A shortened 2020 summer began with the Badgers’ first ever visit to Downe. With the last two seasons’ fixtures having been cancelled due to clashes with World Cup football and then cricket, it was fortunate that this became both clubs’ first game since the Covid-19 outbreak, and the match produced a contest fitting for the occasion.
On a picturesque ground surrounded by butterfly-strewn meadows, Fitzy won the toss on his first outing as bona fide Badgers skipper and couldn’t resist having a bowl on a track which took the phrase “a bit of grass on top” to bold new extremes. Unsurprisingly given the circumstances, the Badgers’ early bowling was admirably in line with social distancing regulations - the ball only rarely straying within two metres of the batsman. Toby behind the stumps was kept busy by a regular supply of leg-side wides and took several body blows as the irregular bounce kicked in, though in fairness to the bowlers it was difficult to grip a ball that had been moistened by frequent applications of a disinfecting wipe.
Downe started strongly, but were pegged back when their number three bat - who had looked in ominously good touch - was undone by Jimbo’s first ball of the season. A short ball on leg stump which rose sharply, then flattened, then began to fall again before it was clobbered away flat by the batsman towards the square leg boundary. Clearly Chris Tyldesley has spent his lockdown perusing yoga videos non-stop, and he sprang up to take the catch at full stretch above his head - a very early contender for this season’s Champagne Moment perhaps.
The ground at Downe is adjacent to the former house of Charles Darwin, and the huge trees beyond the boundary opposite the pavilion look like they have been there since the days of the renowned proponent of evolutionary theory. But in all his travels to Cape Horn, the Galapagos and beyond the great man can surely never have seen such a colossal six as the one struck off captain Fitzy’s seam-up just after he began his spell, which cleared the ancient trees and was miraculously retrieved by one of the more adventurous Badgers. Laurence has the last laugh though, recovering to claim two wickets, and despite everyone’s excusable rustiness Downe never quite got away in posting 151 all out. All seven bowlers took a wicket.
In response, Toby rocked back and hammered his and the Badgers’ second ball for six. Sadly this was his only scoring shot, scant reward for forty overs’ toil behind the stumps, but Chris would later repeat the feat. In between them, some attritional batting from Warman and Foord - battling the surface as well as some disciplined bowling - had laid a solid foundation for the innings, and when Chris perished skying a catch to mid on, at 97/3 we looked set to ease to a winning start to 2020.
Naturally, things weren’t that simple. A traditional Badger collapse ensued - a whirlwind of wickets (including a lesser-spotted Cornish duck - judging by the state of his hangover, presumably a fuzzy one) meant that Bam Bam and T Rex came together at eight down needing 22 to win. However, the top order’s hard work had seen the most dangerous Downe bowlers use up their allocations, allowing the tail to bat sensibly and milk the inevitable bad balls.
Having patiently whittled down the target to an eminently gettable 1 to win off the last 48 balls, Robin drove firmly to mid-off, and after a call of “No, no…… YES!” began to sprint down the wicket. A full-length dive from T Rex at the other end was, despite Downe’s protestations, deemed safe by the square leg umpire (that man Cornish again - were his eyes open under those shades, one wonders?) and the Badgers had sneaked a two-wicket win in the Kent twilight.
Badger of the match: Robin Mackrell for a fine opening spell earning two wickets, and some (mostly) calm and collected batting which sealed the win.