A cricketing celebration at the Links
Sometimes the match-result is not the only thing that matters on a sporting occasion. On Easter Sunday at the Links, cricket players, their friends and families and spectators from the local community came together in the sunshine to enjoy a game of cricket, to honour the memory of a former colleague, and to raise funds for a worthy cause.
There had been some anxious moments as the rain fell on Saturday afternoon. But the pitch dried swiftly as the sun emerged through the mist on Sunday morning. The visiting Forty Club players all arrived in good time, and there were enough members of the home club available to allow for substitutions during the game. After the team captains had exchanged mementoes of the occasion, all the players observed a minute’s silence at the wicket before the game started, in memory of Neil Gibson and his brother.
The visitors batted first. Their opening pair took a little while to settle and when Nairn’s wicket keeper and captain Alex Green grabbed a catch off Dave Wolton’s bowling to dismiss Hilyard for 8, the home teams’s spirits rose. But heavy hitting by Louw and a steady and determined performance by Mike Davies saw the visitors’ score advance to over 100 runs before Louw was run out by an accurate throw from Wolton in the field. It was obvious that after the long winter layoff the local players had not shaken off the cobwebs – the bowlers were delivering too many wides, and several fielders failed to take catching opportunities. Then Green caught Davies behind the stumps just as he reached his half-century, and soon after that Calum Forsyth made a fine diving catch to dismiss the left-handed Oliver. By the time the 35-over limit was reached, the visitors had accumulated 179 runs.
Nairn started their innings strongly against medium-paced but consistently accurate bowling, and Wolton managed a couple of sixes towards the beach before giving away an easy catch to the slips for a total of 32. Alex Green anchored the home side as other Nairn batsmen came and went – Macleod and Bronkhorst each for 10, Anniss without scoring, and Forsyth for an impressively determined 27. Steven Neill showed his intentions by striking the first ball he faced for a mighty six into the carpark of the SunnyBrae Hotel. But soon afterwards he was bowled out – like four of the other Nairn batsmen – by a very accurate Smith who was the best of the visiting team’s attack with an eventual 5 wickets for 49 runs. Green was eventually bowled out for 76 ,but the Nairn team were closing in on the target total. A slight shuffle in the batting order gave Neil Gibson’s brother Dave the chance to bat, and the home team finally claimed victory in the 33rd over with a total of 184.
But the afternoon was about much more than cricket. It was an event for the whole community. Numerous spectators sitting around the perimeter were persuaded to buy raffle tickets as part of the fund-raising effort. Several of the Torridon Mountain Rescue Team members were among the crowd in front of the pavilion. Many local people, aware of the background to the occasion, simply made generous donations as the bucket-collectors went around.
Immediately after the match everyone gathered in the pavilion for the raffle-draw and auction. The star auction item, a cricket bat signed by Australian captain and batsman Ricky Ponting, went to a local bidder for £200. A signed photograph of the England T20 cricket team was bought by a local resident who promptly and very generously donated it to the Cricket Club to hang in the Pavilion. Other items of sporting memorabilia, including signed shirts from Inverness Caley and Nairn County, went to enthusiastic local fans. There was slightly less competition for a Yorkshire County cricket ball and a signed picture of Darren Gough, but other bidders went away with vouchers for hotel stays, meals and rounds of golf.
The organisers have still to calculate the final amount raised from the auction and raffle, together with the proceeds of a sweepstake on the total number of runs scored in the match. But a quick reckoning suggests that the total raised for Torridon Mountain Rescue will certainly exceed £1,000. This is entirely due to the generosity of all who donated items, prizes and vouchers including several local firms, the Nairn Golf Club, various hotels and restaurants in the area, and local artist Chloe Furze whose painting of a cricket match on the Links was presented to the visiting team captain as a lasting reminder to the Forty Club of their visit to Nairn.
The Nairn Club Committee also expressed their gratitude to the umpires, George Chappell and Terry Curran who were persuaded by the promise of an ample supply of sandwiches and cake to attend as officials and ensure fair play….. and to all the the friends, families and supporters who all contributed in various ways.
The final word perhaps rightly goes to Dave Gibson, brother of the late Neil and Alan, who at the end of the afternoon stood on the steps of the Pavilion, looked around the Links and across the cricket field and said simply, “Neil would have been proud of this – it has been a memorable day”.