By Richard Higginbottom
Dire warnings from Abdul’s chef-de-partie Rob Wilson before the match foretelling “cycling chaos” that could seriously disrupt proceedings at Barn Elms. “Pshaw” said the Gardeners Captain, bravely offering a lift to any players who could get to Barnes Station by 12.30pm. Taking (so he thought) careful note of the road closures, Richard got over the Thames via Kew Bridge by 11am and was thinking of a leisurely double macchiato and a good read of the Observer prior to escorting his team-mates into his Touran … alas 2 hours of fruitless motoring later the bemused and befuddled East Anglian abandoned the car on the “wrong” side of Richmond Park, sent apologetic texts and walked more than two miles to get to Barn Elms … where Doosra had already called correctly and elected to bat. Abdul were 9 strong and we were a putative 11 (the other Richard getting even more hopelessly bike-jammed as his namesake and the Lord Fakenham making an inadvertent tour of South London cricket grounds (“Putney is lovely, but the batsmen looked a bit good so I figured it wasn’t us” … more later).
Nick opened with WG (apologies Roger, but that beard is increasing its magnificence by the week) and some tight bowling by Abdul openers David and Sheeraz culminated in Nick being painfully out lbw, his left little toe taking the brunt. Quite interesting to note that the Abdul keeper (Craig) has the odd call of “BIG TOE, BIG TOE!!” to spur on his team mates … perhaps he’ll diminish the size of this call now as clearly the other side of the foot has the digit to aim for. Chris was in at number 3 as Richard was still trying to calm down following his “road to hell” experience, bizarrely and incongruously uttering “b***dy cyclists” to underline his annoyance. This worked out very well as the Kentish all-rounder kept his run of form going with an array of attractive strokes to propel the scoreboard up to four per over with WG keeping pace in his laconic and elegant manner. Back at the boundary and Lord Fakenham is again on the blower: “I’ve been to Tooting, Mitcham, Barnes – all lovely grounds – but no Gardeners – where are you?” Richard was carefully explaining this as one stayed a bit low on Roger and Ghost, umpiring, reluctantly pointed skyward. Conor is evidently not a man to miss an opportunity and before Richard could end the call with the wayward peer, the Tipperary Stallion had headed out to the middle. So any of you Gardeners reading this and thinking you’d like to bat higher up the order, there’s one way of doing it. Please note, though – I don’t get blind-sided twice. Conor then batted like he was doing penance and was offering up his wicket with every shot – closely evading fielders or being dropped – until the seemingly inevitable happened and he was bowled by the evergreen Abdul stalwart, John. The skipper then advanced to the middle and snicked his first ball to the keeper – who obviously was looking at his own big toes as he failed to get a glove on it. Richard and Chris steadily accumulated for the next few overs until Richard drove over a straight one from Dick. During this time Richard Hammerton had given up the fight to get to the ground and the nobleman had at last appeared. Jeff came in and having been advised to “wait for the bad ball” by the skipper, got a bad ball straight away and hit it for six. A four quickly followed. It could only be downhill from there and indeed it was a veritable brick-laden pram down a staircase as the seal clubber was bowled without adding any further runs. Chris hit a couple more boundaries but then was out caught for an excellent 43. Fakenham and Paul hurried about a bit but then got out. Bashford (formerly known as Jeremy) and Ghost played some intelligent cricket to take the score to 151 for 8 at the end of our 35 overs.
Tea … ah what’s going on here? Someone had let Abdul down late so only half the sandwiches came … then a cucumber was skinned in an eerily ritualistic way. The sandwich choice was chutney and cucumber vs peanut butter & jam (or jelly if you’re North American – each team having a Canadian that’s not necessarily irrelevant). However, pink gins were offered to those Gardener’s interested (I was driving – bah!) so after all tea looked rose-tinted to some of us.
Anyway, Lord Fakenham opened and showed us that his ability to find a line and length was as precise as his venue location skills today, a number of errant deliveries being crashed to the boundary by Abdul skipper David and Big-Toe Craig. Crazy Paul at the other end was a bit better so the skipper kept him on for five overs whilst the nobleman was put out to pasture after three. Enter WG … ah it was 1895 all over again as England’s – sorry Ulster’s – finest deployed his splendid inswing against the wind to trap Big-Toe (on his shin, if you’re wondering). We needed that as the opening stand had garnered 57 runs in just 8 overs. A few balls later Roger applied his variation ball (the one that stays straighter) and David got the faintest of edges – so faint that catcher Jeff didn’t appeal and Richard and Roger only half-appealed. This was enough for David who promptly walked … as all of us should in such circumstances. Still a pleasure to witness such fair play and it’s moments like this that repay our faith in cricket. Pressure on now and Roger produced a jaffa to castle Bruce whilst Ghost, taking over from Paul at the Southern end, tempted Sheeraz down the track leaving Jeff to remove the bails. Bashford came on to replace Roger and pretty quickly had Iffy lobbing a catch up to the skipper at short leg whose tactical expertise (I’m enjoying this bit) had led him to move there. 84 for 5 now and it’s all to play for. Tiny (he certainly isn’t, by the way) was now starting to hammer the ball around but then missed a tempter off Ghost that stayed very low making it a little too difficult to complete the stumping. Rob was playing technically sound defence in support of the now plundering Tiny, leading to the re-introduction of Roger for Ghost and the introduction of Chris for Jeremy. Chris had seized up a bit in the field and didn’t find his usual accuracy in his first over, Tiny profiting handsomely. After that WG and Chris took us into nip-and-tuck territory as the target loomed into sight for Adbul and then Chris produced a fine delivery to clip Tiny’s flailing bat but alas we couldn’t hold the chance (may have been a little too late by then anyway). Well played Abdul, a very good game.
Abdul Aziz won by 5 wickets