Turning the clock back to the summer of 2019 and my greatest sporting moment, provided by my sports-mad son, Alfie.
Whether you participate, spectate or report on sport, every now and then you find yourself treated to something truly sensational – a moment of magic – a matchwinning performance.
I’ve managed to build a sizable back catalogue both as a fan and in more recent years as a reporter for the Yellow Advertiser. Huge international football and cricket matches, finals, drama and above all, individual brilliance.
But my recollection of July 6, 2019, will remain close to my heart forever. Sure, a Shepherd Neame Essex League Fouth XI Division One East contest between Wickford and Old Southendian & Southchurch is hardly likely to send pulses racing amongst regular cricket enthusiasts, but for me, playing in the match, it was the proudest and greatest sporting moment I have ever witnessed.
My son, Alfie, had been invited to join Old Southendian & Southchurch as a thirteen-year-old. He kept wicket – and continues to do so – for Shoeburyness High School, simply because none of the other kids wanted to do it. The chance to play club cricket offered an opportunity to expanded his mind and develop additional skills, such as leg-break bowling. His whole week focused towards a piece of greenery somewhere in Essex and today’s trip to the Wickford Memorial Ground was no different.
It was an overcast day. On arrival at the ground, I discovered Alfie displaying more than an added interest towards the wicket. He noticed several areas favourable – in his mind – to spin bowling. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Wickford attack had similar thoughts. Having won the toss they were quick to take the ball and set themselves a platform for victory.
In truth, our batting performance was less than memorable. Matt Pinnock’s unbeaten 29 was the only standout offering from an Old Southendian & Southchurch perspective. Meanwhile, Alfie took the family honours, albeit little to write home about, scoring five – one more than yours truly, who clipped one to third slip as we struggled to a measly 96/7 from our 40 overs.
Wickford made steady inroads, initially against a pace attack. The hosts had reached 31/1 but with the men at the crease looking set, it seemed only a matter of time before they reached the minuscule target. However, Old Boys skipper, Mike Perry was about to play his trump card.
Alfie had only reinvented himself as a leg-break bowler at the start of the 2019 season and after initially grappling with consistency, figures of 3/14 against Horndon on the Hill a week previous suggested he was beginning to make his mark – and so it proved.
Ahead of the eighteenth over, Mike threw Alfie the ball. Wickford had just lost a wicket via a comical runout – perhaps exposing a chink in the mental armoury of the home side, particularly now, with a new man in the middle?
“I thought Alfie might cause them a few problems but not in my wildest dreams could I have predicted what subsequently happened,” Mike told me.
After two devastating overs, Alfie had claimed three Wickford wickets without conceding a run – game on?
“He was quite simply unplayable, he was turning the ball miles and moving it both ways,” he added.
For me, watching at close quarters as my son produced the finest performance of his fledgeling cricket career, was quite priceless. Yellow Sport has provided me with so many magical sporting moments on which to scribe my thoughts – this one topped the lot.
I made my debut for the Old Boys on the same day as Alfie. I fondly recall him scoring his first goal in junior football then celebrating accordingly – and that day, despite us slipping to defeat against Chelmsford at the rustic Victory Sports Ground in Southend – another magic moment occurred when his second delivery in adult cricket was hooked to Stewy Pocock at deep square leg for his inaugural wicket in this game we all embrace so fondly.
I remember proudly glancing in the scorebook and seeing his name and figures etched in pencil. How I’d love to have read – caught BC Jeeves bowled AMA Jeeves – It couldn’t happen today of all days, could it?
Unfortunately, it didn’t. Alfie sent down another honey of a delivery which was scooped invitingly to me, fielding and mid-on. The ball hung perpetually in the air for what seemed like an eternity, before plummeting into my outstretched palms – we were about to record a piece of Jeeves sporting history…. But to my horror, and teammates disgust, the ball spun away like a wet bar of soap – the chance was gone – a damaging single added to Alf’s previously immaculate figures.
At this point, and even at his tender age, the big lad could have been excused for handing his old man a volley of abuse. Strangely, his restrained response of a pat on the back followed by “don’t worry dad,” seemed to cut far deeper than a string of profanities. Sheepishly, I suggested he didn’t rely on his old man, and to go and knock them over himself. Sound advice as it turned out.
Two balls later, one pinged back and clipped the off-stump – we were back in it, and he wasn’t finished there!
The Wickford batsmen didn’t have a clue how to deal with him. Alfie’s performance seemed to inspire the team into believing we could pull off what had earlier seemed an unlikely success.
A stubborn tenth wicket stand briefly offered the home side a reprieve, but it was Alfie – of course – who finished the job. Experience wicketkeeper, Terry Sims, reacting sharply to snaffle the ball in his gloves after another bamboozling delivery.
Incredibly, Wickford had been skittled inside thirty-two overs for just 64, handing Old Southendian & Southchurch victory by 32 runs.
Alfie had finished the game with stellar bowling figures, reading;
Economy rate; 0.98
An immensely proud dad moment ensued as seasoned cricketers from both sides congratulating the lad on his performance. This was magnified when the Wickford captain presented him with the ball, with which he had caused such mischief.
I’m not sure the scale of his display initially sunk in for either of us. That would certainly alter later in the week when it was confirmed Alfie had toped the honours board, covering all levels of cricket throughout the county.
I’ll leave the last comment on the day to Mike, who put his faith in a 14-year-old rookie, desperate to make his mark for the club which had offered him an opportunity; “It was a day and a performance I will never forget. I’m sure Alfie will get many more wickets during his career but I doubt I will witness another spell as good as the one he bowled for me that day.”