Never look a Whitgift horse in the mouth

Two stories have dominated domestic cricket this week both relevant to my choice of heading down to Whitgift School for the Clydesdale Bank CB40 game between Surrey and Hampshire.

On Thursday as Surrey took on Essex in the LV County Championship on the marvellous school pitch, all sorts of records fell in a short period of time.  The Guardian take up the story:-

“A day at the cricket has rarely been such a dangerous occupation. While Graham Napier was at the crease the crowd had to scatter, duck and cover to avoid his blows. He made 196, and 176 of those were scored in boundaries. In total he walloped 16 sixes, equalling Andrew Symonds’ record for the most ever hit in a first-class innings.

Even the people going about their business outside the ground on the Brighton Road were not safe. Napier thumped three balls out into the street, clearing not just the rope but the rows of spectators, marquees and boundary hedgerow. The third umpire had to pop back and forth like a broken cuckoo clock with his box of replacement balls.

Absurdly, it was the 31-year-old Essex man’s first championship match in 11 months. He has been suffering with a stress fracture of the back that almost ended his career. “A year ago I didn’t think I’d ever play cricket again,” Napier said, “so I’m just going to enjoy every moment I get.” He already holds the record for hitting most sixes in a Twenty20 innings – 16 again. “I probably don’t have the restrictions some batsmen do,” he laughed. “When they hit a boundary they look for a single, but I tend to look for two or three more.”

Napier finally fell trying to raise his 200 with a record-breaking 17th six – he admitted he had been keeping count. “One shot too many,” he chuckled later.

In total he scored 171 from the 78 balls he faced on the day, including 125 in the morning session alone, and shared a stand of 190 with Chris Wright, who contributed a shrewd 30. Later on Napier added the wicket of the nightwatchman Meaker for good measure. As he said: “I’m a bowler first, not a batsman.”

So with Napier’s innings and a total of nearly 1,500 runs scored over the four days of the game at Whitgift it appeared to be a batters wicket. So we were looking forward to a limited overs game here with a short boundary.  But what sort of mood would the visitors Hampshire turn up with?  Whilst they weren’t directly involved in the second story of the week, they could not fail to shake their head in embarrassment at events on Saturday afternoon at The Rose Bowl.

How on earth this story didn’t make more of a splash this weekend I will never know.  I could try and put a TBIR spin on it but the actual BBC report sums it up better than I ever could:-

The "Tiger" in question

“A stuffed toy animal led to a large-scale police operation in Hampshire and stopped play at the Rose Bowl cricket ground.  The alarm was first raised by a concerned member of the public who believed there was an escaped white tiger hiding in a field near Hedge End.  Officers were sent to the scene along with a helicopter and thermal imaging cameras, at about 1600 BST on Saturday.  When no body heat was detected police moved in and found a cuddly toy tiger.

A police spokesperson said officers had responded as if it was a real incident, close to junction seven of the M27.  We sent some local officers and they confirmed they were looking at it and it was was looking at them.

Police enlisted the help from animal experts at nearby Marwell Zoo, who offered advice and were prepared to send a team with tranquiliser darts to overcome the tiger.

The Rose Bowl said a game between South Wiltshire and Hampshire Academy was stopped for about 20 minutes before they were given the all clear to continue.  The spokesman said although the police action could attract criticism about costs, the force would have been praised if it had been real.”

I had a choice.  In fact I had a few.  West Ham had emailed me reminding me that it was another “Kids for a Quid” game against Sunderland (hmm…it certainly wasn’t last week and thus a ploy to try and sell the game out) although my seat would still be circa £50.  I could of course watch the whole relegation story unfold on TV, or I could get off my arse and go and watch some live sport.  So I went in search of runs.

Surrey beat Hampshire by 36 Runs – Whitgift School – Sunday 22nd May 2011

It is hard to knock afternoons like these in terms of value for money.  For just £10 (the same price as 15 minutes of pain at Upton Park this afternoon) I saw nearly 6 hours worth of cricket, 586 runs including 16 sixes and 17 wickets from my boundary edge view point.  Add in a couple of Kent Bitter limited edition IPA’s and you have a perfect antidote to Sky’s Survival Sunday.

Pupils at Whitgift school must be the luckiest cricketers alive.  A fantastic natural semi-bowl of a ground, surrounded by trees was filled to almost capacity for this eagerly awaited game.  And the crowd didn’t have to wait long for the action to really get going.  Hamilton-Brown took on the Hampshire attack from the first over soon seeing off Simon Jones and Mascarenhas as Surrey posted nearly 9 an over from the start.

Without their “big guns” of Kevin Pietersen and Mark Ramprakash the smart money was going on a Hampshire win for this game but that soon started to change.

This is the life!

Two quick wickets for Hampshire which saw Rory Hamilton-Brown’s 43 ball 50 and Jason Roy’s quickfire 30 depart with just 102 on the board looked like they would restrict Surrey to a 250 score.  However, they weren’t prepared for the Maynard Madness.

I found a nice little spot by the square leg boundary.  I couldn’t believe nobody else was sitting on the rope so I settled down with my beer.  Two balls later I was taking cover as Maynard sent a missile my way.  In these instances you can try and be brave and make a spectacular catch or simply duck like a wuss.  I chose the latter, shielding my beer of course.

It appeared the very spot I was sitting in was so empty as it was called Napier nest.  Apparently it was in this very spot that Graham Napier took out his frustration at being out of the game for so long on Thursday.  I could have moved, but I was feeling brave.  That was until Zander de Bruyn starting hitting in my direction too.

Maynard salutes the crowd

The two Surrey batsmen added 118 for the fourth wicket in twelve overs before de Bruyn was run out two shy of his fifty.  Maynard kept up the run rate hitting an excellent 79 before he was LBW to Cork.  Cork actually thought he had caught and bowled Maynard earlier in his innings but the batsman, and more importantly the umpires ruled it was a bump ball.

The Surrey innings was on the verge of petering out when Maynard departed but Yasir Arafat and Chris Schofield both scored over thirty and increased the number of balls flying over the boundary.

A final score of 311 for 7 was a challenging total for Hampshire but there was no doubt that the conditions were perfect for the batting side.

And it didn’t take long for Benny Howell to prove that exact point as he smacked the Surrey attack to all corners of the ground.  The main issue was that Hampshire kept losing wickets at the other end.  Nobody else in the side hit over 31 and with fifty still needed to win with just a handful of overs left it was obvious it had to be Howell who carried the lions share of the fight.  Unfortunately with the score at 265 his luck run out quite literally as Spriegel’s direct hit as he attempted another run sent him back to the pavilion.  His innings of 122 in 113 balls included nine 4’s and 5 sixes.  A really top notch knock.

With Howell’s dismissal went any lingering hopes of a Hampshire victory and just eight ball later their innings ended with them all out for 275.

Two fantastic innings, one on either team both ended by run outs had dictated the result.  I am sure that Survival Sunday had been great viewing but with your team already relegated do you really care who else could be relegated?  After all, once Spurs got enough points to stay up, and Liverpool brought in King Kenny, it was never going to be a happy ending for West Ham.  Still it was good to see Chelsea trying to rival West Ham’s board poor decision making with the sacking of their manager on the way home from their game at Everton.  Life is full of simple choices somethings.

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