- Match Report
CURLY TAKES THE WOMBATS HOME
by Chris Mortimer
In this fickle game of leather and willow, what a difference a week makes. Less than seven days ago, TWCC’s opening bowler and resident sweepstake compiler Ian Gason highlighted the plight of cricket’s less celebrated species on these very pages. In low-scoring games, he lamented, ‘Hard working bowlers bundle out a side for 100. Relaxed and confident, the opening bat strokes a cool 50, and steals all the headlines.E Fast forward a week. Gason, at the top of a makeshift Wombats batting line-up, lifts a leg-stump half volley over the ropes at mid-wicket to complete a nine-wicket victory over Fuji Far East, and to propel his personal tally over fifty. His stylish contribution typified a clinical Wombats performance, their fourth consecutive J1C victory. The adjectives ‘relaxed’ and ‘confident’ would come to mind.
Indeed, although the emphatic win represented business as usual for the Wombats in 2007, the XI which gathered at Harajuku on Sunday morning took on a somewhat unfamiliar look. Shorn for the first time in history of stalwarts Jones and Shearer, Steven Burke, relieved of child-minding duties, took up the reigns of captaincy. Meanwhile Bish Bedi, finally back from a stint in New York, called shotgun and relieved the stand-in captain of his traditional spot in the passenger seat. As Burke came to terms with two hours on the Tomei next to Alex Koolhof, embarking on a bizarre mission to get through the whole day without once answering a call of nature, Bish made himself comfortable in alongside Gason. It was fitting that the pair should occupy the front seats as the two would go on to drive TWCC to a resounding nine-wicket triumph.
Burke won the toss and made the decision to insert the opposition, causing some consternation amongst a Wombats bowling attack – containing more than one hungover member – hardly savouring the prospect of toiling away in 35 degree heat. But Burke had hatched a plan to skittle Fuji’s all Japanese batting line-up with a view to pursuing a modest total and relieving pressure on the Wombats depleted Wombats batting resources. It was a plan that would work like clockwork.
Predictably the new ball was entrusted to the metronomic Gason, who obliged with typically tight opening over. Gason’s opening partner on the day came as more of a surprise, as Luke Ray got preceedings underway from the Fuji end. Ray, operating on his traditional zero hours sleep, was unable to exact Gason’s degree of control with his flighted tweekers, and conceeded a brace of boundaries to Fuji’s opener Takahashi, who played with a confidence and assuredness seldom seen in Japan’s cricketers. The spinner was withdrawn from the attack in favour of Mortimer, in similarly suspect physical condition having misguidledy feasted on the remants of last night’s Chinese takeaway that morning. Nevertheless, Mortimer (6-0-16-0) and Gason (5-1-12-0) once again operated well in tandem, stemmed the early flow of runs, and took a grip on the game that the Wombats would not release.
‘Check if the batsmam’s got a pulse!’ Sledged Gason from fine leg. With the the first of three drinks breaks approaching, the Fuji innings had entered into one of those periods of inactivity which frequently occur when Japanese batters are faced with disciplined bowling. Takahashi, having exhibited a number of attractive strokes, experienced difficulty in adjusting to the angles presented by Mortimer’s left-arm seam, and was becalmed. For Japanese batting line-ups to build more competitive totals, it is obvious that they must learn how to pick up singles, rotate the strike, and generally go about approaching batting in a more positive manner. Gason’s commentary, in both English and Japanese, kept the Wombats bouyant. Although one particular chime ‘Let’s keep these two on ducks’, after two new batters had taken successive singles, had a few Wombats scratching their heads.
As the Fuji innings meandered to a total of 73, Burke – marshalling the troops from the unfamiliar position of mid-off – worked through his bowling options. Bedi (8-4-11-3) replaced Gason and, in an eight-over spell which elicited turn and bounce without a jellybean in sight, he picked up three wickets and the man of the match award. The tall off-spinner succeeded in striking up a rapport with stand-in gloveman Rob Mann, and, possibly with one eye on the footie scores, worked through his overs at remarkable speed. Though Bedi bowled with chracteristic control and poise, the occasional cry of anguish betrayed the high standards that he expects of himself. An insistence on checking the man of the match photo would suggest he takes those standards off the field too. ‘It’s not too Bollywood’, he commented, bottle of Hardy’s finest in hand.
Burke was embarassed for riches, and with Fuji’s lower order exposed, he had yet to turn to TWCC’s primary exponent of swing bowling, Koolhof (7-2-6-2), or the wily spinner Shackleford (6-2-11-4). The Body replaced Mortimer and, assisted by some enthusiastic ball polishing in the Wombats ring, immediately extracted prodigious swing with his notoriously dextrous digits. The Tazmanian is enjoying something of a renaissaance after a quiet start to the JIC season and beat the Fuji outside edge seemingly at will. Meanwhile, budding photographer Paul Shackleford was brought into the attack after Bedi’s masterclass. What TWCC’s elder statesmen lacks in rotations imparted on the ball, he more than makes up for in experience. Shackleford held his nerve when hit for two fours in quick succession over cover, and after a consultation with the skipper and a slight field adjustment, he tempted the batsman into the same shot. A wombat gobbled up the catch in the deep. Such guile garnered him four wickets.
Fuji’s batting performance lacked impetus and fully tested fielders’ concentration levels on a scorching day. TWCC’s charges were up to the task, however, and underlined their will to win with three spectacular catches. First France, prowling inside the ring at cover, dived to his left to to courageously jam his fingers under a powerful drive off Bedi. Occuring in the early stages of the Fuji innings, the catch kick-started the Wombats’ fielding effort, and quite rightly secured Rhino ‘Play of the Day’ honours and a bottle of booze. Next Luke Ray, loitering with intent at short fine leg during Bedi’s immaculate spell, threw himself forward and extended his arms to snatch a top edge off the turf. ‘The Freak is back’ celebrated the Wombats. Finally, to close the innings, Mortimer unravelled his gadget left arm to pluck an edge out of the sky at second slip off the lively bowling of Dawson. Captain Burke was delighted by the Wombats fielding effort, the fruit of long hours of practice at Shinagawa.
Having picked up the tenth wicket, Dawson consumed a nutritional snack and strapped the pads on to take on the Fuji attack with Gason (53*). Although Dawson would succumb on 13, Gason constructed a gem of an innings, and with further support from number three batter France (5*), would seal victory for the Wombats. Gason was circumspect to begin with, but visibly grew in confidence, ran aggressively between the wickets, and went on to display an array of attacking shots. In a memorable exhibition of clean hitting he racked up 53 at more than a run a ball, culminating in a glorious strike over mid-wicket for six to propel TWCC over the finish line and himself to his maiden half century.
Burke offered to take on driving duties in order for for Gason to be able to celebrate his performance in the time-honoured fashion, but Gason would not renege on his commitment. Indeed it was only fitting that it would be Curly who would take the Wombats home, a suitable metaphor for the game itself. Gason directed discussion from the front seat, and following the customary highlights, the Wombats discussed nightmare jobs and built their ideal woman. Traffic was heavy and Koolhof began to regret his decision to hold out during the day. ‘Alexander needs to take piddle’ he muttered, sheepishly.