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    Western Tour 2020

    For the benefit of future historians – and our centenary is only nine years away, when someone will surely write a history of this special club – 2020 was the Year of the Great Virus. Sport was one of the first casualties of the restrictions imposed by the Government in an effort to contain COVID-19, and no cricket of any kind was played in England in April, May or June. Just in time for the Sou’westers’ Tour, it was announced that club cricket could resume on 11th July and all our host clubs were contacted as to whether they could honour their fixture with us at such short notice. Three replied in the negative including Sidmouth, who have been special opponents since the foundation of the Club, and Cerne Valley, a favourite fixture for many. It is to be hoped that these two will be on the list for next year and that normality will return but, in the meantime, the gaps were enthusiastically filled by new clubs and we had the privilege of playing on some beautiful new grounds and meeting some friendly new opponents as a result.

    There were numerous other changes attributable to the virus. Various start times and locations were amended, sometimes at the last minute. Dressing rooms were closed, and players supposed to arrive ready to play, although in reality it was common to find a Sou’wester in a state of undress in the space allocated to the team in the open air beyond the boundary. The playing regulations negotiated by the ECB in the course of gaining permission for the game to be played at all, gave an odd look to some of the cricket and put additional burdens on the umpires: Mark Williams’ stentorian cry of “Sanitise please, gentlemen” will be one of the memories of this odd season. But for the true lover of Sou’westers’ cricket, it was the absence of lunch and tea which was the biggest loss. Our host Clubs coped extremely well with all this, but it required a plethora of official notices to promote the required social distancing, of which the most intriguing was the one at Staplegrove which proclaimed “TOILETS : ONE PERSON AT A TIME”. All in all, widespread goodwill and a desire to make the most of what cricket could be played in this truncated season, were evident all round.

    Another feature of 2020 was that for the first eight days, there was a stronger traditional tour atmosphere than for some years past because of the nucleus provided by the group which was based with the Chairman’s family at Molland House, near South Molton. In the field, we held some excellent catches, looked a proper unit with a welcome reduction in the average age, and produced some excellent performances as a result. The young bucks went home after Bridgetown however, and we struggled at times in the last two games (although that against North Devon developed into as good a game of touring cricket as we have seen for years).

    The first match was at one of the new grounds, Morebath, a lovely, rural location which took a bit of finding. From the middle, it is clear that the ground slopes down on three sides and up on one, but this key fact emerged only after the OAPs had made a ritual inspection between innings. Initially, full of eager anticipation of joys to come, they unknowingly took up residence to view proceedings from one of the downs. As a result, fielders at deep mid on or third man behaved like the blacksmith in ‘England, Their England’, disappearing and reappearing as they moved to and from the boundary. That the Morebath captain rejoiced in the name of ‘Bingo’ was another apparent link to those jolly days of long ago.

    This year, the old excuse that “I haven’t picked up a bat since last year’ carried no weight as it applied to everyone. In any case, we set off well, with an encouraging opening partnership between Charlie Everett (48) and Harry Kennedy (77) which was the foundation of a total of 181-7. When we fielded, the OAPs were delighted to see Sam Kennedy open the bowling at a slightly brisker pace than hitherto and with no sign of the directional problems that dogged him last year. Following his five tight overs came eight other bowlers who shared the eleven Morebath wickets around (they batted 12) for a total of 118, as, quite rightly, everyone got into the tour action from the start, one way or another.

    As we were leaving, the weather began to close in. Rain overnight and on the following morning ruled out any play at Heathcoat, whence the Great Virus had driven our planned fixture against Old Blundellians. Things improved thereafter, however, and we moved on to another attractive new ground at Sampford Peverell and Tiverton.  This is situated close to both the M5 and the North Devon Link Road, but careful modern planning and landscaping has ensured that not a sound of either breaks the silence at the ground. As at Morebath, it was agreed to play the match as an 80-overs affair with the side batting first limited to 42 and a draw a possible result, a positive and practical alternative to the straight limited overs format for a touring side.

    We again had an excellent start, this time from Matt Sunter (42) and Rich Godfrey, who was seventh out at 201 for a commanding 127. The total of 230 for 8 off 38 was a testing one given our bowling strength on the day. We got among them early and, with Andy Pring (4-30) in the lead, reduced Sampford Peverell to 32-4 and 93-5 before some doughty resistance was rewarded with a draw at 164-7.

    Crowcombe, another lovely, rural ground, also has a distinct slope and offers very different perspectives from opposite sides of the ground – towards Exmoor and the Quantocks respectively. For the third time, we were made very welcome by new opponents under difficult circumstances. The match itself featured a significant all-round performance from James Flatt (3-11 in their 147-9 and 52 in our 152-5) but the memorable moment was when the Crowcombe number 5 shouldered arms to a proper off-break from Henry Parker and lost his middle stump as a result. Again, we used 8 bowlers (including a spell of 3-17 from Chairman Kennedy at fifth change) and everyone got a share of the action. Rich Godfrey (31no) helped power us home.

    Time passes fast and we have not played long term opponents Somerset Stragglers since 2010. However, they have recently undergone a revival, and cancellations of matches by virus-stricken opponents allowed them to fill one of our own cancellation gaps. In a proper match on a very fast outfield, they hammered 299-2 off 47 overs with all four Straggler batsmen reaching 50 and one of them going on to the hundred. When it was our turn, we found that difficult to match and subsided to 96-5 at one point before Harry Kennedy (79 n o, having opened) and James Flatt (26 n o) guided us to the draw at 173-5. That sounds like a poor performance but in reality it was one of those days when all the luck seemed to go one way – catches went to hand when we were batting but fell tantalisingly close when we were in the field and the wicket produced the odd wide shooter when we bowled but a straight one for Guy Bucknell. It was overall a happy day and we hope it may presage the return of the Stragglers to the regular fixture list.

    After Old Tauntonians had problems raising a side for the planned fixture, Rich Godfrey and Andy Pring conjured up a side rejoicing (most inaccurately) in the title of the Old Crocks, for a 20-over match starting at 4.30pm and played in the familiar and congenial surroundings of Taunton School. To maximise the over rate by not requiring the field to change between overs, all the bowling was done from one end. This in turn required Umpires Williams and Dean to change places at the end of each over. In their immaculate white and black outfits, at these times they resembled nothing so much as a pair of Rockhopper Penguins performing their famous mating ritual.

    In many ways, the match itself was like one of those ‘evening games’ played before the invention of T20, particularly in the way that deteriorating light unexpectedly hampered the side batting second when it seemed to be heading for victory. We started very badly (38-6 after 8 overs). Perhaps Captain Pring deliberately reduced the pressure at that point in the interest of a full match, but from that low Guy Bucknell (45no) and Sam Kennedy (46no) showed resilience and skill in steering us to 138-6.  In the increasing gloom, that was a serious target, but the Crocks nearly got there despite the regular fall of wickets, ending on 132-9. Of course, it was “only” a 20-over affair, but it was a good and enjoyable one in which the most significant Sou’wester event may in due course be seen as the debut of George Oliver (age 11) as a substitute fielder for a few overs. It is sobering to think that if he has the staying power of his grandfather, he will still be involved with Sou’wester cricket in 2075!

    We had a comfortable win at Chulmleigh, who again were missing several key players of past years. Our strong total was founded on 50no from Philip Oliver and 33no from James Flatt. The Chulmleigh reply was halted initially by Sam Kennedy and Will Oakes with two quick wickets each and then by Max Clarke (4-15), whose favourite ground this must surely be, and Henry Parker, who produced another of those genuine off-breaks to castle a batsman shouldering arms. As usual, the most important part of the day was the analysis afterwards in the Old Court House where a Chulmleigh player told your scribe that “you always stuff us”. He was soon put right: since the fixture commenced in 2012, Chulmleigh have won three, there have been two draws and two rained off before our two victories in the last two years.  Such is touring cricket, and long may it be so!

    The most significant victim of the Great Virus was evident at our next match: there was no tea this year at Bridgetown! Apart from that, the setting was as lovely as ever and the match well contested. Will Oakes (67) and Sam Kennedy (47) were the main contributors to our total of 199 and Sam also led the bowling with a key spell at first change which propelled Bridgetown from 56-1 to 59-5. The evergreen Peter Sprague finished it with 3-42.

    The weather, which had been generally cool and cloudy, pulled itself together for Instow. North Devon has a smell of its own, a genuine mixture of grass and sea, and it smelt as wonderful as it looked when we arrived. Moreover, the match turned out to be every bit as good, a great example of the pleasures of touring cricket which can be so different from the serious business of the Leagues.

    After five overs we were 2 for 2 and patently struggling against a very decent opening attack. Instead of going for the quick kill, the North Devon captain removed both bowlers from the attack and, although we lost a third wicket at 25, Guy Bucknell was still there, the ideal man to build a recovery. He did so with help from Andy Sapey and Simon Hogg and had scored an excellent 125 out of our 220 at the declaration.  There were three or four batsmen among the North Devon line-up who threatened to take the game away from us when they batted, but each got out before he could quite do so. When it came to the last over, entrusted to that well-known death bowler Simon Hogg, there were eight down and four runs needed. One came off the second ball to leave number 10 facing. He was caught off the last ball going for glory, to leave the match drawn with nine down and two runs the difference between the sides. Every player had batted or bowled in a meaningful situation and the game went to the wire – an outcome entirely dependent on the initial critical decision of the North Devon captain, properly reciprocated in turn by Philip Oliver for the Sou’westers. Just the way it ought to be, of course.

    Finally, there was Kilve, a Club very much on the up, with improvements to the facilities and ground visible on every visit. The quality of the team reflects this advance, and we were well beaten in front of a group of spectators which included Stewart Peet, chauffeured in by Jeremy for the day. Batting first after the only 11.30 start of the tour, we applied ourselves well to total 193-7 but it was hard work at times and took 59 overs to get there. Rich Godfrey (53) and Guy Bucknell (41) were the leading contributors. At 97-5, it looked as though Kilve might have missed their chance, but two able players at six and seven took them home without alarms from only 42 overs; Sam Trumper (3-34) and Andy Pring (2-41) were the bowlers who gave us hope but no one was able to finish it off.

    So, in the end, a happy, traditional tour took place in spite of the crisis facing not only the country but the world. At the time of writing, the future remains unknown and, while we can say we hope to be ‘back to normal’ in 2021, anything can happen in the meantime. Perhaps it is enough for now to be grateful for the enjoyment we experienced in 2020 and the extra warmth between opponents that was apparent throughout the tour as everyone tried to tackle our joint opponent together.

    Results

    Played 10   Won 5   Lost 1   Drawn 3   Cancelled 1

    v Morebath    Sun July 26   Won by 63 runs
    Sou’Westers  181-7 dec  H.Kennedy 77,  C.Everett 48
    Morebath  118  W.Bucknell  2-3, H.Parker 2-13, J.Kennedy 2-16

    v Sampford Peverell   Tue July 28  Drawn
    Sou’Westers  230-8 dec  R.Godfrey 127, M.Sunter 42
    Sampford Peverell  164-7 J.Chilcott 51, A.Pring 4-30, H.Parker 2-40

    v Crowcombe  Wed July 29  Won by 5 wickets
    Crowcombe  147-9 dec   M.Warne 58, J.Flatt 3-11, J.Kennedy 3-17
    Sou’Westers  151-5  J.Flatt 52, R.Godfrey 31*, G.Watson 3-36

    v Somerset Stragglers Thu July 30     Drawn
    Stragglers 299-2 dec  J.Hayman 108
    Sou’Westers 173-5  H.Kennedy 79*

    v OTs Old Crocks20/20 Fri July 31  Won by 5 runs
    Sou’Westers  137-6  S.Kennedy 46*, G.Bucknell 45*
    Old Crocks  132-9   C.Everett 2-10, S.Kennedy 2-13, M.Sunter 2-15, A.Spratling 2-17

    v Chulmleigh  Sat Aug 1    Won by 167 runs
    Sou’Westers  206-5 dec  P.Oliver 50*, J.Flatt 33*
    Chulmleigh  39  M.Clarke 4-15, H.Parker 2-5, S.Kennedy 2-6, W.Oakes 2-12

    v Bridgetown  Sun Aug 2   Won by 43 runs
    Sou’Westers  199 W.Oakes 67, S.Kennedy 47
    Bridgetown  156 S.Kennedy 4-19, P.Sprague 3-42

    v North Devon  Mon Aug 3  Drawn
    Sou’Westers  220-5 dec   G.Bucknell 125*, A.Sapey 40
    North Devon  218-9  B.Howe 67, S.Watson 3-38, P.Sprague 2-45

    v Kilve   Tue Aug 4    Lost by 5 wickets
    Sou’Westers  193-7 dec  R.Godfrey 53, G.Bucknell 41
    Kilve  194-5 K.Mcdonald 53*, S.Trumper 3-34, A.Pring 2-41

    BATTINGInnsN.O.RunsH.S.AveCt/St
    G.Bucknell53217125*108.52
    H.Kennedy41177  79*594
    R.Godfrey51212127531
    J.Flatt5212352412
    S.Kennedy4110847363
    A.Sprague4262  28*313
    P.Oliver52775025.67   5/1
    C.Everett601134818.834
    W.Oakes40736718.253
    M.Sunter50894217.82
    W.Silk20302415
    W.Bucknell61682413.62
    A.Spratling30372912.332
    J.Kennedy20181893
    H.Parker3116    8*82
    S.Watson2015147.5

    Also batted:

    K.Barnes  8,  F.Bucknell  0* (1ct),  M.Clarke  3,  P.Clarke  6,  H.Gillingwater  0,  S.Hogg  23 (1ct), A.Pring  (1ct) A.Sapey  40,  P.Sprague  1*,  N.Trumper  7*,  S.Trumper  4 

    BOWLINGOversMaidensRunsWickets  Ave
    M.Clarke1023548.75
    S.Kennedy2868299.11
    C.Everett3.1033311
    S.Trumper6034311.33
    S.Watson10143314.33
    H.Parker31.57103714.71
    A.Pring364145818.13
    W.Oakes6039219.5
    J.Kennedy232129621.5
    J.Flatt270110522
    P.Sprague221127525.4
    M.Sunter10254227
    W.Bucknell13165232.5
    A.Spratling15269234.5
    R.Godfrey16383241.5

    Also bowled:

    K.Barnes   4-0-14-1,   F.Bucknell  10.4-1-35-1,   G.Bucknell   3-0-13-0,   H.Gillingwater  3-1-10-0, S.Hogg  7-0-32-1,   H.Kennedy  1-0-14-1,   W.Silk  3-0-25-1,   A.Sprague  20-3-113-1, N.Trumper  8-4-13-0