MCCU Season Review

Wednesday 04 September 2013

Having enjoyed huge success in 2011 and 2012, it was always going to be difficult for the MCCU squad to live up to their own high standards in 2013. The cyclical nature of sport at this level saw the likes of Rob Woolley, Pete Turnbull, Craig Park and Ben Ackland move on to pastures new and with Zafar Ansari regularly called away by Surrey and Paul Best injured, it was a much changed side which played the majority of fixtures. While this allowed coach Chris Scott to blood the next generation of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin cricketers, it meant the season just gone was not one in which Cambridge were involved in MCCU Cricketís biggest days.

Pre-season visits from Leicestershire CCC and Essex 2nd XI tested even the hardiest Fennerís followers, played as they were in bitterly cold April conditions. Jumpers and hand-warmers remained in high demand for the now annual visit of Essex 1st XI to kick start their first-class season, and the county were as strong as ever. Matt Salisbury bowled an inspired spell to leave his county colleagues in a level of bother on the first morning, inducing edges from three of the top four. However, the wicket flattened out in the afternoon and Mark Pettini brought up his century just before the Essex declaration, with Tom Westley, James Foster and Greg Smith all registering fifties. A seam bowling attack including the pace of Tymal Mills, as well as Maurice Chambers, Graham Napier and David Masters was always going to provide a stiff yet memorable challenge for the Cambridge batsmen and so it proved. Some late order resistance from Alasdair Pollock, including seven fours and two sixes, both off the bowling of Mills, provided some entertainment for a healthy crowd, but unfortunately the Cambridge batting line up did not perform as they would have liked. The Essex top three of Rob Quiney, Ben Foakes and Westley each helped themselves to a century in the second innings, and the only man to miss out was Ravi Bopara, dismissed LBW, first ball, by an Akbar Ansari googly. An early Essex wicket in the second innings may have left Cambridge fearing the worst, but the batsmen acquitted themselves well second time round, with contributions from both Ansari brothers and 82 on first-class debut for Nipuna Senaratne as the match finished a draw.

Middlesex visited Fennerís at the end of April and although not boasting Ashes cricketers Chris Rogers and Steven Finn as they did in 2011, still put out a strong line-up, including James Harris, Corey Collymore and Joe Denly. Batting first, the county lost a couple of early wickets to left-arm seamer James Cowan before David Malan and Adam London came together to form the major partnership and propel their side towards a significant score. London fell for 81, agonisingly short of a maiden first-class hundred, but Malan carried on to end 156*. Assuming it is possible to upstage an innings of such substance, then Adam Rossington certainly managed it. He came to the crease with 14 overs remaining in the day, brought up his half century with four overs remaining in the day, and ended up registering his century from the first ball of the last over, in 55 balls and 49 minutes. The frustration about the Cambridge reply was that four batsmen made good starts, without any progressing past Dean Bell and his 47. A collapse from 126-4 to 157 all out was also disappointing; Gurjit Sandhu did the major damage with four wickets. Middlesex manipulated their order to allow batting practise for those that needed it as they pushed for a second declaration, and that came at the start of day three. Zafar Ansari top-scored for Cambridge with 72 in the second innings, but that was the only major contribution from a Cambridge batsman as the side were bowled out for 179 to lose by 234 runs.

The third and final county fixture of the season, against Gloucestershire, saw Cambridge deprived of several of their most experienced players due to the impending exam period. Cambridge bowled tidily on the first morning and Alasdair Pollock helped himself to a couple of wickets in helpful conditions for swing bowling. A partnership between Alex Gidman (140*) and Hamish Marshall (98) took the game away from the MCCU in the afternoon and it was a position from which they would never recover in the game. Missing both Ansaris, Paul Best, Tom Elliott and Nipuna Senaratne left Cambridge understrength with the bat, and they were bowled out cheaply twice to lose by an innings. Amit Gupta made a typically lively 55 in the second innings, but it was too late to launch an attempt to save the game.

The BUCS one-day competition brought the best out of Cambridge MCCU in 2011 and 2012, with spectacular semi-final victories away to Loughborough followed by victories in Wormsley finals over Cardiff and Durham. This yearís campaign got off to a flying start with a memorable one-run victory over Oxford, secured from the final ball of the match, at Fennerís. Cambridge were on the wrong end of a similarly narrow defeat against Leeds the following week, before comprehensive defeats to Exeter, surprisingly, and Loughborough left Cambridge effectively out of the running for a semi-final berth. A thumping win over Southampton Solent secured top flight status for next year, but the one-day season ended with home defeats to Cardiff and Durham, revenge for the 2011 and 2012 finals, and Cambridge finished a disappointing sixth out of eight.

The start of the defence of the two-day title appeared to be going the way of the light Blues as they racked up a commanding first-innings score in their opening fixture against Oxford, but heavy rain prevented any play on day two and the chance to get an early victory, and maintain the momentum which had been so crucial to the title charge in 2012, was lost. Leeds has been a difficult place for Cambridge to visit in recent years and the Yorkshiremen were a very strong side this year, ultimately winning the same double Cambridge had secured in 2012. A poor batting performance let down what had been a reasonable bowling effort to restrict Leeds at Weetwood, and the trip north saw Cambridge return home empty handed after successive defeats. A fantastic win against Loughborough would prove to be the highlight of perhaps the entire season, with James Johnson, Amit Gupta and James Cowan, at the very end, the heroes with the bat. Home defeats to Cardiff, a match which included a bizarre, and somewhat pointless, refusal to declare from the visitors, even having secured a first innings victory and bonus points, and also Durham, compounded a disappointing summer in the longer form.

The T20 qualifiers for the South group saw Cambridge exit the competition at the first hurdle, losing to Oxford and Cardiff at the Parks. Defending 124 against Cardiff, Cambridge were very much in the game before some lusty blows towards the end saw the Welsh side to victory in the 19th over. The Cambridge batting failed to fire against Oxford and a total of 74 all out fell well short of what was required. Three wickets from Matt Salisbury gave Cambridge a glimmer of hope, but victory was never realistic and Oxford ran home comfortable winners by six wickets.

Four Cambridge players, Josh Poysden, James Johnson, Matt Salisbury and Dean Bell travelled to Abu Dhabi on a pre-season tour with the MCCU Combined Universities squad, with Poysden and Johnson also representing them in the county 2nd XI Championship over the course of the summer. Poysden also travelled to Sri Lanka to represent a British Universities XI in an international T20 tournament, alongside his Cambridge team mate Ben Wylie.

James Johnson has been named MCCU captain for 2014, and took the reins for the final game of the 2013 season. Hopes will be high about his ability to lead from the front with the bat and in the field, and for Cambridge to use the experience gained in 2013 to get back to pushing for honours over the coming year.

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