Hastings Priory cricket: playing for the team
Among many intriguing aspects of the game of cricket is the relationship between individual players and the team they are playing for. In sports like football, rugby or even, say, tennis doubles a team is often only as strong as its weakest link. An incompetent defender in an otherwise robust back-line can be exposed and taken advantage of; a weaker doubles partner may find opponents concentrating their shots in his (or her) direction.
On the other hand at all levels of cricket, from minor club to Test side, a team of quite disparate talents may thrive. Only a few batsmen need to score heavily for a good total to be posted; one or two bowlers can dominate an entire batting line-up. And yet a good team ethic can also be vital, creating belief that if star batsmen fall cheaply or generally successful bowlers have an off-day there are lesser lights who can shine in their place. And a side in the field who are sharp and focussed, minimising runs scored against them and holding their catches, may also make a quite ordinary bowling attack much more potent.
There is no doubting the fine team spirit which coach Ian Gillespie, his captain son Tom and others under them have instilled in the Hastings Priory cricket side this summer. On the batting side young Sussex 2nd team hopeful Elliott Hooper and visiting Australian student teacher Josh Hahnei have scored most runs, but no less than 11 other players have hit an individual score of 30 or more in a league match. On the bowling side young Jed O’Brien, not yet 21, has enjoyed a phenomenally successful season with 54 wickets in all, and five or more wickets in seven matches out of 18 (two more such performances than any other bowler in the league), with able spin support from Elliott. But when strike bowler Adam Barton broke down with a stress fracture in his back and was unable to play any further part in the campaign after early July, Finn Hulbert, Bradley Payne and John Morgan all made valuable contributions with the ball to mitigate the loss.
Jed tells me that what has pleased him most is the way in which Priory have not merely survived in the Premier League in their first season back after promotion a year ago but shown they can be a force in it with a home grown team that is not bolstered by expensive foreign imports. “We haven’t bought our place”, he says. He no doubt has in mind, among others, Cuckfield’s Jordan Silk who, when not peppering boundary fences in Sussex, bats for Tasmania in the Australian Sheffield Shield and has toured England with Australia A; also Sam Roberts, another Australian who played grade cricket in Sydney for 17 years and signed this summer to coach and play at Bexhill: at the age 42 he is still a dominant force at Sussex Premier level with both bat and ball.
As indeeed he showed in the final match of Hastings Priory’s season, played at Horntye on 2 September. Bexhill, third in the table to Priory’s fifth and victors in each of the last five meetings between them, scored a daunting 263 for nine, including a top score of 99 from Sam. Priory lost two wickets in the first couple of overs in reply and, despite a pugnacious 68 from Tom Gillespie and bright knocks by Harry Scowen (36) and Bradley Payne (34), were always behind the required rate to win. When Harry departed as seventh man out with 67 runs still needed and only some seven overs left, it was surely time to batten down the hatches and play out a draw.
Enter Jed, Priory’s matchwinner with the ball so often this summer but not entirely reliable batsman. “Don’t get out!” was the quite audible instruction call to him from coach Ian Gillespie as he marched out to the middle. The bowler facing him? Sam Roberts. His big score earlier in the afternoon had come after being dropped early on off Jed’s bowling but then taking dominant control over the Priory attack. Now the roles were reversed – save that Jed’s task on behalf of his team was to resist rather than to retaliate.
And did he? Did he heck. First ball he played an outrageous reverse sweep, arcing the ball in the air to the boundary just over the fielder at cover point. He then came down the other end and flicked two more 4s to fine leg and third man respectively. In seven balls he had scored 16 runs. Then anti-climax: Sam smacked the young man’s stumps as he went for another extravagant shot. But no harm done to Priory’s cause: Finn Hulbert and Joe Lamb batted out time without alarm, and a fine match ended drawn with honours even.
So was Jed playing for the team or for himself? Perhaps he had weighed the odds carefully and decided he could still afford to go for an improbable win, in the confidence that his team-mates would have sufficient competence to bat out a draw if he didn’t succeed – as in fact proved the case. But maybe he also wanted to show that he and his team-mates weren’t going to be overawed either by the occasion or by a Bexhillian brought (and bought) from Australia.
Interestingly Jed will be heading for Australia himself next month with a view to improving his cricketing skills over the winter months. He has offers of accommodation and employment – his home trade is as a plumber – to justify a six-month working visa, and hopes to get some experience in sub-district cricket (roughly equivalent standard to Sussex Premier) while he is there. But he will back in the spring for the 2017 campaign with Hastings Priory.