After a couple of cancelled fixtures, the Blades season got under way at Crawley Crows, an idyllic Constable painting of a ground in the Hampshire countryside. A capacity crowd of four humans, three dogs and fifteen million midges packed the huge terrace in anticipation of a top notch evening of cricket. Traffic congestion resulted in delayed Bladery, and the pragmatic decision was taken for Blades to bat.
Whythe and Farmer opened the batting and Whythe flicked the first Blades score of the summer off his legs. E X Tras got amongst it early doors too as the opening pair began to score but a direct hit run out found Whythe short of his ground in the third and we were 5-1.
Marsh joined Farmer for a fine partnership of 29 including the first boundary of the season as March chunted a low four through cow in the seventh. This was followed next ball by a dropped catch – albeit a tricky diving effort – and then a further four with a beautifully timed flick behind square leg by Farmer. Marsh was bowled for 11 at the end of the 7th with the score on 34, to be replaced by Webber whose 12 included the first 6 of the season.
Farmer was caught at mid-on in the ninth and at the halfway point Blades – admittedly helped by what we could fairly call Second String Bowling helping Tras to a good knock and testing the scorers’ ability to fit multiple extra deliveries in a small box in the book – were poised nicely at 50-3.
Hurst replaced Farmer and, partnered by Webber and then Hamer, knocked a cultured 12 that this correspondent felt deserved twice as much. The next bowling change after the 13th saw a much more miserly attack reduce the rate and although the wickets stayed intact, Hurst and Hamer were struggling to get much away on a slow pitch. When Hurst was bowled, Humphrey knocked a cameo six in the last two overs, the final being the debut over from a female rookie bowler. Blades, despite a slow-down in the latter half, had done enough early on to post a decent – but gettable – total of 101-5.
Afzal-Galpin is by now a legendary opening attack, and Blades opted for this trusty pairing. Whythe caught the number two off Afzal in the second and Crawley were restricted to 18-1 from the first five overs.
The sixth went for a few including what looked destined to be a huge six but it fell ten yards short and a combination of the height of the shot and the heaviness of the pitch meant it stopped, not even making a four.
The next over though belonged to Afzal, a catch by Hurst giving him a wicket maiden, assisted by a run out off the fielding of Marsh. 34-3 from seven overs – behind the rate but still evenly balanced.
Wythe and Humphrey came on for the first change and, whatever the cricket equivalent of parking the bus is, that’s what happened. “Oh god they can all bowl,” remarked their scorer behind me. “Yes they can,” was the resigned reply from his companion. 16 scored for 1 in the next six overs and the pendulum of fate was looking kindly down on the Blades.
Marsh joined Humphrey at the next change, then Whythe took over from Humphrey as his spell ended, but the Scroogesque attack continued. That was fatally combined with a revolving-door installation in the pavilion as all Crawley’s attempts to chase the total resulted in Blades catchery or furniture demolition. By the end of the 14th Crawley were at 53-6 and BetFred were already paying out on a Blades win.
The final over began at 66-7. Gary Sobers could have won it from there if we’d been playing in Swansea but the great man wasn’t selected and Crawley hopes vanished as Whythe caught and bowled, then bowled, Crows to 66-9. A hat trick ball would wrap it up. Last man in was in fact the last woman in, as the bowler of the last Blades over stepped up to face the rest of the last Crows over. The ground was abuzz – Whythe was on a hat trick but would gentlemanly decorum be observed too? Whythe delivered a strong ball, but to cheers from the home contingent, the hat trick ball was fended away. Next ball the cheers were even louder as the red pill was despatched effortlessly towards the pavilion, falling just short of a majestic four. Whythe brought the innings to an end, and Blades had recorded only their second first match victory of the last ten seasons. Despite a minor flurry near the middle of the innings, Crawley never looked close to the win, and closed on 69-9.
RESULT: BLADES WIN BY 32 RUNS
Champagne moment contenders:
Marsh direct hit run out
Whythe on a hat trick in the last over
Reiss of Crawley surviving one delivery then hammering the next