Season Review – Sunday XI
I had for some time accepted that the 2018 season would be my last in charge of the Sunday XI, after five years at the helm I felt like I was ready for a rest. We had as a club decided to remain in the league to give the side exposure to good standards of Cricket against the so called bigger clubs. Again I was confident that the team could challenge for honours and looked forward to my final season in charge with much anticipation.
When I took over in 2013 I had a clear vision for what I wanted to do with the Sunday side, bring on the clubs youth and mix it with the experience and talent of the adult members whilst maintaining a good spirit within the side. I can say with certainty that as a team we certainly maintained a superb spirit and the team is left in a much stronger state than when I started.
Our season began in early April with a friendly against Old Georgians, a solid performance saw Croft post 181 with 47 from James Downing and 36 from Jonty Heslop before bowling Old Georgians out for 99 with 3 wickets each for James Downing and Max Jukes.
Our league campaign was to begin away at Astwood Bank with only 8 players available I was indebted to Martyn Cound and Pete Jukes for stepping in to play at the last minute. A chastening afternoon in the field saw Astwood Bank post 272 for the loss of only two wickets. In reply Croft managed to post 191 with 50 from Jonty Heslop and 47 from Chris Pitt.
Croft returned home next to face Barnards Green, a fine 90 from Jonty Heslop and 51 from Chris Pitt saw Croft post 234 for 9. In reply Barnards Green threatened to reach their target but a superb spell of fast bowling from Dan Elliott (7 overs 3 for 19) and two wickets each for Josh Cound and Ed Pugh saw Barnards Green bowled out for 194.
Croft faced Droitwich next away from home, an excellent spell from Max Jukes with the new ball and consistent tight bowling from the rest of the side saw Droitwich post 196 for 3 off 40 overs. In reply Dan Elliott made 79 and 20’s from Chris Pitt, Ben Warwick, Josh Cound and Jon Bird saw us home with four balls to spare.
We then moved on to an away fixture at local rivals Bromsgrove. Again Crofts opening bowlers set the tone and two wickets each for Max Jukes and Josh Cound coupled with two wickets from Ed Pugh in the middle overs saw Croft restrict Bromsgrove to 133 for 7 off 40 overs. In reply Dan Elliott (66) and Chris Pitt (40) shared a 100 run partnership to get Croft home only 4 down.
With games against Coseley and Old Elizabethans being conceded by those sides Croft found themselves sitting pretty at the top of the league. Again as in previous seasons Croft found themselves mixing it with the bigger sides and a strong run to the finish could see them make finals day.
As in every other season we arrived for our next fixture at Ombersley to find a side littered with county youth players, and one former county professional… Ombersley batted first and they posted 273 for 7, Dan managed a top spell of 8 overs 3 for 41 but overall our bowlers found it difficult to break through and our fielding was sloppy. In response Dan Elliott and Jonty Heslop got off to a flying start putting on 66 for the first wicket. When Jonty fell for 33 Dan and Chris Pitt saw off a raft of leg spinners and accurate pace bowling to put on 132 for the second wicket. With Croft looking in the game Ombersley turned to Sam Vesty who had earlier bludgeoned 50 in no time before retiring, he bowled 4 overs for 11 runs to knock the heart out of the chase. When Chris fell for 41 late on Dan was able to get through to his 100, finishing unbeaten on 103. Croft eventually closed on 213.
We moved onto another away fixture against Astwood Bank, again historically a strong side for us to face. Bank batted first and Croft were able to restrict them to 188 for 9, Mark Wood with 3 wickets and Dan Elliott with 2. If we were to hold any hope of mixing it with the rest for finals day we needed to knock these off. Unfortunately in spite of a second wicket partnership of 74 between Dan (43) and Chris Pitt (22) Croft collapsed to 154 all out, chance missed.
Croft then travelled to Barnards Green for their third successive away league fixture. Croft batted first and posted 221 for 9 from 40 overs. Jonty Heslop smashed 51 off 9 overs in some of the most explosive hitting I’ve seen. Dan Elliott made 49, Josh Cound 45 and Andy Wise a popular 32. In reply Croft bowled Barnards out for 119 with the family Cound stealing the show, bowling 16 overs between them, taking 3 wickets each, and Liam Kehoe 2.
Croft returned home to face Droitwich, they batted first and posted 211 all out, 2 wickets each for Max Jukes, Mark Wood and Chris Pitt. In reply again Croft started well with a second wicket partnership of 119 between Dan Elliott and Chris Pitt, however once Chris fell for 33 Croft collapsed and fell to 165 all out. Dan finishing on 81.
Croft were due to face Harvington however the game was to be abandoned.
Croft then hosted Bromsgrove, looking to avenge their defeat at home they arrived strong and after I lost the toss yet again they subjected Croft to an afternoon to forget in the field. Their top three all scored 50’s and despite our best efforts amassed a huge 297 for 6. Croft conceding a staggering 41 extras. Dan Elliott and Ben Bryant taking 2 wickets each. In reply Croft were dismissed for 187, Dan continuing his form with 90.
Old Elizabethans again conceded the next fixture making it two for the season.
A familiar looking Ombersley side then arrived to face a depleted Croft side, again Ombersley batted first and posted 259 for 7. 2 wickets for Mark Wood. In reply Croft got off to a solid start with Chris Pitt and Ben Warwick putting on 107 or the first wicket. However once Chris (72) and Ben (51) fell Croft collapsed to 173 all out.
The second fixture against Harvington was again abandoned and therefore we approached the annual end of season fixture against Poppyfields. Croft batted first and posted 245 for 8 off 40 overs. Dan Elliott making 65 and Charlie Ness a well composed 43, showing what he can do with the bat when he applies himself. In reply Poppyfields were bowled out for 201, Luke Warren with 2 wickets and in a sign of things to come Matthew Athey with one, clean bowled… like father like son. In what was my final fixture as captain I was convinced to turn my arm, 2 wickets later it was somewhat fitting that the final wicket of the season would be a direct hit run out by me to win the game.
A good end to another enjoyable season. Again after a strong start to the season Croft were again left the rue what might have been. Had I been able to win the toss more than once during the hottest summer I can remember things may have turned out differently. Croft were to finish the season tied for third place on 48 points. A good return for an ever evolving and maturing side.
Dan Elliott would finish the season with 572 runs at an average of 72 and Chris Pitt 368 at an average of 34. Jonty Heslop impressed at the top of the order with 219 runs at an average of 31. Dan would also finish leading wicket taker with 15, followed by Max Jukes on 11.
At the end of season awards Dan Elliott picked up the batsmen and player of the season award. Max Jukes picked up bowler of the season. There were other notable awards for bowling partnership of the season, Martin and Josh Cound at Barnards Green, a combined 16 overs, 6 for 62. Batting partnership of the season for Dan Elliott and Chris Pitt 132 at Ombersley. Popular performance award for Andy Wise, his 32 at Barnards Green and 12 at Droitwich included some swashbuckling sixes helped Croft over the line late in the game. Individual performance award for Jonty Heslop, his 90 and 51 in two games against Barnards Green. Ollie Brookes picked up the effort of the season award, a man who turns up week in week out and gives 100 percent, will do any job asked of him and never complains. A true example of a clubman cricketer.
In the last five years I have seen the likes of Jonty Heslop, Max Jukes, Liam Kehoe, Cam Wilkes, Dan Wood, Charlie Ness and Luke Warren, all of whom started in their early teens, become established members of the side and go on to play for both Saturday sides regularly. This coupled with the continuing development of established regular adult Sunday players like Dan Elliott, Ben Warwick, Will Sach, Al Brunt, Josh Cound, Ed Pugh, Ollie Brookes and Andy Wise leaves the club and the Sunday side in a strong position.
I have many fond memories of my time as captain, notable victories home and away against Bromsgrove, especially including our first victory over Bromsgrove when the late, great Steve Evans protected 11 from the final over of the game to win, bowling Astwood Bank out for 75, on a personal note opening up and scoring an unbeaten 100 in chasing down 242 against the same side and being unbeaten against Barnards Green in any fixture home and away. I have enjoyed seeing the opening partnership between Jonty Heslop and Dan Elliott flourish and see Dan go on to be a success opening the batting for the first eleven. I am encouraged by the progress Max Jukes has made with the new ball and when on song he is unplayable, he must continue to play and grow.
Most of all however I am proud of the positive atmosphere that existed in the side throughout my tenure.
I’d like to think all that played enjoyed themselves and were able to take what they needed from the game to both improve and return the following week. The positive atmosphere that exists is vital in keeping and developing the clubs players and long may it continue.
I am of course also thankful to all those from the club who helped out when I was short of players, the old guard of Mark Wood and Whitehead, Pete Jukes, Andy Wilkes, Martin Cound, Mark Taylor, Steve Evans to name just a few. Their efforts were much appreciated.
And so to close, my thanks to the Avoncroft committee for allowing me the opportunity to captain the side, thanks to my wife for supporting me and preparing such good teas for five years running and thank you to all those who took part during my time in charge. I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did.
Christopher Pitt, February 2019