Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Cornes Era, 1954-1988

From Mungo Denison, 1981-1986

The Finest Hour

On winning the Prep School County Cricket Championships, 1986

The Preparatory Schools County Final; an elusive prize hard fought for, yet never claimed by us in our long history as a competitor. However, now the chance had come, a day which had more riding on it than John Wayne’s pony. West Downs had arrived convincingly and eagerly to the final, stopping boldly every challenge in its path. The Day of Reckoning had dawned, and as we boarded the bus we were all hushed with a sense of pride and duty.

The setting was the home of the Hampshire Cricket Team, a place where past and present heroes and idols battled against each other to the very end. But today was our day, our turn to grace the hallowed turf and engage in our battle for the sought after prize.

Our opposition were stout and dangerous, each of them as keen to peak and succeed as each of us. We watched and stared as they went through their paces, warming up, throwing and catching, ever the organised team. Patrick Evans, our valiant skipper, embarked on the long lonely walk with no one but their skipper for company. What was he to do? Bat or field? Such an easy decision previously, now a matter of life or death.

We were fielding first. A sense of urgency filled us. We had to treat this like any other game and simply attack from the start. Henry Foster and Patrick Evans were to open the onslaught with myself there, with deceiving spin, to add, hopefully, to their frustration.

The signal was given and the attack began with both Foster and Evans claiming early victims. Premature feelings of Victory began to try and surface. But I, as others, had to suppress them and continue the task set.

By this stage Parents and Teachers, Brothers and Pupils had filled some of the stands, and were in buoyant mood. Proud as they were, it was, to them, a day from the office and a picnic in the sun. They couldn’t possibly tap into the anxiety and nerves that filled the pitch.

Our progress continued with more dismissals. The sun, now high in the sky, acted as a catalyst to our efforts. The resistance from the middle ordered, strengthened, and feelings of defeat had to be quashed, like the feelings of Victory before. The task was straight forward yet seeming almost unobtainable. Then my wish was granted and we broke their defence, Foster claiming another wicket to add to his tally. Wickets then began to fall in steady succession. Then my services were called on. I was to bowl. This I was thankful for, as batting was certainly not my forte.

I approached the wicket slowly, knowing my job, yet frightened to do it. What if ... No, just bowl. My first over was useful with only a few runs scored off it. My second and third were effective, and my fourth claimed a wicket. Before long Durlston Court had crumbled, their tail enders unable to cope with the power of Foster. It was time for us to withdraw from the field, relinquish our grip of the Ball and make use of the Bat.

The openers set the scene and the standard with a quick succession of runs. Within minutes both were dismissed, nerves more than anything proving to be the greatest threat. My batting place of number four, a total surprise as much to the team as to myself, now seemed ever closer, and very vital.

Minutes turned into tens of minutes, and then a faint appeal, followed by a roar. With six runs needed to win I had to bat. Could I steal the honour of hitting the winning runs – more to the point, could I stay in. I made the long walk and took my stance. I stood up to face reality, and watched as it went off my pad and past slip. Five runs to get and I wasn’t facing. A huge sense of relief and frustration overcame me. Foster at the other end hit out and the single was made. I was to face again and this time it was to be the last. The ball came, bounced, and was hit deep through the covers. I yelled the customary “Yes!” and ran. I didn’t look at the ball, choosing instead just to keep on running. Then I saw my good friend and captain, Patrick Evans, galloping onto the pitch screaming and jumping. Had the ball hit him? Had he seen Jesus? No, we had won! The ball had gone for four. I simply didn’t know what to think.

The trophy was lifted high, and the drink flowed. West Downs, the school that broke conventions and created its own, now had broken a jinx and done its ghosts proud. We left triumphant, feeling we could walk on water.