As the first-ever girls’ cricket match at Gresham’s Senior School, there was a palpable sense of excitement on the coach to Culford and, somewhat impressively, this never abated through an afternoon of punishingly hot sun and a very long return coach journey.
The girls acquitted themselves brilliantly in a performance that demonstrated what an extraordinary amount of potential we have for this sport in the school. The opposition had played a whole season last year and had already blown off the cobwebs this year, with this being their second match. As early wickets tumbled, it seemed that we may have bitten off more than we could chew. However, as batters Claudia van Poortvliet (O) and Iris Croft (E) dug in, the runs came. Notable batting performances also came from Lucy Lapping (E), Kate Webster (E) and Poppy Wharton (E), as the girls settled into a calmer rhythm and the running between the wickets became more lively.
We set a target of 68 runs and, with no experience to guide us (from players or coach), we had absolutely no idea whether this was competitive!
Coming out into the field – the first time we had ever set foot on a cricket pitch as a team – nothing would have prepared us for what was to follow. A few practice balls were bowled, a field was set, and our youngest player was given the first over. Sophia Wedgwood (Q) opened with a dot ball that just missed the stumps. With her second ball, she took our first wicket, which lifted the whole team and let us know that we were in with a shout. After two quick singles, Sophia took wickets with her fifth and sixth deliveries, leaving the team buzzing while they high-fived and fist-bumped over the wicket for the change of over. Zara Howes (O) took a superb catch in the midst of the euphoria. Kate Webster’s first over went for a paltry 3 runs, leaving the home side 5 for 3 off two overs and further high-five-fist-bumping ensued.
Sophia returned on a hat-trick after her first over endeavours and was clearly determined to show that she is more ruthless than she may at first appear. Taking her fourth wicket, she secured her hat-trick with a ball that took middle stump. (Many a first eleven – even a county player – would struggle to hit the stumps three times in a row without a batter present!) Finishing with figures of 4 for 5 off 2 overs ensured that Sophia would take the player of the match award.
After this early flurry, Culford opened the shoulders a little and made it quickly to the halfway mark ahead of the required run rate. A wicket fell to Lapping, two to Lucie Thomas (E) – who was lively in the field and bowled an impressive pace off a short run-up – while Amy Garrod (E) was virtually unplayable, going for 4 off 2 overs without extras as she plugged away at a tricky full length into the batters’ legs. Neve Wilson (E) shored up her end with a mature bowling performance, belying our status as novices. Croft was busy and solid behind the stumps, rising to the challenge of wicket-keeper duties.
With four overs left, Culford needed just 6 runs for victory. Claudia van Poortvliet and Scarlet Brady (Q) took the tricky final four overs and made sure the end was utterly thrilling. Scarlet took a wicket with her third ball and gave away just two runs off the over. Claudia took 2 wickets – one with her first ball – off her first over and went for only two more. Culford needed 2 from 12.
Scarlet returned; her first ball struck middle-and-off and the crowd went wild! (By this stage, there were over a dozen supporters on the boundary, some coming across from the boys’ matches to see history unfold.) Scarlet’s second ball was a snorter and brought up her third wicket, leaving her with the game’s second hat-trick ball and Culford reeling and nervously chasing 2 from 10, the Gresham’s girls now having all the momentum. Four dot balls saw Scarlet sign off with a double-wicket maiden and Culford needing 2 from 6.
Claudia bravely stepped up as the death bowler for the final over. With so many wickets fallen that Culford were back to their best batters, the first ball went for two and the match was lost. But Gresham’s girls’ cricket was placed well and truly on the map.
This team was a delight to coach and clearly enjoyed their remarkable outing as the school’s pioneers. The future is very bright for this sport – and I’m fairly certain we’ll be a dominant force in the region before too long.
Final result a loss by 1 run