By Mark Gilkes
The Peace Of Paper…
“I have here in my hand, a piece of paper, signed by the German Chancellor, on which he states he has no intention of waging war….”
Oops. Sorry. Wrong century.
“I have here in my hand, a piece of paper, signed by the Corporation of London, on which is stated that Salmagundi Gardeners Cricket Club has booked the enclosure at Parliament Hill for a match to be played against Channel 4, changing rooms with showers included…”
The amassed players of Old Antelopes (or was it interlopes?) went into a huddle. Mobile phones were hastily drawn and jabbed at. Desperate gasping was heard. “Yes, we were here first – but they’ve got… (gulp) ….a piece of paper….”
“Wait,” said Gilkes, “this is by no means signed-and-sealed. When Jim (heroic and thoroughly organised pitch booker) called me this morning, he said, “Are we playing at the extension?””
Yet the paper had already brought peace. “Bye, now!” and other sympathetic messages rang in the ears of the Old Antelopes as they trudged their way up to the extension and the misery that awaits all who attempt to play on the canine-faeces strewn, overlapping pitch and no changing room or shower facilities hell of that corner of Hampstead.
Victory was ours. Went the day well. All that kind of stuff.
Oh, yes. We did play a game against Channel 4. Briefly, events went something like this…
Skipper Adam Wood lost the toss on a blisteringly hot day and consigned us to swelter in the field. Not content with this he decided to extend the experience by allowing a number of singles to run under his hands or over his feet for four. A depleted Salmagundi bowling attack allowed Channel 4 to post 159, with their number six making 75 before he was bowled by Jim while attempting to put another ball onto the roof of the nearby building. Jim fielded at second slip for the first few overs, during which time he was hugely instrumental in the taking of a skied catch off the bowling of Jake Wood, when he manfully stepped aside and instructed first slip Phil Sessions to deal with it. When questions were raised regarding the sense of this system – one which requires not the catcher to call for the catch, but has any player on the park in any position free to nominate any other – Sessions was quick to back up the Monahan method. We can therefore look forward to loud and confident calls of “Yours, Jim,” simultaneous with equally robust cries of “Yours, Phil,” ringing out across Hampstead – and no doubt being made by players in the enclosure when Salmagundi are actually on the extension.
Other calls ringing out across the pitch worth recording were those directed at Rob Pimlott and Paul Brasted, for their serial secret repositioning when bowler and skipper were not constantly monitoring them, and the loud instruction from Sessions and James Tait that Monahan was to have no more holidays if the result was going to be the mess of beamers and long hops with which he so keenly entertained. (Perhaps, confused as to where we were playing, he was aiming to pitch it on one of the extension squares.) Monahan did however take two wickets for his thirty three off five point one, while Jake Wood, opening the bowling, took a very creditable 3 for 26 off 7. Will Towers weighed in with 4 for 30 (remember the number in his case) off 7. A tidy 8 (remember the number in his case) runs from three overs was Chris “Hip Replacement” Packham’s contribution, while twelve runs from 3 was Brasted’s. Skipper Wood allowed his 3 overs to go for 21 – but chipped in with a wicket. Tom Monahan, down to play for Salmagundi but arriving late, did a quick impression of Lord Haw-Haw, signed up for the opposition, and made a useful nought not out at eleven.
A sumptuous tea – in very difficult circumstances, considering the heat – was then provided by Brasted, with Wood helping out with the water (drinks breaks taken every ten overs). A request was made to record that Pimlott brought along an “unauthorised” watermelon. Channel 4 were particularly impressed with the tea, and one of their number was heard to remark, “What, we beat you, and then you feed us so splendidly?”
It might have been a spooky echo from another century, a kind of ghostly rustling of a peace of paper, that caused his colleague, who was standing nearby, to quickly add, “Oh, er, well, er, although we haven’t actually won it yet.”
Or it might have been the fact Gilkes, standing even closer, ever as quick as he is grumpy, loudly observed, “You haven’t won it yet.”
As if the Salmagundi openers needed any more firing up on a day when the pale-skinned freckled redheads among us were wearing factor 50 sunblock under the factor 35 we’re even now still applying….
And so it was that Gilkes and Tait strode out to the crease – intending that pieces would be said on the paper of the scorebook. Returning quickly for a duck, Gilkes was quick to ponder the phoney war of May, when he got runs. Tait was joined by Towers and both batted well against good bowling, Tait eventually going in the eighth over, elegantly playing down the wrong line. Monahan arrived at the crease and was greeted with a barrage of dross from his son Tom. In a startling over of eleven runs, Jim was bowled twice off no-balls – once caught behind attempting a swivel hook when Tom had overstepped, and once ducking a beamer that dropped onto the stumps. A few of the decisions like these caused Channel 4 to get a little testy, even at times questioning the umpires. They never, however, questioned Tom’s parentage, no matter how badly he bowled, because the help he appeared to be giving Jim was so evidently keeping it in the family. When Jim departed for 19, playing one of the most ridiculously stupid, ambitious and ill-chosen shots since his last turn at bat, and Brasted quickly followed, getting in a tangle with all his new protective equipment and finding himself out lbw to a full toss, the score was at 83. With only hip replacement candidate Chris “Crisp Packet” Packham to follow before the tail, Phil Sessions joined Will Towers for the chase. Channel 4 responded, bringing on their wicket-keeper as a very pacey bowler and sticking their skipper behind the stumps. (Salmagundi had stuck their skipper next to the scoreboard, but he managed even to let things through his hands there.) It was not easy for Will and Phil, but, as ever, as fast as the balls came, Phil struck them back with interest. Will, at the other end, fended off the straight ones, and infuriated the bowler by missing all the wide ones. The over rate did not rise dramatically, but there was plenty of time – it just depended on Will and Phil sticking together. By the time Phil was out for a terrific 48, caught at wide extra cover by Tom Turncoat Monahan, Salmagundi needed only 9. Towers took a single to take his total to 31 not out (what was the number you were asked to remember regarding him?) and Packham, protecting his hip, coolly stroked the next two balls each for four (what was the number you were asked to remember regarding him?).
Packham’s coolness (hipness?) with bat and ball, and Sessions’s strident striking made them contenders for the Most Valuable Player (a phrase cringingly American but gratifyingly non-sexist), but it was Will Towers, who sung his own praises somewhat unnecessarily (although he’s excused because singing is his profession) who, in addition to his four wickets, unarguably played the key innings of the match by stylishly carrying his bat from the third over to victory. In doing this he spared us all the embarrassing necessity of having to explain to Channel 4 the bad form of victory celebrations being organised for the tea interval. On a very hot day the Salmagundi team was cool.
What should we make of Channel 4? Individually they are delightful fellows, but how much does the corporate identity weigh on them? They’re working for a TV Channel that will happily fill its summer schedule with documentaries about the heroic exploits of men and women during the second world war, but will turn off Test Match coverage at the climax of the day for little more than an episode of Hollyoaks or a second repeat of Friends – almost as if they think cricket is merely a game.
I have here in my hand a piece of paper, a Channel 4 television schedule that states the highlights of this match will be shown “tonight” at 1.30am. Watch and you’ll see little cricket – but you’ll be entertained by how funny it looks when Nick Duckett’s batting is edited to the music of P Diddy, Destiny’s Child, and the massed bands of the Household Cavalry.
There’ll also be an exclusive interview with Pimlott’s watermelon.