2s .v. Birmingham 2s

The Art of War emanates from ancient Chinese military texts attributed to the Sunzi, Sun Tzu, and has been the inspiration for strategy, leadership, and Warcraft for many great names in history. The 13 chapters each provide their own thought on how to conduct a successful war as over one hundred Chinese states became one through military conquests. With the 2’s facing this crunch game against Birmingham 2’s, a potential promotion decider, Captain Stileman, himself heeding the advice of the Sunzi “The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources” selected the 11 finest warriors the exams would permit, and were in an optimistic mood as the team ventured towards the enemy’s turf, Moseley CC, in the hope of conquering Midlands 2B for the glory of Warwick. The ground could not be much more different to Cryfield, with a slope across the pitch not too dissimilar to Lords, yet a hill from one end to the other, with most of the bowlers praying they’d be trundling down it later in the day.

With the opposition arriving, and the recognition of a few familiar faces from earlier encounters in competitive and friendly fixtures drew parallels to the lesson “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Whilst the Sunzi would implies from this statement there was nothing to fear, some previous losses at the hands of Birmingham meant the team would have to be on their game.

Stilo succeeded in the first battle of the day, calling correctly, and electing to bat. With ABG and Randall opening the hope would be a stable foundation could be forged for the rest of the batting line up to take advantage of later. Following the demise of his trusty weapon, ABG walked to the crease armed with Roachy’s Mongoose in the hope he would be able to time the ball better with a fully intact bat. A sweetly timed four off the first over would suggest that this certainly looked the case. The other end could not have started much worse, with Randall falling down the hill first ball, to be punished with the death rattle, and a missing leg stump. The downfall of one warrior has the potential to be an opportunity for another, and Nipun strode to the crease with plenty of running in his legs, having opted again for the taxi transfer from Lakeside to Bluebell. With this proving successful last time, the team was prepared to let this slide, and as he and ABG settled in, starting to build a platform as the 50 was passed in the 14th over. Despite looking settled, a second wicket was to fall, with Nipun flicking one high into the leg side, only to be chased down by square leg, who was fully extended to take the diving catch.

Millman came in at four and with little wicket taking threat from the bowling attack, despite bowling tight lines, ABG and Millman built the partnership desired at a key period of the game. “When the enemy is relaxed make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move”, and as the pair kept their cool, allowing the scoreboard to keep rotating and manipulating the field and making them toil. ABG made his way to another half century for the club after finding fewer gaps than his timing would have suggested. He was also the next to depart, walking past the spinner to be stumped for a well composed 62. With 13 overs left the hope was #BOOMBOOMBOOM Piers, Jaimin and Hall would push us towards a score of 250. Millman started the acceleration and made his own 50, but much like ABG was unable to push on and put the bowlers to the sword, instead out soon afterwards for 55. The subsequent loss of both Piers and Jaimin (to a comical run out) for single figure scores seemed to kibosh this chance, and it was left to Hall to marshal the lower order, taking advantage of the open leg side spaces to bludgeon 40 from 20 balls, with ABG in particular delighted by Jon’s “swordsmanship” in finding the gaps. “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak”, and as the weakness of the middle order collapse allowed the strength of perennial fantasy league points scorer Hall to show and help himself to his quick runs. Hall was supported by the lower order keeping him on strike, taking a couple of run outs in the process. The final score of 223/9 off our 50, a total which at first appeared to be 25 light was a mild disappointment, yet was a good recovery from what could have been a much lower total.

Despite his disappointment at the final score, the good bowling performances from the team in previous fixtures left much optimism, after all “No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his anger; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique” and so the mild disappointment of the lack of acceleration was forgotten.

Roach and Stilo opened up the bowling, and both started well, mastering the angles with the slope and keeping things tight. Stilo made the first breakthrough in his first over, trapping their opener (“clearly not an opener, just look at his lid”-ABG) in front of all three for the crucial breakthrough. However, their number three immediately settled in and was starting to score quicker than both bowlers would like. Despite this, Stilo quickly doubled his tally of wickets, getting the other opener to snick off to Millman. The couple of wickets gave the team real belief that Birmingham could be tied down in a similar manner as we did to their 3’s earlier in the season. However, following this, and as apparent throughout the rest of the game, the difference in quality between the two teams was clear to see and the next partnership started to take the game away from Warwick. With Roach replaced by Hickmott during the period of the batsmen settling down, and Stilo (9-1-42-2) unlucky to concede a few boundaries after a very tight first half to the spell, the score started to quickly accelerate.

With the game slipping away as their number three made his 50, and promotion dreams fading with it, the lessons of ancient war were to resurface again – “Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and then they will live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.” With the 2’s facing annihilation if the rate was to continue, the danger of such a situation eventually brought a change of fortunes. Having struggled early on, changing to bowling solely a variety of slower balls brought Hickmott a first breakthrough. Randall came on at the other end to replace the bionic arm of Stileman, and was immediately able to find a challenging line to keep the batsmen tied down. He was unlucky to miss out on the wicket of their set, and gun batman, inducing an edge behind to Millman, only to see the most regulation of catches fall to the turf, with morale dropping in a similar fashion. Despite this being a horrendous clanger, karma would strike the batsman (I presume karma was as much of a bitch in the 5th century BC too), “Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.” Having already survived his life off Randall, the more threatening of the bowling tandem, this arrogance manifested itself as having a wild swipe across the line of a Hickmott knuckleball, skying the ball straight up. In order to avoid a repeat of the headsgone from three balls earlier, Piers was left to claim the catch (which it was claimed, he called for. In reality, he just has more bottle than Millman). This would act as something of a turning point in the game, as for the next few overs Randall and Hickmott (9-2-34-2) kept the batmen in check. Randall continued to be a threat, beating both edges of the bat at a good pace, yet not giving the batsmen the width needed to score.

With the game’s momentum heading towards Warwick, the introduction of spin would be the opportunity to take control of the game; after all, in war “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” This was indeed the case, as Hall snuck one under the bat of their left hander, someone who had been a thorn in the side of the club in previous friendly fixtures. With Randall having tied down the other end, he passed the baton to King to keep this up. The spin twins from this point proceeded to keep Birmingham well below the required rate, and got through their overs at great pace. “The highest form of generalship is to frustrate the enemy’s plans and the next best is to prevent the enemy’s alliances”, and both were able to do this, frustrating the batsmen by controlling the runs, and King making the breakthrough preventing a promising alliance and allowing a real run at the tail. This frustrated the set Birmingham batsman, needing over 7’s for the last 15 whilst having to farm the strike. This then presented King with his second wicket to reward an excellent spell, not only keeping the rate below the required number, but also bowling a number of dot balls despite a relatively spread field to maintain the pressure. The spinners introduction from the 30th over onwards might have appeared as somewhat of a gamble, but proved to be quite the converse, as the 14 overs of spin from Hall (6-0-24-1) and King (8-1-23-2) allowed the game to shift firmly in our favour as the match started to near its conclusion.

First Roche, and then Randall were introduced as the death bowling partnership to close out the game. The Sunzi reflects on the vital nature of preparation and emphasis on being able to predict future human behaviour based on accurate understanding of facts. As with Hickmott’s array of slower balls, and the tight lines Stilo, Roche and Randall had bowled earlier, the pairs death bowling was also a product forged in the furnace of Desso, and the fact that Birmingham needed to chase an improbably target in the last five made their aggression quite inevitable. Roche (10-0-36-2) was able to use this to his advantage bowling Brum’s last remaining batsman, before schnicking off their 10 next ball; a deserved reward for his bowling throughout the game. Alas, it appeared Warwick would prevail. With 23 required off the last over, Randall (8-1-35-0) should have received his just reward of the final wicket, but events would conspire to prevent this. First Hall, then a combination of Jaimin and ABG (ABG dropped it, Jaimin’s catch all day long) allowed the encounter to continue without reward. However, it was to be the 2’s day, coming out on top by 11 runs.

The victory was a hard earned and well deserved one. Having feared our total was a tad under par, and to stifle a batting line up that could have taken the game away from us at the halfway point was most commendable. Sam King took the Man of the Match honours for his spell, a gutsy effort in the face of the situation he faced, executing his off-breaks when it mattered most for himself, his team, and his club. “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby be the director of the opponent’s fate.” A number of warriors stood up to be counted (at this point I did list relevant contributions, and realised I had pretty much singled everyone out here for something) and the club was able to put together an admirable performance under pressure.

“What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels with winning with ease. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. Hence the skilful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.” Whilst we may not have won with ease, seizing the moment, and making no mistakes under the fiercest of pressure was a fine characteristic through which victory was gained.

As with the rest of this report, The Art of War provides a final relevant word. “Thus, it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” The 2’s therefore seek battle against the foes of Nottingham’s 3rd XI, with a victory raising the possibility of the side earning promotion to Midlands 1A.