It is Sunday 26th June. England have already battered Pakistan in the first two ODIs, and will do so again tomorrow in the 3rd; but in between, county cricket makes a brief reappearance and we are off to Wokingham for the Berkshire v Kent v Lancashire “triple header”.
Even though the club is less than half a mile from my front door, I grab my car keys – that half a mile is along a path that seems to be muddy even at the height of summer; and besides, there is the picnic to bring, the camping chairs, and “the kit” – laptop, binoculars, iPad, phone, and (if all else fails) an old fashioned notebook and pencil.
As always, I arrive early – Berkshire and Kent are warming up, but Lancashire, who don’t play until later, are still on the road. I wander onto the outfield and glance at the wicket. It looks like a solid “club” wicket – a few scuffs… no cracks – but it is also a “new” wicket in cricket terms. The club was built on former farmland just 5 years ago, and the word is that the wicket might take “a while” to settle down – “a while” being anything from 10 to 50 years, depending on who you talk to – so the players know to expect a bit of up and down, and 120 would be a very, very good total today.
I skirt around the Berkshire warm-up to say hello to John “Dicko” Dickinson, the team manager, who took on the role when his daughter Charlie was still playing, and hasn’t been allowed to give it up, though Charlie is long retired. He tells me some exciting news – New Zealander Rachel Priest is here and she’ll play for Berkshire today.
Nevertheless, no sane betting man would be putting their money on Berkshire against Kent this morning, especially as skipper Heather Knight is resting between England duties, whilst the Kent lineup includes Charlotte Edwards, Lydia Greenway, Tash Farrant and someone called “Suzie Bates”!
It is soon apparent that even the gods appear to be on Kent’s side, as two chances to dismiss Charlotte Edwards go begging, while at the other end, her opening partner Suzie Bates sets off at a run-a-ball. The breakthrough comes from Linsey Smith, still a few weeks shy of her rocket to KSL stardom, and at this stage still not even expected to play in the Super League.
In theory, Smith is an orthodox spinner, but in practice she is one of those players you still get in the women’s game, who offers something different because she grew up away from those intensive professional coaching programs which push you into one mould or another. In Smith’s case, she might perhaps best be described as an “over-spinner” – the balls fizzes neither left nor right, but straight on, keeping low; so woe betide you if you try to play her off the back foot, lest the ball creep under your bat and onto the stumps – pretty much exactly what happens to Charlotte Edwards here.
A few balls later, Suzie Bates joins her, back in the slightly functional red-brick pavilion, having edged Smith to Priest at slip. So much for Kiwi solidarity, I joke to the editor… before asking if it’s too early to start raiding the picnic box for a vegetarian “pork” pie!
Kent close on 95 – a bigger total than it sounds, thanks not to any of the international stars, but to all-rounder Alice Davidson-Richards, who will almost certainly never play for England, but who is nonetheless good enough to have been selected for the Super League, and showed why here, as she top-scored with 26.
A quick turn-around and I’m clapping Rachel Priest and Sherisa Gumbs out into the middle to open the batting for the Beavers. Priest of course needs no introduction, but Gumbs does – a local lass, whose father, brother and sister are all familiar faces around the Berkshire scene. Gumbs is what you might call a “big unit” – one of those players who will flay club bowling to all ends of the park; but who is still learning that she needs to pick and choose her shots a bit more at this level.
Gumbs has her days, as an 80-odd against Lancashire last season will testify, but this isn’t destined to be one of them – characteristically, she finds the boundary with her only shot, before falling LBW to Charlotte Pape for 4. Priest however is going great guns at the other end, and is joined in a fifty stand by Alex Rogers.
Hope pops a floppy-eared head out of his rabbit hole in the adjacent corn field, surveys the situation; and because he’s Berkshire born and bred, thinks… maybe!
Then the clatter of wickets: Alex Rogers is caught by Suzie Bates for 20; Carla Rudd hangs around for a rather-too-long 7-ball single, before she is bowled by Charlotte Edwards; and then Priest holes-out too. Berkshire still need 29, with their numbers 5 and 6 at the crease, both on nought.
Hope, perhaps equally wary of the red kites circling overhead as he is of Megan Belt’s off-breaks, scurries back to the comfort of his burrow.
Lissy Macleod and Amanda “Steamer” Potgeiter begin the fight-back. They hustle – talking 1s and 2s – finding the boundary just once in the 40 balls they face between them.
But most importantly, they stay in.
It is the final over – I stand up from my camping chair, and lean in over the boundary rope, willing myself closer to the action in the middle, as it comes down to the final ball, with 2 required.
Just. Get. A. Bat. On. It.
A bat… a run… a throw – Steamer thinks it’s all over and runs on way past the crease – she’ll take the tie!
But the throw is powerful… recklessly so… and it isn’t taken by the bowler. “Run! Run! Run!” I scream, no longer able to maintain even the pretence of journalistic balance. Steamer turns and sees Macleod already half way down the pitch. She realises it’s on, and sets off on what might just be the dash of her life.
She beats the fielder chasing the overthrow.
Berkshire have won.
The crowd goes wild.
The crowd is me.
Everyone is probably looking.
I don’t care.
Six months later, I am sitting at my desk, wondering how to sum up 2016? Tammy Beaumont’s 100s? Nat Sciver’s 6s? Alex Hartley’s wickets in the West Indies?
Or that Sunday at Wokingham Cricket Club, when I was just a fan cheering for my team?