In a way, we should almost be grateful that last month’s trailblazing match between two LGBTQ+ cricket clubs was rained off. Squeezing in 20 overs on a damp pitch with the weather putting supporters off would not have befitted such an historic occasion. Sunday was the complete opposite. By 10am, the sun was already baking the Weoley Hill wicket where the hosts were busily setting up the ground for this momentous occasion. It wasn’t just the cricket pitch which needed to be prepared either. Club stalwart Paula was already in the kitchen filling the clubhouse with the aroma of her delicious samosas - there would be a hungry crowd to feed. The one way, and outdoor service system was being set up in the bar; covid rules still apply even if England’s football team are playing and there were camera and comms equipment to set up - the match would be viewed by over a thousand people online!
Those thousand people, and the couple of hundred seeking shade from the noon sun amongst the array of beautiful trees lining the ground, would be treated to a masterclass by Graces’ opener Matt Earl. His 86 ball century would set the guests on their way to a very competitive 227. After winning the toss, Earl and Mahender Pal eased their way to a half-century partnership within 9 overs. Pal brought up the 50 run stand by depositing Unicorns’ captain Lachaln Smith over the Pavilion for the match’s first maximum. Smith would get his revenge the very next ball. Clearly in the mood to swing, the left hander thick-edged a high chance to Hattie Wright at fly slip. On a day of butterflies, excitement and adrenaline for the Unicorns’ debutant, came a brief moment of calm as Wright tracked the ball’s vicious parabola with precision into those safest of hands. A huge cheer of delight from the Unicorns fans picnicking all around the picturesque ground - in fact some people nearby thought England had kicked off early!
Jesant Halai came to the crease looking for quick runs, and although Smith and opening partner Susmit Majumder had kept him quiet; it took a bowling change to bring the second wicket. Having seen his loosener swatted away for four by Halai, Stephen Hallam tempted his victim into another which found the grateful mitts of Glen Jackson at midwicket. Hallam was back in the wickets in his next over when Shofiq chipped to Lachlan Smith at cover and by the time Sam Long had removed D Scott leg before wicket, the slower bowlers had checked Graces’ run rate from six-an-over to below five. Long picked up his second wicket when Leo Skyner found Simon Satchwell-Giles who took a superb catch at long-on.
Anchoring the innings, Earl continued into the 80s before being given a life. A missed stumping by wicketkeeper Butler should have given Long his third wicket and ended the innings 19 short of a majestic century. Earl eventually brought up the ton with a drive through mid-wicket. A magical innings to light up this famous occasion, and the opener retired to a standing ovation and handshakes all round.
At the other end, a James Buckle dot ball was cheered raucously for no apparent reason by the hundred or so people watching on the big screen in the clubhouse. They even began waving the St George’s Cross! At the same end, Jonathan Hardisty had his stumps rearranged by Susmit Majumder who also picked up two run-outs in the final over of the innings as Graces set a target of 228, which seemed above par on a wicket keeping very low throughout the day.
As Majumder and the now sunburnt Steve Gillies took a well-earned break before opening the batting for the Unicorns; one of the most pleasant sites on a stifling summers day honed into view. It had left the population of the ground salivating in the now sweltering Midlands heat - that’s right! An Ice cream van arrived!
With 99s all round, Majumder made his intentions clear in the first over of the Unicorns’ reply. He cracked the first ball of the innings past backward point for four, and the second through the covers with the same result. The first over yielded 13 runs and Unicorns were off to a flyer! A straight six in the next over and a Steve Gillies four in the third, which landed in the brook opposite the pavilion, kept The Unicorns momentum. The two openers continued to find the boundary regularly until disaster struck in the 8th over with the score at 39. A lack of communication left Gillies stranded halfway down the track, and having run out two partners in as many weeks Susmit is fast becoming Unicorns’ Geoffrey Boycott. The third though, was one shot too many and having edged his way down the wicket the Unicorns opener was stumped by Adam Leydon for a 58 ball 79 which included 8 fours and 4 maximums. At 96/3 in the 19th over, Unicorns had a steady platform, and Ezra Stock, who had injured his quad on the way to the ground joined Buckle in the middle alongside runner Simon Satchwell-Giles.
With the Unicorns batting line up now just a Charlie Fairhead short of a Casualty set, Graces began to turn the screw. Both Buckle and Stock, though not looking in any danger of losing their wickets, were unable to maintain the required run rate against the experienced attack. The partnership was worth 14 in five overs when Stock fended off a short delivery towards slip. The ball had appeared to hit Stock’s body and looped to the fielder; but having been given not out by umpire Rob Evans; Stock sportingly walked, bringing Unicorns' cult hero Hattie Wright into bat. An LBW shout to Wright’s first ball was the only time either batter looked in any danger during their 27 run stand before Wright was dismissed, also to an LBW shout in the 32nd over.
With the required rate now at 12 an over, the match was almost beyond Unicorns and by the time captain, Lachlan Smith, was bowled by J Cross, the target was to make sure James Buckle had enough partners to attain the 22 runs he needed from the final six overs for a deserved half-century. Glen Jackson provided that stability. The pair put on 45 from the final half dozen and Buckle brought up his 50 by crashing a horrible full toss through mid-wicket for four. Back in form? You bet he is! And that shoulder injury is looking a lot less severe too!
Unicorns finished 38 runs light; 189 for six. Graces lifted the glass Spirit of Inclusivity trophy and the teams celebrated with a well-earned drink and more of Paula’s baking - this time her delicious cakes.
The visitors might have won the match, but cricket and the LGBTQ+ community won the day. In half of the ICC’s full member nations, homosexuality remains illegal and in one is punishable by death. In parts of Europe, governments are reversing rights for people in our community, and even here in the UK, there are thousands of people afraid, or uncomfortable being their true selves within our sport. This trailblazing match shines a light to every single cricket player, supporter, official, and enthusiast across the world that you are welcome here. And that is a victory for all of us.