The Shrewsbury Saracens enjoyed another vintage cricket tour. Henry Lewis (I 1976-80) (tour manager, now ex tour captain) has run the trip to Devon for a few years now, but has struggled to handle the pressure of both the organisational side of things and the captaining of a Saracens touring team. It is widely known the Saracens can be a volatile bunch to manage, especially after a day or two under that thatched pavilion at the idyllic Instow cricket ground. After a tour crisis meeting was held in Jabba’s - Richard Mackay’s (S 1995-2000) hot tub during the early hours of Monday morning, it was decided that all on-field responsibilities would be handed over to Tour Manager’s right-hand man and key enforcer, Steve Barnard (Rb 2009-11). After this announcement the Saracens officially ‘raised up the OS Flag’ and they certainly did not look back.
Sunday evening normally includes a tour briefing and a lovely roast in the superb Wayfarer Inn which has hosted the Saracens in recent years and things did not change this year. Jabba wanted to play a few “games” just to get the tour started off. This was, as it is every year, an error in judgement. It would be no surprise therefore to report that Richard took an unofficial day off tour, later in the week, just to recover from the antics on Sunday evening. The disparity in quality of sleeping arrangements was evident; the Mckeevers settled into Instow’s premier hotel, the Commodore, whilst many of the younger contingent all piled into one room and our most senior tourists decided on the al fresco approach! Nevertheless, by hook or by crook all Saracens were in bed at a reasonable hour.
Monday finally arrived and we were graced with beautiful blue skies. A first for a good few years! The Saracens were very eager to put in a good performance and having won the toss chose to bat. Will Mason (S 2007-12) and Richard Mackay took to the crease with their usual over-exuberance and dismal chat. The latter was also sweating profusely and making all sorts of interesting noises, most probably due to the activities from the night before. However, they set the standard for the day and got the team off to a great start. 40 odd for 0 and the Saracens were looking good. As usual they gave their wickets away just before lunch, for purely personal reasons in Jabba’s case. A quick, and not unusual, collapse followed and at 124-5 the Saracens were struggling but Alasdair Pollock (I 2010-12) & Matt Mckeever (S 2003-08) batted magnificently to take the side to up to a very respectably score. Pollock, later dubbed ‘tour pro’, in particular really took the attack to North Devon’s decent spin duo. We declared on 274-7 which was about par, although a very gettable total if North Devon batted well.
North Devon’s bid to recruit opening batsmen for the Monday fixture has proved difficult in recent years. This is because everyone associated with the club is well aware that a bad-tempered Steve Barnard will be hurtling down Lundy (the howling gale that blows from one end). Having played a lot of cricket with Steve I can assure you he never bowls quicker than on the Monday of a tour. The only thing that makes the opening half an hour more entertaining, for anyone not in the slips, is watching Pollock coming from the other end. But as usual the two of them were too good for North Devon knocking over their three first XI front line batters and the overseas pro in no time at all. This was followed up brilliantly by the spin of Pat Jacob (PH 2012-17) and Matt Mckeever’s seamers, North Devon were all out 100 short. A clinical all-round Saracens performance, the sort of which we wouldn’t see again on the tour and crucially the infamous first dropped catch rolled over to Tuesday.
Tuesday morning came too soon for some, but fortunately we were saved by one or two latecomers and a large tour party meaning fresh legs. The youngest Saracens side on tour for many years was assembled. Captained by Alasdair Pollock, who refused not to play, and led vocally on the field by David Schofield (O 2013-18) confidence was high in the camp that the Saracens can go two out of two. James Aston (R 2007-12) had drunk his third pint by the time the Saracens took to the field, and sadly that was the highlight of the morning session. Toby Spencer-Pickup (R 2016-18) & Charlie Cook (R 2011-16) bowled well without luck but North Devon were cruising at 100-2 by lunch. Charlie Kidson (G 2009-14) bowled nicely in the afternoon but with some big hitting down the order North Devon declared on 280-9.
The Tuesday afternoon run chase is one of the most fascinating passages of play over the week. Recent memory serves a last ball six from Tom Chapman (SH 1987-92) and as Tom Cox (SH 2002-07) will tell he tends to score a 100. Unfortunately reminiscing on yesteryear seemed to be no help as such heroics looked highly unlikely to materialise this time. The Saracens were languishing at 50-5 at tea. An explosive team talk followed where a plan was hatched to see out the day and avoid defeat. No one could have anticipated what was to follow. It was quite exceptional. Charlie Byrne (O2015-17) (bemused to have been left out by Barnard the previous day) and Alasdair Pollock batted sensationally. Two and a half hours later Byrne had just fallen for 112 and Pollock was guiding the team home to finish 81*. What a win! The Saracens could not believe it. It had been a great game and another superb memory to take back from Instow. Whilst the Saracens have made a habit out of doing the double over their old rivals in recent years, it was an absolute pleasure to be part of the touring team that day.
On Wednesday morning we somehow managed to get out of bed and made our way to Lynton and Lynmouth for the fixture against Somerset Stragglers CC. As usual a few departed the tour that morning but we still had 24 heading through the winding Devon lanes to Valley of the Rocks. Sadly, only four were on time and with skipper Barnard losing the toss we were inevitably asked to field. The cricket did not manage to reach the exciting levels of the first two days but nevertheless it was a reasonable performance. On a tricky wicket the Stragglers reached 185 off the allotted 40 overs. Charlie Kidson and Will Mason bowled nicely, but it was Toby Spencer-Pickup’s energy in the field that was crucial in getting the Saracens through the session.
With the bat all eyes were on a Saracens middle order boasting a wealth of tour experience. The Saracens crowd was getting progressively noisy at the prospect of another run chase but unfortunately it did not start well. Matt & Alastair McKeever (S1998-03) both fell quickly and when Steve Barnard was bowled first ball, possibly to the worst shot ever seen the Saracens were once again on the back foot. At 40-5 Henry Lewis & Will Mason decided attack was the best form of defence. After a swashbuckling 40 run stand Mason’s exploits came to an end but George Thomason (G 2006-11) continued where Mason had left off and looked in sublime touch. Granted he did arrive on the Tuesday and had spent most of the year honing his skills in the nets against Eton College’s u14C XI. Nevertheless, here the engine room was doing the job. Run rate was never going to be issue but when Thomason was finally dismissed for 44 the scoreboard read 155-7 and responsibility was all on the TM to bat with a very inexperienced and extremely hungover tail. Good looking Tom Atkin (O 2012-17) and Toby Spencer-Pickup fell in quick succession to the Straggler’s premier seamer, who eventually dismissed Lewis for a battling 71. Nine down, 4 runs needed all eyes turned to Pat Jacob (Pablo) to take us home. Pablo had previously batted 5 times for the Saracens and never managed to score a run so our optimism was measured.
First ball presented a glorious opportunity as a low full toss was offered up to Pablo. He hit it well and it flew passed the man on the cover boundary for four. It was an almighty blow and celebrations began immediately and carried on all the way back to Instow and long into the night…!
Thursday’s fixture against the Brasenose Strollers was viewed as crunch time. Can the Saracens really go undefeated? How good will the night out in Barnstaple be if we win? There was a lot to play for as the two historic clubs once again were vouching to be premier touring side in North Devon.
The Saracens, once again fielding first, were well and truly put to the sword in the first half. It was a bruising encounter. 375-4 off 45 overs. The only applaudable aspects of any Saracen’s performance were the innovative tactics being used to negotiate time off the field. Praise must go to the Stroller’s and particularly the two centurions who really did take advantage of buffet bowling and truly awful fielding.
After dusting themselves down the Saracens looked to the previous two days for inspiration and the innings followed a very similar pattern. A good opening stand between Mackay & Mason was followed by a flurry of wickets yet again leaving the lower middle order to do the bulk of the work. The first rallying cry came from Henry Lewis (61) & Alasdair Pollock (65) but it was George Thomason (89) who allowed the Saracens to dream, if only for 45 minutes or so. In the end after a very brave batting performance the Saracens were all out for 329 with an over remaining.
The Shrewsbury Saracens would like to welcome any young budding cricketers to join us on the tour to Devon. Please contact Henry Lewis if you are interested in touring in August 2019. It is great fun and good cricketing ability, although helpful, is not hugely important. You only need to ask or look at some of the current tourists to realise that!