d done it!
The hard work and attention to detail required to consistently be successful should not be underestimated. To win leagues in sport at any level requires a group of people to consistently work their behinds off in order to achieve their common goal. For that, I would personally like to thank all of those who played under me during my time as skipper. It has truly been a great honour to captain this fantastic cricket club and lead a great bunch of blokes. Here’s to many more trophies and promotions for the Ashfield.
Season dedicated to the memory of Alan Thomas and Haroon Haider, both sadly no longer with us.