The UK Potteries region welcomed the Bahrain Camels, a squad of sports-lovers from the kingdom made up of seasoned players from the Awali Cricket Club’s Taverners team, for their 24th consecutive tour with Newcastle and Hartshill hosting the opening match.
Fresh from an away 1st Division victory against local rivals Elworth, which the local daily newspaper The Stoke Sentinel reported as being one of their finest performances, the Newcastle side were relishing the prospect of tasting further success as the Camels adapted to local conditions.
Following a minutes silence in respect of recently departed Camels stalwart, Tony Forward, Captain Matt Rees won the toss and chose to bowl, handing the ball to former St Christopher’s school pupil George Axtell.
Axtell bowled with a level of heat and precision that local potters would have been proud of, repeatedly troubling the Newcastle batsmen, joining together more dots in the scorebook than those found in a child’s activity book. He conceded his first run late in the fourth over from an outside edge put down at second slip.
Fortunately Doug Perrins was encouraging the openers to play at the ball, ultimately leading to their downfall.
Lee Slaymaker whipped a wristy shot towards the square leg umpire only to see Dave Hilton leap like a salmon to clasp the ball into his baited hands.
The scoreboard pressure began to tell as the Newcastle batsmen felt forced to take risky runs, leading to their own demise.
First the home side captain, George Heckman, decided to try to take on the arm of Axtell who, racing around the boundary ropes threw the ball like a rocket right above the stumps leaving Perrins time to acknowledge the growing crowd before whipping off the bails.
Not to be outdone, shortly afterwards Tom Wooding swept in and in one motion with only one stump to aim at collected the ball and threw it in underarm to leave Jack Wilson inches short with his despairing dive.
With the home side tottering at 9-3 visiting captain Matt Rees decided to demonstrate the friendliness for which Bahrain is known and allow Newcastle to achieve a more challenging total.
Unfortunately for the Camels this coincided with the arrival at the crease of Newcastle’s professional, Ryan Davies, formerly of Durham. He cruised to his 50 at which point he retired allowing the Camels to regain the initiative.
Jonathan Gidman remained patient and correct throughout although watched a succession of batsmen return to the impressive clubhouse.
The wily veteran, Guy Parker, started the rot with a vicious spinner that turned through the gate of the sheepish Ellerton. Unusually for an Australian, Doug Perrins somehow found more movement in his second spell and snaffled two more wickets.
Bahrain feared the worst as this allowed Davies to return to the crease although David Axtell lured him out of his crease and fired one past his edge to see Charles Forward remove the bails.
Average scores at this picturesque ground by Lyme Brook exceed 220 meaning that Bahrain could enjoy a hearty tea having returned the hosts for 158.
Charles Forward and Graham Hoar opened the batting hoping to feast on the gentle off-spin of young Jacob Mattocks although he had the last laugh sending both back in quick succession to the clubhouse for leftovers.
Wooding and Perrins steadied the ship with the former hitting one over for 22, helping him reach a well-struck half-century and deserved rest.
Unfortunately for the Camels, Perrins, whose defence looked impenetrable, was run out after been sent back by his colleague as he tried to sneak a quick single.
At this point the rain started to fall although the Camels, returning from a 12-month drought from cricket together, were determined to continue.
Parker’s wicket was snapped up by Gater, given LBW by umpire Starkie as he wiped the refraction-inducing rain from his glasses while John Rees was unlucky to be caught after striking several lusty blows.
By this stage the dark storm clouds loomed overhead and the rain increased. While the raucous crowd found refuge indoors and cars shone their headlights towards the pitch, the valiant Bahrain batters were struggling with visibility.
Jack Wilson stormed in to bowl Bahrain’s final three batsmen with the umpire raising his finger having heard the clatter of wickets rather than witnessing them with the score at Newcastle 158, Bahrain Camels 119 in the 45 overs game.
As the teams found their way back to the clubhouse, drawn by the light from Parker’s luminous cricket kit, Wooding was left to reflect on his fine undefeated knock of 54.
The BMMI Man of the Match Award was handed to Ryan Davies for his winning innings. Wooding received the Euro Motors Drive of the Day as a result of his exquisite off-side shots, while George Axtell won their Economy Drive Award for conceding only six runs from five overs, mostly off the edge.
Bahrain’s Camels were left to reflect on a solid start to their tour and move on towards an evening T20 fixture against Wedgwood.