at Lord’s, Saturday 22nd May 2021
After a poor forecast earlier in the week, a swirling cloudy sky, but no rain, greeted the players as they arrived at this most magnificent of all cricket grounds, refurbished with towering new stands at the Nursery end. MCC were using the game as a practice COVID run for the forthcoming Test match, and so everyone was masked and zoned and patrolled into place, but it was the first Lord’s crowd of the season, who contributed significantly to the unique atmosphere of the day, especially when the school contingents arrived. Eton had an impressive 100% record in their previous matches, winning their last two matches by 10 wickets, although this had the disadvantage that only two of their batsmen had played a match innings in the last 10 days, which was to become significant later. Harrow also had an impressive record, outplaying most of their opponents so far, so the teams looked well matched with several known talented players on both sides. Lord’s had prepared a strip 15 yards in from the edge of the square, which was a welcome surprise for this fixture, avoiding the usual short boundary, and it looked, and was to play, firm and dry. Eton won the toss, and inevitably, in such overcast conditions, invited Harrow to bat. Harrow were being coached in this fixture for the first time by Johny Marsden (Oxford University Captain) and Mark Ramprakash (Middlesex & England).
Both Gus Beagles and Finn Catherwood struggled with their line initially, so there were 15 wide deliveries in the first 10 overs. Johnny Connell looked to be positive from the start and stroked four attractive boundaries, so that Harrow got off to a flier. 25 had come from the first 3 overs when both opening bowlers struck: Cameron Ellis was brilliantly caught by Monty Glyn at slip pushing tentatively at Beagles (27-1: 4 runs/8 balls): 3.4 overs), and Catherwood swung a ball in to Connell from left-arm over to trap him lbw half-forward, the ball after he had been badly dropped at mid-off (33-2: 18/20: 4.5). Veer Patel joined his captain, Tej Sheopuri, and they carefully saw off the opening attack, but the introduction of off-spinner Ed Hilditch was immediately effective as the latter tried to break free of the shackles and skied a difficult catch to Glyn peddling backwards at mid-on, who held on as he fell (55-3: 3/31: 12.5); this was a disappointing end for a class player. Max Ferreira, who had scored a brilliant attacking hundred two days before, held on for dear life, as George Weldon bowled a fast accurate spell, until a dreadful mix-up as a ball was pushed into a gap at square leg resulted in him being run out by a flat throw from Ollie Stone (78-4: 4/32: 24.1). Meanwhile Patel (29*) had played with calm assurance, showing respect but not wasting opportunities to score, and with Phoenix Ashworth, he saw Harrow safely to lunch: 92-4 from 30 overs – there had been a brief delay for a rare shower. Hilditch completed a very economical spell of 11 overs for 23 runs, but for the first time since the start, Harrow were just beginning to get on top: Patel punishing Catherwood with three boundaries in an over, when the returning Weldon trapped him lbw with a full, fast, straight delivery to end a fine battling innings (120-5: 47/85: 35.3); in his next over, the same bowler comprehensively yorked Brij Sheopuri (125-6: 3/9: 36.2). Ashworth’s patient vigil ended when he edged Arnav Varma to the ‘keeper soon after (132-7: 14/36: 37.5). The Harrow tail hung around but found it hard to score as Varma completed a miserly spell of accurate medium pace: 11-2-16-3, bowling John Richardson (142-8: 4/20: 43.1) and having Jasper Gray smartly stumped by George Freeman as he overbalanced (150-9: 5/33: 49.1). The number of wides continued to mount and eventually became joint top scorer with 47, so that extras top scored with 49, suggesting that the standards requested to the umpires by the Masters-in-Charge for the bowlers before the toss (ODI wides) were too strict for their ability – Harrow were to bowl 14. Stone bowled the 54th over, his first of the day, and immediately had John Koutalides neatly caught at mid-on by Hilditch (161 all out: 7/32: 53.6), leaving James Nelson undefeated on 3 from 19 balls. The Harrow total looked 60 below par on a good pitch, and most of the batsmen struggled to get on top of the bowling, and failed to put the fielders under pressure. Eton bowled, caught and fielded effectively as a unit and Weldon’s pace and accuracy stood out as a consistent threat (11-0-34-2); Beagles conceded just 7 runs from the bat in his 11 overs but bowled 14 wides; only Catherwood was expensive as he bowled a very full length to try to get swing.
Freeman raced out of the blocks with three well-timed boundaries in Ellis’ first over, but before it ended, the bowler had his revenge, inducing a slash outside off-stump which was well caught by Connell at slip (16-1: 13/9: 1.6). Milo Russell had hit two languid fours when Gray moved one away from him for a regulation catch behind (35-2: 8/11: 6.2). The game was therefore well balanced as Whipple joined the elegant, compact and unflustered James Weir, who was steadily moving into his stride, timing and placing the ball with clinical precision. The introduction of Connell’s accurate medium pace slowed the run-rate, and he had Whipple caught behind fencing after a patient innings (72-3: 12/36: 18.2). Captain Beagles, who had struggled for runs so far this season, settled his nerves with an early boundary as both sides sensed a key moment. The baton was now embraced by Weir as he blossomed in the late afternoon sunshine which bathed the ground in all its glory. With the finishing line seemingly fast approaching, he reached a classy fifty from 79 balls, and the pair had just completed a fifty partnership when the attacking leg-spin of Brij Sheopuri induced him to edge behind for brother Tej’s third catch (135-4: 60/91: 29.6). Harrow immediately bolted into life when, in his next over, a flat, accurate throw from Patel at deep square-leg beat a diving Glyn attempting a second (139-5: 1/4: 31.2), and two balls later, Stone was comprehensively bowled (139-6: 0/2: 31.4), and the game had now been turned on its head, with Harrow scenting an unlikely victory. The lack of recent match batting practice for the middle order had been exposed, and Varma joined his captain in a first-rate crisis with 23 still to get. They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Beagles now took the bull by the horns and dominated the situation, pulling the ball very effectively off the front foot for boundaries. He received invaluable calm support from Varma (3* from 11 balls – an unsung hero of the day), and was undefeated on a splendid 47 from 59 balls as Eton won by 4 wickets in the 38th over. Brij Sheopuri was the pick of the bowlers and posed a constant threat (7.4-0-29-2), Connell bowled a testing spell that was full of heart (11-1-44-1), and Harrow took all of their chances and fielded well. They did very well to come back so strongly when all seemed lost, and with a higher total to defend, they may well have prevailed after the moment of crisis, which produced a very watchable and exciting last 20 minutes. Had Eton succumbed, the 47 wides would have come back to haunt them.
Our thanks to the two vastly experienced umpires, who had a reliable, consistent and uncontroversial day, and as always to MCC for allowing the Schools to play at this iconic venue once more. The vision of a triumphant Beagles, bat and arms aloft, saluting the Eton supporters will live in the memory.
You can also see the full match scorecard.