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|As all you avid followers
of the Society (and yes there are some) fully well know, I am usually very
punctual in submitting my match reports, but this time I am afraid the
prospect of trying to construe some positivity from yet another
humiliating defeat was just too much for me to bear. Such a sombre ending
may, in fairness, have been a fitting way in which to sign off a generally
miserable season, but in a similar way to which a funeral becomes a
celebration of one's life rather than a gruelling admittance to death, so
I feel that the old guard should be allowed to mark the passing of our
respective junior careers with one final, arousing, enchanting,
paragraph-less and factually incorrect rumble. Therefore I am pleased to
say that for one final time I will shake the dust off the village
typewriter, get out the old record player (Springsteen seems a appropriate
choice), make myself a cup of tea and settle down to share with you the
story of a season...
A Bright Beginning
After an inconsistent 2009 season, a refreshed and rejuvinated Under-17 side returned to the fold full of hope for the coming year. With the usual quota of much-hyped matchwinners such as Mitchell, Ahmed and Burgon, and with the dynamic dressing room partnership of Gough (snr.) and Gavin back in tandem, there was no surprise to hear many pundits backing Pools for a first league title in 4 years. Initial optimism was, however, somewhat dampened on the opening day, as Darlington edged a classic to win by 3 runs, Ahmed now infamously atoning for his fine bowling spell by leaving the last ball of the innings in a moment of comical misunderstanding as the Hartlepool faithful pleaded for a fairytale boundary. Nontheless, Gavin's men moved on swiftly to the windswept plains of Hornby Park to begin what then appeared an inconsequental cup campaign, demolishing a lacklustre but apparently 'weakened' Seaton side, a certain J Mitchell running the show with 2 wickets and a typically gung-ho 32 in a mesmerising 49 run partnership with the Dalton's finest. The cup fixtures soon came thick and fast, but with both Hutchinson and Mitchell in the runs, a short trip to Sedgefield and a return to 9-man Darlington were both it seemed, surefire victories, and so it transpired, as a classy 56* from the Hutch and a imperious 41* from Mitchell respectively helped set up a mouth-watering semi-final tie with Great Ayton of North Yorkshire.
From Cup Heartache to League Misery
And so the big day came, and not for the last time Captain Marvel was there to issue many an inspirational thought as his side took to the field on a cold and murky evening at the Dog Field. Whether the skipper's motivational preaching worked, we will never know, but a magnificent bowling and fielding performance helped negate the considerable threat of Thompson, Doughty and co as the hosts were restricted to a relatively meagre 99 from their 20 overs. From there, Coach Cannon remarked, a sensible and composed batting performance would be enough to see Pools into the final. What followed was a complete horrow show. Batsmen came and went, many with feeble complaints of unholy sledging, others simply with a grunt and a grumble as they saw a tacky pitch and some indifferent bowling send their cup dreams up in smoke. Whether resulting nightmares of shattered stumps (or Josh Thompson's teeth) affected the side during the weeks that followed is unclear, but a series of embarrassing defeats leading up to a Gavin family holiday suggested that something more than a loss of form had been incurred, a notion further supported by a poisonous dressing room atmosphere which unarguably punctuated the sorry slump. With Sky TV pundits Atherton and Lloyd calling for Cannon's resignation and promising youngster Allan Doxford refusing to sign a new contract in favour of mooted IPL interest, the pre-season dream of a league title appeared a long-distant hope for the boys in blue.
A New Dawn Quickly Fades
With captain Gavin out on exotic ventures, and Ollie Mole failing to convince Gough snr. that he was capable even of tying his own laces let alone captaining a cricket team, the reins were handed to the experienced if hapless Acey in hope of rejuvenating the Hartlepool side. And, with an impending trip to Wolviston in the 15/15s Cup, it seemed there would be no better chance for Pools to arrest their alarming slide against one of the historically weaker teams in the NYSD League (no offence guys). The visitors may have panicked after making just 86 from their 15 overs, but despite the best efforts of Spencer Nicholson, Wolviston never looked like coming close to their target, and the Hartlepool cup bandwagon was off and running again. As for the return to the league - well predictably, it was episode after episode of humiliation once more, captain Brearley leading the line in inspired fashion with innings of 0, 6 and 0 over a run of fixtures which culminated in a fever-inducing defeat at home to Sedgefield that was enlightened only by an impressive 4-fer for young Smith on his return from England duty. Fortunately, news spread that Captain Marvel was on his way home and (girlfriend's awards evenings allowing) he was to return for one last hurrah as Pools mounted a valiant charge for a final's day place on the condition of victory at Redcar Cricket Club in their re-arranged quarter final.
The Old Guard Wave Goodbye
For the second time in the season, the club was hyped up to almost unhealthy levels over a realistically inconsequential fixture. The talk in the bar was no longer over whether Callum Prosser was hitting 80mph on the speed gun or whether the standard of teas at Bishop Auckland had shown a general improvement - no, there were mutterings about brash pop music blaring from oversized speakers, irrevent whispers of coloured clothing, suggestions even, from the Knox camp, of a inaguaral finals day at Park Drive. Long range weather forecasts were nervously, religously followed; the nets were unusually empty; even John Houghton had become so absorbed in the excitement that his smoking habit had exploded beyond merely cancerous levels. And then Wednesday came, and the Under-17s converged on Park Drive and boarded the minibus for one final, glorious occasion, buoyed by songs and chants and the mere presence of PC Mole as they set off on the 30 minute trip to Redcar.
On arrival, the Hartlepool lads were slick, smart and well-drilled as they set about a uncharacteristically vigourous warm-up whilst their Redcar counterparts slumped around lazily on the shores of the dressing room. For the first 10 overs, it seemed, the agitated mock-professionalism appeared to work, as the hosts were reduced to 44-4 with the much-vaunted Easton and Munro both back in the shed. In truth, it took a terrific innings of clean striking from Mitchell Brown to rescue the situation, as he ploughed his way to 45* and guided Redcar to a fairly imposing 102-6. Unsurprising, this was too much for Hartlepool's liking, and amid a flurry of bizzare run outs and misplaced hoiks to cow corner, the visitors slumped to 77 all out in exactly 15 overs, their only saving grace being a courageous 32 from Jack Hutchinson.
For the bright young startlets of the side, it was a lesson learnt, but for the departing oldies it was an emotional end of entirely the wrong sort. There was to be no coup de grace, no hero's exit, no final's day thrashing from Barnard Castle, but tears on the bus that would only be atoned for by the archetypical wit of Jack Burgon and the presence of PC Mole. A sorry end, but ultimately not a sad one as we bow out in perhaps the only fitting way possible.
The Key Men
So it was a season of general disappointment, but it was also one that was enlightened by many magical individual performances. Who can forget Alex Knox's 4-24 at Seaton, Josh Cannon's 5-16 at Wolviston (its alright, it still counts), Jack Hutchinson's 56* at Sedgefield, Matthew Stoddart's 0-41 against Darlington RA? And of course, let us not ignore young Doxford's blistering 43* at Norton, an innings I was unfortunate enough to miss but since which I have been assured by many was the classiest debut knock since Matt Prior's name was etched on the Lord's honours board against the West Indies in 2007. So, in respect to the all those who have gone above and beyond their expected duty, here are just a few players who I feel deserve special mention...
The model of consistency as ever, Captain Marvel was there to carry the side for much of the season as he never let the team's horrendous form affect his irrepressible run-scoring habits. His evalation to senior level will leave a huge hole in the Under-17 side.
Stand-out performance: 42 vs Barnard Castle
A strong candidate to take over the captaincy next year, his immeasureable improvement as a top-order batsmen has been witnessed on several occasions, not least in making a gritty 32 at Redcar as all around him faltered.
Stand-out performance: 56* vs Sedgefield
For a bowler who has flourished at senior level, a total of just 6 wickets was a fairly meagre return. However, he proved an invaluable member of the side all season, and he regularly grafted with the bat in tight situations, batting for nearly 10 overs at home to Darlington alongside Hutchinson as Pools came within touching distance of victory.
Stand-out performance: 27* vs Stockton
Alexander Joseph Jordan Knox
A first-class burglar who has infact contributed in every aspect of the game, Alexander finished as leading wicket taker whilst also scoring runs on a regular basis. Its unsurprising to see his form has been replicated at senior level, and Alexander will be a vital cog in the wheel for the 3rd XI next season.
Stand-out performance: 4-24 vs Seaton
The classic hot and cold performer - one week he won't turn up, the next he'll blow you away. Serious potential has sparked interest back in the UAE, for now though he is happy to keep taking wickets for the seniors whilst working part time as an Umar Gul lookalike.
Stand-out performance: 3-26 vs Richmondshire
The all-round sportsman contributed significantly when available, and although wickets evaded him somewhat it seemed that runs were rarely a problem. Appears to have cast off ideas of a return to the X Factor.
Stand-out performance: 41* vs Darlington
A young stud-wearing apprentice of the Knox who is developing nicely - regular runs at Under-15 level and occasional glimpses in the 3rd team led to several encouraging top order performances from the youngster.
Stand-out performance: 22 vs Wolviston
These are taken from Play Cricket, so I think a couple of matches may be missing. Sorry!
Runs HS Avg
J Hutchinson 212 56* 21.2
T Gavin 198 42 18.0
A J J Knox 92 21 9.2
J Mitchell 91 34* 18.2
T Acey 86 20 9.56
Wkts BB Avg Econ.
A J J Knox 16 4-24 14.4 5.02
T Acey 11 2-15 17.0 4.79
A Ahmed 7 3-26 14.0 4.90
O Mole 6 2-13 29.3 4.29
H Smith 5 4-24 12.6 7.88