Monday, February 7, 2011

Kiama Academy v Oak Flats

I'd like to tell you a story - of David vs Goliath, of the White Knight vs the Dragon. It's a story of heroes and of amazing deeds. Where names like Matthew Clapham, Jan Haubruck, Jake Lee, Reece Conley and Tom Dowd will shine like diamonds.

OK, so it was just a cricket match, but it was one like I have never experienced before, and in many ways I never wish to experience again.

The Kiama 3rd Grade Gold (Academy) side travelled to Bonaira Street Oval to take on Oak Flats - the current premiers, the current leaders, and having only lost one game this season, to our Blue brothers before the Xmas break. The day was quite ridiculous. I have no idea what the temperature made it to, but I've never played at Bonaira Street when there has not been a breath of wind, and none made its presence felt until well after 5pm that day. Drinks breaks were taken every 10-12 overs, and both umpires held bottles of water for batsmen and fielders alike - something I have ever experienced on a cricket field. One of the toughest days weather-wise I have ever played.

Joe again gave us the perfect start by winning the toss and batting. General consensus was that if we batted out our 50 overs and made around 150 we would be in a good position. Despite the early loss of Reece Conley to a good outswinger, the innings moved forward slowly and steadily with Gary Koks and Jan Haubruck. The bowling was tight, but the batsmen took no risks and squeezed out runs where possible in the stifling heat. The conclusion of the opening salvos from the Rats young fast bowlers brought a change with instant results. The score had reached 1/42 when Nick Maloney began from the Kendall's End, and who then snared Gary for 23, Jani for 13 and Joe for 14 in a period of three overs. Add to this the run out of Jake Ashley for a duck, and Kiama had lost four wickets for just the addition of 14 runs, leaving the team slumped at 5/56.
Enter Matt Clapham, nerveless and seemingly untroubled by the daunting scenario. He was immediately at ease, and dominated the partnership of 48 for the sixth wicket. He picked the right ball to hit, pouncing on the short ball from the off spinner, as well as thumping him over long on for six. He also played the Rats best and paciest bowler, Peter Dalley, well, nudging him around the corner for singles, and keeping out the good deliveries. It was certainly the best innings I have seen Matt play.
The second drinks break was a much required pitstop for the batsmen and fielding team, but it also proved to be Kiama's undoing, with the five remaining wickets falling for just ten runs upon resumption. Matt's 23 was equal top score of the innings and was fully deserved.

Though the total of 114 did appear to be 20 or 30 runs short of what was required, Joe's message of "they still have to make them" rang in the team's ears as they took the field. Early wickets appeared to be the key, as it was obvious that Oak Flats would go at the total hard to try and wipe it out as quickly as possible. This they did in the first three overs, as poor Mitch Nevins channelled the spirit of his namesake Mitch Johnson, and couldn't get the ball to behave. The Rats batsmen took advantage, racing to 0/26 off the first four overs. A wicket in the fifth over helped to settle down the run rate, and the Oak Flats batsmen set themselves to see off Gavin Hartley without forfeiting their wickets. When the first drinks break was taken the score had reached 1/54, and the batsmen appeared in control.

However, the drinks break struck again, with four wickets falling for just a single run, revitalising the match as a contest. Dowell and Morrow were dismissed in the same over, before Matt Clapham, who had replaced Gavin at the Kendall's End, took two wickets in two deliveries - the skipper MacPherson caught well down the leg side by Jani (who had taken the keeping gloves at the drinks break), and then trapping the dangerous Brad Morey LBW for a golden duck (though the batsman claimed to have edged it, and from side on he was a looooong way down the wicket. Having said this, the umpire gave him out quickly and without fuss, so it must have been pretty plumb). Oak Flats had crumbled to 5/59, and the whole atmosphere of the game changed with it. Now, rather than taking on the bowling the batsmen had to exercise some caution, or risk losing more wickets in the short term. This they did, with Billet looking to be the more aggressive when possible. When the second drinks break was taken they had consolidated their position, and after 27 overs they were 5/81, still 34 runs from victory, but with enough overs left to do it comfortably.

More change was necessary, with Jani taking off the pads so he could take up the attack from the Kendall's end with his leg spin, and Joe becoming the third keeper for Kiama for the afternoon. With Jani and Jake Ashley bowling in tandem runs were still not flowing, and it was obvious that this was becoming a problem for Billet. Finally he could take no more, and tried to put Jani over the fence at long on. He was beaten in the flight however, and only managed to sky the ball about a thousand metres in the air, to where Jake Lee was perched at a regulation mid-on. The ball was in the air for about thirty seconds, while Jake set himself underneath its flight. Then (somewhat strangely) he hopped in the air three times as he waited for the ball to descend. After an eternity the ball returned to earth - straight into the middle of Jake's hands, completing a brilliant catch. Kiama erupted, both on the field and from the sidelines. It brought to an end a terrific innings from Billet, who had batted for over 30 overs in the fiercest heat to score 44 runs.

With the mainstay of the innings gone, the pressure fell back on the Oak Flats team, and their indecision meant that the runs had dried up almost completely. Jake was again bowling a good tight spell, and was eventually rewarded with the wicket of Dalley late in his spell. The score was now 7/96.
In the next seven overs, only 6 runs were added as the game tightened up even further. Eight overs to go, 12 runs to win and three wickets in hand. Joe had by now brought the field in, meaning it was difficult to find any runs. With Jake Ashley's spell of six overs at an end, Matt came back on from the Easts Beach end, and immediately broke through by picking up Herbert, and at 8/102 the good guys were still in it.

Enter Nick Maloney, who only ever plays one way, and he deposited his first ball over cover for four. Another slash went in the air, rocketing towards the mid on boundary. At regulation mid-on, Reece Conley ran, dived full length airborne, getting his right hand to the ball, but unable to hold what would have been an absolute screamer of a catch. Though the wicket may not have been taken, Reece's great effort had saved three runs, as there would have been no hope of cutting off the boundary if it had gotten past him. And at that stage of the match, three runs saved was worth a fortune...

45 overs gone, Oak Flats are four runs from victory, Kiama are two wickets from victory. Jan Haubruck commences his tenth and final over. He has bowled beautifully, getting good turn and bounce, flighting the ball perfectly. He admits later that it was almost impossible for him to keep throwing the ball up there, feeling that he should be darting it in to the batsmen. Fortunately he fought his instincts and bowled exactly as a leg spinner must to the tail - try to tempt them into false shots. He has beaten the bat a dozen times for no reward, and yet he continues to give the ball air. His second ball tempts Maloney into a big drive, which is edged to where a wide 2nd slip may have been. The ball rushes away, and the batsmen look for two. At deep point, Tom Dowd, who has again excelled in the field as he did against Gerringong in December, rushes around. As the batsmen turn and confirm their intentions for two, Tom picks up and throws almost in one action, sends the ball careering into keeper Murphy's gloves, and the bails are taken with Maloney about 15 centimetres short of his ground. A brilliant piece of fielding has brought about an almost incalculably valuable run out, and Oak Flats are 9/112.

You almost had to feel for Brownlee as he comes to the crease. He has taken 5/16 with the ball, and now must try to find the three runs required for victory with the bat. You could sense his nerves. For Kiama, Joe decides to keep all of the field up to make the batsmen try and hit the ball over the top. Gutsy. Jani also continues to toss the ball up to the batsman, tempting him like the snake with the apple in the garden of Eden. Gutsy. Two balls are thrown up, and the batsman is beaten prodding. Anguish amongst the Kiama team.
The fifth ball is a gem, well flighted and pitched, drawing the batsman down the wicket in an attempt to get at it. The ball dips, hits the pitch and rips past the bat into the waiting gloves of Joe Murphy, who crashes the stumps down in earnest, and the game is over. Kiama win by two runs, in a game that many of us will remember for a long time to come.

Stars are everywhere. Gavin Hartley's great bowling is complemented by his efforts in the field, with one attempted catch going wrong as he rolled over the ball, causing what must have been a very painful crack in the spine and kidney area. Jake Lee's marvellous catch. Reece Conley's save at mid-on, that turned out to be a match-saving one. Tom Dowd's fantastic run out under enormous pressure. Jake Ashley's solid six over spell of bowling at the most important stage of the match. Matt Clapham's fantastic all round effort with bat, ball and in the field. Gary Koks fielding in just about every position on the field throughout the 46 overs. Jani being good with the gloves, and exceptional with the ball.
And a special mention to the captain. Once again Joe was cool under pressure, almost always pulling the right rein at the right time with both bowling options and field placements. He took a catch at first slip, catches as keeper and the final wonderful stumping. There is not a better person in this Club that our 15 to 17 year olds can learn from about the game of cricket. There is at least one 41 year old in the Club who is still learning from him, and admiring his ability to make this team as competitive and tough as it is.

In the toughest conditions that I have played in, Kiama Gold move to within one game of first place in the 3rd Grade competition. Special thanks should also go to our hardy supporters, especially Brendan and Adam, Brad and Ernie and Morty, who spent all or most of the day at the game helping us get home, and Pearso who made sure he got there to mark out the boundaries etc.