The Famous Fives’ latest league outing would be the veritable hop, skip and jump across the scenic Clackmannanshire Bridge for an away fixture at Clackmannanshire CCC’s beautiful Arns ground. A quick status check confirmed glorious July sunshine; six junior cricketers full of enthusiasm, talent and endless potential; and five less junior cricketers, each enthusiastic and talented in their own inimitable way yet nevertheless aware that extent of their cricketing potential has perhaps been rather more fully explored.
Roster assembled, Skipper Keith lost little time in winning the toss. On such auspicious occasions, Carlton lower league protocol (© Bob Irvine) usually dictates that the victorious skipper will glance meaningfully around the surrounds; carefully assess the state of the pitch; take stock of the prevailing conditions; and elect to field. Skipper Keith, however, saw the upside in having a bat on one of the sunniest and warmest days of the year and decided to roll the dice.
Without wishing at any point to cast doubt upon the captain’s wisdom, the opening salvos suggested that this move against orthodoxy might have been… courageous. Skipper Keith and wicketkeeper-batsman James Stronach immediately found considerable difficulty on a pitch which – benign appearances notwithstanding – offered widely variable bounce and significant movement off the seam for the Clacks attack. James fell prey to the up-and-down nature of the surface early doors, looking to cut but only able to top edge to gully (J Stronach 2). Martin Robertson joined the captain and had the briefest of looks before firing an otherwise textbook drive straight into cover’s midriff (M Robertson 3) – possibly a little unlucky, the lack of trueness in the pitch clearly unsuited a player of Martin’s classical talents. Martin’s demise meant time for John Beattie at 4, with work already to be done to repair the early damage. Regular Fives viewers and ultra-hardcore cricket purists alike relish Keith and John’s partnerships (full, as they are, of the promise of dogged resistance) and their unwillingness to be drawn easily brought a few over-eager deliveries from the bowlers which were pounced on with relish – some momentum gradually building. Unfortunately this was checked when Keith was adjudged LBW (by none other than your correspondent, performing that grisliest of rites when umpiring one’s own team in the lower leagues) – the skipper’s muttered insistence that the ball had struck, on the up, at least three or four feet above the level of the bails insufficient to sway the decision (K Murray 20).
The skipper’s controversial departure brought Murray-the-Younger to the crease, but unhappily Robbie was next to be foiled by the awkward bounce, only able to splice a slower one which stuck horribly in the deck straight into the ring (R Murray 0). Hamish Turner was the next junior to step up to the mark, and the next to return to the hutch shaking his head, this time stumped by sharp work from Clacks skipper N Bryant-Nicholls as he looked to get forward (H Turner 2). With 16 overs bowled the Fives card did not make for promising reading – 41/5 and a lot of work to be done. However, the Fives’ race was far from run. The sight of Angus Turner striding purposefully to the crease left plenty of room for optimism, and indeed John and Gus quickly settled in to building a quality partnership based on good cricket fundamentals – shot selection, great communication, and good running between the wickets. Fast forward to the 36th over and an exhausted John finally made a mistake, bowled just shy of his fifty in the approved Division 7 manner by a half tracker which shot through at ankle height (J Beattie 48) – a partnership of 68 nevertheless putting the Fives back into a competitive position at 113/6. Harry Charman – protégé of Fives legend Max “the Maxinator” D’Ulisse in his energetic approach to the game – replaced John and promptly gave a sublime masterclass in late innings batting, working the ball effortlessly into gaps, sprinting hard for every run, and making the dispirited Clacks fielders chase leather all around the wicket. In the final reckoning, the Fives had improved to 146/6 (A Turner 36*; H Charman 19*) – a superb recovery and three excellent innings from John, Gus and Harry to get us there.
The Fives took the field with a spring in their step – given the pitch, 147 would be a good chase. The consensus was that pace-off was likely to be the way to go, so skipper Keith elected to pair Kyle’s fast medium with every opening batsman’s nightmare – some slow left arm from Harry. It quickly became clear that the skipper’s instincts were spot on – turn and bounce for Harry, the ball rearing alarmingly from a length and ripping through for James to hoover up. Harry was very unlucky to suffer a few missed chances but bowled with threat and control throughout, and it was the Fives’ most reliable new ball weapon who struck first – Kyle’s LBW shout answered in the affirmative (to the second disbelieving batsman of the day…) before a bonus wicket as Clacks’ dangerous looking No.3 could only bottom edge an attempted pull onto his leg stump (K Burgess 6-2-12-2). Harry finally took the wicket his spell deserved, Hamish comfortably taking the catch at fine leg (H Charman 5-0-14-1). With the door ajar the skipper played his joker – not noted as a front-line bowler and “fresh” from that long innings, Gus was summoned to bowl his off-spin variations. This was a perfect horses-for-courses move from the skipper – Gus bowling the ball hard into the pitch and making the most of the variable bounce. An unbroken eight over spell tormented the Clacks batsmen – Gus proving almost impossible to get away as the ball leapt about unpredictably from a length. Robbie took over from Kyle but didn’t find much in the wicket to suit him (R Murray 2-0-14-0), replaced by your correspondent. The two more venerable members of the attack took advantage of having generously allowed the juniors to dismiss the top-order batsmen and steadily worked through the Clacks card, but this was Gus’s day to shine with a highly impressive four-wicket haul, including an excellent catch behind the wicket by James (E Murray 5-0-18-2; A Turner 8-5-6-4). With the old timers done (and done in) for the day, Clacks were a long way off the pace at 71/9, Hamish Turner and young Freddie Charman into the attack to close it out. Probably fitting that the final wicket went to a Turner, Hamish enticing a simple chip to mid off where Martin did the honours. Clackmannanshire CC 83a.o., Carlton Fives win by 64 runs.
Super win for the Fives against a more than capable Clacks team – with both sides having batted this looked a very awkward pitch indeed, and 147 was probably a fair bit beyond par in the final reckoning. Excellent performances from all of the juniors, as we’ve come to expect, with a particularly good all-round showing from Harry – ably filling roles with the bat, ball, livewire energy and questionable chat recently vacated by Max – only denied PotM honours by a red-letter performance from Gus. Very important runs too from Keith and John, well batted. A most enjoyable game in the sun thanks to our generous and sportsmanlike hosts – a pleasure to play in.