After three long years, I decided to dust off the whites and participate in the Game of the Gods – whilst my comeback was not as successful as Lance Armstong’s journey back to the bike, it was nonetheless a wonderful day of cricket with the Lindale Settlers XI.
The Lindale Settlers maintained their unbeaten record in the 2016-2017 with their fourth straight win on Saturday 19 November courtesy of a three wicket victory over the Warthogs at the Johannesburg Country Club.
The match was billed to be a derby of sorts, with no fewer than nine of the Warthogs players having been educated at Grahamstown’s finest tertiary educational facility – Rhodes University. The Settlers knew that they would be up against a decent calibre of players who, like themselves, would have spent many overs on the slow tracks and dry outfields of the often drought stricken Eastern Cape.
Captain Jonathan Ford won the toss and opted to field first under heavy cloud cover in the limited 40 over encounter. Perhaps it was the overcast conditions that swayed the Begelly man’s mind or it could have equally been as a result of a bowling lineup that on the face of it, lacked penetration on the seam bowling front.
Nonetheless, Ford and his motley crew suited up to the nines in their splendid Lindale Settlers kit, all sporting the now famous maroon floppy hats. Sun cream on, boots on, switched on – the Settlers strode to the centre of arguably the most picturesque ground outside of the Land of Milk and Honey.
Ford’s decision to bowl first was vindicated in the first over as Chris Fennell found the outside edge of Tim Brown’s bat with the opener yet to score. Wicketkeeper JP Robert gobbled up a regulation catch and it was evident from the outset that this ragtag bunch knew what to do with a piece of leather in their hands.
Justin Harrison and W van Heerden managed to restore some parity, putting together a solid second wicket stand. However, it was not without some fortune as debutant Warwick Austin’s hands let the team down. Van Heerden was put down at mid-off by the eldest and inferiorly skilled Austin off the bowling of none other than his younger brother Bruce.
True to their form, difficulty did not dismay the Settlers as first change bowler James Melvill found the edge of Van Heerden’s bat after pestering him with that signature nagging line and length. Robert once again snaffled the catch behind the stumps with Van Heerden trotting back for 24.
Soon after, Craig Armitage, bowling an uncharacteristic seam-up due to a lack of quicks, struck a third blow when Harrison popped one to Jonty Blumberg at cover. This was fresh off a fielding changing where Armitage had requested Blumberg to swop with Ford at short cover – some shrewd tactical genius in the end from the former Eastern Province Schools stalwart.
The Warthogs reached drinks three down and were poised to post an imposing total in excess of 200.
A glass of Oros and a swig of water seemed to have a similar effect on the Settlers players as William Wallace’s address to the Scottish Army at the Battle of Stirling in 1297.
The combination of Blumberg’s legspin and Paul Hofman’s offspin was the tonic the Settlers needed as they ran through the remaining Warthogs, much like their namesake would experience in a beat down a Lindale valley.
Hofman struck a double blow in successive overs after the break, trapping the dangerous Reinhardt Arp and Matthew Clark in front for 17 and 27 respectively.
The offspinner continued to wreak havoc claiming the prized wickets of the Warthogs’ leaders James Hitchcock and Shane Murphy. First, Hofman cleaned Murphy through the gate, before enticing Hitchcock into a false shot which the skipper skied to Armitage at cover.
William Holm was then brought in to clean up the tail and the experienced former Eastern Province Country Districts player did exactly so as he clean bowled M Tabrer for 7.
Hofman then had his fifth wicket dropped by Warwick Austin, again, with the verbose fielder allowing a sitter to hit him square on the chest. Not for the first time, Austin’s onfield antics provided the comic relief that keeps players more alert than any mints, sweets or chewing gum can.
Fortunately for Austin, Hofman bagged his five-for soon after when he removed Luke Humphrey for a duck as Robert took a smart grab behind the sticks.
The innings was closed out the following over as Holm picked up his second when he took a superb return catch off his own bowling to remove Stuart Rayner for eight. The son of former Western Province wicketkeeper, Paul ‘Podgy’ Rayner, Stuart was given a reprieve a few balls earlier when Ford dropped a difficult(ish) running catch in the outfield. Luckily, redemption was once again never far away for the Settlers.
164 all out was all the Warthogs mustered after a most spectacular collapse. Hofman’s 5-27 in eight overs was the standout, however Blumberg’s 0-40 did not reflect in the scorebook as it did on the field. The Harry Potter like spin wizard caused more problems than an EFF member in parliament and applied the sort of pressure from the Club House end that allowed Hofman to plunder wickets from the other side.
Apart from Hofman’s 5-27, Fennell (1-14), Melvill (1-16), Armitage (1-30) and Holm (2-3) all chimed in with wickets to place the Settlers in a good position at lunch. Bruce Austin (0-26) was unlucky to not find his name in the wickets column as he seemed to find the kind of movement through the air seen only by Jimmy Anderson with a brand new Duke in hand.
After a hearty feed at the luncheon interval, the Settlers innings got off to a rocky start in the face of some inspired bowling from Hitchcock.
The Warthogs commander-in-chief ripped through the Settlers top order nicking off Holm (2) in the first over, before he had Robert (7) playing onto his own furniture.
Greg Risely had looked good atop the innings; however the use of offpsinner Matt Clark with the new ball paid dividends for the Warthogs as Risley holed out to long-on off the final delivery of the eighth over for 17.
Three soon turned to four as Hitchcock bagged his third when Hofman was superbly held at cover point by Murphy for a duck with the score on 28-4.
In strode Armitage to join Ford, with their backs firmly against the wall. The duo batted with the calm and maturity seen only in cricket’s greatest arenas in the Test match format. Boundaries came regularly and Ford’s electric pace ensured that the ones and two did not get that middle child syndrome of neglection.
The pair took the Settlers to drinks and beyond, before Armitage popped one to cover for a well-played 44. Ford and Armitage’s 93-run fifth wicket stand had all but taken the game away from the Warthogs, although the former’s survival at the crease remained imperative towards the Settlers hopes of victory.
The skipper put his foot on the gas after Armitage’s dismissal, passing the fifty mark. Unfortunately, Melvill (2) and Warwick Austin (0), perished in the cause towards the death, however another Michael Bevan like finisher knock from Blumberg (6*) ensured that any mutters of a drastic collapse were put to bed.
The legspinning allrounder deposited the winning runs over mid-on with a splendid boundary as he and Ford (69*) saw the Settlers home with 39 balls to spare.
Despite a few wobbly moments, it was a superb allround display from the Settlers, led by Hofman with the leather and Ford with the willow. Special mention should also be made of Hitchcock who took 3-16 in eight consecutive overs for the Warthogs.
A phenomenal outing for the Eastern Cape based outfit who next face the Oppenheimers XI on Saturday 26 November at the Salem Cricket Club – one of South Africa’s oldest cricket ground and the home of the Lindale Settlers.
Lindale Settlers XI: J Ford (Capt), C Armitage (V-Capt), JP Robert (WK), W Holm, G Risely, P Hofman, J Melvill, W Austin, J Blumberg, C Fennell, B Austin.
Warthogs XI: J Hitchcock (Capt), S Murphy (V-Capt), C Newsome (WK), T Brown, J Harrison, W van Heerden, R Arp, M Clark, M Tabrer, L Humphrey, S Rayner.