By Richard Higginbottom
A 1pm start at Parliament Hill … most players were there on time despite the continuing persecution of those who wish to travel in London on a Sunday by Transport for London. I’ve emailed Boris 3 times about this and I’m now convinced these go into the same destination as my infrequent requests to Andrew Strauss to turn out for the Gardeners when he’s not on commentary duty. Wait though … who are these bounders … another team thinks they’ve booked the same pitch. After some diffidence (Jim), ownership claim (captain), justified indignance (Chris) it was determined that the other group had got the bona fide booking and we had to decamp to Golders Green. So in dribs and drabs, by bus, bicycle, car and on Shanks’s Pony we moved ourselves North West. On the way Jim had a great idea … why don’t we knock on doors near the Extension and ask if someone can provide us with hot water for tea. The skipper agreed and established (with some protesting) that Jim was the ideal man to knock at the doors as there were bound to be some wealthy widows living in some of the grand houses who would be unable to resist the charming disposition of our elegant all-rounder. Richard had won the toss and elected to bat before we were forced to move so was mentally preparing himself for opening the batting … and how to approach Chris to ensure he was mentally prepared to open with him. “Hello Chris – calmed down now? – put your pads on” was straight out of the sports psychology textbook I reckon.
So, into bat … ah the ball’s pinging from side-to-side and up-and-down. Both openers away with edges close to the stumps then it’s block-block-swish-hit to fielder (Chris) and the same for Richard except change “hit to fielder” to “miss”. Jez Langridge bowled a slower one outside off stump, Chris went through with the shot but got under it too much and holed out for 5. This pitch is what you might call a “result” wicket – but that’s to take nothing away from the bowling attack, who were giving us a stern test. In the week leading up to the match Richard decided that as the wickets this year had been a bit dicey he’d wear his helmet. And as we were up against our favourite adversaries, he manufactured an SGCC badge (the usual Packham design) and applied it to the headgear. Might as well have been a target as the ball seemed to keep heading for it (though not too many bouncers coming in, many were rearing off a length). Nudge, block, miss, edge to ground and then eventually got a couple of late cuts away, phew settling down a bit now. Toby looked calm and collected as always then Jez bowled a superb inswinger that stayed a bit low and removed The Director. Will came in and pretty soon won an award that no-one wanted … “shooter of the day” as another good ball from Jez was made unplayable by the pitch. Where’s 2-Bats … it appears he’s making an application to become the second member of The Old Incontinents as he’s gone to the brick outhouse (not Stuart B, but the public convenience hidden in the bushes). Oh yes, Stuart B … he’s back from Vegas but hardly in one piece as a bout of “spree drinking” overnight not helped by the rapid pitch relocation has made him scarcely recognisable today. He volunteered for pole position … and did most of the work on the scorebook … for some reason not quite as neat as usual. Anyway, Stuart C leapfrogged the Walthamstow Babelfish and worked doggedly with the captain (except that he hit fours in front of square) to repair the damage. Most of Stuart’s best shots were expertly fielded by The Players who were on top of their game so each run was precious (well, that’s how I’m excusing my Boycott-esque scoring rate). Stuart aimed a flowing off drive against Beake – flying outside edge and it screamed over …. WOW!!! Formerly WG now Baby-Face McCann took a stunning left-handed catch way above his head to remove Stuart in the most spectacular fashion. Probably the best bit of fielding I’ve seen this year. Did the 3oz of weight lost by Tuesday night’s removal of the beard assist in Roger’s aeronautics? Quite exceptional cricket. Now Dave H comes to the wicket just as Angus McDonald – who’d been most impressive at Gully – takes the ball. Angus produced a classical inswinging yorker that confirmed the captain’s belief that the batsmen at the other end were getting the jaffas whilst he was getting the fortune – out for a duck. Ghost now takes his turn but for once is struggling to bowl his usual perfect length, enabling Richard and Lord Fakenham to profit from back foot drives and pulls to accelerate the run rate at last. Angus continued to bowl well and Billy The Trumpet took over from Ghost; prodigious leg spin from the Barmy Army’s most famous member. Billy got one to float past the baronet and it just tickled the leg stump, causing the bail to fall after a delay. I think only Tim (keeping) and Richard realised what had happened initially, explaining it to the bemused / delighted other parties. Jim now joined his captain in the middle as Ghost switched ends, replacing Angus at – er what end – let’s call it the “Hollingsworth Toilet” End. Amazing how an end change can produce the goods – Michael is now hitting a great length and getting some good turn so runs again hard to come by – Richard and Jim preferring to wait on the back foot to look for scoring opportunities. Then Billy floated one up and Richard scuttled too far back and succeeded only in middling the bails – out hit wicket for a hard-fought 47. At last some runs vs The Players! And that’s the second time this season Billy’s got me out. Jeff and Jim batted very intelligently to put on a few more until Ghost found a fine delivery to remove the Praying Mantis – who thereupon headed off with our two teapots to fill up at our hot water donor’s house. Paul came in and looked less comfortable at the crease than he does in the dock, Ghost rearranging his wicket in quick order. Stuart’s in and … phew, the hangover has lifted enough and he played some super shots (a straight six back over Michael’s head being the highlight) as Jeff also weighed in with some strokes around the wicket (yes really, some lovely off side play augmenting the unjustly stereotypical leg-side bludgeon). “That’s enough!” cried the skipper as the Players had got through 44 overs in no time at all.
What a tea! Brilliant selection of sandwiches, Burt’s crisps, an amazing carrot and pineapple cake and the most sublime date slice, plus other delights too numerous to mention. Jim’s return with a pot and a half of tea also much appreciated.
Into battle … belch … really shouldn’t have had a couple of pieces of pineapple as well, but it’s The Players, you can’t possibly enjoy a repast without it. Toby’s on song from the off, bowling a very testing line and length … and putting the ball in the right place paid off as one popped at the unfortunate Friend, causing him to take evasive action and gloving it to Jeff to get us underway. Nick Fielding at 3 has a great eye for a ball and a simplicity of method – he offered us a couple of chances but otherwise his belligerent strokeplay put the Players into the ascendant as he blazed his way to 21 having been particularly severe on Paul’s only over as his injured tendon failed him. Lord Fakenham took over and was given similar treatment until he produced a ball pitching on middle and holding its line to remove Nick. Roger’s now in and eased a couple of straight drives past the despairing fielders, but Langridge-the-bat who had batted resolutely like his opposing number didn’t have similar fortune, a fine ball from Toby causing the umpire to point to the heavens. Tom Hickox … “stylish player, bit nervous early on, I’ll bring the field in”, Richard advised Fakenham and Chris (now replacing Toby at the HT End). Right … Tom looked comfortable and composed from the off, leaning into economical drives early on then expanding with a range of cuts. In the meantime Roger was looking to get on with it just as Chris landed one on a perfect line and length; the ball stayed a bit low and the off stump rocked back … anecdotally I believe Chris gets Roger out more often than most of the SG bowlers … rather like Bradman being victim to Alec Bedser I suppose (perhaps a more minor scale). Angus took over from Roger as we shuffled our pack of bowlers after Tom cracked a driven six of stunning quality off a decent delivery from Chris. Angus looked almost as solid as Tom much to the chagrin of our off-spin trio of Jim and “2-Stu”, the ball disappearing in all directions to some exhilarating strokeplay, leading to Tom’s well-deserved half century (winning him by unanimous verdict the man of the match award – prize = 1 pineapple) and – not long after – the winning runs. Quality cricket by the Players. We start planning now for our attempt to regain the Bonnington Urn in 2014.
The Players won by 6 wickets