Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Drama on the cricket pitch

The Mole Cricket Club has returned from the Caribbean following a nail-biting defeat at the hands of the Antiguan Legends.

Playing a 15-over-aside day-night international at the Rising Sun Cricket Club on the outskirts of St John's, the tourists fell agonisingly 18 short of their 142-run target despite a heroic 53 from Chris Ellwood.

The overall tour statistic - played one, lost one - does not tell the full story of this side made up from the travel industry and the media, captained by former England cricketer Chris Schofield and playing under the flag of TravelMole.

The highly anticipated game, hosted by the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority and Antigua's Ministry of Tourism, became a reality as soon as the team landed on the island and the bus rolled past the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium en route to the excellent Verandah Hotel and Spa.

It was also the team's first contact with one of the Antiguan legends, with team bus driver for the week Sherman 'Shermanator' James the spy in the camp.

Any reports back to his team mates doubtless highlighted the lack of courage on show at Stingray City and the enthusiastic but somewhat clumsy moves on the dance floor at Shirley Heights the night before the match.

But what followed was actually a 'Tigeresque' display in the field after the legends, captained by former West Indian test player Winston Benjamin and aided by Ridley Jacobs, had won the all-important toss and elected to bat first in the fading natural light.

As the anthems rung around the Rising Sun cricket club, spectators flocked to find a suitable vantage point, having been inspired to attend following sabre-rattling TV and radio appearances from former Surrey and Lancashire ace Schofield.

No question, it was the hardest part of the day in which to field, with the light of a low sun being replaced by the glare of the floodlights that made fielding square of the wicket a guessing game.

The Antiguan batsmen were strong on the leg-side, with 64-year-old Hardy James playing the kind of anchor role he no doubt displayed as a first-class cricketer for the Leeward Islands in the 1960s and 70s.

Caroline Cairns continued the cricketing excellence associated with that surname by breaking a healthy opening stand by the openers with her bewitching off breaks.

Specialist Twenty20 wicketkeeper Jamie Hoyles excelled with the gloves in tough conditions, while Nick Clarke was inches from effecting a direct hit run out.

The Mole pace attack featured Jeremy Skidmore, Adrian Marpole, Clarke, David Atkin and Neil Herbert, the latter bowling despite a long-standing and troublesome ankle injury.

The spin-trio of Schofield, Cairns and Graham McKenzie applied the brakes during the middle-overs and saw a run target that was very gettable.

But somehow the tourists conspired to roll over, like the ships of old in Antigua's famous Nelson's Dockyards.

Great cricket teams can be years in the making. But this team was forged at the anvil of TravelMole publisher McKenzie's extensive network of scouts, fusing raw pig iron from the travel industry with a smattering of flexible aluminium from the media, but then alloying it with the steel of a former Test cricketer.

In cricketing terms it meant a top heavy batting order.

Schofield used all his experience to turn on the runs tap for a glossy 29, while his junior partner Ellwood wielded the willow like a batsman from the region, dispensing powerful straight blows down the ground in a frenzy of fours and sixes.

The Antiguan Legends were rattled, make no mistake. Opening with spin from both ends, they quickly turned to their pacemen as the opening duo displayed the kind of powerplay batting that took Chris Gayle and Co to their recent World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka.

But then disaster struck, left-hander Schofield picking out the man on the leg-side boundary - a wicket that belied the sweet contact made with the ball.

With the opening Mole partnership broken, it was then down to Ellwood to shepherd the tail.

The rising star of Cheshire cricket fell shortly after completing the kind of half century Antiguan hero and tourist board ambassador Sir Vivian Richards would have been proud of.

Marpole and Clarke were victims of the deteriorating pitch, Atkin saw his timbers shivered by a jaffa and Ali Martin was trapped lbw a decision that left him cursing the absence of the TV umpire review system.

McKenzie's booming straight six down the ground off the final ball of the innings was one defiant last gasp of air as the quicksand engulfed the tourists, with man-of-the-match Wildin Cornwall taking three wickets.

The fact the scorer attributed the shot to Herbert was irrelevant. Both the men not out at the end can be proud of their entertaining rearguard cameos.

Perhaps the arrival of Curtly Ambrose, a man with 405 Test wickets, as a spectator mid-way through the chase planted a subconscious seed of doubt. The Antiguan legends were simply on hand to exploit it.

It was surely one the many theories that would have been discussed during the Virgin Atlantic flight back, along with 'loud music while we batted' or the more likely 'too much rum at the Shirley Heights sunset barbecue the night before'.

The fact is the game was hard-fought, played in the right spirit and all combatants can say they have played a day-night international match on the stunning island of Antigua before partying with some of the titans of West Indian cricket.

Chief selector McKenzie summed it up during his televised speech at the drinks reception the following night, when he thanked the Antiguan people directly for the excellent hospitality on their beautiful island.

Next time, you fancy Mole Cricket Club will be taking home the trophy though.

By The Sun Cricket writer - Ali Martin     

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