By Mark Gilkes
The days of batsmen automatically “walking” on an unclear decision disappeared soon after the skipper of All Muggleton was overheard speaking disparagingly of the “Tesco economy value” apple pies provided at tea by the team from Dingley Dell.
(Those unfamiliar with Tesco’s economy brand might look out at future teas for the distinctive blue and white stripes on the packaging, a design which recently caused the child of a colleague of this correspondent to exclaim at breakfast, “Why do we always have to have Sheffield Wednesday cereal?”)
Walking, whether towards the temptations of apple pies or from the crease, is increasingly uncommon – but for Salmagundi it bears interpretation both arcane and unique, illustrated beautifully this Sunday in an exciting finish at Palewell Common, against Abdul Aziz.
The game started in some confusion with the late arrival of the Salmagundi kit, but this was no obstacle to the ever keen James Tait, who was quickly padded up and swinging his bat through some fine and elegant practice strokes, until it was pointed out Abdul Aziz were actually going to bat first. This they did with their usual enthusiasm, amassing 131 in their full thirty five overs, despite some threatening and accurate bowling early on from, in particular, Rod Birtles and Mike Fox. Among the highlights were a diving catch by Mike Fox, which he left late enough for everybody to be wrongly convinced he’d left too late, and a stumping by James Tait, in which he could have been as late as he’d liked, because the Abdul Aziz batsman was standing on the line in the erroneous belief this constituted being in his crease.
It would be nice to quote the exact bowling figures here. Perhaps Chris Packham’s decision to leave the scorebook at home was a superstitious attempt to recreate the conditions in which last week’s victory was achieved. Similarly, perhaps Adam Wood’s oral review of last week’s report as “verbose,” was an attempt to recreate conditions in which he will be handed a computer and a deadline…
The Salmagundi reply began with a long discussion about batting order. Gilkes, who last week had the temerity to take issue with his placing at number eight, was punished with the task of opening. With him, logically, having just taken a nasty knock on the finger while keeping wicket, was Tait. These two provided a steady start against some good bowling but, after ten overs, began to fear the Salmagundi sense of fair play might be in peril were the side to use their full thirty five overs, and so both quickly surrendered their wicket. A procession of Salmagundi batsmen then came to the crease to do similarly, until the match reached that pleasurable position of being likely to go either way.
At this point the controversial “walking” issue again reared. It had been rehearsed earlier in the innings, when Ulric Algar, on being given out LBW, returned to the pavilion with the announcement he’d got bat on the ball. He was promptly urged that in future he should make this announcement at the crease. After all, we are not playing for money, the umpires are our own good selves and we frequently make mistakes, and, of particular relevance, Abdul Aziz are renowned for their fair play and would always call back a player dismissed on an error or misunderstanding. (This correspondent knows of an instance of Bob Burrows, as Abdul skipper, asking a batsmen to return to the crease merely on the batsman’s suspicion that he might’ve got a bit of bat on it.) Algar, however, was happy to go on the same principal of doubt, feeling unsure as to whether the bit of bat came marginally before or after the pad. Yet it became a little hard to take, when, with the game poised at two wickets remaining and two runs required, having just that moment pulled his hamstring, Rod Birtles was also given out LBW – and then returned to the pavilion also to announce he believed he got bat on the ball. Should these men have spoken? Does any umpire appreciate advice? What if somebody were to abuse this unique relationship?
Such is cricket, and such is the strangeness of the concept of “walking” – for, so often now, it no longer means going when you think you are out before the umpire gives the decision, but, rather, it simply describes what you do after the umpire’s finger is raised. Birtles, perhaps, should remember this, because what he was doing on his way back to the pavilion after his hamstring so violently and painfully twanged could not in any interpretation be described as walking.
Thus, with intrigue abounding, it seems almost as if the result should be overlooked, as if to delineate winners and losers would undermine all that is implicit here about fair play and honesty. Yet there has to be a winner and a loser, there always is.
Adam Wood came out as last man to get the remaining two runs Salmagundi required for victory and was extremely successful in this aim, for fifty percent of the target – scrambling a single to retain strike, and then being bowled as he swung for the winner.
It ended as a tie. Honours even, as they say. A fitting result for two teams so bent on playing the game as it should be played.
No finger of blame is pointed at the last man Adam, for he would not have been put in the position of having to try and win the match had not so many of the previous Salmagundi batsmen, in the very new sense, walked.