The Cricketer Cup is now in its 38th Year and is the premier Public Schools Old Boys cricket competition. Although the Old Brightonians won the competition back in 1969 with the legendary ABD Parsons, it has been dominated by the likes of Tonbridge, Malvern, Oundle, Charterhouse and Harrow. At the beginning of this season we were sitting 13th in the national rankings. Having reached the ¼ final stage 8 times in the last 20 years the college hoped this year to proceed further and perhaps emulate the heroes of 69.
Ben Brocklehurst, former Chairman of The Cricketer magazine, wrote: ‘The Cricketer Cup now represents some of the best amateur cricket played in the land. By and large, it also represents cricket played in the best spirit of the game.’ The quality of the players is confirmed by the impressive number of county players who have appeared in the competition, some before they made the grade and others after retirement from the rigours of the weekly grind on the county circuit. In addition, the participating schools have produced 24 Test match players, including six captains, who between them have won over 500 Test caps. As far as the Old Brightonians are concerned we have two current county players Matt Prior and Carl Hopkinson, neither of whom have played as yet in the competition. In recent years the side has been bolstered by Michael Strong (Stella to his mates!) and occasionally graced with the talents of Neil Lenham (only 20 first class hundreds and over 10,000 runs to his name!).
Also the Old Boys can no longer be called as such because we made history on 23 June 2002 by introducing the first woman into the competition. Clare Connor the Sussex and England woman’s captain played in the second round against Lancing Rovers. Her eight overs of orthodox left arm spin cost only 14 runs. Her teammates, the author included, were delighted with her enthusiasm and ability to put herself onto a length all afternoon. Her steely determination and professionalism meant that she was always the centre of attention and never out of her depth in what is after all a mans game! Please come back and play with us again when commitments in your busy schedule allow you.
This year the OB’s fielded a much younger side bringing the average age down from well over 30 to nearer 25. However a mixture of wise old birds and raw youthful talent gave us an expectation of a good run in the competition this year. The draw for the competition had also been generous to us and we would miss the big guns until later in the draw.
First up on 13/06/04 were St. Edward’s Martyrs from Oxford. We travelled well and set the Martyr’s a respectable total of 232 – 9 from our 55 overs. Useful contributions from the skipper Sam Chettleburg and Patrick Spencer. Matt Wood was the pick of the bowlers and the Martyrs never looked like getting anywhere near our total eventually being bowled out for 137.
In the second round on 27/06/04 we met Old Westminsters, again away from home. However nobody minded a trip to London and it was rumoured that their ground at St. Vincent’s Square was quiet a setting. Being such a youthful side many of the players did not have access to a car so it was decided that we would let the train take the strain. What a great idea this would later prove to be. Upon arriving at the ground the rumours of the setting were not unfounded and with a billiard like surface for the outfield we set about our pre match warm up with enthusiasm and the usual banter. We were lacking a few strike bowlers and the skipper on winning the toss inserted the opposition in the knowledge that we could chase any total with strong batting. The first over from Matt Wood yielded solid defence. Who would open up with Woody, the captain with no other options took the ball himself. His first over produced only 1 run off the bat, however it did not last the customary 6 balls. Sam settled into a good length and line but unfortunately he was not bowling to a left hander, and the anguish on his face began to show as the number of balls for the over passed 10. Having played in the competition for several years now it reminded me of an opening over that John Gorton bowled at the home ground against Haileybury which lasted 14 balls but to the batsman’s dismay after having not had to play a ball all over, John eventually got it right and bowled the opener off the last ball. We still remember it with much mirth today. Back to the day in question, Woody gained in confidence and in an inspired spell destroyed the top order. The steady flow of wickets eased the skipper’s anxiety and his bowling contribution steadied together with his line and by the end of his spell he was actually smiling and enjoying it! Old Westminsters were bowled out for 107 and some inspired slogging by Chris Gates and Patrick Spencer put us into the nearest pub before the tea interval. This proved inspirational as 45 minutes after leaving St. Vincent’s Square the heavens opened and it poured down and the match would have been abandoned. With nobody driving and since the game had finished so early the OB’s set about the celebration with gay abandon. The youth of the side set the early pace not happy just taking the odd single but jumping in with the big slog and downing ale like prohibition was due to start again on the morrow. The seasoned pro’s weathered the storm and were still celebrating on the train home while others slept off the rigours of the early finish.
So having again reached another ¼ final would the OB’s proceed further? This would be found out on the 11/09/04 at the ground of Haileybury Hermits. The clash in the past had brought many good wins for the OB’s. In 1986 Russell Piper scored 182 not out against the Hermits which at the time was the second highest score in the competition. He now sits 5th on the list but if memory serves me right we were not permitted to bat the full 55 overs due to an interruption for the weather. I’m sure Russell would have completed his double hundred as he was hitting balls into Walpole Terrace with the regularity of prune juice. More recently in 2001 the OB’s amassed the record score for the competition against the Hermits 458 – 6 at an astonishing 8.3 runs per over. Sam Chettleburg (116) and Chris Sweet (124) shared a partnership of 170 and Mike Edmonds demolished the Hermits with the most rapid 90 I have ever seen. Calls of ‘more sandwiches’ were heard all day from the boundary ropes.
The match of 2004 would prove to be a more closely fought contest. The youthful nature of the team was further enhanced by the inclusion of Joe Gatting. Having just left the college at the tender age of 16 and signing a professional football contract with Brighton & Hove Albion we were glad to have him available, as he is a rare talent. The skipper lost the toss and we were inserted on a damp pitch with conditions suiting the bowlers. James Dharl a master at Brighton College is the captain for the Hermits and was out for revenge from previous matches. We had been short of a few players due to club competitions and several had dropped out from injury at the last minute. In fact unbeknown to the opposition we would play the whole game with only 10 players. The opposition in comparison boasted a strong side with a current county professional for Derbyshire. He had in fact hit the first ball he faced this season off Shane Warne for six but we would worry about him later.
Some excellent batting from Joe Gatting and Mal Waller who both scored half centuries set up Mike Edmonds to wag the tail again most effectively. Ali Nichol hit the last ball of our innings for 4 and we finished on 262 – 8. A commendable total for the Brighton 10. However again we had little penetration in the bowling and the Hermits under the direction of James Dharl set about our total with an accelerating rate and the openers had rattled up the first hundred well ahead of the required rate. With only a couple of overs to go to tea we get our first break through but our heads drop again as their pro (alias ‘the big hit’ as Mally called him) hits 20 off the 25th over to take them to tea in a very strong position at 143 – 2. They need only score at 4 an over off the last 30 to deny us a place in the semis.
After tea the skipper brought Horse into the attack and his spell proved to be a match winner. The big hit was scoped up caught and bowled and with a mixture of big spin and drifting arm balls, Horse ripped through the middle order. Everything seemed to go his way. At one stage Chris Gates, never usually shy of word, calls for the ‘Holiday Ball’ (ma yorker) and he was obliged in glorious fashion with their No.7 dumbstruck and ‘castled’. Joe Gatting and Julian Withers bowled tight at the death and the OB’s came to the final over with 10 being needed for Haileybury to go through. The honour if you call it that of the last over fell to Joe Gatting. No nerves for someone so young as he fired in the first 3 balls straight and true, with only 2 runs being added. The fourth ball drifted down the leg side and clearly brushed the batsman’s thigh pad, Chris Gates made a valiant dive from behind the stumps and they run a leg bye as he buffets the ball to square leg. To our horror the umpire signals a wide. No this cannot be. The memories of Downside come flooding back to me. We can’t be knocked out of the competition by the mistakes of an official again. Those of us who played in that game way back in the late 80’s won’t ever forget the umpires taking us off the pitch in perfect sunlight, because they mistakenly thought the game could not go on past 8.00pm and us losing by 1 run on count back with the opposition 9 wickets down. Level heads and lobbying of the umpire gets the decision changed and they need 7 from 2. This becomes 6 from the last as they scramble a single from yet another Gatting yorker. The heart pounds as the final ball is bowled. Will it come my way? Please don’t let it be me that drops the ball over the boundary. A swing and a miss. It’s all over. Joy. The Brighton 10 is victorious and we are through to the last four. The first time since 1976. The champagne flows but we are too exhausted to celebrate. But what a feeling.
Semi-finals for the first time in nearly 30 years and at last a home tie against the Mighty Old Malvernians. Currently ranked only second to Tonbridge in the national rankings. We knew they would be good from previous encounters and their opposition had struggled this season to find any chinks in their armour. In fact they had never been pushed in the previous rounds only losing 4 wickets in chasing smallish targets.
So on the morning of the 25/07/04 the OB’s bat first on a flat looking college wicket. Expectations are high and a place in the final awaits. After a circumspect first over providing just a couple of singles, Chris Gates and Chris Grammer set about the Malvern attack. We finished over 5 with 32 on the board but alas with both openers back in the hutch. A big disappointment as Grammer had played a number of imperious drives and was looking well set when he ran himself out. The big occasion got to us, and some rash shots from the middle order left us on the brink at 96 – 7 at lunch. After the break the wise old heads of Mike Edmonds and David Thompson set about rebuilding the innings. The crowd was quiet and subdued. If anyone was able to dig us out of a hole David would. Never say die is his motto. He is a real effort player. Loves the game but plays with a determination that is second to none. How could we possibly post a total with only 3 wickets left? A nudge here and nurdle there, slowly the runs started to come and as far as David was concerned so did the confidence. He loves a stage and the stage was set for him. Slowly winding the opposition up is his speciality but always with a smile on the face. Some extra-ordinary shots were played. The reverse sweep came out a number of times. At one point when David had hit 3 consecutive boundaries in an over to different parts of the field, the bowler was at a loss as to what to do, and when David had backed away in his crease to the next ball to make room the bowler got the yips and had to pull out of his delivery stride. The point of no return you have psychologically done the bowler. David was eventually out trying another adventurous shot for 70 very valuable runs. Together with Horse who batted through to the end for 35 not out we clawed our way to 211.
It was a battling effort but somehow we all new it was a 250 plus wicket. Malvern started brightly and never really fell behind the run rate. Again David Thompson and Mike Edmonds shone this time with the ball. Determination to the end as always. Despite their sterling efforts the young guns were off target and we were unable to halt Malvern’s progress. They made the runs with several overs to spare and for the loss of only 4 wickets.
The end of a fantastic tournament for us. When you go out, there is always a feeling that you could have done better. This instant is no exception. However with the thoughts of another cup run next year we wished Malvern well for the final and drowned our sorrows in the bar. For the record Malvern lost to Tonbridge in the Final. I’m sure if we got there we would have beaten them!
The Cricketer Cup squad would like to thank Mike Edmonds and Sam Chettleburg for organising and running the season so successfully; and the College & OBA for their continued support. Congratulations to the squad for a grand effort this year. This time next year we could be champions.