During the dark Winter months a plan was hatched following our agreement to spend two days in the Oxfordshire countryside in the company of that splendid body of men The Boars Head. A number of Gardeners had voiced their approval for a 2-day match so Richard detected a note of eager anticipation in Bruce’s voice as he booked the rooms for the Saturday night. Would we get enough players? Not a problem as the idea caught the imagination and we travelled with a squad of 13.
Richard had a plan for the weekend which he was explaining to any Gardeners who feigned anything approaching interest in the hushed tones of a man who thinks he might be on the edge of genius. A captive audience of 7 in the Touran plus a ludicrous amount of kit meant that about half the team were trapped into hearing his mad ramblings on the drive from Didcot station to the ground. Greeted by Peter, both teams arrived in dribs and drabs. Part one of the plan worked as Richard won the toss and elected to field.
Chris found a superb yorker to rearrange Shuffs’ furniture early on to put us ahead. Andrew Hancock at the other end was playing himself in with ballistic style, crashing a couple of fours and a big six. Newcomer to Ardington Dave Stead (aka The Whitley Bay Champion) likes having sixes taken off him about as much as Lord Fakenham likes being referred to as a cobbler. It could be that Dave was disoriented – just before the start this conversation took place:
Richard: ‘OK to bowl up the hill, Dave?’
Dave: ‘What hill?’
The North Eastern Express focused himself and bowled Hancock for an enterprising 20. Next followed a quiet spell with the bat and ball as Harrington and Scholes were kept in check by Chris and Dave – until Chris tempted big Scholesy into a waft outside off stump and Dave took a splendid diving catch in the Gully. Jeremy and Lord Fakenham continued to apply the pressure – some inside edges on Dave ‘Barry’ Richards bat being the only reward until Mercurial Paul Brasted joined the fray to bowl Harrington for a painstaking 10. The pressure mounted on the Boars Head as Paul then returned Burrows to the pavilion for 4. At the other end Dave Richards was starting to pepper the boundary – some immensely powerful straight drives adding to the usual diet of muscular cuts and pulls. Dickie Tarran was chipping away to support Dave (sometimes with the bat, too) and an ominous stand was being made. Bowling changes, field changes, cunning plans, not so cunning plans, stupid ideas – everything we tried was bearing little reward until Adam Wood started to weave his magic. After a few balls finding his range, the Amersham Buck trapped Dickie in front for a solid 27 and shortly afterwards bowled Weal for 5. At this stage I must apologise for any spelling mistakes in the Boars Head’s names as I’m working from a slightly fuzzy picture of the scorebook (oh, you thought I did all this from memory…?).
Nigel Baring characteristically proved harder to shift than a beetroot stain, 2-Bats tempting him into a return catch as Dave Richards continued to plunder runs in all directions, reaching a splendid and well-deserved century. Yearo used his farmers’ scythe stroke well to add 20 near the end at which point Shuffs retired Dave and the innings was declared at 250-8. That’s quite a few more runs than in my plan.
Tea … Asparagus with a truly delicious sauce … award winning sausage rolls … tea out of a pot. We all want to play here every week. Wood and Wood topped our list as we replied. A little bizarrely Simon edged one, it was caught and he headed for the pavilion. Everyone called him back as he’d failed to appreciate that the ball had bounced and the Boars Head certainly didn’t appeal. Unfortunately Simon missed the very next ball and was bowled. Oh well. Adam made a promising start and then Shuffs remembered how he’d perished earlier and produced a fine ball to tangle up Adam and bowl him. 2 wickets down for not very many. Yes, of course the plan had contingency for this (ahem!). 2-Bats was calm and efficient, placing the ball neatly around the ground as Dave S played himself in, taking advantage of any loose ball. When he reached 40, Dave slowed down and became rather tentative. A metaphor for life? Whatever, eventually he nudged one away for a neat-and-tidy half century at which point his skipper shouted “well done, now get on with it”. Caught by Richards off Yearo the very next ball. That wasn’t what I meant. Jeremy was starting to settle before lofting a straightforward return catch to young Joe Scholes for 6. Richard came in and toe-ended a sweep towards Shuffs off his first ball and was lucky the big man didn’t get there. Dave and Richard continued to accumulate (I’ll quickly mention the neat late cut played by the skipper) before Richard failed to play through an on-drive, spooning up a catch to Shuffs who made no mistake in the over before stumps. I won’t print what I said. Overnight SGCC 166-5 off 34 overs.
Straight after play Richard and Stuart took the Touran over to Wantage (the Boars Head doesn’t have room for all of us) and cycled back. Thanks to Dickie for telling us the location of the cycle track – excellent! 2-Bats hadn’t been made aware of this part of the plan and described it as hare-brained. Amazingly I saw a hare on the way back from Wantage – got within 10 yards of him and followed him on the cycle track as he ran down the side of the adjacent field. Fantastic!
At the Boars Head players of both sides agreed that the day had been well balanced and we were poised for a good second day. Shuffs and Richard both declared their intention to avoid a draw. The Whitley Bay champion told us all about his ‘Worst Record Collection In The World’ [TM] which includes all the Dire Straits albums, Big Country but apparently not Meat Loaf. Mandy said “and do you listen to any of those albums?” in an incredulous tone. Earlier in the day I’d released Lord Fakenham into the wild. What I mean by this is that we had 12 players and only 11 batting positions, so someone had to step down. His Lordship said “can I go fishing instead?” as he reached for his rod – and then for his fishing equipment. He came into the Boars Head late with a splendid pair of Trout for Bruce. The Norfolk Nobleman wore a beautiful old tweed suit, but his ensemble was let down a bit by his spectacles – a special prescription that apparently allow him to spot his quarry through the murky waters.
Steak and chips a la Bruce … any vegetarians? … if there were they decided to take a night off. As the night wore on Richard occasionally divulged the next stage of the plan to the batsmen currently in (Steadley and Jeff) and those still to come. How pointless – these gents can read the game for themselves and anyway would be too hung-over to remember any instructions in the morning. A couple of pints and a couple of glasses of Merlot, some decent banter and it was time for the Steadley/Higginbottom midnight cycle tour. On the way we were jumped by two local ruffians … no wait a minute it was our team-mates for The Bear Stuart and 2-Bats making us jump as they interrupted their moonlight walk to startle us. They couldn’t see Steadley as he had no illumination (didn’t realise it gets dark late at night in Oxfordshire) so he managed to surprise them. We got to Wantage in reasonable fettle and resolved to visit Cholley cricket ground the next morning on Shuffs’ recommendation.
Well played Shuffs! After a hearty (alright, high-fat) breakfast we pedalled up the hill to take in the magnificence of Oxfordshire’s ground. Tremendous views. Don’t worry, we still prefer Ardington! After all, it has the Boars Head and Lord Fakenham’s fishery. We rode across to Ardington for a coffee with the Boars Head residents then back to Wantage for the taxi duties that brought in Jim from Didcot.
Into battle – Jeff was given instructions to play himself in. Yeah, right. 25 in no time put us on track for a first innings lead as Steadley played the support role until Jeff played one back at Burrows. Steadley accelerated and Stuart went even faster as the runs continued to pile up. I was feeling sorry for the fielders until I noticed Dave Richards at Cover. Dave S played shots all around the wicket culminating in his century and then retired on 115 – The Whitley Bay Champion now holds the Gardeners’ highest individual score ever. Well played! Stuart hammered on as Paul then Chris came and went, getting to his half century with a 6-4-4 sequence. Big stuff! SGCC declared with a 58 run 1st innings lead.
Quickly back into the field to enable The Boars Head to set us a tough target. Andrew Hancock again played some very big shots including an immense lofted drive off Chris that was going for a one-bounce fo … wait! Stuart had covered an amazing amount of ground and clung onto an astonishing catch at long on. In the game … ah wait here comes DR. He looks even more assured and determined today. Richard brought Jim on early trying to prise out our nemesis and indeed kept him quieter than any other bowler over the two days. Though Doosra Duckett had a good shout for LBW at one point and was probably too polite with his appeal. Dickie Tarran again batted well until Jim bowled him. Weal and Cowdrey supported DR well (these may be spelling mistakes!!) until the Praying Mantis weaved his magic spell to remove them. Dave continued playing great shots all around the ground no matter who was bowling and where we placed the field. Harrington contributed a very useful 31 until he was run out and Dave made his almost inevitable second century, shortly followed by Shuffs declaring leaving us with 192 for victory in 40 minutes plus 20 overs. Boars Head 249-5 declared.
Tea was again superb with the asparagus making a welcome return. The smoked salmon was pretty impressive too. Richard engaged Lord Fakenham and Doosra in earnest conversation: ‘You’re opening – Duckett, rotate the strike, my lord – pepper the boundary’. Would the plan reach its ideal conclusion?
First ball … short … Fakenham pulls … a great attempt but dropped. Breathe out slowly (me that is, his Lordship was more interested in which fly he should use to attract the fish). The baronet continued to hit lustily, collecting a swift 20 until he was bowled by Burrows playing one of those shots that even looks ugly if the ball does disappear over the boundary. Enter Jeff; the easiest instructions ever for the captain: ‘You know what to do’. Nick advised Jeff that he should get himself settled in then he’d attempt to give him the strike. Jeff settled within 1 over and immediately was farming the bowling in a manner the local farmers would have been ashamed of. Jeff is noted for his leg-side play but today he played some superb and elegant shots through Extra Cover to garner many runs early in his innings. After a while it was apparent that it was difficult bowling any line to Jeff – Bruce made his first appearance by bowling some tidy leg spin – his best ball pitching on leg and turning towards middle and off. Jeff even managed to garner a single off this. The Boars Head stuck to their task and managed to rotate Jeff away from the strike a bit more – Doosra then surprising them with a few neat strokes. The required run-rate was starting to climb and Jeff decided it was time for decisive action. 6-4-0-6-4-2. Decisive enough? Poor young Burrows on the receiving end. Jeff kept on going as Dave Richards replaced Burrows, giving the batting wizard a small taste of his own medicine as the ball struck the netting around the tennis courts on the full. Jeff of course reached his century by nicking one wide of the keeper at which point Richard said to the bemused Chris (sitting padded up for around 2 hours) “do you want to bat?” Chris nodded and Jeff retired – Richard having worked out that Dave’s new record was not attainable with the runs now required in this innings. Chris and Nick calmly collected the remaining runs to lead us to victory in this inaugural test match.
We agreed afterwards that we’d love to repeat the exercise next year. Richard and Shuffs are going to become bantamweight battlers over the winter and lead our teams onto even greater efforts. Thanks again to Peter, Bruce, Nigel, Dave, Dickie and all you other lovely Boars Head folks for the most wonderful of weekends.