With the league starting to take shape, even at this early stage in the season, and the front runners laying down markers for everybody else, this titanic tussle between two towers of the Surrey cricketing landscape took on added importance.

The threat of a day watching it rain seemed to disappear upon early arrival at New Road, with grey but unthreatening skies greeting both teams. Luckily, there were bacon sandwiches and coffee available, for those who had played their first rain card of the season in error! The perfect rain card is a little like cutting an off spinner. You know you shouldn’t be playing it, as you rock onto the back foot, and you are praying to the gods that it doesn’t turn and make you look very stupid….. But if the middle of the bat is found, and it whistles to the boundary, there are few nicer feelings in cricket!!!

With the threat of rain a constant presence, Captain Edwards made the sensible decision to let Chessington have first use of what looked another decent track at New Road. Thorns declared his intent very early, hitting the 2nd ball of the innings for 4, and quickly latching onto anything short from Esher’s former Pakistan test cricketer Ata-Ur Rehman. Azar Nawaz was a slightly different prospect at the other end, with the reduction in pace available making scoring harder from his end.  Esher were struggling to contain the opening pair who, with good use of the crease, and selectively hitting in their strong areas, were starting to look settled coming to the end of the powerplay overs.
With Chessington threatening to run riot, Esher turned to silent assassin Shoaib Khan to try to break the stubborn opening partnership that was threatening to set Chessington up for a large score. Bowling 7 tight overs for only 17 runs, and the wicket of Thorns who, after a promising start ran past one and was stumped by the again impressive Alex Martin for 39, Khan dragged the scoring rate down to bring Esher back into the game.

Matthew Alldis joined the well set Qazi in the middle and proceeded to build a substantial partnership, helped by some indifferent bowling and catching from Esher. When Qazi slapped a full toss, from the returning Josh Armstrong, straight to the skipper Edwards for a well made 64, the odds were on Chessington being able to kick on in the closing overs and post a very competitive score.

The partnership of 90 between Qazi and Alldis had laid the perfect platform for Chessington, but what they were not counting on was the return of ex Pakistan test cricketer Ata-Ur Rehman. Rehman showed all his experience at the death, with his mix of Yorkers and back of a length, to make scoring extremely difficult in the final 10 overs. Alldis reached 66 without having looked in any trouble, but when trying to accelerate against Rehman, could only pick out Hopkinson on the deep square boundary. He followed that by picking up Lyons and Givvens in quick succession. Both of whom had a distinctive aussie twang to the accent when asking for guard, making their removal all the more important.

With Alex Martin missing very little, standing up to ex Pakistani test cricketer Rehman, Willis was next to fall, edging behind without troubling the scorers. Lawrence and Singleton hustled some runs in the dying overs, Singleton crushing one particular ball so far it needed to be couriered back to New Road, but finishing on 229-7 while a very competitive score, would have been short of where Chessington wanted to be after the start they made. Credit must go to Rehman, who finished with figures of 4-36 from his 10 and proved a real handful in the final 10 overs. Khan (1-17) and Mason (0-43) also bowled well after the powerplay, to reduce the run rate, but at times Esher’s fielding left a lot to be desired with half a dozen catches going down.

Captain Edwards resumed his opening partnership with Hopkinson, following Hopkinson’s return from his sabbatical ooop north last weekend, and again Hopkinson used all his experience to ensure he was at the correct end for the first 6 overs. Being fed his favourite cut shot, Hopkinson raced to 24 while Captain Edwards had the job of trying to see off the impressive Qazi from the other end, using swing and the Esher ridge to great effect, to make scoring off him virtually impossible.

Then, the turning point! Like a twist in an average Hollywood B-movie that you can see coming from the opening credits, it started to spit with rain. Not enough to force the umpires to have a chat, but just enough to dampen the outfield, neutralise the early swing, and upset Hopkinson who had to change bats due to the fact that he didn’t want to damage the first new bat he had purchased in 5 years.

An impressive opening spell from Qazi resulted in him removing Captain Edwards, who was adjudged LBW for 3, and finished a fine opening spell with figures of 1-17 from 8 overs, including 5 maidens.  And when Chessington Skipper Daniel Yarnley cleaned up Martin with the first ball of his spell, Esher had again got the shovels out at 47-2. Khan wandered to the wicket and almost immediately took the initiative, finding the middle of the bat with ease, while at the other end; Hopkinson’s fluidity had deserted him and fell to the arm ball of Singleton, bowled through the gate for Esher’s new lucky number 49.

Esher sent out all-rounder Tom Maclean to try to up the scoring rate. The left hander providing some thought for the opposition with his slog sweep, before trying it once too often and skying a catch to the wicket keeper for a quick fire 14. Minor celebrity John Mason joined Khan at the wicket and then, what seemed like the turning point for many, calling himself through for a quick single, Khan was brilliantly run out by a direct hit from Givvens in the covers for 55. Esher’s very own Elton John tribute act Jamie McCormack joined Mason, in need of some minutes in the middle but unlikely to find any time to play himself in due to the rising run rate and pressurised final overs.

Mason & McCormack batted impressively though, challenging the fielders with good running, and capitalising on any poor ball to register boundaries. When McCormack was caught on the boundary for 23, Esher still needed a run a ball 22 to win, and then in true Esher style reached for the shovel again, losing Rehman and Armstrong in quick succession. All John Masons hard work was in danger of being an Esher 2nd XI cricketers tea (fruitless….), with 4 required off the last over. A single and a scampered 2 left the scores tied before Yarnley produced a peach to bowl Steven, leaving Esher needing a single run, from 3 balls, with only 1 wicket remaining. Fortunately Azhar Nawaz showed little nerve to block his first ball, then a swipe to the leg side, and a difficult chance spilled at short mid wicket let Esher steal the winning run and scrape over the line.

A fantastic game of cricket with Qazi’s efforts with bat and ball only just overshadowed by an inspired 56 not out from John Mason to win the game for Esher. Next up for Esher, a Hatton Garden esk raid on the Bank of England.
Author :  Mark Hopkinson