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“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – The Old Man & The Sea, Ernest Hemingway

The theme of Windsor’s premiere 2nd xi up to the premiere fixture of this truncated league season has been one of pugilistic moxie. Whether it has been against the opposition, between ourselves or in grafting out hard the fought results that have left us one win behind the league leaders, the 2s have, for all their shortcomings, been rich in character. 

The penultimate fixture of the 2020 season saw Windsor take on mid table Reading at Home Park, as we pursued a top 2 finish. The day was more unusual than the ordinary, as skipper Jag had organised for a film crew to be present, where his team would be acquiescent subjects in a documentary pilot. Our side was slightly rejigged from the week before; missing recent heroes Alex Hill and Alex Haynes, as well as team morale officer Ben Svenson. Replacing them were the returning Omar Mubarak (fresh from his spartan family holiday to the Lake District), Vinay Vasita, who was promoted for his golden duck the weekend prior, and Kashif Malik, making his league debut with his first free Saturday all summer. It was notable that Windsor’s seam attack consisted of four under 18s and Dean Bean, which bodes very well for the club’s future.

Windsor lost the toss, and were put into the field. The opposing skipper asked Jag if he would have also chosen to bat, a notion Jag conceded he had not considered as he and his braintrust, Chorley & Noble (taking the day off their side venture of Chuckles & Nobsey; juvenile entertainers) saw a damp deck that would only dry out as the day went on. Thus a lost toss that was a moral victory. 

Dean Bean and Zach Roberts took the new ball, Bean surprising everyone by opting not to bowl from the castle end and into the wind. I really don’t know how to explain what happened next. But imagine the best case scenario.

Bean and Roberts tore through the opposition, aided by a pair of catches by Vinay and Nobsey, leaving Reading 14-6. Through the first 9 overs. It was quite bizarre, with skipper Jag lamenting to himself that he had been right all season long; bowling straight takes wickets. It was the first time Bean had found his range all summer and showed how devastating his Left arm swing could be. At this point, Chuckles provided his weekly jinx by challenging the side to knock over the opposition for less than 30 in order to break some unfortunate record for lowest batting total. Reading rallied briefly but faltered again to 42-7 then 55-8. Roberts was pulled from the attack after a slightly expensive over, and like any good fast bowler, showed his in-game persona, wandering over to skipper Jag and stating “[why’d you take me off] you should have let me kill him”. Bean finished his 8 overs for 6-20, aided by a very very good catch by Tom Brooker, who turned from boy to man to salmon, leaping high, full stretch and mid-on, taking a splendid catch over his shoulder for the 8th wicket.

Reading were seemingly destroyed at this point. Both skippers, silently and independently mused whether a friendly t20 should take place after the game. However, they were not defeated. Their 9th wicket partnership counter punched, with some strong play and some controlled aggression. Bean, buoyed by his bowling performance, had become a nuisance in the field, and the tension started to grow. Tom Brooker, Omar and George Smith toiled away – fighting to contain the run rate but nothing to show. Reading clawed their way to 97 when George made his breakthrough, aided in large part by a very good catch by Vinay, who swiftly shook his code name of cymbals with his second catch. Brooker managed to clean up the innings when Reading’s #10 skied one, so high that eventual catcher Jag had time to look at 3 of his team mates in hope he could delegate the catch to them. 104 all out after 25 overs was a more than valiant resistance from the depths in which Reading recovered. Full credit to them.

With the result seemingly a foregone conclusion, Bhabra tasked two young bowlers, Roberts and Mubarak to start the umpiring as Bean was unavailable, facetiming anyone and everyone ro tell them about his 6fer.

Noble and Hale got started and knocked off a quarter of the target in good time. Noble, who carried his bat last week as did Hale in week one had hoped to complete the task together. Sadly, Hale fell victim to Reading’s #10 for 10 and Noble followed soon after for 15 to the same bowler, victim of a very good ball, so he says. 25-2.

No worries, Chuckles entered the fray with new man Kashif. One thing I’ve learned from sticking two young bowlers into umpire is that they umpire like bowlers. In the sense, if it hits the pad they have an inclination to pull the trigger out of some skewed loyalty to the bowlers union. Thusly, in a matter of overs, Kashif, Vinay and then Chuckles were all triggered by Zach and Omar for the grand total of 2 runs. Bugger.

At 27-5, this meant, Jag and George strode to the crease with a job to do and a lot less confidence than first anticipated. The pair were joined by new umpires Hale and Noble, steady but fair hands.

The batting pair had planned to steady the ship and talked about taking time to get settled. However, George, who suffers from a case of Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde, unwittingly bludgeons as many deliveries as he can, only to claim “I don’t know what happened, I blacked out” in between deliveries. The pair worked their way to 68 before George, on 25, skied one, caught by Reading’s #10, who had already taken 3 wickets and proved to be very key to the opposition up to that moment. Omar followed George and batted well. A steady bat, with patience that belies his age, Omar added another 12 before exposing his leg stump to Reading’s other co-conspirator of a resistful batsman, now bowling. 83-7.

Brooker was the next man to the crease, batting at the high spot of 9 for him. Unfortunately the altitude proved fatal as he was bowled within the same over as Omar and frustratingly had to retreat to the pavilion without making a score. 83-8.

This week, Windsor’s weaker tail would be tested. Zach Roberts wandered to the square looking slightly catatonic. Bhabra, who was still in, watched the carnage unfold from his haunches. He went to greet Zach to reassure him it would all be ok, assuming the nerves of winning a surprisingly tight game would be a formality.

“Mr. Chorley just shouted at me for giving him out”. Zach muttered.

Turned out, young master Roberts was nonplussed about the game having been berated on the boundary by Chuckles for triggering him earlier in the innings. Apparently the whole thing was caught on camera by the documentarians so that’ll be fun to watch.

Anyway, Jag, as any iconic leader would do, backed his teammate and encouraged him to focus on the task at hand. Immortality could await.

Bhabra who had been struggling for form all year, bar a couple of knocks, was very aware he could be responsible for one of Windsor’s titanic losses, and the fact he would be in control of either winning or losing as he was at the crease was not lost on him. Backed up by his affable if not volatile bowler, he was resolute they had to get the job done. Yes, there was a wicket in hand, but the thought of having to complete the job with Dean Bean filled him with dread as Dean had been far from his favourite person that day, in spite of a stellar bowling display.

The pair slowly chipped away, Jag doing the scoring, Zach doing the blocking and leaving. There was one incident, score on 99, second ball of one over, Jag nudged one to short 3rd man, which should have been a declined single, Zach opted for the run. It was too late to send him back, a BBQ beckoned had he been rebuffed, somehow crisis averted. Zach blocked like a pro and held out the over while Jag perspired between each delivery. Should Windsor get the score, Zach would dub himself “Zach Leach”. 

Mercifully, after plenty of swings and misses, Jag got a hefty edge to 3rd man to close the game off and drag Windsor over the line through more force of will opposed to any skill. Zach had redeemed his sunny disposition and stayed well clear of chuckles while the team exhaled a sigh of relief.

I look forward to seeing how the documentary comes out, I am sure it’ll be amusing.

We finish the 2020 season at Home vs Royal Ascot, keen to lock up a top 3 finish and celebrate a season where we have found ourselves, numerous times, in some way destroyed but never defeated.

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