Ottery's threadbare bowling attack
A threadbare bowling attack is the last thing any captain needs when his newly-promoted team is struggling to come to terms with competing on a higher quality stage, writes Ian Townsend.
A threadbare bowling attack is the last thing any captain needs when his newly-promoted team is struggling to come to terms with competing on a higher quality stage. But that was exactly the conundrum facing Ottery 2nd XI skipper Gavin Iley going into last Saturday's clash with visiting Braunton. Iley's frustration at being forced to field a side containing only three recognised bowlers was further compounded by seeing his opening pair reduce the opposition to 9 for 3, only for the pressure to be immediately removed when the change bowlers were introduced, allowing Braunton to amass an above-par 187-9. The subsequent run chase proved to be well beyond the home side, who now find themselves at the foot of the C Division table.And yet it had all started so well for the Otters as terrific opening spells from swing merchants Keith Biggs and the hugely promising Joe Birch blew away the visitors' top order. The veteran Biggs initiated the carnage, bowling Dave Cresswell with the first delivery of the match, the ball seaming in through the gate, but the bowler to really catch the eye was 16 year old Birch, who took full advantage of the helpful conditions to claim a maiden league five-wicket haul. The youngster, whose pace and accuracy have both markedly improved over the past year, troubled all and sundry with his full length, late in-swing and claimed two early victims, bowling both Jody Abbott and Ed Holmes for ducks. Braunton were struggling to lay bat on ball as the score crawled to 18 from 10 overs, and, when Tom Rowbotham was comprehensively bowled by another ripping in-swinger, they were in deep trouble at 20-4. Amongst the mayhem, however, 15-year-old Tom Mitchem was playing an impressive innings, stout defence against the moving ball being punctuated with flowing drives to despatch the looser delivery. Runs began to flow with the introduction of change bowlers Will Harrison and Richard Townsend, the latter in particular struggling to find his line and length in his first spell of the season. Andy Parker (25) joined Mitchem and, assisted by two spurned caught and bowled chances, fashioned an excellent partnership of 78 before the former mis-hit an off drive to Iley at mid-off to give the returning Birch his fourth wicket. This soon became his first league 'five for' when Ollie Seymour (0) was bowled through the gate to leave the score on 98-6. From this point on, however, Ottery's part-time bowlers struggled to restrict the scoring and capture the remaining wickets. After the returning Biggs removed Jack Spicer (4), lbw to a 'nip-backer', Mitchem reached a fine half century (5 x 4s, 113 mins) and went on to compile a useful 32-run partnership with Fraser James who produced a number of fine shots despite his lowly position in the batting order. Mitchem's innings ended at 60 when he suffered the ignominy of missing a straight one from Iley, but James continued to prosper, hitting another occasional bowler, Ollie Mann, for a big six over wide long-on and sharing useful stands with Dave Rudge (11) and Chris Brigden (2*) to finish on a fine 41 not out. The visitors had reached a highly competitive 187-9 from the full 46 overs. Birch's 5-34 from 12 overs easily took the bowling honours for the home team, excellent support coming from Biggs with 2-39.The Otters' reply got off to the worst possible start as James produced an excellent off cutter to remove Steve Forbes' leg stump with only two on the board and, when Mann perished to a catch by Rudge at mid-off, aiming an ill-advised drive at Brigden, Ottery were 7 for 2. Townsend and in-coming league debutant 14-year-old George Biggs then dug in against the accurate Braunton opening pair but, with the score on 17, the former was unfortunate to be caught on the crease by a shortish Brigden delivery that kept very low to trap him lbw for four. At this point James and Brigden boasted the remarkable analyses of 1-9 and 2-6 respectively from seven overs apiece. Skipper Iley entered the fray in characteristically belligerent fashion, unleashing a number of lusty blows whilst playing and missing with some regularity. The 50 was posted in the 23rd over as Biggs survived two dropped catches behind the stumps off the excellent Rudge whose late outswing was to test all batsmen who faced him. Biggs' long vigil (4 from 63 balls) was ended via a slip catch off Seymour and any hopes of a home victory effectively disappeared when, shortly after unleashing a six over mid-wicket, Iley (33) fell to a catch at the wicket by Rowbotham off the deserving Rudge. Once again, brave lower order resistance came from the gutsy Alex Clements who, despite seeing Scott Gibbins (5) bowled by Brigden and Will Harrison (0) run out in a comical mix-up, applied himself well to lift the score to 95-7. However, the departure of his partner Charl Axsel (3), bowled playing around by a full length Brigden delivery, marked the beginning of the end for the Otters as, with no addition to the score, Clements fell, a top-edged pull giving James his second wicket. Last man Birch (0) was then well taken by Holmes at 2nd slip to give Brigden a five wicket haul and leave the Otters on a hugely disappointing 99 all out.Reflecting on the reality of life in the C Division, a rueful Iley commented: "We didn't face anything as good as this bowling attack during the whole of last season - it's a whole new ball game. But if we'd had our full strength attack, we'd probably only have been chasing 130 or 140 and then who knows what would have happened?" Ottery Man of the Match - Joe Birch.l Braunton 187-9 (T Mitchem 60, Extras 43, F James 41*, A Parker 25; J Birch 5-34, K Biggs 2-39) Ottery St Mary 99 (G Iley 33, A Clements 22, C Brigden 5-13, F James 2-21). Braunton (19pts) bt Ottery St Mary (4pts) by 88 runs.