Sixteen years ago this month, I was privileged to play in a truly enthralling game of cricket. The venue was Widnes CC in Cheshire; the fixture was the quarter final of the Abbot Ale National Club Knockout, just two wins from a Lord’s final and the home side was reportedly unbeaten in their last sixty games...
I was one of two slow left-arm bowlers in the Gateshead Fell side; the other was the veteran, but evergreen David Young. My customary fielding position was third man and the very first ball of the game bowled by Doug Hudson found the edge and flew across the turf, fortunately into and not through my hands... a major relief!
I was called on to bowl quite early in the Widnes innings and despite being extremely nervous, I bowled probably as well as I could. I had two spells in all, a total of eight overs for 36 runs... sadly no wickets though. On the face of it, the figures don’t look particularly impressive, but Widnes rattled up 277-5 in their 45 overs – so I was pretty pleased with my efforts and I didn’t give away any runs in the field either... a very rare occurrence indeed!
Our batsmen were very confident, despite facing such a huge total and we made steady progress, despite losing wickets at crucial moments (the future Gloucester opener Nick Trainor made 58 and Durham 2nd XI batsman Graeme Weeks top-scored with 84). With five overs remaining, we needed 62 to win with five wickets in hand; still in the game, but very much second favourites. Our keeper Paul Smith blasted a quick 24 but was needlessly run out and Neil Wake took us to within touching distance of victory before offering a return catch to the bowler.
24 off two overs became 10 off one and, in the gathering gloom, several hundred spectators watched the drama unfold. There was a fair bit of gamesmanship from the home side, but we picked up singles and twos here and there so that with one ball remaining, the scores were level.
We had lost more wickets than Widnes so still needed to pass their total to progress and I must admit I was almost too nervous to watch that final delivery. On strike was our skipper Phil Dicks; not someone I would say I was particularly friendly with, but a fine player in his time. The bowler began his run up... stopped... then started again... only to stop halfway to the wicket.
There were jeers from the travelling supporters, but Dicks wasn’t fazed. The last delivery was eventually bowled; I saw his bat swing at the ball, but didn’t see if he’d connected. However, the dull thud of ball on boundary wall confirmed we’d only gone and bloody won... Gateshead Fell players, officials and supporters swarmed onto the field to celebrate.
It was a tremendous game, an amazing performance and a stunning upset. For me, despite not taking a wicket, it was the absolute highlight of my career as an amateur cricketer.
Sadly the story doesn’t have a happy ending; we lost the semi-final to the eventual competition winners Chorley, but it was a great adventure and, even after all these years, the memories of that fantastic day at Widnes have never faded...
All my own work... almost.