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June 20, 2006

Surprise Guest Not Enough as Chigwell Roll Over the Newman International XI (18/6/2006)

I was at Lords on 1st August 2003 when Nasser Hussain came down the steps to bat for the first time since relinquishing the captaincy of the England Cricket team. I will always remember the prolonged and deeply heartfelt ovation he received from the crowd; recognition for all that he had done to help turn the national team around. It was he, along with Duncan Fletcher, that set us on the path to Ashes glory.

Nasser played his final innings in first class cricket against New Zealand at Lords in May 2004, scoring a match winning century, and also hitting the boundary which took England over the winning line. Since that day he has become an incisive member of the Sky cricket commentary team, and has shown no inclination whatsoever to play any form of cricket.

It says a lot then for the friendship he shares with Paul Newman that he was persuaded to become Newers' surprise package in the Newman International line-up, taking on the might of Chigwell CC on 18th June 2006, a full two years since his retirement. It is reported that he said "Paul over the years I must owe you 100 favours... this repays 87 of them!".
As for the game... well, first priority was to win the toss, both teams eager to bat first on a warm summer's afternoon. Paul called tails and we both chased the coin as it landed on its edge and careered off towards point. It was tails, dammit!

Those Chigwellians who needed to slunk off to the changing room to remove shorts and pull on whites, mumbling about the substandard tossing skills of their skipper. Five minutes later we were in position and ready to start the game. Except we didn't have a ball. I fetched one from the dressing room and the game began. Dom fired one down the leg side of a left-hander and a bye was called, much to my consternation as wicket-keeper - it felt like a wide to me! Another delay - no scorebook! I raced off again and fetched it from the dressing room. At last everything was in place... except Joe Rudkin who had not realised it was an early start and would eventually turn up about 2 hours into the innings, and immediately replace me as keeper.

Dom found his line and before long had the classy-looking left-hander in trouble. Late swing at pace is never easy to play and after surviving a confident shout for LBW Gordin was bowled next ball by a very similar in-swinging delivery. Dom went on to claim the wicket of the other opening batsman and finished with 2 wickets for 10 runs from 7 overs. We may not be seeing a lot of Dom, now that the Norfolk Nosherie is up and running. He has been such a valued member of the side and such a top bloke we will miss him terribly. He knows he is welcome to a game anytime. I'd have liked to have kept him on a little longer - maybe to go for a "five-fer", but in the Chigwell spirit I had to spread things around as best I could. Rob was having very little luck at the other end. He did claim one wicket, a mis-timed pull arcing gently to Brad at square leg, cuing Brad's customary dramatic high celebratory throw into the air. Gary Field, number 4 for the International XI, rode his luck and made the most of several extra lives offered to him by fielders dropping catches and the stand-in wicket-keeper missing an easy stumping. Gary passed 50 in his first knock for 2 years, but departed soon after for 54, victim of that classic partnership-breaker Brad, who bowled well once he had found his line. The dismissal was all the more enjoyable for Brad's full throttle appeal for LBW to a startled umpire who pointed out that the batsman had in fact been bowled. Brad claimed his second wicket courtesy of a smart catch by Harvey; after 2 earlier drops I'm sure it was a relief for Harv to pouch that one. Zarghum bowled well in his debut performance for the Chigs, imparting a disconcerting (for the batsman) wobble on the ball. He claimed his first Chigwell wicket in slightly controversial fashion, the batsman adjudged to have taken an edge which many didn't see. Unfortunately I wasn't in a position to be able to tell one way or the other, so I couldn't really call the batsman back. Paul Newman himself came in at number 8 and Zarghum claimed a more authentic wicket by inducing a light inside edge onto the stumps. Time for spin. Nick produced a hugely spinning delivery to bowl the unfortunate Hannah, who seems to have developed the unwelcome knack of receiving the best ball of the innings. So as Hannah left the field we noticed a familiar figure making his way to the middle.

Paul had kept Nasser's presence as secret as he could, and it was only then that I knew for sure that he was playing. Nick bowled the remaining two balls of his over to Nas, and saw them both dispatched for four through extra cover. I had already decided to replace Zarghum at the pavilion end, and as luck would have it I bowled all six of my first over to Nasser's batting partner the excellent Master Gymer, a youngster who was steadily accumulating runs. Nick had Nasser on strike as he began his third over. I'd moved myself to patrol the boundary at extra-cover, trying to save any fours. Nasser had obviously decided he would attack every ball and swung into Nick's slightly flatter, quicker one, once again directing it towards extra-cover. This time it was an aerial shot and the ball flew on a flat trajectory towards me. I didn't have much time to think about it, instinct took over, and I pouched the catch! Blimey! Nasser Hussain, caught Orange bowled Allum N. for 8! "He'll dine out on that for a while" Nasser is reputed to have said as he rejoined the throng on the boundary. He's right about that. As time goes by the shot will be hit harder and harder, the catch become more and more spectacular. A special moment for Nick and me, but a shame to see Nasser dismissed in some ways, rather than seeing him smack a quick 50 or 100, with all Chigwellians given a chance to bowl at the England legend. The game would certainly have benefited from a higher first innings total, the Internationalists finishing on 163, the last wicket, that of a dancing Mark Jeffries, claimed by my 11th ball - and it was plumb Mark, honest! Master Gymer finished with 54 not out, having batted with the care and skill which eluded many of his team-mates. Nasser signed a shirt for him after the game, which was a really nice touch.

A leisurely lunch was enjoyed by all, there now being no pressure of time on the game. I was uncertain as to the quality of the bowling we would be facing, so I settled for our normal opening pair, Harvey and Rob A. After a steady start Mark Jeffries was replaced at the pavilion end, this year not by a girl, but by the former captain of England. Nasser bowled some steady off-spin, although I was a bit puzzled as to why both he and Gordin (the left arm spinner at the other end) were given the task of trying to turn it up the slope, rather than swapping ends and using it to their advantage. Chigwell progressed steadily towards their target, with just 4 hiccups along the way. Harvey contrived to get himself out top-edging a full toss and departed for 25. He was happy enough though to have hit a boundary 4 off Nasser's bowling. Joe Rudkin was Chigwell's number 3 and he took to the crease like a man intending to be there at stumps. Rob A probably felt like that too, but was adjudged LBW to Nasser and left the arena bewildered and shaking his head. Dom (the umpire) maintains that he was plumb, Nasser apparently was less certain... Nigel entertained us with a swashbuckling 25 before playing on with the reverse side of the bat, having got through his shot a little early. James crashed 18 smart runs before falling victim to the advanced dibbly-dobbley of skipper Newman. Joe progressed serenely to his 50 and beyond, finishing unbeaten on 63. He was ably assisted by Dom who was on 9 when Joe hit the winning runs with the first 6 of the day. A comfortable 6 wicket win for the Chigs.

The barbecue followed a little later, and many drinks were drained to the incessant sound of the Chigwell skipper reliving the glory of "The Catch". So what was in it for Nasser? Let's face it the guy has absolutely nothing to prove as regards cricketing credentials. All that was in it for him was the pleasure in doing a good mate a favour, and giving everyone else the opportunity to say that they shared a cricket pitch with him. It was fun to do so; I hope he'll consider making further appearances in future years, after all, 13 favours to Paul remain unpaid.

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