The calm following the storm.
The day after England had booked their place in their first World Cup Semi-Final since Bryan Robson trademarked his obscene brand of nylon “pornoshorts” running shorts (they will be back in fashion sometime), most of the country needed a means to nurse away the hangover of death.
“It’s coming home” still echoing around the empty heads of the nation, we have three choices: find last nights vindaloo; watch a replay of the football and get back on the best of what JW Lees can offer; or seek the sanctuary of a relaxing day out in the sun watching cricket.
I come to the realisation that our 3rd XI, that team I used to captain before Johann Cruyff came back from the dead to cripple me, has a game today. Great. I’ll get up to the club and watch that, pass a few hours.
Except, to contradict David, Frank and Iain, it wasn’t coming home. It was away. At Rochdale. A 25 mile drive away. Great.
Having shed as many tears as Gazza back in that 1990 Semi-Final, feeling that my dreams (maybe an over exaggeration) had been similarly shattered, the satnav was out and plotting the most scenic route to Rochdale. The fresh air will help me feel better. Maybe.
News from captain Ste that we would be playing 4-4-2, or maybe that we were batting first, further raised my spirits and away we go.
“You have reached your destination” croaked the voice from the satnav after 40 minutes of driving over endless moorlands that would have been bleak and depressing if it hadn’t been the hottest day the world has ever seen. Except I’ve not reached my destination. Looking around, unless Rochdale have taken to rolling a wicket in the pastry aisle of a modern but run of the mill supermarket, I’m in the wrong place. I don’t even know if I’m in Rochdale.
I decide to drive round to see if anybody can give me any clues. “Yernotintdaleyerinfalinge” says the first lady I speak to. Not a clue what that means, nor do I see the benefit in continuing a conversation with somebody I clearly don’t understand. Three people later, after nobody knowing what cricket even is, I am amazed when a bloke in his 70s gives me directions to “Rochdale Lacrosse Club” and says I need to “head towards Scotland”.
Now, I’ve been on the wrong end of a classic Manc wind up many times in my life, but this seemed too weird to possibly be made up. Intrigued, I follow Lacrosse Larry’s directions, see a sign for Rochdale FC, realise that Larry had said “Spotland” not “Scotland”, and lo and behold, up pops a cricket club. With a game on. And Paddy sat on the car park. We might just have found it.
After all the difficulties locating the place, I walk on the ground to find a fantastic sun-trap of a cricket field. One of the biggest grounds in the league, with a superb south facing clubhouse that is a better facility than most in the league. Looks a great setup.
Having taken in the scenery, focus turns to the cricket and I see that we’ve already lost 3 wickets. It’s going to be a long day for Owais Qayoom, who was out to the first ball of the day. Dave Holt has nicked one behind to the cordon, and comically, Ethan Houldsworth has been run out by Christian Oddie for the second time in two days. On the previous day, Chris had made up for this by scoring a career best 94 – A better 94 than Hristo Stoichkov and Oleg Salenko combined. More of that today please.
Chris is batting with Mohammed Skakeel who is also in form after a 2nd XI 50 the proceeding day. Big Shak (mans not hot, mans on 🔥🔥🔥) hits the first ball he faces for a humongous six to the longest boundary on a very big ground.
After a few more boundaries and scrappy singles, Chris nicked one to the keeper trying to run it to third man. No Stoichkov today.
In at 6 is the returning Ben Rogers, our recent free transfer signing from Oslo Aliens, returning to the club after a stint playing European cricket. Ben looked as solid as Harry Maguire’s massive head, until he decided to let three balls in a row hit him on the pads. Third time (un)lucky. Ben fired LBW. 57/5.
A couple of blows by Big Shak whilst wickets fell to the leg spinner at the other end saw us scrape towards 100. Shak finally out for a decent 32 with the score at 97/8. Still time for captain Ste to smash 2 sixes – a better number 11 than Romario?? Probably not.
All out for 119.
Fuelled by a superb tea of Lamb Keema and rice, (making a hot day even hotter) our team were confident of bowling out the Rochdale team and taking full points. A hefty away support of at least 12, including the crippled knee twosome Hamza and myself found a way of getting a tea, and shared the team’s optimism.
A wicket for Ste, bowled. 14/1. Game on.
Three dropped catches off Leachy. Who wouldn’t stop whining about “harsh” wides. They were wides Mark. Wider than a Roberto Baggio penalty.
At this point, Rochdale was officially hotter than Rawalpindi. The layout of the ground, and the fact the tree line was 50 meters back from the edge of the ground meaning there was less shade than the Sahara with one exception – inside the clubhouse in the bar. If treasurer Mikey was an architect…. 🤔
Back to the game, some tight bowling made it into more of a tactical battle than a political discussion at Chequers. Rochdale picked off the bad ball and nurdled their way to 70/1. The right handed Tim Holden politely boring the life out of our bowlers, fielders and supporters. Why would you block a double bouncer??).
The introduction of spin through Marcus Hamer saw us getting two wickets, a first catch for returning wicket keeper Rogers, and a caught and bowled reducing the home side to 78/3.
However, a superb innings by one of the Rochdale batsmen moved the game beyond doubt. Only a straight ball by Ste with 4 runs to win saw any more progress, the departing batsmen being threatened with a fine by his team on his way off for letting his captain go in at #6 to score the winning runs. It didn’t take long, as said captain dispatched the winning boundary on the first ball he faced.
Well done to Rochdale on a comfortable victory.
Back to the car which has become a sauna given my lack of foresight to leave the windows open. Time for a trek back home. It’s not as fun when you lose. When do England play next??
We might have lost. But. It’s coming home!!!!