Cricket Pitch - Official Opening on 17th January 2015

I was saddened to read an article in the Daily Telegraph during the Christmas vacation which suggested that cricket throughout Britain was on the decline, primarily because the time taken to play the noble game exceeded the average individual’s free time. As a consequence, many village and pub sides have disappeared from long standing fixture lists and some league sides are struggling to find the depth of talent needed to field two or three teams on a weekly basis during the season.

Therefore, as a cricketing enthusiast, it is a delight to see a new ground opening, albeit in the warm climate of Malaysia, and attracting much interest from local Singaporean and Malaysian clubs who wish to secure a match. Cricket in Johor can be traced back to the 1870s; when under the patronage of the ruling founder of modern Johor, His Majesty Sultan Abu Bakar, himself a keen player, cricket took root in the state. History also recounts the visits of two Australian Test teams, in 1909 (Monty Noble’s victorious Ashes side) and in 1927, and, more recently, the visit of the MCC in 1992.

The College’s new pitch, which will be known as ‘The XI’, has been nearly four years in the making and our thanks must go to Dato’ Dr Harjit Singh, the President of the Johor Cricket Council for his expertise, help and support in creating, what we hope and expect to be, a high quality pitch. His regular visits to Marlborough and assistance in selecting our excellent groundsman, Kalam, have made a huge difference.

Although the pitch has been played on in 2014, the Official Opening took place on Saturday 17th January 2015 with a match between a College XI against a Parents’ XI. This was a repeat of the fixture scheduled for early December, which, perhaps inevitably, was cancelled due to rain.

On a blistering hot and sunny afternoon, not exactly reminiscent of Yorkshire at any stage of the season, the two sides assembled, many still suffering the after effects of a net earlier in the week and the Friends of MCM Quiz Night on Friday. The Parents’ XI were resplendent in team shirts, specially made for the previously postponed match with 6th December 2014 emblazoned alongside the College crest. Unsurprisingly, several players, particular those of advanced years, complained that their whites had shrunk around the waist area since they had last been worn. The consensus decreed that it was merely a consequence of modern washing powders.

With official photographs completed, Simon Bird, captain of the Parents’ XI, won the toss and elected to field in the 30 over contest. There was an agreement that the maximum number of overs per bowler was six and that any batsman reaching 35 would retire and only return if all others had batted.

Joe Moriarty and Matthew Tennant were sent out as the Common Room’s openers and, for the sake of posterity, it should be recorded that Moriarty faced Neil Hunt and a dot ball was recorded in the scorebook as the first official ball on the XI. After a slow start Moriarty began to bludgeon the bowling and accumulated a quick-fire 36 from only 21 balls before compulsory retirement. Tennant, who had been elevated in the order following very robust hitting in the nets on Thursday, played a more circumspect role initially before his trademark hitting came to the fore. Having reached 20 he was tempted by Carl Ackerley’s deceptive off spinners and was comprehensively bowled, the first wicket of the day. This brought together Paul McCraw and Ali Wilkinson who both batted stylishly and maintained a run rate of over six per over. However, on the retirement of both players who had reached the maximum, six wickets fell in the space of six overs. Excellent leg breaks by Ajay Aggarwal, who finished with four wickets for seventeen and a wicket each for Roy MacFarlane and Murray Cox slowed Common Room’s progress.

Special mention should be made of the excellent wicket keeping of David Kempton who had three impressive stumpings and a very good catch to his name. Pads and gloves had changed hands rapidly in the Common Room changing area and the Master emerged at No 11 and soon found himself paired with the returning Moriarty, who only lasted one further delivery without adding to his earlier score of 36. Ali Wilkinson returned to the middle and some strong hitting and good running between the wickets saw the total reach 210 for 8 at the end of the thirty overs, Wilkinson finishing with 67 not out off only 45 balls and the Master with 15 not out off 16 balls.

Both Neil Hunt and Simon Bird bowled well without luck, beating the bat on numerous occasions but failing to find the edge or the stumps. Harry Harkins, who was injured in the pre-match warm up fielded through considerable pain and even manage to complete an over.

Following tea, Neil Hunt and Sean Aggarwal opened for the Parents’ XI against the pace attack of Paul McCraw and Ali Wilkinson. The Edinburgh Express accounted for Hunt and also Tim Richardson, which brought Ajay Aggarwal to the wicket to partner his son. Not only was this a special family moment but both batted very well to keep McCraw and Wilkinson at bay. However, the bowlers had put a strangle hold on the run rate and the initial eight overs, when only 28 runs were scored, placed the Parents’ XI in a challenging position in need of quick runs. McCraw had the impressive figures of 2 for 10 at this point. The Aggarwals made a valiant attempt and Sean showed composure, timing and good technique, belying his young years, whilst Ajay hit many lusty blows in his 36 off 29 balls. Both retired having achieved the maximum and, as in the Common Room innings, a number of wickets fell in relatively quick succession. Fred Hobby, bowling slow left arm, deserved his two wickets (2 – 36), Dan Scotts’ off spin (3 – 17) and David Glynn, another bout of off spin, (1 – 25) tightened the Common Room grip on the match. Aiman Islam bowled without luck but is a young bowler of promise. Aggarwal Jnr returned and quickly passed fifty, confirming his undoubted potential and was partnered by David Kempton who finished 11 not out from 11 balls. The final over saw the dismissal of Sean Aggarwal for 61, spectacularly caught by the salmon-like Moriarty (his third catch behind the stumps) off the bowling of Wilkinson, leaving the Parents’ XI on 166 – 9, falling some 44 runs short of the Common Room total.

Thanks are due to those who made it happen, in particular to Kalam, the groundsman for preparing an excellent wicket which had good pace and consistent bounce, Lionel King and Alex Mosedale who umpired and, the triumvirate of Oxford graduates; Frank Hardee, Solenn Gueganton and Andrew Hearl who scored. Special thanks to Justine Walker, the College Events Coordinator for her excellent organisation.

The party retired to the Master’s Lodge for drinks and supper, hosted by Mrs Pick and the Master. Short speeches were given by the Master and Simon Bird who named Ali Wilkinson as the Man of the Match and presented the Master with the trophy for the Common Room team, as winners of what will be an annual contest. Our thanks to Simon for donating the impressive shield.

So cricket is alive and flourishing and I would hope that anyone who has recently declined the opportunity to play in those English club sides mentioned at the beginning of this article will think again. For me this will go down in the memory as one of the very best occasions I have experienced at Marlborough. It was a match played in tremendous spirit with both sides entering into the occasion with great enthusiasm and commitment, whilst enjoying both old and new friendships, both during and after the match.

I will finish with a personal anecdote which shows that you can and should continue to play; David Kempton and I played in the same club side (Horsforth Hall Park CC in Yorkshire’s Airedale and Wharfedale league) as young boys around the age of those who played today. We calculated it was 37 years since we had last played on the same ground together and some 44 years since the first occasion. How splendid that we were able to do so again on Saturday after all that time. We will both feel fatigue as a consequence of playing but it was worth every ache and pain.

Cricket is alive and well and reports of its demise are unfounded.

RBP

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