Maldon 1st XI relegation…a trigger for success!
It would be easy to assume that relegation is always a bad thing. It probably felt like that for the class of ‘98 as we slid towards an unlikely demotion given the depth of talent at our disposal.
Now almost 25 years on it’s worth recalling how that failure acted as a springboard for what was the most successful period in Maldon Cricket Club’s history.
Our 1st XI had tasted cup final success in ‘97 when beating Clacton in a memorable final and when the following season came around none of us imagined that we would finish in a relegation spot. Games we should have won drifted away from us and ones that looked very winnable were lost to the weather. On top of that we played some poor cricket and at a time where our old rivals Clacton, Halstead, and Bury St Edmunds – as well as the more affable Mildenhall – were elected into the newly formed East Anglian Premier League we were left crying into our Kronenbourg 1664s.
When the summer of ‘99 came around we had a new leader, Robbie Barber had taken the reigns from Mick Brown (retired), and our season became a confidence-boosting procession as we breezed past everyone apart from Braintree, who pipped us to the Division 2 title.
That winter saw Pete Wargent make his first trip Down Under and when he returned his batting prowess (as well as his focus) had increased almost beyond recognition. Our summer of 2000 was documented in some detail in the week by week analysis published to celebrate the 20th anniversary, so rather than re-tell the sorry it’s sufficient to recap that we got off to a flying start with a powerful Damian Westwood-inspired victory at Mistley. Despite losing Elmo to a season-ending injury and Spaggs to a brief digit deformity we stormed to the Division 1 title in some style and celebrated with terrific gusto.
Our play-off win against Longstanton Grasshoppers was achieved despite fielding a depleted side missing our Aussie star, Jay Trevaskis. Kevin “Blocker” Roche (Class of ‘94) to assist our self appointed Moses (as Spaggs christened himself) to reach the promised land of the EAPL.
Two promotions on the bounce always meant that 2001 was going to be a year of consolidation. The new format of 120 over matches, early starts, and long trips to Norfolk and Cambridgeshire gave us many different dimensions over and above the simple 50 over ‘winner takes all’ format of the Two Counties League.
We managed just one win in our debut season (a Colin Barry-inspired triumph against Cambridge Granta, who must have hated playing us after our pre-EAPL win against them in the euphemistically named Cockspur Cup), but plenty of hard-fought draws as well as a few losses besides. It was enough to avoid the trapdoor of relegation, and a platform from which to build.
In 2002 Jeff Cook took over the captaincy from Robbie Barber who wanted to concentrate on scoring runs and we managed to strengthen the side by welcoming a jovial wicket-keeper from Lancashire who added to our team spirit as well as our batting capabilities…yes, Mr. Jimmy Ainscough became a Don!
Wins in each of the first two weekends gave us a worry free year and we played some good cricket even though we were forced to use a huge number of players…opening bowlers that season included Mark “Whispering” Boraston, Peter “Dubbers” Wargent, Jeff “Red Snapper” Cook, Ian “Elmo” Elliott, George “Countdown” Sims, Joe “Rhythm” Grant, Neale “Jap” Harrington…something of a Motley Crew, it must be said!
By 2003 we knew much more about how to cope with the 72/48 over format, what route to take to remote parts of East Anglia, and how to blend sport with consuming not only lunch and tea, but also post-match barbecues, both home and away.
It was also the year where we were able to build a really strong squad. Colin Barry had expressed an interest in returning after his strong showing in 2001. We understood that pre-Brexit rules allowed us the chance to recruit others who had European heritage to supplement our local talent. Glen Batticiotto used his Italian ancestry and Tim Bondin his Anglo-Serbian roots to join our quest to get higher up the table.
We also had Adrian “Scoobie” McCoubrey join us from Ireland, as a contracted player at Essex. All of this helped us cope with the loss of Tom De Grooth who had been poached by Colchester and East Essex, at least partly on their promise of higher quality cheese rolls!
The rest of our squad was a group of guys, most of whom I’ve already named, that were part of that relegation story in ‘98….the exceptions being David Randall and Alastair Cook who had both just turned 18 and were more than ready for this standard of adult cricket.
Here’s the story of that fantastic summer
1 – Swardeston (Home)
154 all out v 155-2
Won by 8 wickets
6. Cook J (captain)
8. Ainscough (keeper)
A statement-making performance against a team that finished 5th the previous year.
Wickets for all of our pace trio, McCoubrey, Barry, and Batticiotto were seized upon by Toby Pugh who finished with 4-40 in a well controlled spell from the scoreboard end.
In reply we eclipsed Swardeston’s score in 11 overs fewer and this was largely thanks to an imperious unbeaten 117 from Elmo, taking huge personal responsibility he plundered a massive 75% of our total.
The post-match conversation with our opponents revealed that they felt we were not only much improved from the 2002 version, but had a real chance to challenge for top spot…this was some serious praise, yet I was inclined to agree.
2 – Fakenham (Away)
In = Jody Brown
Out = McCoubrey
260-5 v 46 all out
Won by 214 runs
Perhaps still the biggest ever winning margin in the EAPL?
Our newly promoted opponents never had a chance after we chose to bat (unusual in this format) on a deck we had spotted wouldn’t improve.
For the second week running Elmo blitzed a hundred and this time went on to 150*. He never looked like getting out for the second week running and really was in imperious form.
After a brief shower between innings freshened up the track, and Glen blew them away with 8-23 including a hat-trick…and in only 15 overs we had bowled them out.
The post-match chat revealed that the opposing captain felt that the difference between the sides was the rain. Suffice to say our skipper believed that there was a little more to it than that!
3 – Godmanchester (Away)
Ar least we didn’t have to get in our cars for this one as it was called off on Friday after a wet week. However, it was only 5 points gained, and an opportunity lost against a team who would eventually finish mid-table.
4 – Vauxhall Mallards (Home)
In = Bondin / McCoubrey
Out = Brown / Hawkridge
252-5 v 168-9
Late in May this was already a top of the table clash, when the reigning champions made their way to Heybridge to take on the new kids on the block. It was a game where we did everything possible to win but just couldn’t quite take the final wicket to get over the line. This wasn’t the only time we had this frustrating problem in the EAPL!
Our dominant batting display in posting another 250+ total included runs for Robbie Barber, Elmo (who now averaged 310 for the season to date!), Glen, Dubbers, and a 60-run partnership in quick time from J. Cook and C. Barry. These runs were made against an attack that had been running rampant every other week (Bradshaw / Goldsmith / deBruyn / Spelman).
Tim Bondin was making his 1st XI debut and was an unlikely hero. He removed Norfolk opener, Carl Amos, to a gravity defying and possibly dubious caught-and-bowled. Steve Goldsmith, the prize wicket, made only 20 before Glen had him caught in the slips.
Colin Barry, Glen, and Scoobie all proved a real handful and only a whisker was between us and victory as the Mallards #11 swished and cursed his way out of jail.
We gained 9 points to the 6 of Mallards, which was not really a true reflection of the day’s play and a golden opportunity missed!
5 – Bury (Away)
196 all out v 197-3
Won by 7 wickets
In = A Cook / Brown
Out = Randall / McCoubrey
For the second year running we left the Victory Ground with exactly that. It was another dominant display where we held the home team to less than 200 in the course of 65 overs and knocked them off in under 40 overs.
Bury were always behind the eight ball as Glen and Colin reduced them to 42-4, and later returned to inflict more damage. Glen ended with 6-44 whilst Colin had 3-44, with Tim Bondin chipping in with the other pole.
A measured 100* for Elmo (with support from Wargent and A. Cook) meant that Elliott now had 3 tons in 4 innings, and an unprecedented EAPL average for the season of 418, and the highest sustained period of batting performance the club has ever seen.
It was finally enough to have Suffolk came knocking at the door, but Elmo could have been ready have been at that level for a decade, already and politely declined….it always bemused me that the Minor County would shop at Clacton, Colchester, and other Essex venues, but perhaps we were considered too far south?
6 – Mildenhall (Home)
247-8 v 251-6
Won by 4 wickets
In = P Raymond / Randall
Out = A Cook / Brown
Another very good Drapers wicket saw Mildenhall reach lunch only 1 down – a rare EAPL scalp for J Cook as the late great Russell Catley fell into a trap driving to short cover. From there we limited their progress to what was probably a par score. Our spinners Toby Pugh and Paul Raymond, in a rare appearance, proved hard to get away whilst Glen and Colin shared 6 wickets.
Pete Wargent with a very fine unbeaten 92 was the mainstay of our innings and could easily have recorded another EAPL ton were it not for the aggressive approach of our middle order batters who scored in excess of 60 out of the final 100 runs in the chase. He accumulated with the patience of an accountant turned property investor that day, and certainly put the team first!
Yet again Glen Batticiotto played a big all rounder role for us with 4-55 and 46 runs – he really was a giant of a cricketer with the bat, the ball, and in the field.
This was by now an expected and comfortable win, which we completed in 12 fewer overs than the opposition received.