North Midd duo reflect on 2019 glory as title defence is delayed by pandemic

Joe Cracknell of NMCC during North Middlesex CC vs Hampstead CC, Middlesex County League Cricket at

Joe Cracknell of NMCC during North Middlesex CC vs Hampstead CC, Middlesex County League Cricket at Park Road on 25th May 2019 - Credit: George Phillipou/TGS Photo

North Middlesex face a wait to start the defence of their Middlesex League Premier Division title, with recreational cricket activity suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Joe Cracknell of NMCC during North Middlesex CC vs Hampstead CC, Middlesex County League Cricket at

Joe Cracknell of NMCC during North Middlesex CC vs Hampstead CC, Middlesex County League Cricket at Park Road on 25th May 2019 - Credit: George Phillipou/TGS Photo

But that did not stop Joe Cracknell and Luke Hollman reflecting on the success of 2019 as guests on the league’s podcast last week.

Both have come up through the youth ranks at the club as well as the Middlesex age groups to 2nd XI cricket and, in Cracknell’s case, a first-class debut against Ireland last summer.

Cracknell was introduced as having scored nearly 2,000 runs in four seasons, while Hollman has 1,500 league runs and nearly 100 wickets to his name, as well as Minor Counties honours with Berkshire and England under-19 caps.

And both picked out two key games during last summer when it came to discussing their title triumph.

Hollman said: “The first game we played Ealing, which we did the previous season. It’s always a 20-pointer game and we lost narrowly in the last over.

“We thought we’ve played okay here, we’ve still got loads more to give and Ealing have only narrowly beaten us. From that point it was quite pivotal.

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“We took confidence from that game, despite losing narrowly, and went on a bit of a run and then we played Hampstead away. All the games were washed out. We got it on and knew it was our opportunity to get a bit of a lead at the top.

“We bowled pretty well, restricted Hampstead, but didn’t bat particularly well and lost. But we realised we’re in a serious fight for winning the title.”

Cracknell selected two other fixtures, adding: “The game we played against Richmond where Luke scored plenty and we won by 200 runs.

“These blokes had won the league with a record amount of points and we beat them by 200 and thought ‘we can actually do this’. Then at home when we played Twickenham, which didn’t go so well.

“I was captain that game, my first game as captain and it didn’t go to plan! They played significantly better than us and deserved to win. It was another reality check.

“We realised it’s not going to be plain sailing and we’re going to have to work hard for this. It made us realise we were in a proper fight and if we wanted to win it, we can’t slip up again.

“People make mistakes and have off-days, but we knew as a collective and a whole that it was vital that didn’t happen again if we were to have any chance and lucky enough it did.”

As for what they felt had been key to their overall success in claiming the title, as they finished 17 points clear of Hampstead with 11 wins, four draws and three losses to their name, the pair were fairly clear in their minds.

Cracknell, who scored three hundreds in a total of 726 runs at an average of 51.86, added: “We like to bat first, put the oppo under pressure right from the first ball and it seems to have worked more often than not.

“It’s a game plan that has been successful for us in the past, so there wasn’t much need for us to change it.”

Hollman, an ever-present who scored three centuries and three fifties on the way to 816 runs at a league best average of 54.40 and took 34 wickets at 15.56 each, said: “We’ve got so much depth in our bowling. We’ve probably got 7-8 bowlers who can comfortably do a job. Having Joel (Hughes) open the bowling, arguably one of the best seamers in the league, is ideal and on the rare occasion we get Ethan (Bamber) playing, if we have those two opening the bowling, it’s ideal.

“Whether it’s limited overs or timed stuff, to have the volume of options we have for bowling is pretty handy.”

The first three rounds of scheduled fixtures on May 9,16 and 23 have already been declared as abandoned, with a home match against Teddington next on the list for North Midd.

But with the UK lockdown being extended for a further three weeks, hopes of that marking the start of the new campaign appear very remote.

County cricket will not start until May 28 at the earliest and the North Midd duo revealed they have training schedules to follow from Middlesex.

Cracknell said: “The contact we’ve had has been online. It’s a bit strange doing yoga in the basement over Zoom, but anything to keep in shape and keep ticking over, to be ready for when it starts because the run-up is going to be significantly less than what I’d be used to.

“I’m the most unfleixble person. I find them (yoga) very uncomfortable!”

Hollman added: “We’re doing voluntary running, roughly 4-5 times a week. We’ve got all home gym stuff, some yoga, we had a pilates session as well which was good. All throughout the week on weekdays we’ve all got something to do.”

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