This blog is in two parts: the first by Adam Drew (Geography 2013), Fitzwilliam College Cricket Captain 2016, and the second by Andrew Powell, Fitzwilliam’s Bursar. The Cricket Varsity match takes place at Lords on Friday 1 July. Tickets on the gate.
Part 1: Cricket Cuppers Champions 2016
As a second-string Fitzwilliam side were roundly thumped on an overcast April afternoon in a friendly against a Magdalene team devoid of proper cricketing attire, I did not instinctively think this was a cuppers winning team in the making. Let me start by telling you what cuppers is. Cuppers are intercollegiate sporting competitions. Each sport holds a cuppers competition each year, which is open to all colleges. Back in April, I didn’t really think we’d win. The cricket season is horribly short, and we have to fit in things like exams. The Master tells the story of when Hon Fellow Sir Dennis Byron (Law 1962) came to Fitz as a young man from St Lucia, he couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t be playing cricket in October… It may not be a year round sport, but cuppers is a prize which every College wants to win – to be the best…
There are huge challenges for a College cricket team. There are weekly essays to fit in, and some of the team are playing or training with the University team (the Blues) whilst others have represented the Crusaders – the University second team.
But we focused – and two weeks later we had a replay against Magdalene. This time it was a serious ‘cuppers’ match and this time we had a near-to-full strength side. We won comfortably by 80 runs.
Our other group match was against Clare Hall who boasted an Australian first-grade cricketer. Our 10-wicket win saw us qualify for the quarter-finals and we were now dreaming of a day at Fenner’s, the glorious University cricket pitch. Our quarter-final was a home tie against Emmanuel. Our semi-final was once again at home, our wonderful pitch in Oxford Road, close to College, this time against Robinson.
During pre-season our Blues wicketkeeper Patrick Tice (Theology 2013) had informed me that one of three colleges could win cuppers: Fitzwilliam, Robinson or Girton. Girton had secured a semi-final tie against Jesus so we knew we would likely have to beat both favoured teams to win cuppers. First, Robinson. Henry Warne (HSPS 2013) bowled perhaps the spell of his life to soak up the runs, remove their star batsman, and ultimately win us the match. However, just as the match appeared won, Henry delivered a no-ball off what should have been the last ball of the innings which was dispatched for six meaning Robinson could still win the match with another six. Thankfully Henry kept his composure and we won by five runs. We now had the chance to win cuppers for the first time since 1972. We had our day at Fenner’s.
Wednesday 8 June was a glorious, hot and sunny day. A crowd of perhaps 100 – weighted in Fitzwilliam’s favour – turned up for what was a match for the ages. I won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. By the half-way stage of our innings things were far from ideal. On what appeared a glorious batting track we had scored at barely a run-a-ball for the loss of two wickets including Patrick Tice. The next 10 overs saw the birth of a new Fitzwilliam batting hero, however, as fresher Tom Corner (Natural Sciences 2015) played what must be one of the greatest cuppers-final innings to score 81 and, with a quick-fire cameo from Oli Taylor (History 2015), push the innings score to 167 which was widely felt to be just above par.
We started brilliantly restricting Girton in the early overs with Sam Strong (Geography 2009) – representing Fitzwilliam for the seventh year – picking up a crucial early wicket. Can he make his PhD extend another year?! Girton’s captain counterattacked with a rapid innings of 49 until being brilliantly caught on the second attempt by Dan Mehlig (Engineering 2013) at Cover. And so it continued until we eventually squeezed out a 3-run victory to end a nail-biting contest. The 44-year wait was over. Fitzwilliam were champions. It felt fantastic.
Cricket is a funny old game. I love it because it is an individual game within a team sport. It can turn in a moment and conjures up such a wide range of emotions throughout just a few hours. Also, it’s played in the sunshine (most of the time)! And I can’t quite express the pleasure of winning cuppers. It feels a bit like finishing my degree – not obtaining the grade but actually finishing that final exam knowing you’ve done all you can and (hopefully) having achieved everything you’ve been working towards for the past year.
And now a couple of members of the College team will be playing in the Varsity match at Lords over the coming weeks. I’ll be attending: will you?
Part 2: A view from the boundary – and beyond
I am the proudest Senior Treasurer in Fitzwilliam this year. The first in 44 years to win Cricket Cuppers! I am taking as much credit as I can, from the provision of the kit, to the pre-season friendly against my old club in which the College made the village team look like internationals, to the staff & Fellows against the students game in which we just gave the College enough of a run out to make the difference in the semi-final against Robinson!
Seriously it was a privilege just to be associated with this great achievement. I managed to get to one of the group games (opposition bowled out for 19, mostly extras), and the latter part of the semi-final, against Robinson at Oxford Road. This was not a team dependent on one or two stars and a bunch of journeyman: from where I saw it, it was a whole team effort. Sure we had our stars – every team needs them – but whenever someone failed, someone else stepped up to fill the gap. We batted deep, bowled long and fielded like demons. Every one was a hero. On the field we looked a well organised outfit. The captain was in charge looking as though he had a plan for all situations and the team followed instinctively. The new ‘Baggy Red’ caps (now surely destined to be more popular than Manchester United football shirts) reinforced the impression of a strong and focused team, inspired confidence in the supporters and fear in the opposition; somehow you never felt they were going to break even though every game was a tight one.
And yet they never made it easy; who but Fitz could contrive to make a cliffhanger out of a situation in which the opposition needed 14 to win off the last ball (semi-final against Robinson)?
Of course this squad is not a flash in the pan. I’m sure they would be first to acknowledge the efforts of those captains over the last three years who have brought Fitz cricket back from the brink. I’m especially pleased for Sam Strong who has played for Fitz for seven years, and done two stints as captain and really pulled us through some difficult times.
Those of us who failed to get to the final had to make do with various methods of communication. At the Past v Present match on Saturday, I heard tales of alumni following the match via Twitter feeds in the office. Back in the College, we had to make do with unreliable text messages. The final message before contact was lost was “Girton 88 for 12 – looking a bit better”. We didn’t even know whether this was the first or second innings, so we were very confused for the rest of the afternoon! When the news came of the eventual victory by three runs, the Fellows were gathering in the Upper Hall for a meeting of the Governing Body. Others will tell the tale of the game, but the JCR President had the pleasure of informing the Governing Body of this historic achievement which drew a round of applause (another first?).
Four years ago we were proud to host the 1972 cuppers winning team holding their 40th anniversary back in College. We look forward to the return of the 2016 champions, and watch out for Fitz Cricket 2060!