ONE of the city’s most well-known and respected cricketers has been forced to end his playing career after suffering a freak off-the-pitch accident.
Steve Bellew has been a familiar face at Stony Stratford CC for the last 13 years – captain for the last two – and helped the club to reach and maintain the Northants League Premier Division status it enjoys now.
The left-arm bowler has claimed the best part of 700 Premier Division wickets since the club’s promotion to the top flight in 2001, but Bellew now says he’s played his final first XI game after damaging medial ligaments in his right knee away from the cricket pitch.
After watching brother and reigning Commonwealth light heavyweight boxing champion Tony Bellew win another fight last month, Steve fell awkwardly and later discovered the extent of his injury. He’s not bowled a ball in anger since.
“The emotions you go through watching a member of your family box are incredible and it was just a freak accident,” explained Bellew.
“Someone jumped on me during the celebrations and I went down with my leg bent. But it was only the next morning when I woke up and could hardly move that I realised there was a big problem. Now I’ve been told I’ll need an operation to stand a chance of playing at NCL standard again.”
Bellew, 35, had planned to stand down as captain and spend more time with his wife and young daughter at the end of the season, and has decided not to undergo surgery that would involve a lengthy recovery period, especially as it wouldn’t guarantee him a return to the level of cricket he’s enjoyed for the past decade.
But the injury is hard to take for Bellew who also saw his chances of a professional career in the sport end abruptly when he suffered an ankle injury while playing for Middlesex as a youngster.
His loss from the Stony side this summer has also coincided with the club’s terrible run of form that has seen them drop from fourth place in the table to fighting a relegation battle.
His last outing for Stony came away at Wollaston in early July, and although his side lost the game, Bellew’s leading role in the team was evident as he took figures of 4-31 to bowl the hosts out cheaply before a batting collapse saw Stony beating – number 10 Bellew then chipping in with 11 runs.
And after leading Stony to sixth place in the Premier Division last term, Bellew has backed Stony to retain their top flight place this year, despite them slipping to third from bottom of the table after a seventh successive defeat on Saturday under stand-in skipper Jarrod Pretorius.
“We probably just need one more win and we have to play some of the other sides at the bottom – so I think they’ll be alright,” said Bellew, who also spent a couple of seasons as vice captain to Zimbabwean big hitter Dion Ebrahim.
“We’ve done really well over the past few years and the way the club has improved since I joined in 1999 is remarkable. We still don’t have the resources of the clubs around us and those up the road in Northants but we have managed to hold our own over the past few years and I think the lads will continue to do so in my absence.”
Bellew returned to Ostlers Lane on Saturday to watch Stony in action against Old Northamptonians for the first time since suffering his injury. And if he doesn’t get to play competitively again then he says he’ll still have some great memories to look back on.
He sights Stony’s unbeaten season which saw them clinch promotion to the Premier Division as his greatest team memory. But it’s the remarkable figures of 8-17 he returned in Stony’s thrashing of the mighty Finedon Dolben in 2006 that he’ll never forget from a personal point of view.
The day before suffering his injury, Bellew played for a Northants League side against the famous Lashings World XI in a charity game, and is happy if that proves his final outing.
He said: “I got to bowl at Graeme Hick and Inzamam-ul-Haq amongst others which was awesome. So if that turns out to be my last game it’s not a bad way to finish!”
>> Stony’s struggle to avoid the drop took a turn for the worse when they crashed to a seventh consecutive league defeat and three of their four relegation rivals picked up points.
Old Northamptonians ran out nine wicket winners at Ostlers Lane and a victory for Rushton against Rushden Town saw Stony slip one place to third from bottom, while bottom side Burton Latimer also picked up some much needed points with a draw at Wollaston.
Put in to bat after losing the toss, Stony were dismissed for a poor 133 as Steve Wharton top scored on 42 in the absence of leading run scorer this season Sharn Gomes.
But after the opener was sent packing it took a gusty 30 not out from number eight Adam Goldberg to push Stony over the 100 mark as the rest again flattered to deceive, including Mihir Choksi (2), Tom Moore (3), Andrew Miller (1) and Jarrod Pretorius (2). They were all victims of David Wigley who almost single-handedly put Stony to the sword with amazing figures of 8-36 while Goldberg hung on for his 30 off 66 balls.
A pitiful 133 was never likely to be enough for Stony, but the nature of their defeat will have been hard to take as ONs cruised to victory for the loss of just one wicket. Jordan Capel was bowled by David Avery for 6 but Tom Webb (87) and Peter Caunt (39) hit the winning runs in 21 overs as the visitors finished on 136-1.
Stony have four games left to save themselves, starting with a trip to relegation rivals Horton House on Saturday while the two sides below them meet.
Bletchley Town followed up their win at Cumnor by demolishing local rivals Buckingham by 54 runs to increase their chances of avoiding relegation.
Town were indebted to James Sprittles who claimed six wickets on a day when bottom side Bourton Vale beat Oxford to set up a tense finish to the season, with Bletchley set to play both teams in their two remaining games.
Opener Graham Simpson got the hosts off to a great start by scoring 43, supported well further down the order by James Ward (26) and Town skipper James Clark (37) as his side went on to set a target of 188-8.
Up against a strong Buckingham side Bletchley will have feared that wasn’t enough, but after opener Andrew Fletchler fired off 84, it was all about Sprittles. He tore through the visitors’ line-up to notch 6-47, with more priceless wickets falling to Mark Roberts (2-32) and Saxon Wright (2-32) as Bucks were bowled out for 135 in 38 overs.
The win will be a huge confidence boost for Bletchley who should be sure of survival this season if they win at Oxford on Saturday. However, defeat will leave them staring down the barrel ahead of their final day of the season visit from Bourton Vale.
Great Brickhill still have work to do in order to secure promotion to the top flight after suffering a losing draw at Tiddington while title rivals Banbury thrashed Wolverton.
Hosts Tiddington totalled a highly impressive 253-7 declared as the Brickhill bowlers faltered, with Nick Tweed (3-78) the best of the bunch.
But the Villagers dug deep to at least pick up a share of the spoils as Graeme Carter top scored on 63 of their 212-8. Brickhill now have two relatively easy fixtures left to finish the job this season, starting with a home game against Long Marston before they go to Sandford.
Wolves visit Challow & Childrey on Saturday and then play host to Abingdon Vale as they aim to finish the season on a high following their seven wicket loss to Banbury. They were skittled for just 132 before the visitors sealed their win on 136-3, despite the efforts of Fayyaz (3-21).
The city’s three Division Six sides all have nothing left to play for, but there was some good action when Brickhill 2nds (169) and Wolverton 2nds (170-5) met with the visitors winning by five wickets. Bletchley 2nds (154) lost to Abingdon Vale 2nds (156-1) by nine wickets.
Four Counties League
North Crawley (223-2) sealed the Division One title thanks to an eight wicket win over Eaton Bray (220-3) with Alex Walker fittingly blasting his side to glory with a sensational 121 not out.
MK City (156-6) kept pace for most of the season but have fallen short despite their four wicket win against Biddenham (155-9).
New Bradwell (98-7) enjoyed a three wicket win against Newport Pagnell (96) and Olney (186-9) had to settle for a winning draw against Elstow (159-7).
Shenley Church End (76-2) have now won two on the bounce after an eight wicket thrashing of Buckland & Aston Clinton (75) but their recent revival has come a little too late. Old Bradwell (208-4) saw off Aylesbury Town (119) by 89 runs.
Willen (194-8) were too good for New Bradwell 2nds (64) in a 130 run win, while Open University (212-7) had to settle for a winning draw at Stewkley Vicarage (134-6).
Newport Pagnell 2nds (170-4) got the better of Ivinghoe (169) by six wickets while Milton Keynes 2nds (228-4) beat Whitchurch (156) by 72 runs.
Old Bradwell 2nds (123) lost out by 100 runs to Elstow (223-6), New City 2nds (165) had a winning draw against Crawley Green (124-7) and Olney 2nds (186-5) beat Wolverton Town (96) by 90 runs.
Bletchley Town (157-8) were two wicket winners against Cublington (156) while Great Brickhill (128-4) beat Aylesbury (127) by six wickets.