The series of Benefit Matches at Upminster Park began in 1997, when Alan Lilley, a long time servant of Essex cricket both on and off the field, bought an Essex XI to play Upminster CC on Monday 15th September.
A healthy crowd, swelled later in the day as people returned from work, saw England stars Nasser Hussain and Peter Such line up for the County side. Hussain made 52 as Essex won a high scoring encounter by 16 runs. Upminster youngster Daniel Tyler had the biggest thrill of the day however, bowling the legend Graham Gooch for just seven runs.
In 1998, with no Essex player receiving a Benefit Year, Peter Such bought an Essex XI to Upminster to raise funds for the Essex County Cricket Benefit Association. The day started with good news for Such
himself, as it was announced he had earned a placed in the England Squad for the Ashes series in Australia later that year. Another high scoring match followed with Essex winning a tight contest.
Nasser Hussain, who was the England captain at the time, was the Essex Beneficiary in 1999, and he bought a very strong side to Upminster for the game on the 6th September. Hussain himself made 72, and local lad Stephen Peters made 41, before Ronnie Irani entertained the large crowd with a sparkling knock of 107 as Essex made 302 from their 35 overs. In reply, Upminster’s overseas star, and future Zimbabwe test player Dion Ebrahim made 38, and youngster Kevin McNeela made an unbeaten 31, but Upminster came up short as they finished on 250-9.
2000 again saw no Essex Beneficiary, so once again Upminster faced up to an Essex XI in aid of the Essex County Cricket Benefit Association. Will Jefferson made 65 for the County side, but Upminster’s Steve Wright made the same score as the home side won by wickets in the last over, to win the contest for the first time.
Essex and England spinner Peter Such (right) had his Benefit Year in 2001 and on 30th August bought his County side to Upminster Park. Local lad Peters was again in the runs, making 68, as the Essex XI racked up 237-7 in their 35 overs. Upminster veteran Nigel O’Dell then made a wonderful 109 in the home side’s reply, and with Steve Mack making an unbeaten 60, Upminster were able to win the game by 1 wicket, with 10 balls to spare.
Upminster made it three wins in three years in 2002 as they overcame an Essex XI captained by Mark Ilott for his Benefit Year. Tim Phillips made 90 for the County, but runs from Upminster’s overseas star Lorne Sprigg and Danny Laird led Upminster to a five wicket win.
After three defeats in three years the then Essex captain, and 2003 Beneficiary, Ronnie Irani was determined to pick up a win as the two sides faced up to one another. So much so that Irani called upon a certain Graham Gooch to open the batting for the County side. The huge Upminster Park crowd were then treated to a master-class by Gooch as he made 163 and with help from Irani himself, Essex racked up a massive total which proved to much for Upminster, who fell to a 100 run defeat.
Essex fielded one of their strongest sides for the Annual Match in 2004, which was played in aid of the Essex County Cricket Benefit Association. Their side for the game on the last day of August that year included overseas stars Danish Kaneria and Andre Adams and future England coach Andy Flower, as well as a host of 1st XI regulars. County captain Irani made 75 and Graham Napier made 52 as Essex reached 344 from their 35 overs. Shaffiq Rahman, Adrian Rosser, Jason McNally and John Curtis all made half centuries in the home side’s reply, but they fell 31 runs short of their target.
Essex all rounder Paul Grayson was the County Beneficiary in 2005 and his side won a tight scoring contest by just 4 runs, mainly thanks to a marvellous 125 from Will Jefferson. And in 2006, in a game played in aid of Ashley Cowan’s Benefit Year, Essex picked up another victory.
After a two year break (the County had no Beneficiaries in 20007 and 2008) a game was staged in 2009, this time in aid of the Graham Gooch Essex Cricket Academy. The match was played on the August Bank Holiday Monday, and the largest crowd in the history of the event witnessed the match in glorious sunshine. James Foster made 120 and Varun Chopra 70 for the County side, but a century from youngster Elliot Bussey and 74 from fellow youngster Alan Ison saw Upminster to a thrilling one wicket win.
In 2010 a similar game took place, again in aid of the Graham Gooch Essex Cricket Academy, as the match was held on a Sunday for the first time. Big scores from Grant Flower and Billy Goddleman meant that a wonderful knock of 99 from Alan Ison was all in vain, as Essex gained revenge for their 2010 defeat with a comfortable 75 run victory.
The 2011 match between the two sides took place on Sunday 18th September. The Essex Beneficiary was James Foster, a man who had played in many of the previous encounters. Foster was dismissed cheaply but Michael Comber went on to make 114 not out for the County side, and although Akbar Jabar replied with a fine century for Upminster, Essex won the contest by 8 runs.
In 2012 the match was played in aid of Graham Napier’s Benefit Year. The big hitting all-rounder didn’t disappoint as he scored 116 and with help from Ben Foakes 96 Essex totalled 366-8. In reply all the Upminster players got a start, but 75* from Terry Wyatt was the highest score as Essex won the match by 64 runs.
In the 2013 match in aid of David Masters, Jaik Mickleburgh, Nick Browne, Graham Napier and Tymal Mills all contributed to a total of 331-5. Elliott Timoti and Shabhaz Butt put a fine partnership together that briefly threatened to win the game for Upminster, but 3 wickets from Matt Salisbury meant a 28 run victory for Essex.
2014 saw arguably the biggest visitor to Upminster Park as it was the beneficiary year of the England Captain, Alastair Cook. With the prospect of seeing England’s now all-time leading run scorer, this brought out the public in their numbers, with a bumper crowd, on yet another glorious day, weather-wise and they were treated to some big hitting from both teams and a very tense finishing with Cook’s Essex XI winning by the narrowist of marigins, a single run. Essex set the home side a target of 328, having seen Cook himself top score with 80. Butt top scored in the run chase, with 61 from 30 balls, and a cameo at the back end of the innings from guest player Alberti with an unorthadox 57 not out from 37 balls ensured the vast crowd was treated to a great game.
In the 2015 match for Ravi Boparas Benefit Year saw Bopara himself star with a boundary laden 117. support from Ryan Ten Doeschate and Kishen Velani saw Essex score 292. In reply Harry Jenkins and Shafiq Rahman top scored for Upminster but fell short due to a 5 wicket haul for Tom Westley.
2016 saw a match played in aid of the Essex Cricket Foundation where half centuries from Paul Walter and Ravi Bopara and a quickfire 39 from Captain Nick Browne helped Essex to 261. Upminster stuttered in reply before Captain Harry Jenkins hit a entertaining 34 and Louis Pickering 54 before Upminster were all out for 189
The games since 1997 have been brilliantly supported by all our sponsors and by the Upminster public who have turned out in force for all of the games. Amazingly, none of the games to date have been affected by the weather, with glorious sunshine having marked most of the contests!!
Also see as the Romford Recorder look back on the Benefit Matches here