One or two regular players were missing from the Nairn team which hosted Highland at the Links on Saturday. The visitors went away with a win. But the match was not as one-sided as the score might suggest, and in fact all the players seemed to enjoy the game. The contest proved that strategy is as important as skill. If Nairn had been smarter and more thoughtful when batting, the outcome might have been a lot closer.
The home side won the toss and opted to bat first. A brave decision, since the Highlanders have some seriously threatening bowlers; but the aim was to try to set a respectable total for the visitors to chase.
Alex Green fell victim very early to a fierce yorker from “KC” Clement which uprooted his middle stump. Dave Wolton followed soon after, caught behind the stumps, with the total at only 13 after 7 overs. So it became Mike Davies’ task to steady the ship. He did so with sensible, restrained and effective batting which demonstrated that the Highland bowling could be contained. Unfortunately the pressure seemed to prey on the minds of Nairn’s middle-order batsmen. The shrewd tactic would have been to focus on staying in and supporting Davies, who was well settled in. But both Iain MacLeod (who scored 1) and Shane Hayward (5) clearly felt they ought to push the score onwards. In trying to hit out after a change in the bowling attack, they almost inevitably put the ball into the air and gave away easy catches.
When Steven Neill came in, all the Highland fielders retreated out towards the boundaries. But he too was caught after scoring only 8, and then when Davies finally went for 26 – also caught – with the Nairn total on just 52, it began to look like a Nairn batting collapse. Richie Thompson (6) and Colin Owens (5) put up some resistance but both eventually fell victim to KC Clement, and Nairn’s tail-enders were soon dismissed. Nairn had clawed their way to a score of 71 all out in 30 overs. Highland took no less than 6 catches, and Clement ended with bowling figures of 4 wickets for just 7 runs, while Cameron (2 for 11), Hassan (2 for 16) and Singh (2 for 26) did the rest of the damage.
Nairn knew it would be a tough challenge to defend such a modest total. But Highland’s opening batsman Smith was caught off Thompson in the slips in the third over with only 3 on the board. Steven Neill bowled accurately for several maiden overs, and things began to look more encouraging for the home team. In fact for the first ten overs Highland played very cautiously. Their run-rate was even slower than Nairn’s. But crucially, the batsmen defended, took singles when possible, and did not give away their wickets.
Wolton then came on to bowl, and was unlucky to see two chances missed: he knocked over one Highland batsman’s stumps only to have the delivery called as a no-ball, and later saw a catch off his bowling dropped in the field. He did however eventually claim the wickets of Regan (who scored 28) and Ravi, who had faced 13 overs for a score of just 4, but played the crucial supporting role that enabled the partnership to add 35 to the total. The writing was on the wall for Nairn when Sunny came in to bat for Highland and struck no less than 20 runs off Thompson in a single over. Hassan at the other end contributed 11, and in the 21st over Highland reached the total of 72 which gave them victory by 7 wickets.
Although the scoreline looks unimpressive, the Nairn players need not feel discouraged. The team actually bowled and fielded well. If they had followed Davies’ example and applied more thought while batting, to the tactics of staying in, choosing their opportunities and resisting the Highland bowling rather than trying to hit out at every delivery, the match could well have been a lot closer.
Next weekend (8 June) sees the usual three-way T20 contests: Nairn will be taking on Forres and Highland at Fraser Park, while Ross County host Northern Counties and Fort William, and Buckie and Elgin travel to Huntly.