The curtain came down on the 2nd XI’s home campaign with a win over a strong Braunton team. As with many of the team’s matches this season the performance was built around a strong batting performance, with Cooke the ballast. The first teamer (well, he should be) has accumulated 457 runs in just 5 second eleven knocks.
This was a harder fought Cooke innings, with better all-round bowling from the visitors, than the previous week. There were still the characteristic flat "bombs", threatening the kids’ games in the area around the nets, but there were more singles taken as the visitors' skipper went on the defensive early . Contributions of varying sizes from Rory Thomas, Elliot Rice, Tom Moore and Anthony Griffiths were assisting the Sidmouth effort, but the size of the total was, in the large part, down to Cooke’s century.
When Cooke was eventually dismissed it was down to Byron Knowles and Jash Patidar to add the gloss on this occasion, with some mighty blows at the back-end of the innings. Knowles in particular hit two enormous sixes, the second of which cleared the fence at the top of the ground, the “exocet missile” honing in on its target. By this time Cooke was sat in the pavilion with his family. He was admiring the ball striking quality of his protégé. He saw the shot in question all the way from his seat in the pavilion. He commented that he hoped that the ball was heading nowhere near his own vehicle, which was parked (just on the edge of the 30 minutes’ daytime limit) on the terrace. He turned his attention back to his wife and baby and thought no more about it until the fines committee sat after the game, when it became clear that the ball had in fact dented the paintwork of his shining bonnet. The irony of it all.
Post lasagne, the Braunton batting line-up made good progress in pursuit of the 266 runs required to win. The overseas opener had worked out very quickly how to play the Jash Patidar short ball. Patidar kept checking. The Aussie kept answering in the affirmative.
Matt Parker bowled a fuller length and was rewarded with the opening wicket. He was unlucky not to get a second.
The partnership for the second wicket developed at a slower rate, largely due to the fact that the highly promising 14 year old Braunton number three hasn’t yet the strength to regularly puncture the in-field. Full credit to Braunton in giving him the chance to learn and develop; perhaps at the expense of chasing down a large total. The rewards will come once the strength compliments the undoubted technique and talent. One thing the youngster has to learn is how to judge a single. One unconsidered risk too many cost Braunton their overseas player, barbecued good and proper.
Charlie Dibble made the next breakthrough deep into his spell; then like a London bus, a second wicket came immediately, next ball. The hat-trick ball was blocked.
Toby Seldon bowled his overs tidily from the town end without a wicket, leaving Braunton with an impossible task to achieve victory. They kept going. Byron Knowles bowled a long spell from the Belmont end, getting a single wicket for his considerable efforts. Matt Cooke dragged his weary body to take over from the stricken Patidar, who’d strained his side on returning to the attack for a second spell. With no prospect of a win for the visitors, and the home side rather lacklustre, it was a tortuous end to the game, with no excitement to keep the crowd entertained.
Writing in the aftermath of the astonishing England Ashes win, it is worth celebrating the drama and excitement this wonderful sport brings. It is impossible to predict what will happen next. This writer sincerely hopes that Stokes’ performance will inspire lots more people to give it a go and increase participation levels across the country. If people, new to the sport, had witnessed the last two hours of the Braunton game they may have gained a rather different perspective!