The on-drive. The most exquisite, authoritative shot in the coaching manual. The look of tortured anguish on the bowler’s face, aghast as he pivots his head back round to see the ball fizz triumphantly past him. The illicit murmur of approval from his colleagues in the slip cordon. The celebratory roar of the crowd. Forget the ghastly clubs and hoiks, the new fangled scoops and switches, indeed even the magisterial cover drive. The on drive is the saintliest of expressions in the batsmen’s repertoire.
Elstow’s Chris Richards plays the on drive as well as anyone. In times of desolate emptiness and heart searching darkness; along with Get Ready by The Temptations and the “Sssstttttiiiiiiirrrriiiiiikkkkkeeeeee Tttwwwooooo” baseball umpire skit from The Naked Gun, thoughts of Richards’ on drive act as marvellous medicine. Simply, it gladdens the soul like little else.
Yesterday at The Warren against unbeaten Wing with Wingrave, fellow aficionados of the great man’s great shot, against the jarring June wind would have been thoroughly spoilt. Richards showcased not just his wonderful talents but how to build, maintain and then emphatically finish an innings, undefeated, as an opening batsman.
The grey skies joined the wind in making life as uncomfortable for Elstow’s openers, before AJ Stewart, the division’s finest new ball bowler, partnered by Rob Flynn, added to the discomfort. A fabulous battle ensued; Stewart eventually prised Gary Flower after a stoical, yet slow start in searching conditions. Wing dominated. From The Wilstead Road End, experienced left armer Barry Childs, tore into Elstow’s middle order. Captain Sam Rose smothered a sharp low catch to dismiss one of Elstow’s danger men, Ed Wisson. Childs needed no help with his three other victims, only Sumit Karunakotha can count himself harshly done by with a ball that zipped, then clipped, the spigot tops. Elstow were 59-6. The scoreboard looked as miserable as the weather beaten home support.
Despite his good work getting rid of Wisson, Rose couldn’t cling on to a swirling Richards miscue that slipped agonisingly out of his hands at mid wicket. It was to prove costly. Though Elstow’s middle order summarily failed, their tail provided much needed ballast. Steve Russell ‘had a go’, before Luke Griffin and, latterly, your correspondent dug in. All the while Richards, one or two blips not withstanding, powered through the tens. His fifty was politely cheered, his hundred, when it came courtesy of a flick through square leg for four, was greeted by a guttural outburst of relief from his teammates. Through Richards’ cussedness then undisputed class, Elstow reached 180-8 at tea, a giddy looking total considering their earlier malaise.
Buoyed by their boyo’s brilliance the home side tore into the reeling away side. Russell huffed and puffed. The enigmatic Hani Thiarra had his pal Rose in all sorts of bother before claiming Rose’s opening partner Rob Crallan. Rose chipped to Ravi Kalyan at square leg. Griffin claimed the wicket, Thiarra the assist. Bonfire smoke from a neighbouring garden blew, like cordite on a battlefield, across The Warren. If this was Waterloo, Wing responded to Elstow’s mighty fusillade with light infantry. With all three results still possible, Martyn Turner and Deepak Sukhani seemed content to block out a draw. Their dismissals, via Karunakotha and Nick Lewis, brought James Tuthill (once on the radar at Elstow) to the crease.
Tuthill’s powerful striking provided a delightful counter punch to proceedings. His boundary-laden, crowd pleasing innings of 40 ended on the last ball of the match to give Al Phillips his second wicket, but, alas, not his first win. Wing with Wingrave finished 149-7, some 31 runs shy of Elstow’s total. This was a thought provoking and sometimes thrilling draw. The day’s winner was undisputedly Chris Richards and that superlative on drive.
Horner Shearing Man of Substance of the Day: Chris Richards. Two catches and his first century for Elstow. An unbeaten 113 not out that gave the seconds something to smile about after a tough fortnight. After David Lloyd George and Barry John, the epithet ‘Welsh Wizard’ firmly belongs to this man.
Clag Nut of the Day: Hani Thiarra. A decent spell of bowling and an important catch can’t mask his misdemeanours. A dropped catch off captain Al’s bowling and his role in the embarrassing administrative debacle meaning a piqued and pooped opposition in the face of the Richards onslaught had to field for one more over than they initially thought, hands this honour to Hanvir.
Sammon Pie Moment of Success: The shot, the roar, the acclaim. The smile. After several close calls and many great knocks, the elusive maiden Elstow century for Chris Richards. Syr chwarae yn dda!