2nd XI Season Review 2003

So Near, But Yet So Far... or, Calculators Win Divisions...

It would be harsh to say that this glorious season ended in farce, but there really is no other way of sugarcoating it. Promotion from Division 5 was lost on the final day of the season by an unbelievable margin, just 0.03 on the points average calculations was the difference between Portland Red Triangle 2nd's and Wayfarers 2nd's playing in Division 4 in 2004. But let us not dwell on that fact any longer than is necessary, as we take you back to the start of the season in the last week of April...

The sun was shining, birds were singing, and spring was in the air as Grant Neven skipped onto the field starting his second year in charge of Portland Red Triangle's second eleven with a pre-season friendly away to Abbotsbury. The side was pretty much the same as the one that had finished the previous season, with the addition of useful medium-pacer Dave Clifford from Farnborough village, as well as the promise of all-round star Jon Dixon being available for most of the season (injuries permitting). Neven's 2003 vintage got the year off to a good start with a convincing 6-wicket victory over the Division 4 side, with more than enough to suggest that this could be their year.

Unfortunately the year didn't start until a month later due to an extended spell of wet weather that led to the first four fixtures of the season being cancelled, and thanks to some bizarre scheduling by the league; the sunny month of June contained only one fixture for the 2nd's. Knowing now that every point scored was even more valuable than before, as 80 points had effectively been washed away, Grant Neven took his side to Shillingstone. They had already proved themselves to be contenders after managing to play a couple of games and securing victories, and were always a handful on their sloping pitch. A fine knock of 51 by newly elected Vice-President Rev'd Bill Gates helped steady the Triangle ship after Shillingstone's Chris Cole had ripped through the top order of Dave Males, Ken Dodson and Jon Dixon. He gained some support from Marc Nott and Tom Cole, but the side was dismissed for 142 in the final over.

Defending such a paltry total, spinner Jon Dixon proved the key to victory taking 4 wickets at the top of the order, though should have had 5 when Sam Polley earned his future nickname of "Dolly" by dropping one at midwicket. Polley redeemed himself by taking 2 key wickets in as fiery a spell as could be mustered on such a damp track, with Gates showing his all-round prowess by picking up a couple of his own with his devilish mix of off and leg breaks. The vastly underused Morris claimed the final wicket with a sublime inswinging yorker to the left-hander Farrell (Nb. this is a totally impartial and fair report of the season) as Triangle completed a 39 run win, but with two precious points dropped.

By the time Poole Town 3rd's arrived a fortnight later, Neven's men showed no signs of a lack of match practise by destroying the then league leaders in a breathtaking 19 overs, with Polley (4-28) and Dixon (6-25) sharing the wickets as the visitors were skittled for 55. In reply Ken Dodson picked up an unlikely half century in an unbeaten opening partnership of 59 with Gates (5) as Portland claimed maximum points.

After another rest week, Triangle were on the road to face fellow promotion chasers Wayfarers. Sitting pretty at the top of the division with two wins from two Neven was confident of maintaining the status quo in Div. 6. His side was bolstered by newly signed medium pacer Rob Hodges, former 1st XI vice-captain (and team spokesman) Simon Barrett, Sunday batting star Dave Males and returning from career-threatening injury, Martin Hewson. It all seemed to be going to plan as Wayfarers opener Steve Bishop was caught by debutant Hodges (after being twice dropped off Polley's bowling), but then the home side showed their class as opener Pritchard and veteran no. 3 Davis put on 89 both scoring half centuries. The skip turned to his new weapon, and Hodges duly delivered taking 6 wickets for 56 runs, as the middle order collapsed and Wayfarers were lucky to end on 200-9.

In reply Males and Dodson built a healthy platform with a 65 partnership in just 12 overs, before disaster struck as first Dodson (45), then Males (12) followed quickly by Hewson (13), Hodges (0) and Neven (0) lost their wickets cheaply leaving the unlikely pairing of Barrett and Polley to try and guide the side to victory from 108-6. The pair bedded in and after steadying the ship, scored at a good rate but then Barrett took on the gentle medium pace of Williams and holed out at long off. Rupert Waight came in and played a dashing innings of 24*, but lacked support with young Cole refusing to walk after being bamboozled by a slow full toss (hitting it straight back from whence it came) and then Morris and Heritage unable to score at the required rate as the islanders fell 25 runs short at the close.

The first defeat of the season for Neven's heroes, but no time to reflect as the next Saturday brought the visit of Old Blandfordians, a team which had pushed the islanders hard the previous year. The visitors set a challenging total of 215-9, thanks to a century by young George Sollis, but the score was kept down by fine (but expensive) bowling from Sam Polley (3-51) and the return of wily veteran Merv Tremlin (2-19). The game was also notable for Dave Clifford taking his first 2nd XI wicket for Triangle, and Ken Dodson running out fellow opener Bill Gates without facing (which pleased 1st XI scorer Richard Stewkesbury, as the reverend had done likewise to him at Abbotsbury two seasons ago). A magnificent 3rd wicket stand of 198 between Martin Hewson (88) and Tony Quayle (60*) saw Triangle comfortably home with 7 wickets in hand, but ruing that dropped point.

The seconds then travelled to bottom of the table Martinstown, in what was proving to be a punishing league schedule of three games in as many weeks, something virtually unknown in Division 6. A chance to regain top spot in the division was at stake, and Neven's side grasped that opportunity with both hands, as after being asked to bat first, put the home side to the sword amassing a PRT record total of 353-6, and Ken Dodson recorded his first century for the club (120). Dicko (53) and Hewson (43) helped post the record total aided by a useful 71 from extras, proving much too high for Martinstown to chase as they were dismissed for a creditable 156, with Rupert the pick of the bowlers with figures of 5-30.

20 points were in the bag, the side back on course for promotion, surely nothing could go wrong for the seconds, but alas the weather robbed them once again of a chance to pick up points, as the match with the elusive Bradford Abbas was cancelled, leaving just two matches in the season to wrap up promotion.

The first weekend of August welcomed fellow promotion rivals Shillingstone to Reforne, normally the cue for a tight game. This was far from the case as Triangle's season fell around them in tatters as they laboured to 125 all out in 33.2 overs, with only Dave Males (36*) coming off the field with any credit after an abject display of batting which had seemed to be a thing of the past for the 2nd XI. They at least made the visitors work for their victory as some tight bowling (thankfully a hallmark of the team this year) caused Shillingstone to graft their runs, finally passing the target in the 35th over, after a flurry of late wickets, one of which claimed by Tony Quayle and Rupert combining with Melvyn (who held a smart catch at first slip). Thus, Triangle were back off top spot, and a paltry 4 points gained didn't help the average, but there was a silver lining as Shillingstone and Wayfarers were still to meet in the last round of matches that would determine the two promotion places.

Two bye weeks and much biting of fingernails followed, but the results went the right way for Triangle and they went to Poole Town 3rd's with a chance of going up. Neven had been crunching the numbers into the small hours and had calculated that Portland needed to win and gain at least 18 points to assured of promotion, a fact he was willing to stake his reputation on. After inspecting a very suspect pitch which was much greener at one end than the other, Poole surprisingly chose to have a bat. Indifferent bounce helped to remove the early batsmen, but gutsy innings of 49 from Wright and 70 from young Dyson, when combined with sloppy fielding set Triangle 210 for victory. Rob Hodges once again excelled with the ball picking up 4 wickets, and a belated fine bowling performance from Dave Clifford saw him pick up 3.

In reply the islanders lost three quick wickets, as Dave Males, Dodson and Polley (promoted up the order due to work commitments) returned to the pavilion with various complaints concerning the wicket. Luckily Neven's hopes remained high as Bill Gates and veteran Quayle dug in and forged a fine partnership of 88, both falling short of well-deserved half centuries. Still in touch with the run rate, Hodges and Nott kept the score ticking over, thanks to Extras' gritty innings of 74, before the cartwheeling Sparks collected his fourth wicket of the afternoon, bringing forth Neven to the middle. In a sublime few overs, the skipper put the result beyond doubt as Triangle eventually eased to a four wicket win, but a vital point lost.

And so that was the season in condensed form, after the victory at Poole promotion celebrations started and a report was submitted to the Echo by the captain stating he was pleased to have clinched promotion on the final day of the season. Unfortunately this was to come to haunt him as on publication of the final league tables it was plain to see that Shillingstone had pipped Portland Red Triangle 2nd's by the smallest fraction on the points average, as the saying goes, so near but yet so far. So what of the coming season, will Neven's team finally break through to Division 5 or once again fall short? Hopefully this year will bring less rained-off games than the 2003 vintage and thus the opportunity to pick up (and of course lose) more points. The team will of course be a year older, which means the younger players will naturally have gained experience but likewise the older players will have got, well, older. Looking on the bright side, we here at prtcc.com will stick our necks on the line and predict a season of belated success for little Grant Neven, a deserved moment to bask in some glory and a nice trophy for the cabinet.