Sofia 2018

The club's annual overseas tour in 2018 was to Sofia, Bulgaria, to extend the number of European destinations to six .

A half day on Thursday meant the team arrived in Sofia around dinner time, and managed to have an evening out without the pressure of playing cricket the following morning. Friday was spent sightseeing - a particular highlight being an exhibition of contemporary and classical art curated by Bulgaria’s most famous Greco-Roman wrestler. This was followed by a game of park cricket - watched on by scores of bemused locals.

Bemusing locals

Both games were scheduled to start relatively early owing to the mercury hitting 30 degrees in early September in Sofia. The team arrived at the National Sports Academy in Sofia just before 10am on Saturday morning in prime shape for their game against Cricket Club Sofia. The pre-match preparation had been better than normal, with most players having managed a healthy combination of sleep and breakfast.

Before the onslaught

The pitch looked flat and artificial and with very few holes. Captain Andy Spurr had no hesitation on winning the toss to elect to bat first. Regular opener Justin Wilson strode out to the middle with Stuart Lumsden, promoted up the order based on an arrival 24 hours behind the rest of the squad.

After a cautious start, Wilson seized on a wide delivery and smashed it through extra cover. Much to his surprise, a catch was snaffled by a fielder who appeared to be paying no attention. Wilson departed for a meagre 4, although that would prove to be surprisingly respectable. John Hull strode out to the middle and strode back shortly afterwards, having guided a wide delivery onto his stumps for a duck.

Bruce Torrance and Lumsden then started a rebuilding job. Just as the ship was starting to steady, Torrance top-edged a sharp lifter to offer a return catch to a pacy antipodean import.

At this stage, things started to get ugly. Rob Jackson and James Duffy also departed for ducks, both bowled. Lumsden went soon afterwards for a well made 40, also bowled. Mark Dean was bowled soon afterwards to bring up the quartet of CIPA ducks.

Some late nudging from Chris Milton (8), Spurr (6), Dave Prothero (6) and Andy Grant (2 not out) dragged the score towards three figures, but in the end we fell marginally short on 99 all out. It transpired that preparations had not covered playing out a full 35 overs, as 10 overs remained left behind.

Still, on a pitch that was a little two paced with some balls keeping low, CIPA still had a chance. Spurr and Grant opened the bowling with a tight spell. Unfortunately, a few edges and mishits didn’t quite go to hand or went to ground and momentum started to turn to Sofia.

With a change of bowling, the Sofia openers began to up the run rate. Wilson and Duffy couldn’t maintain the pressure or make the breakthrough, Duffy nudging his tour bowling average over the 140 mark. As one of the openers opened his shoulders and attempted to hit everything out of park, a Duffy delivery finally went to hand. A gentle inside edge lobbed to short fine leg, where Milton declined to take the easiest chance in CIPA touring history. The gallant batsman retired anyway.

After that, it was a short procession for Sofia to rattle up the remaining runs. Milton and Lumsden offered some eccentric bowling to speed up the proceedings, with Prothero’s tidy over not able to make the difference.

A mere 13.5 overs after they had started, the 100 was up and the game was over. CIPA returned to the pavilion to lick their wounds and prepare for the next day to make amends.
Finally, a win on tour!

Following a relaxing afternoon of sight-seeing (briefly) and gin and tonic drinking (much less brief…) we headed back to the location of our previous day’s humiliation for another early start in the blistering heat.

In the interests of lengthening the game, we let the Bulgarian National Cricket Academy (essentially, the A-team of Bulgaria, supported with a few of the national team) bat first, where despite some tight bowling by Andy Spurr and Andy Grant, the openers looked well set. However, Spurr got an early break through with a fast, straight, pitched up delivery before Bruce Torrance added what was lacking the previous day: the ability to catch and our hosts were two down.

Chris Milton and Mark Dean maintained the pressure with more wickets falling and the run rate being kept low. Unfortunately, this meant that the Bulgarian International T20 opener decided to trust his instincts, the ball was soon rapidly flying to all parts (well mainly cow corner and long on) of the ground, and wickets were drying up at the other end. Heads were bringing to drop (and throb) and the score was beginning to look far too good for a CIPA team lacking in batting confidence. Jonty Rhodes, Paul Collingwood and A. B. de Villiers, to that list may be added Dave Prothero. Robert Jackson dropped one short, the batsman pirouetted and hooked to leg, stretching his 6’6 frame to its fullest, Dave extended a paw like a hungry grizzly bear groping for salmon, clasped a one handed catch to his chest as he thudded to earth and we were back in the game.

Stuart Lumsden (with two cheap wickets) and Bruce Torrance (with one 28 run over) ended the innings and the total of 158, whilst large, did not seem insurmountable… (or was this the dehydration talking?)

Following an unwritten tour law, anybody getting a duck in the first match was likely to be promoted up the order to increase their chances of getting two ducks. Thus, out strode Rob Jackson and James Duffy, with the former scoring three quick boundaries and the latter looking far more circumspect in defence than the previous day. However, after four overs, an International mystery spinner (low bouncing leg breaks and off breaks) came on to bowl and quickly removed both openers. This bringing experienced hands John Hull and Justin Wilson to the crease. With Hull avoiding the best bowling and brutally capitalising on the other bowling (12 fours off three overs) and Wilson bringing home form onto tour, CIPA were looking good.

However, determined not to be beaten, the mystery spinner returned and quickly accounted for Hull, Wilson, Grant and Spurr. Palms were getting sweatier, nerves were fraying and CIPA were facing a typical collapse. However, our ice cold (but sun burnt) Scot, Torrance, and our always confident slogger, Milton, (as well as few extras…) took us over the line with a few powerful blows to much acclaim from the increasing clammy on-looking team mates.

A great team performance as part of a very good-natured game led to one of our most memorable wins on tour and a few (more) celebratory beers and tour fines. A fitting end to yet another fun weekend of cricket, relaxing and the minimum of patent-talk. The matches and stats have been entered and can be found here.