Following on from last year’s pre-season tour to Valencia, Wimbledon United’s 2018 overseas tour this time saw the squad moving their focus from Spain to Portugal, where a weekend of fixtures had been arranged up-country from Lisbon, courtesy of Amigos Cricket Club, who play their games at an all weather sports ground not far from the modestly sized country town of Ansiao. That we would not be playing on grass was a foregone conclusion but we had not fully anticipated that perhaps the key feature of the entire weekend was wrapped up in those two words – “all weather”!
Bolstered by the experience gained from last year’s successful tour, WUCC’s highly efficient in-house travel agent, Rowan Wije’dena, had set up everyone to arrive in Lisbon by the Thursday evening, 5th April, and so a variety of flights, mostly from the UK but including one from Athens, duly deposited eleven trusty players on Portuguese soil as planned, for a first night staying at the City Stays Sé Apartments, where two smart modern apartments had been booked, not too far from the rail station from where we were to depart for Pombal the following morning. Beer and watching Arsenal versus CSKA Moscow seemed to be the main driving force as all those not arriving in the wee small hours (i.e. everyone except Anand, Gary and Greg) made their way to the Couch Sports Bar, a ‘compact’ licensed viewing facility with so many in-your-face screens it became quite difficult (in the absence of either Brighton and Hove Albion or AFC Wimbledon action) for the uncommitted to decide which of the half a dozen different matches to follow. It was standing room only but the beer went down well and eventually Arsenal won their first leg match and with that over and done with the team’s thoughts turned inevitably to food.
We retraced our steps and found a cozy and charming restaurant just a few yards from the apartments where the obliging maitre rearranged a few tables to accommodate the group. The Duetos da Sé not only provided some excellent dishes but also hosted live Fado music. The fine stone arched interior, having survived the disastrous earthquake of 1755, had in the past been the scene of illicit smuggling activities, according to the proprietor. No suspicious activities were apparent this evening – or were they? The sight of a grand piano and the gently corrupting influence of some fine Portuguese red wine eventually, when the resident musicians had finished, induced Curtis to relive some aspects of his starry musical youth and a jazzy serenade on the piano ensued, an entertaining impromptu finale to the evening before the early nighters and the clubbers in the party went their separate ways.
Friday dawned cloudy, with a hint of rain in the air, but at the appointed and relatively early hour of 9.00 the next morning the party assembled on the pavement, more or less wide awake, and made the short walk to the Santa-Apolonia station to catch the 9.30 train to Pombal. Pombal lies roughly half way between Lisbon and Porto, and arriving after an hour or so on the fast train we were met by Chris of the Amigos and, having piled into his car and a minibus, made the journey to the ground for the first match. The ground however turned out not to be in Ansiao, where we would be staying, but some way away across country, an astroturf football ground located on top of a hill pretty much in the middle of nowhere between two hamlets, Adegas and Pobral, surrounded by trees, but boasting a capacious grandstand to one side. The ‘wicket’ spanned the centre circle on a line between the goals, but it was immediately apparent that the rectangular profile of the ground presented distinct scoring opportunities square of the wicket but rather less encouragement for devotees of the straight drive or delicate leg glance.
The pitch was inspected, players changed, a toss was won by Wimbledon (good start Gary) and match number one commenced (it had transpired that both matches would be against Amigos – the advertised second visiting team having not made it out), Amigos batting first under a looming sky. Clive Worth and Les Bickley opened for Amigos against United’s no.1 opening pair of Pete Brown and Andy Cripps. Andrew had the first of what turned out to be many sixes smacked off him in the first over but otherwise the pair proved difficult to score off, Andy notching up two maiden overs (we gathered quite a rarity on this ground). With his first ball Pete had snared Bickley with a tempting wide delivery that the batsman had calmly and precisely placed into the hands of Anand at deep cover point and in his fourth over Andy had clean bowled Bullock as the first eight overs went for just 24. Gary then called up Rowan and Greg to take the reins of the bowling attack.
Whatever energies Rowan had put into tour admin had clearly left his bowling mojo depleted of pzazz – the poor lad’s first over was mercilessly dispatched for three fours and three sixes, Amigos more than doubling their score in a trice. Greg’s first over went for 9 and Rowan had another go, but this went for sixteen. It was without doubt time for an intervention by the gods and that is what we got – in spades. Greg managed one more ball before the umpires took us off as a rainstorm swept across the ground and the neighbouring hilltops disappeared into the clouds.
And as it panned out, that was that. An early lunch was taken, enabling the team to experience the first of several substantial and tasty offerings from the Amigos ladies team, a formidable and talented quartet, who had been toiling away in the kitchen from the off. As the rain continued to pour down even the well drained 4G pitch began to look a bit bedraggled and then decidedly pond like in places, so the cards came out, beers of course, and in the corner of the open-sided shelter cum pavilion a novel cricket themed game of darts was unveiled, which occupied several of the United team, denied the real thing. Midway through the afternoon, with it still raining, play was formally abandoned and an early tea was announced (!). A hot meal was then procured – another brilliant performance by the ladies, who turned out to be the only team able to show off the full range of their talents on an otherwise grim day – not what we had hoped for from a journey to allegedly warmer, sunnier climes.
Team photo – day 1
With that done and dusted the team were taken back to Ansiao to check into the hotel, get sorted out, try (with, it has to be said, somewhat limited success) to warm up and later on test the watering facilities of the town. A short early evening stroll into the centre revealed a small town rising gently up from the river valley, its core coalescing around a couple of churches set either end of a substantial town square, surrounded by a tight huddle of streets, with the occasional house, both new and old, displaying the traditional decorative tile work of the country that had been very evident in Lisbon. The evening’s expedition started at the Garden Bar, where the first round of drinks (beers, G&Ts, coffees etc. for eleven) came to some astonishingly trifling total – a revelation that was to become (saints be praised) a welcome and repeated feature of the trip. After another round of drinks (and at that price whyever not!) and with the effects of the early tea then beginning to wear off, the next port of call was the lively Canto da Vila pizza parlour, where a table for eleven was quickly sorted, pizzas and pastas ordered, and another large round of drinks including wine, together with the meals, produced another disarmingly small bill. Final destination was JB’s bar, where it proved to be standing room only in the limited space available, the back room taken up entirely with the pool table that was evidently in the no-nonsense possession for the evening of some decidedly cool and talented locals. Thoughts turned to the morrow – what would the weather man have in store?
Saturday, by contrast, dawned fine and sunny and the race was on to get to the ground and get started just in case things deteriorated later. After a quick ‘continental’ breakfast our transport arrived and we were whisked off to the ground, where conditions had improved beyond all expectation and the 4G ‘grass’ looked as good as new. The day’s play, it had been agreed, would be organised as a T20 ‘Test Match’, each side having two innings of twenty overs, the overall runs total to decide the winner; batsmen to retire on 30; maximum three overs per bowler and batting order reversed for the second innings. Winning the toss for the second time Gary again elected to bowl first and the same Amigos opening pair took to the field, this time facing Andy’s pace and Gary’s spinners, Pete being held in reserve for later.
Gary struck first, Worth caught by Pete Brown, and snaffled a second in his third over, Anand doing the business to send Bickley back. Bullock and Stubbs took over and Bullock eventually retired on 33 not out before Farrukh had number five James caught in the course of a liquorice allsorts over that started with four wides! Dudfield was next to go, run out thanks to a stunning and ferocious return from the boundary by Andy Cripps that smacked into the stumps (much to the relief of keeper Hitchman who didn’t fancy trying to stop it). Ben and Curtis had sneaked in with an over apiece and then Rowan (making amends) chipped in with that rarity at this ground – a maiden over! Pete Brown then bowled Deery for a useful 26 and the final wicket fell in Rowan’s third over, caught by Andy. Chris Redhead and Dan played out the last two overs, Amigos finishing the first innings on 151 for 6.
Pete and Andy opened the batting for Wimbledon and put on 15 before Pete was caught by Bullock for 8, Worth getting the wicket. Greg joined the party and the pair had added 32 when Andy, who’d been struggling to get the ball away, was bowled by Dan for 11. David Hitchman joined Greg and promptly blasted 31 runs off just 14 balls, including three sixes. Greg was to retire as well with 31 not out to his name, but Anand failed to trouble the scorers, caught by Merritt off Dan’s bowling and Farrukh made just 5 before holing out to Worth off Chris Redhead’s bowling (99 for 4 after 13 overs). Gary and Ben kept things going, Gary making the greater quantities of hay before succumbing caught and bowled Dudfield for 22. Veteran John Hitchman then misjudged the fielding prowess of the Amigos extra cover and was run out by a direct hit at the bowler’s end for a ‘golden’. Ben was eventually stumped for 10 in the final over, Rowan and Curtis doing their best at the last to take the United score to 148 for 7, just three runs short of Amigos total, leaving everything to play for in the second innings.
|1st Innings of Amigos C. C.||1st Innings of Wimbledon United C. C.|
|Batsmen||How Out||Total||Batsmen||How Out||Total|
|1||Chris Worth||c. Brown, b. Saxby||1||1||Pete Brown||c. Bullock, b. Worth||8|
|2||Les Bickley||c. Nayak, b. Saxby||12||2||Andy Cripps||b. Dan||11|
|3||Greg Bullock||Retired / Not out||33||3||Greg Dean||Retired / Not out||31|
|4||Paul Stubbs||c. Cripps, b. Wije’dena||18||4||Dave Hitchman||Retired / Not out||31|
|5||Simon James||c. … , b. Hasan||0||5||Anand Nayak||c. Merritt, b., Dan||0|
|6||Drew Dudfield||Run out (Cripps)||17||6||Gary Saxby (c)||c. & b. Dudfield||22|
|7||Arron Deery||b. Brown||26||7||Farrukh Hasan||c. Worth, b. Redhead||5|
|8||Chris Redhead||Not out||20||8||Ben Walton||st. (keeper), b. Bickley||10|
|9||Dan||Not out||8||9||John Hitchman (w)||Run Out||0|
|10||Kevin Merritt||10||Rowan Wije’dena||Not out||12|
|11||James Deery||11||Curtis Phillip||Not out||6|
|Extras W12 NB2 B1 LB1||16||Extras W7 NB1 B1 LB3||12|
|Total (for 6 wickets) (20 overs)||151||Total (for 7 wickets) (20 overs)||148|
|Fall of wkts: 1-6(1); 2-28(2); 3-52(5); 4-73(6); 5-116(7); 6-116(6);||Fall of wkts: 1-15(1); 2-47(2); 3-82(5); 4-99(7); 5-119(6); 6-124(9); 7-141(8)|
|Bowling Figures: Cripps – 3/0/20/0; Saxby – 3/0/8/2; Hasan – 3/0/34/1; Wije’dena – 3/1/15/1; Walton – 1/0/10/0; Phillip – 1/0/5/0; Dean – 3/0/34/0; Brown – 3/0/17/1||Bowling Figures: Stubbs – 3/0/15/0; Worth – 3/0/18/1; A Deery – 3/0/37/0; Dan – 3/0/22/2; Redhead – 3/0/15/1; Dudfield – 3/0/24/1; James – 1/0/5/0; Bickley – 1/0/11/1|
Time for lunch – and those wonderful backroom ladies pulled out all the stops again with an excellent spread. Steady on lads – there’s still some hard work to do! Soon it was time for Part 2. With the batting order reversed, Amigos opened with James Deery and Merritt, Wimbledon turning to Anand and Ben for the opening overs. Anand’s opening (and as it proved – only) over was something to behold – though hopefully only once. An opening no ball was followed by a wide and two dot balls before Deery made contact with ball three and spooned it straight at Gary – Gary doesn’t drop catches. Dan took his place and Anand’s next ball was hit towards Ben – statistically a less reliable option – but it stuck, much to his (Ben’s) relief, and Dan trudged off. So – surprise surprise – a hat-trick ball! A short run-up and the ball was delivered firmly into the 4G pasture no more than a couple of yards down the pitch, but as it rolled towards the new batsman, Chris Redhead, Anand raced forward and ‘fielded’ the ball before it could get to him – possibly the most extraordinary hat-trick no-ball any of us had seen. Once the laughter had subsided and summoning all his powers of concentration Anand sent down two fairly respectable balls to complete the over. Each of these was of course dispatched for four. But we’d have taken 11 for two at the start if we’d been offered it.
Ben’s opening offering also went for 11 – sadly unrewarded – and then Gary and Hasan took over and some semblance of order was re-established. Gary had Merritt caught in his second over but a partnership then got established as Redhead and Arron Deery added 63 for the fourth wicket, Gary and Farrukh giving way after eight overs to Rowan and Greg. Chris Redhead retired not out on 31, whereupon Greg bowled Deery for 29 and in his next over trapped James LBW for 2 to put a dent in the Amigos’ progress. Life continued to be a tad more difficult for Amigos with the final six overs entrusted to Pete and Andy, who both bowled with pace and accuracy, Andy picking up two wickets in the process, Stubbs bowled for 14 and Bullock caught and bowled for a duck. The hosts, reined in after a quick-fire start, found themselves limited to a (by all accounts under par) total of 144 for 7 at the close, setting Wimbledon a target of 148 to win.
This was clearly an achievable target but would require some sangfroid in the batting and a couple of decent partnerships to set up the chance of a late charge for victory. Curtis and Rowan set out to lay the appropriate foundations and steadily proceeded to accumulate a significant opening partnership as the bowling efforts of James and Bickley and then Dan and Deery were rebuffed. By the half way mark the score had reached 62 for 0. Sensing that he might be nearing retirement Rowan went out with a bang, finishing with two sixes, thus partially assuaging his frustration at the previous day’s mauling, one strike being an enormous blow to the distant long on boundary, to take him to 33. John Hitchman joined Curtis and this time managed to get off the mark, but within a few minutes a shower of rain caused a halt in play and the pair were forced to sit out a lengthy interval padded up in the stands. Almost as soon as the rain stopped however, play recommenced, but in the 13th over, trying to force the score along, John was bowled by Stubbs for 14. His replacement Ben, try as he might, failed to trouble the scorers and the way was clear for number five Gary to play a successfully aggressive little cameo that yielded 16 runs in just six balls, chief victim being Clive Worth, whose single over went for 14.
Gary was bowled by Chris Redhead and by this time Curtis had also retired on 33. Farrukh and Anand were endeavouring to move things forward, conscious of the diminishing time remaining. Anand faced just four deliveries before giving a catch to Dudfield off the bowling of Stubbs, leaving Wimbledon on 117 for 4. However this brought David to the crease at just the right time and without more ado the remaining three balls of Stubbs’ over went for 4 / 6 / 4, sweet as a nut. The score had reached 131 for 4, Wimbledon needing 18 off the final two overs to win. Farrukh took a single off the first ball of Chris’ third over, David took a single off the next ball, but Farrukh was then bowled by Chris for 8, giving the Amigos bowler his third wicket of the innings. With the score by now at 133 for 5 – there were just nine balls left – in strode hard hitting maestro Greg. Wasting no time Greg smashed the first ball for four but then played out the last two deliveries as dot balls, no doubt reflecting that perhaps he ought to get his eye in (LOL). This left David on strike (not so stupid!), so with one over to go and the score on 137 for 5, Wimbledon needed 12 runs to win.
You could feel the air being sucked in with the tension mounting, as Dudfield (“no pressure Drew – just give it your best”) was thrown the ball for a spot of ‘death bowling’ and the field was carefully arranged – and re-arranged. Cool as a cucumber David played the first ball for a single. Really? Silence. OK. Cool as a cucumber (not that he eats them or would recognise one) Greg played the second ball calm as you like for a single. Good man – breathe out lads – he’s playing a blinder. Having run out of cucumbers David played the third ball back to the bowler – no run. Getting serious. Ball four, however, soared over mid-wicket’s head and out of the ground into oblivion, dispatched with the sweetest of strikes. 145 for 5. Ball five soared over mid-wicket’s head at an even greater altitude, through the gap, past the trees and into whatever fallow ground lies beyond oblivion. Wimbledon were home and dry in style with one ball to spare and the players swarmed onto the pitch to congratulate David (28 off 8 balls) and Greg (5 off 4) and commiserate (well – not too much!) with the Amigos team after an absolutely brilliant day’s cricket, played with intensity, much good humour and sportsmanship.
|2nd Innings of Amigos C. C.||2nd Innings of Wimbledon United C. C.|
|Batsmen||How Out||Total||Batsmen||How Out||Total|
|1||J Deery||c. Saxby, b. Nayak||0||1||C Phillip||Retired / Not out||33|
|2||K Merritt||c. Wije’dena , b. Saxby||9||2||R Wije’dena||Retired / Not out||33|
|3||Dan||c. Walton, b. Nayak||0||3||J Hitchman||b. Stubbs||14|
|4||C Redhead||Retired / Not out||31||4||B Walton||b. Redhead||0|
|5||A Deery||b. Dean||29||5||G Saxby||b. Redhead||16|
|6||D Dudfield||Retired / Not out||31||6||F Hasan||b. Redhead||8|
|7||S James||Lbw. b. Dean||2||7||A NAyak||c. Dudfield, b. Stubbs||9|
|8||P Stubbs||b. Cripps||14||8||D Hitchman||Not out||28|
|9||G Bullock||c. & b. Cripps||0||9||G Dean||Not out||5|
|10||L Bickley||Not out||12||10||A Cripps|
|11||C Worth||Not out||0||11||P Brown|
|Extras W9 NB2 B3 LB2||16||Extras W4 NB0 B1 LB0||5|
|Total (for 7 wickets) (20 overs)||144||Total (for 5 wickets) (19.5 overs)||151|
|Fall of wkts: 1-2(1); 2-2(3); 3-38(2); 4-101(5); 5-111(7); 6-118(9); 7-144(8)||Fall of wkts: 1-75(3); 2-85(4); 3-106(5); 4-117(7); 5-133(6)|
|Bowling Figures: Nayak – 1/0/11/2; Walton – 1/0/11/0; Saxby – 3/0/23/1; Hasan – 3/0/12/0; Wije’dena – 3/0/41/0; Dean – 3/0/11/2; Brown – 3/0/16/0; Cripps – 3/0/15/2||Bowling Figures: James – 3/0/9/0; Bickley – 2/0/22/0; Dan – 3/0/24/0; A Deery – 3/0/13/0; Dudfield – 2.5/0/26/0; Stubbs – 2/0/25/2; Redgead – 3/0/20/3; Worth – 1/0/14/0|
Result ~ Win for Wimbledon United C. C. by 5 wickets
After things had calmed down a bit and the obligatory team photo had been taken, Amigos captain Chris opened the post match presentation proceedings on the boundary’s edge and just about managed to present Gary with a souvenir booklet before the rains came down again, and with a vengeance, the Gods no doubt having felt they ought not to ruin a second day but really could not hold things back any longer. A general retreat to the pitch-side ‘pavilion’ ensued, after which Gary repaid the compliment by presenting Chris with a Wimbledon United cricket cap and the head umpire summed up with a short recap and vote of thanks before adjudicating the Man of the Match award. Not entirely surprisingly this went to Wimbledon’s David Hitchman for his two crucial and blistering interventions with the bat (his Dad’s bat actually) and he duly stepped forward to take possession of a hefty magnum of that vinous rarity, the ‘Reserva dos Amigos’ 2016 special blend red wine.
After that it was more beers and chat before the final performance from the ladies’ quartet – a delicious hot dish followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard – yum! The sun reappeared over the hilltops, generating a nice rainbow in the trees at the far side; British, Portuguese and Amigos flags fluttered colourfully in the breeze and eventually the squad were driven back to the hotel in Ansiao for the evening’s re-acquaintance with the town’s hotspots. Back in town a bit of wandering established that the Benfica bar was indeed in the possession of a rather forbiddingly serious band of Benfica fans, while another potential destination was closed, so it was the Garden Bar again that took the first hit, another pleasingly small bill being racked up with a succession of drinks and some toasties. A good end to a memorable day.
Sunday dawned fair again but it was time to leave and the car and minibus combo were put to use taking the team back to Pombal station, where some caught the train south to Lisbon, some west to Porto, for the flights home, no doubt mindful of the English season proper starting in just a few weeks time (weather permitting!!).
~~ Wimbledon United ‘Man of the Match’ – David Hitchman ~~
Thanks are due to everyone at Amigos Cricket Club for hosting an enjoyable weekend and for providing hospitality of the first order. Have a good season y’all.
Woodlands Cricket Ground
The Ladies Team at full tilt
Gary presents a WUCC cap
Presentations commence, along with the rain
Flags in the evening breeze
A Rainbow finale!