This was the 10th year that the Ramblers had played at Elsted - one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures on the circuit. Stunning views over the South Downs, competitive and well-spirited games of cricket, and teas that are as memorable as many of the matches.
Both clubs brought XIs with a mixture of youth and experience - in the Ramblers’ case a father and son combo from the Dryden-Brownlees; for Elsted a few wisened oldies surrounded by a number of the not-so-young-anymore second generation - big lads with no lack of confidence.
With the Ramblers’ numbers temporarily reduced due to Simmo being stricken with a flat tyre somewhere on the M25, Gus wisely opted to bat first. A great call, and welcome news for those tracking the efforts of Harry Brook and co up in Headingley.
The Ramblers’ innings was one of missed opportunities - many players getting themselves in, only to be duped into a big heave that left their stumps displaced. It was Paul Chappell, perhaps feeling an added responsibility to contribute for his absent brother-in-law, who was the mainstay of the innings, posting an impressive 44. A beautifully effective knock: respect the straight ones and smash anything short and wide to the fence - at least until he gloved one behind (and walked!) when in range of what would have been a terrific half century. There was a notable contribution from Chris Williamson (ably supported by runner Tim Stansbury after Chris “did his hammy - again”) and was just starting to, erm, accelerate when he fell foul to a slow loopy straight one from the veteran Elsted bowler. Only Stanners can feel hard done by: a very trigger happy ump giving him out LBW after a huge stride forward to one coming across him. “Not at this level surely” they were crying in the stands. Useful 20s in the mid-to-lower order from skipper Gus and Leacho saw Ramblers post 149, which felt a little bit light.
Still a man down with Simmo promising a 5pm arrival, the Ramblers took to the field after a typically sensational Elsted tea, boosted by the Ashes win and a stirring swine-oriented team talk from Gus... OINK OINK!
The Elsted openers set about their business with ruthless efficiency. Not-so-young Archie Wadey nonchalantly picking up decent length balls and sending them to the mid-wicket fence with disdain. He was playing like someone who’d been playing on that wicket since he was 5 years old - which is exactly what he was. An unfortunate collision in the outfield caused an injury to young Peter DB and reduced the Ramblers to 9 men. Time to dig deep lads!
There was finally some joy as Stanners duped one of the openers into a big heave and miss - Leacho with a tidy stumping. A similar plan dislodged their number 3 - clean bowled this time. We were making inroads but the boundaries were still flowing and the required run rate rapidly decreasing.
Something had to change - and fast - if Ramblers were to have any hope in this match. Enter Christopher Simmons, raring to go after his 4-hour AA sideshow and looking the part in shiny new kit. Gus handed him the ball with clear instructions to do some damage, and how he delivered. Huge joy ensued when Archie misjudged a pull shot to deep square leg where Tommy Handley simply could not get out of the way and took a decent catch. Nobody was more surprised than he was when it stuck! This gave the Ramblers and Simmo a huge boost and he proceeded to shatter the stumps of the Elsted middle order with a combination of raw pace and cleverly disguised slower balls. Following his brother-in-law’s efforts with the bat, we now had a significant contribution with the ball: onlooking mother-in-law Mrs Ling could surely not have been more proud to see her daughters’ spouses battling it out for the Yellow!
Alas it was ultimately too little too late and Elsted reached their target with 10 overs to spare. Yep, the 149 did feel a little bit light.
Over the road to The Three Horseshoes for a couple of post-match refreshers, and the Ramblers were done for another year in this idyllic corner of West Sussex. The Yellow ultimately went to Simmo, with one of the best minute-to-impact ratios in Ramblers’ history. Some great memories - and seeing young Henry Chappell bowling “apple bouncers” in the pub garden afterwards - a taste of what the future might bring when the third generation of Ramblers start to populate the line-up.
Result - Lost by 4 wickets
Yellow Jersey - Simmo (3-27 off 4 overs)