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Sporting Alfas Tour Report - All the news that's fit to print.

19 Apr 2022

The Cryptics 2022 Tour to Spain


April 2022 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Cryptics’ first tour to L’Alfas del Pi on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Four of this year’s tourists, Messrs Ward, Priestnall, Hutchinson and Winter, were on that original tour in 2002, whilst one, Ben Armstrong, was not even born. This year, our opposition, the legendary Sporting Alfas Cricket Club, boasted two Spanish internationals amongst their number, we knew we would need to be at our best to get positive results from the three scheduled matches. Thank goodness there was an opportunity to net before battle commenced on the Friday.

Thursday’s net was an ‘interesting’ affair given no-one had picked up a bat or ball since the end of last season. The weather was beautifully sunny, but the players decidedly rusty as they wafted and flailed at the few deliveries to pitch within shot-playing range of the batsmen. Beamers, long-hops and deliveries that struck the side-netting, usually followed with an embarrassed apology from the bowler, were a common sight; indeed, the less said about that particular session, the better. At least we got it out of our system before play began the following day. Or so we hoped.

When evening came, we were ready to enjoy a well-earned sportsmen’s dinner in one of the local restaurants, and the venue in question provided us with outstanding service. You must understand that when I say ‘outstanding’, I have the ‘yet to be resolved’ definition in my mind as opposed to ‘exceptionally good’ one. That Nick Ashton’s main came from another restaurant shows to what lengths they went to!

But let us turn our attention to the cricket...

Our first match against Alfas’ XL XI took place in bright but breezy conditions on Friday 8th April. The Cryptics elected to bat, with touring veteran John Hamilton and newbie Callum Wood opening the innings together. Quick singles appeared out of fashion for health and safety reasons and, with shots lacking value on the lush outfield, runs were hard to come by early on. Things were somewhat compounded by what was surely the slowest opening bowling partnership in the history of cricket. So sluggish were the deliveries each bowler could have run down the other end to do their own wicket keeping. A frustrated Hamilton’s mood was not helped when he was run out for 12. This brought Paul Armstrong to the crease with the side already behind the necessary rate for a par score. With singles still not advisable there was only one thing the Cryptics could do: whack the ball as hard as possible, which Armstrong did with aplomb on his way to 45, hanging back and pulling it to the boundary for four after four as the Alfas bowlers became increasingly frustrated.

Following Armstrong’s unfortunate demise, Chris Fox came in at number 4 (!), and the running between the wickets improved significantly. The stroke-play, however, did not, and it was left to Wood to do the bulk of the hitting as Fox nurdled his way to a very scratchy 13 before being clean bowled by the off spin of Spanish international Dan Doyle. Not to worry: things would surely improve with the next two batsmen, as big hitters Robin White and Alex Hutchinson were due in next. Nope – both were dismissed cheaply for 5 and 2 respectively, again from the wily off spin of Doyle.

Guest Immy Ullah was in at number 7 and, as a regular player for Valencia’s Levante club, was more used to the conditions reaching a useful 34 not out. A good total was looking likely before, alas, disaster struck for Wood at the other end. Dismissed for 90 off a catch, he could only reflect on what might have been had the running between the wickets been better at the top of the order. It would have been a century for sure if more singles had been taken, although some suggested, unkindly, a double hundred. Nick Ashton made 13 before falling in the final over leaving the Cryptics at 231 -7 off their 40 overs.

In reply, the hopes of the Alfas XI lay largely with their two young openers – Spanish internationals Dan Doyle and Christian Munoz-Mills. Standing in their way were the Cryptics’ opening bowlers: paceman Ben Armstrong (significantly more mobile than his father, Paul!), and paceless leg spinner Alex Hutchinson (whose mobility lies somewhere in between Ben’s and Paul’s!). Doyle in particular got off to a fabulous start, and looked like he wanted to win the match on his own with some exhilarating stroke play, including a number of enormous sixes, smashed to all parts of the ground and beyond. When he finally retired having made 108, the relief was palpable. At the other end, Munoz-Mills fared less well, and was sent back to the hutch for a measly 22 (caught Ullah, bowled B. Armstrong).  With the openers out of sight and out of mind, little resistance came from Alfas’ more appropriately aged batsmen, and Hutchinson took 3 wickets, with one a-piece for Fox, Ullah and Wood as a dreadful batting collapse ensued. Alfas 191 all out; a 42 run victory for the tourists.

It was a splendid start. Keeping wicket had required concentration on the astro surface, but the ageless Nick Priestnall gave a good account of himself, especially with the extra bounce of Hutchinson, and the extra pace of Armstrong. Good glove-work, sir. However, we cannot move on without first mentioning the unfortunate Alan Gregory, who was with us on his very first Cryptics tour. Alan sadly broke his finger whilst trying to take a catch in the deep. Blood poured everywhere, and his finger turned a very interesting shade of blue under the bandages. It was a valiant attempt at a catch, but the rest of his tour was compromised. Thanks for coming, mate!

 Saturday 9th April saw a much stronger Sporting Alfas 1st XI take the field. After a second gentleman’s toss, Alfas batted first, with Crompton making 62 before retiring, and the returning Doyle making 22 before being caught by Fox off the bowling of Armstrong. Runs were coming at pace as batsmen thundered the ball to all parts, the flats on the other side of the road taking a particular hammering in one over from our wonderfully named guest bowler, Jaggi, who struggled to find any satisfaction at all with his leg-breaks. Oh well; you can’t always get what you want! Wickets were shared between Armstrong and Fox (2 each), with 1 a-piece for Ashton and White. Still, the damage was done as Alfas made 359/7 off their 40.

                Just how close could the Cryptics get? White and Hamilton made an excellent start at the top of the order, scoring 38 and 50 respectively. White looked especially assured, able to score at will before finally being castled when attempting one big shot too many. Hamilton, keen to make up for being run out the previous day, played a lovely innings that was characterized by his signature pull shot. It was 50 and out for him. With White and Hamilton gone, neither Wood nor Paul Armstrong could repeat their heroics of the previous day, falling for 12 and 10 respectively. Instead, the plaudits went to Hutchinson for a splendid knock of 84, ably backed up with a quick-fire 40 from Ashton. Chris Ward added 13 before the Cryptics ran out of overs with a score of 266 still 93 runs short. Still, 625 runs in the match was not a bad day’s entertainment.

                But the entertainment did not end there, Phil Pennick, captain of Alfas and a player on our first visit twenty years earlier, entertained his players and some of ours with a series of observations and ‘fines’ (press-ups) levied for misconduct. Hutchinson and Ashton went head-to-head (or rather head to stump) in a beer game sometimes called ‘stumps’. If the intention was to make two of our senior players collapse onto the floor and look stupid, he could have just got Foxy to tell his Carmen joke – again! Once he had regained his composure/balance, Alex, in his best captain’s voice, turned the table on Phil and with the wit and rhetoric of Harpo Marx soon had both teams in raptures and Mr Pennick on the floor doing his press ups – or as near to them as he could manage.

                Saturday night saw the official Anniversary Tour meal in a delightful restaurant chosen by our official guests Kevin Lauden, chairman of Sporting Alfas CC and his wife Cate, Alfas’ tour coordinator. The evening began poignantly with a toast drunk in honour of our former club president, Colin Dean, whose death has been recently announced.  Thank you to his widow Jenny for that.  We looked back over some old photos of the Cryptics’ first tour in 2002 and enjoyed the self-written biopics in their tour booklet.  The one written by a then nineteen-year-old Alex Hutchinson was particularly hilarious: apparently he ‘gave up county cricket because it takes up too much time.’ Didn’t we all, Hutch! Our President, Nick Priestnall, then said a few words and a presentation was made to the Alfas club.

After the meal, a select group of our prime athletes went off to sample the nightlife in Benidorm. I shall remain tight-lipped on that front, as ‘what happens in Benidorm stays in Benidorm’, although there were rumours of shenanigans with an inflatable parrot at one point. Enough said, I think, but well done to Ben Armstrong for bringing Paul back before midnight in the UK when he could have turned into a pumpkin (an object renown for not moving round the field) and to Robin White for getting back safely.

Sunday’s match against Alfas’ 2nd XI had a later start time of 2pm, which was a good job for prime athletes, Hutchinson, Wood and Fox, who still managed to miss the start.  When it came to the cricket, this was a close match. The Cryptics, some might say, surprisingly, considering the aftermath of the aforementioned Benidorm trip, fielded first. Ben Armstrong was excellent with the new pink ball, picking up 3/46 in another superb show of pace bowling;  Hutchinson and Ashton also bowled well, and finished the match with two wickets apiece, whilst Robin White was especially tidy, picking up a wicket and conceding just 29 runs in his spell. Similar praise cannot be heaped on Fox, who was dreadful in the field having had a decent game the day before. Still drunk, one presumes!  By the end of the innings – a 35-over affair – Alfas had scored 246 all out.

Fielding highlights were undoubtedly provided by ‘keeper Chris Ward who, when a couple of pull shots were edged high into the air, sprinted forward, threw off his gloves, seen by many keepers as an advantage when catching a skyer, and, with gloves cartwheeling behind him, ran down the pitch to take two very nonchalant catches.  Special mentions must also be given to Alan Gregory, who bravely fielded despite his broken finger, throwing in rather amusingly left-handed (we originally thought he was, rather disrespectfully, doing an impersonation of Alex) , and Nick Priestnall, who pulled a fetlock while giving rather too speedy chase to the mid-on boundary. This necessitated him hobbling off to be comforted at the bar by his lovely partner, Marina.  

247 was a gettable but tough target which was made all the more so after Wood had fallen early for just 13.  However, fellow opener and birthday boy Robin White, who needed to leave before the conclusion to catch his flight home, with true Cryptics’ spirit he was prepared to forsake this in order to build an innings. He played brilliantly and, supported from the sideline by his lovely wife, Hazel, knocked the ball to all parts for an imperious 87…out with just enough time to get to Alicante. When Hamilton fell for 16, Ben Armstrong finally got his chance with the bat; he need not have bothered, as he fell for a second-ball duck to our erstwhile colleague, Jaggi, who finally found some satisfaction. It was then up to Armstrong Senior with a glorious knock of 51 to show him how things should be done. His pull shots, in particular, were a joy to behold, but the few singles he took and those he did not take were nothing short of comical; Ben is happy to provide video evidence. The older Armstrong certainly has a unique running style, if that’s what one can call it!  Ashton went one better than Ben Armstrong by securing an embarrassing golden duck, but a rapid 22 from Hutchinson, including an almighty 6 that went straight into the bar scattering the punters, brought the Cryptics tantalisingly close to their target. Hopes fell a bit when we were left with Ward and Nick Hodgson at the crease; justifiably as it turned out as they failed to get the 18 needed off 7 balls left. Closing on 237/8 gave Alfas a win by the slender margin of 9 runs.

It was a wonderful tour: the batting award went to Robin White with 130 runs at an average of 43.3 and the bowling award to Ben Armstrong with 20 overs, 5 – 123. Alex Hutchinson’s batting average of 36, five wickets with the ball and two catches would have given him the all-rounders award…had there been one. Well done to all three. A special mention must go to two stalwarts of Cryptics tours, past and present. First, our Player of the Tour, our exceptional umpire, Christopher Dean, for the part he plays umpiring day in day out, on Saturday for well over six hours, all so we can play a bit of cricket. I am sure it was only coincidence that, after three days of umpiring, he had his credit card cancelled after the bank noticed irregular transactions! Second, our thanks must go to scorer Jeremy Winter, who dazzles with the pen just as he did many moons ago with his leg breaks. Of course, their worth on tour extended far beyond their official roles, and both, as usual, provided excellent company with their wit, mirth and wine drinking.

Thanks also to Nick Hodgson, who went to the dual trouble of organising the tour and ensuring he played as little cricket as possible and Nick Priestnall who was awarded the Lifetieme Achievement award for his contribution to European touring over the last twenty years (and not least on this tour). Lastly, we must also thank our hosts, Sporting Alfas C.C., for their superb hospitality. We very much hope to return again soon for more fun in the sun and, of course, a bit of cricket too.

The Tour Manager thanks renowned raconteur, author and sometime teacher, Chris Fox, for this report.