Riding the Rollercoaster: The First Team in the 90’s

A New Beginning

The story of De La Salle cricket in this decade actually starts near the end of the previous season. Phil Green had become captain and many of the naïve young players from the early days of the Second Team were now starting to appear ever more regularly in the First Team. In this particular game Mark and Tim Simmerson, Matt, Los, Phil and Martin Green, John Flaherty, Jon Hartley and Tom Wainwright – all who learned cricket with the Seconds – took part.

The date was Saturday August 28th, the opponents, Hathersage, at Beauchief.

Put in on a typically slow Beauchief wicket Hathersage struggled against accurate bowling from Vin Green and Tom Wainwright. De La Salle took early wickets, the first going to Vin as Martin held on to a screaming catch at first slip. This set the standard for our fielding for the rest of the game. Matt then caught Fowler with a full length diving effort at short midwicket and the powerful Hathersage side was reeling. Only Rob Ward showed any resistance and Tom eventually had him taken by Mark with a running catch at deep midwicket. Hathersage were held to 103-9. Dave Hardman and Mark opened with a stand of 83 before Mark was stumped. Matt came in to knock off the runs required, whilst ensuring that Dave reached an unbeaten half century.

This was not the first tie these players had played together for the First Team, but it was the nature of the performance – a totally committed team played for each other, good bowling and good fielding, really good fielding – that marked the game as a significant in De La Salle cricket. Because, fro 1990, the nature of League cricket changed dramatically.

Up to and including the 1990 season the Yorkshire and Derbyshire League consisted of just two divisions. Division 1 basically consisted of First Team, Division 2 was mostly  the Second Teams from the clubs in Division 1. Consequently, there was no chance of promotion or relegation. In effect, the League was stagnant. In reality, it was dying. Then, in 1991, a Third Division was added and immediately the nature of the cricket changed. A team near the bottom of Division 1 – instead of going through the motions towards the end of the season – now faced the very real threat of relegation. This quickly led to much more competitive cricket – each match now eant something more than just a pleasant (Ed – or unpleasant!) day out – and almost inevitably the standard of cricket rose inexorably.

Well – Here We Are Again

“Well, here we are at the start of yet another League season and what’s the score – 8 for 3!”

This was Phil’s comment at the start of the 1990 season. Against University Staff De La Salle started badly, and yet . . . . what was the result? John Flaherty came straight in, straight drove his way to 64 not out and Pete Methley slashed 36 as DLS made 147-9. Once again, this new steel in our game was evident. University Staff were hurried and hassled all the way and the 9th wicket fell with 14 still needed. Vin Green then bowled to their Number 11, who obligingly popped a catch to Mark Simmerson in his accustomed position at very silly mid on. The game was won and De La Salle were set on the road to their most successful thus far (Ed – matched twice since, but not yet bettered).

Youlgreave were the next opponents and were blown away by Jon Hartley who, with no little pace, allied to an unsettling amount of away-swing, took 5-19 in a season totaling over 40 wickets. Further victories against Rowsley and Centralians followed, then De La Salle faced Parkhead. Parkhead were restricted to 158-9. De La Salle batted well but lost wickets steadily and going into the last over, eight were needed, with 7 wickets down. Nick Hopkins took one from the second ball, Jon Hartley hit a 4 from the third, a bye was scrambled from the fourth. Then Nick was caught. One ball remaining and Jon had managed to get on strike. Jon swung – and connected, but only to mid-wicket. Jon and Vin Green set off galloping down the pitch. The fielder took careful aim and threw the ball hard at the base of the stumps. He missed. The bowler failed to gather the ball and a certain run out turned into 2 runs, a famous win and a whole team of hangovers. P’ed dead! as Chris Morton later said.

Close wins over Centralians and Youlgreave and De La Salle were top of the League. The second half of the season couldn’t match the first with disasters against Centralians (48 all out) and Collegiate (losing after scoring 224) meaning the title was beyond reach. In the last game against Parkhead at the Wheatsheaf ground the opposition scored 273 but De La Salle made a tremendous response, taking them to 254-7 with one over left. Tom was on strike. He scored a two, then a single to bring Phil Green to face the last three balls. The next two were struck out of the ground. A six was needed to win. Unfortunately, the ball was right in the block-hole and no run was scored. A draw, but a thrilling finish to the season – and to Phil’s time as captain. Matt Green replaced him.

The Only Thing Worse Than Cricket . .

. . . is life. So says a suicidal cartoon drawn at the front of the 1991 scorebook. The season started early in Majorca, but then De La Salle ran into Steve Sinclair, Aussie bowler of extreme pace. Result – all out for 85. De La Salle were then hammered by Hundall. The next day, against his old Club, James Hartley cracked 145 not out, an innings of power and majesty. This was the pattern or the season, one good performance, followed by another less distinguished. Jon Hartley was badly missed, having left to work in South Africa. Matt Simmerson was, as ever, at his fittest and quickest in the nets. Tom started to bowl more overs, more accurately and with more pace than ever before to compensate.

Another plus point was the increasing maturity and confidence of the De La Salle batting. This was most dramatically seen in the game with Collegiate, where Los Green and John Flaherty put on an opening stand of 146 from 34 overs, John going on to record the first century in the First Division by a De La Salle player.

In the penultimate game of the season De La Salle had held Centralians to 140-8, but now the batting folded. All except for Matt Green. He came in at Number Four, when the score was 25-3. Just under an hour later Tom strode to the crease. The score was now 53-7. These two put on 72 before Tom was out. Jon Hartley joined Matt and took the team to the verge of victory. Then, on 138, Jon was caught. One over left, Matt on strike, Matt Simmerson at the other end. Matt played over the first ball to be bowled for a valiant 66.

Despite the unevenness of the cricket, the League position of fifth was one with which to be pleased in this, the first full season of promotion and relegation.

Carry on , Captain

Matt started his second season as Club captain with a victory at Parkhead. Chasing 206, Los Green glided his way to 62, whilst James Hartley smote 73 on his return from India, the most memorable shot a six, hit home-run style into the field behind the wood at the far end of the Wheatsheaf ground. However, the next three games were lost, Tom’s tight bowling being the only highlight. Against University Staff he took 5-28 from 13 overs and De La Salle started to win again. At Hundall, he was outshone by Matt Green, who at this time bowled his leg breaks relatively infrequently. Figures of 6-21 saw De La Salle bowl out Hundall and gain a fine win. Matt, bowling with great control, good flight and spin now began to assume the role of first choice spinner.

1992 saw the first encounter with SWD and the notorious track at Olive. The first game was not a happy one – few have been – all out for 89. Matt went on holiday and De La Salle returned to winning ways. Against Scarcliffe, Los Green scored a maiden century, an innings full of silky cuts and glances and also his trademark pull, played breathtakingly late through midwicket. The season ended with two losing draws, a form of cricket at which De La Salle seem particularly adept, and defeat by Collegiate. As in the previous season, fifth place was achieved.

Life in the Middle Lane

Once again, the year started with a game against Parkhead, but a very different result, De La Salle clinging on to a losing draw with determination and sheer bloody-mindedness from Tom and Mark. Against Scarcliffe the regular batsmen restored some respectability and the opposition were then hustled out for 56, Martin Anderson playing a key role. Martin played several games for the First Team in 1993 and was – to his and other people’s surprise – very successful. In this game he bowled beautifully to return figures of 4-16, one wicket courtesy of a glorious piece of glove work by Phil Green to stump a batsman who had barely lifted his foot from the ground.

In the meantime, Dronfield Sports provided the opposition against which another De La Salle player made his maiden century. Nick Hopkins cut, drove and pulled his way to 101 not out. It was a display of aggressive and merciless hitting which set Nick on the rood to three very successful seasons of belligerent batting.

Towards the end of June, a tall, willowy youth called Simon Pratt made useful runs to help de La Salle build up a big score from which to attack. With one over remaining, Collegiate were eight wickets down. Tom Green bowling with pace and aggression, removed Bill Doherty with obvious pleasure. With three balls to face, the number 11 prodded tentatively at the first two. Tom wound himself up for one final effort, putting everything into this delivery. It pitched short of a length and climbed horribly towards the throat of the frightened rabbit. He flinched and nicked it. The ball – still rising – flew straight to Phil Green’s head. Phil realized that he was standing a little too close (by about six yards!) and as he swayed out of the way the ball zipped through his gloves to the boundary like an express train. The match was not won outright but it was, as Phil said, one of the quickest deliveries he had ever seen.

The match against University Staff was a great game. De La Salle made 169-9. Staff batted steadily, keeping wickets in hand, scoring at a reasonable rate, somewhat helped by James Hartley who – inexplicably – decided to throw a keeper’s glove at the ball rather than pick it up. This – quite rightly – cost 5 runs. When Tom Green brilliantly caught their Number 7, the game seemed to be going De La Salle’s way. But the fielding became ragged and Staff went into the last over needing 8. They got them with a single from the last ball.

De La Salle finished well, with winning draws over Collegiate, Old Edwardians and SWD at Olive Grove. Paul Lally, drafted in after taking his regulation bucket-loads of wickets for the Seconds, took four wickets here as SWD ended way short with nine men down. The most enjoyable dismissal was certainly the first, as Vin Green bowled to SWD’s Aussie, Cory Pearson (Ed – the use of professionals now fairly standard for SWD, Parkhead and Youlgreave) who had scored a hundred at Beauchief earlier in the year.  Pearson flailed at and missed the first ball, then snicked the second hard and wide to Los at first slip.

Once again, De La Salle finished a solid fifth. It was beginning to appear that the team was happy just to exist in Division One and were not particularly looking to win. Was complacency setting in?

What Time Is It This Week?

Season 1994 started disastrously. How often does this happen? Against Parkhead, De La Salle ran into an old friend – Steve Sinclair. Result, 66 all out (Ed – with Matt Green scoring about 40 of those with an improvised slash-cut). Then, playing SWD we met Paul Lamking (Work’s pro) for the first time. 103 all out. Both games were over before 5 pm. After the SWD match Los Green asked wearily, “What time is it this week?”

Three new bowlers arrived to replace Tom Green. Paul Fifield – very young, but with the ability to swing the ball; Karl Evans – steady and a useful batter; and Steve Glennon, a little older, a lot balder, bowler of fast medium off-cutters and orienteering fanatic – very useful on the broad acres of Beauchief.

A win and a winning draw eased the nerves, before Chesterfield Barbarians – despite Matt Green taking seven wickets, racked up 206. John Flaherty, though, was in magnificent form. To anything pitched up he drove straight with terrible power and glanced the rest. Mark and Nick Hopkins provided support. Phil Green hit the winning boundary, but it was John who took all the plaudits for a match-winning 111 not out. He did the same again when Barbarians visited Beauchief, with Matt’s 71a fine support.

Once more a comfortable mid-table position was ensured going into the last match at Hundall. The home team set about the De La Salle bowling to make 235. De La Salle replied with all guns blazing. In particular, Tony Flatley. His first three scoring shots were 4’s. His next five were 6’s! De La Salle chased the game all the way to the ninth wicket down but fell just short. The game sadly marked the end of Phil Green’s playing career. As a batsman he had few betters and no one could play the on drive- the hardest shot in cricket – with more authority. Behind the stumps he was simply the best in the League. He was certainly the best your correspondent ever bowled to, even if he occasionally forgot to knock the bails off when stumping someone!

Looking Over the Edge

1995 started badly, far more badly than any of the preceding bad starts. Heavy defeat by Hundall was followed by two losing draws, a winning draw and defeats by Youlgreave – by a mile – and Parkead II. This was a horrible finish, with fourteen scored from the last over, the winning shot a misfield on the boundary.

Some respite came with an easy victory over Collegiate. Matt Green and Alan George – guesting from the Seconds, where he seemed to have scored thousands of runs – both reached unbeaten fifties. But further defeats followed and De La Salle were bottom of the League.

The first trip to Eymet restored some sense of fighting spirit (Ed – the team were victorious and for some of those who had started their De La Salle career way back in the Seconds in the early 80’s it was some vindication of a long journey to return with some silverware and LOTS of wine). The team returned to Parkhead and the mercurial Murray Rayner, an Australian pro who had already notched up 3 double centuries. De La Salle’s batting as salvaged by a fine knock from Hugh Finnigan and a blistering 51 from Tom off just thirty eight balls. The question was, would 225 be enough? Rayner certainly looked in good form, but facing Steve Glennon he swung loosely, driving straight to Tom, where Tom – unusually awake – held on. De La Salle applied the pressure and squeezed a winning draw.

Next up, University Staff came to Beauchief and scored 216 on a perfect pitch, lovingly prepared by Phil Green as a final testament as he finished ten years as groundsman and guru. In reply, John Flaherty and Matt Green put on a century in twenty overs, but the wickets fell. In the end, Mark Simmerson was faced with scoring 30 in 6 overs. He hit his second ball over the bowler’s head for a boundary, then hooked two more 4’s and cut the spinner for four more. Hugh Finnigan executed the coup de grace, needing just one ball of the final over.

August Bank Holiday weekend and De La Salle had three games. One win and two good performances would be enough. In the first, against Parkhead II, Los Green 68 in a massive 275. Due to rain, there was a rush to fit all the overs in and – as Parkhead dawdled in reply – we were left with the absurdity of the light being offered to the batsmen as the wild pace of Los Green was about the be unleashed. Across the city, a similar games lasted another hour. The decision still rankles.

On the Sunday, batting points were achieved but the game was lost. University Staff were next up and made 165 – the obdurate Grimes helping them to recover from 60-6. Someone just had to play a big innings. James Hartley did just that. His first ball was lifted back over the bowler’s head for four and he simply carried on hitting. Los Green made 26 to take his side to the brink of victory, which was duly achieved with overs and wickets to spare.

Now just 10 points were needed from the last two games. De La Salle managed it in bonus point against Dronfield Woodhouse and, rather predictably, the last game against SWD was antic-climactic.

De La Salle had survived – just. The end of the season form was encouraging. Could this be continued into the next season?

Here We Go Again

Matt Green, after the tribulations of the previous season, stood down. Nick Hopkins replaced him. Nick had completed two successful years as Second team skipper that had seen the development of Adrian Brook as key run scorer and solid Club man, the return of Pete Wright (temporarily of course) the prolific runs of Alan George and wickets of Paul Lally and the ever-present consistency of Martin Green, Pete Pratt and John Dixon.

The games themselves started with a traditional pasting, then a commendable draw against SWD. At Great Longstone, Nick led from the front, assisted by doughty support from Mark, scoring a fine 56 not out. Mark was stubborn again to help the side to an excellent victory against Hundall. Things were looking up. We should have known better. The next three games ended in losing draws, followed by two defeats.

Team morale sank with the league position. The game against Centralians changed that. James Hartley went into destruct mode to smite 109. Simon Pratt made 57 (the first of such score to earn him the nickname Heinz) and the match was won with ease.

However, this was the last victory of the season, despite consistent batting from Simon Pratt. This year, there was no great resurgence, just a good winning draw against the odds versus Youlgreave, Matt bowling well and Nick’s belligerence against SWD. Nick resumed a personal battle with Paul Lamkin – and won it emphatically, smiting 52, including four 4’s in one over from Mr Lamkin (Ed – the sequence went, as I recall: 4, dot, 4, 4, bouncer to the helmet, 4!).

A draw against Collegiate ensured survival, but clearly bumping along the bottom of the table was not acceptable. To make matters worse, the Seconds were relegated to Division four.

A Fresh Start

By common consent, the players wanted one man to lead the team in 1997: Simon Pratt. For once, the year started positively. Longstone were brushed aside with Steve Glennon taking 5 wickets and Youlgreave were beaten too, this time Mark buying beer. The best was still to come. A full strength SWD were routed for 79. De La Salle were top of the League.

Defeat by Youlgreave – after scoring 234-5 – brought the team back to earth, but the next week saw the perfect riposte. Sent in by Parkhead, James Hartley dominated an opening stand of 124 with Los Green and another of 103 with Simon. James scored an almighty 165, with sixteen 4’s and thirteen 6’s. This was the highest individual score by a De La Salle player and helped the team to 290-9. Parkhead held out for a draw, but De La Salle were still near the top of the table.

The season’s watershed came – as it always seemed to – with a game against Edwardians. Late order hitting let Edwardians off the hook and a promising 122 – 1 (built on solid work from Simon and Hugh Finnigan) was followed by a collapse. Simon was run out needlessly and things fell apart.

Then came the rains, with no league cricket played for a fortnight. Parkhead II were rolled over easily, with another five wickets for Steve Glennon, but losing draws and defeats followed. A win at Baslow promised a revival, but it was illusory. Having caned Parkhead II for 236- De La Salle watched as Tony Brown hammered 130 not out for a comfortable win, despite a lovely spell of bowling from Vin Green (5-24).

The final game was hastily re-arranged to avoid the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. There was a distinct end of season feeling about the proceedings leading up to the game and the team that turned out was heavily depleted. That said, De La Salle won and finished – as you might guess – fifth.