Friday, 16 May 2014

Column 11, 2014 – An underdog's chance

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 83, Friday May 16, 2014.
[Full text below]

In the wake of the Holland debacle, the Scotland game was an absolute must win for England. They had nothing to gain, everything to lose.

The phrase ‘out of your league’ is a metaphor everyone understands when applied to hypothetical romantic liaisons, but it can also be more literal.

There are no leagues in international cricket, though we can guess how they’d stack up if there were. Division 1 would be the top eight full ICC members. Division 2 would be Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, plus a select group of ‘Associate Nations who’ve made full members look stupid’ – Ireland, Afghanistan, Holland.

Scotland would be in Division 3, with the bulk of the Associate Nations, striving for promotion to the ‘make full members look stupid’ brigade.

(The rest of the leagues would be made up of the Affiliate Nations, countries you can’t quite believe actually play cricket at all: Estonia, Morocco, Sweden, and, perhaps most improbably, The Falkland Islands.)

Anyway, Scotland were playing a side a good few leagues above them, with nothing to lose and everything to prove.

Not a dissimilar scenario, just on a different scale, to The National Village Cup, the early rounds of which are effectively a series of Heffalump traps for the better clubs to avoid.

This year we were drawn against Tichborne Park. We’ve played them before, and know them as a pleasant bunch with a lovely ground. We also know that they are much better than us. Their seconds play at our level, but their first team are Southern Premier II. Which is out of our league in a distinctly non-metaphorical way.

After a shaky start, with one opener bowled behind his legs and the other subjected to a run call that would have tested a cheetah with a launch catapult (yes, me – what gave it away?) we settled down to a respectable 150, young Ben making amends with a jug-avoiding 48.

Giant-killing possibilities didn’t even cross our minds. Until they had a bit of a wobble: a simple caught-and-bowled, a thick edge, the next guy clean bowled for a golden. At 12-3, the slightest ripple of belief could almost be felt running round their enormous outfield.

It dissipated fairly quickly, that enormous outfield put to efficient use as they knocked off the runs before drinks with a minimum of fuss and no further loss.

Scotland won’t have really thought they had a sniff, especially not when they were set 170 in 20 overs. But there can’t have been too many people, on either side, who didn’t experience a little flicker in the stomach when Michael Leask was smashing Tredwell around The Granite City on his way to 42 from 16 balls.

In both cases, at either end of cricket’s spectrum, the clear favourites prevailed comfortably, as everyone knew they would. But in both, for just the briefest of moments, it looked like it might get interesting.

- ends 482 words -

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