By Richard Higginbottom
It’s the middle of the season and time for the Gardeners annual visit to Ardington to play those fine men the Boars Head. This is our fourth year in Oxfordshire and yet again the Sun has come out to play. We’re repeating the 2-day-Test format from 2012.
Lord Fakenham made an early bid for Top Tourist with his Countryman’s Travelsuit [TM pending]. This year’s Shoesmith-en-vacances wears an olive green boiler suit with leather buttons, gathered at the waist by a beige belt, capacious pockets in a variety of places with ample width throughout the leg for concealing collateral gains (rabbit, trout, wood-pigeon). A wide-brimmed waxed hat, night vision spectacles, tennis racquet style keep net and recycled poster tube storing a fishing rod completes the ensemble.
Paul Brasted is using 4 wheels to get to the ground and calls the skipper; co-pilot Duckett picks up; “What do you WANT?” enquires Doosra. It turns out “the M25 has lots of other cars on it I might be a bit late”. Higginbottom cried “f***ing genius!” I hope the Somerset Shaman takes this as a compliment.
Firm manly handshake between the captains followed by a slightly uncomfortable hug. Both skippers obviously thinking “get off me you big pillock”. Richard won the toss (at last I’m getting better at this) and decided to bowl as the Boars Head wouldn’t be up to full manpower for a couple of hours yet. Jeff donned the keepers gloves and we took to the field just as Paul arrived. “Take your time Paul” advised the captain “we’ve got 12 players so you take the first turn resting”. Lord Fakenham (now in whites in case you’re wondering) was marking out his run up at the Village End as Richard set the field. “How come I’m trying to set a 5-4 field but can only get 5-3?” he puzzled in Jeff’s direction. Jeff counted 11 fielders in total. But one of them was an umpire. Then Adam turned up. “Paul – captain can’t count – get on here pronto!” Paul was applying a glutinous substance (lard?) to his shining skull so had to quickly wash his hands, put on his socks and shoes and head onto the pitch.
Lord Fakenham bowled a decent couple of overs … at the other end Dave Stead was very consistent [see later] bowling a selection of “tree balls” for Shuffs to endanger the cattle in the neighbouring field with. The baronet then bowled a knee-high full toss to our perennial nemesis Dave Richards – who top edged it skywards. Who’s under this? At backward square leg standing resolutely underneath the by now accelerating mini-meteorite was Doosra Duckett. The ball appeared to swirl a bit on descent but still the Lancastrian was rooted to the spot. He appeared to be watching the ball intently, but was he giving thanks to the Sun God for a chance to top up his tan? The ball continued on its way to a seemingly inevitable meeting with mother Earth … but then … two slightly flexed arms stretched out from the torso of our hero and the ball went into a perfectly formed two-handed cup – as neat as the late Duke of Windsor in his finest check suit. Uproar ensued including another unseemly but rather less awkward bear hug from the captain. SALMAGUNDI!! Still only 19 wickets to get in this match …
Paul B replaced the Whitley Bay Champion at the Pavilion End. “Bowlers name?” enquired the scorer; “Barking” replied Doosra. That got into the scorebook. The corrections I have to make! Paul’s bowling was a big improvement as for a start he bowled it too wide or short for the batsmen to hit. Now Shuffs at last came good in a Salmagundi encounter – we’ve always known the big man could bat, and he hammered fours and sixes (when he could reach). The skipper brought on the man who normally accounts for Shuffs – Chris Packham; made limited impact for a start as Peter sailed on past 50 and we’re still not up to 12 overs. Colin Bulpin was mainly a spectator to the mayhem, supporting tidily. I suspect he was out of practice from Peter monopolising the strike when he offered a catch to Steadley off Chris. Peter continued to deploy the long handle whilst the Human Cannonball Nigel Scholes partnered him. It was like bowling to a mattress at one end and a flail at the other. Paul floated up an inswinger outside off stump, Peter “took the bait” (I like to think it was a grand plan Paul and I worked out) and inside edged onto his stumps. Phew! 64 and out in the 13th over. Our seam quartet had done their job and now it was time for spin twins and former schoolmates Duckett and Wood to twirl their arms. Adam found a groove very quickly, constantly getting past the bat whilst Nick proved that it genuinely is more difficult to find a consistent line and length from the pavilion end. Adam was restricting scoring so effectively the batsmen tried a run on a misfield but Scholesy was unable to get in before he was run out by a good throw from Adam.
The Gaylards (no I’ve not moved on to any Saturday night shenanigans a few paragraphs early) took some chances against Nick – and played some good shots, but found it hard to lay a bat on Adam’s deliveries as the Chesham Chinaman was constantly there or thereabouts in the corridor of uncertainty. By this time Jeremy was taking a turn spectating and was emulating J Henry Fox-Talbot recording the scene for posterity on his tripod-mounted camera. Nick looped up an even higher than usual hand-grenade and Adam declared “Jeremy’s trying to find a new shutter speed for that delivery”. Nick now also got into a good groove and the scoreboard slowed to a gentle walking pace … the captain spotted an old pal who lives locally at the pavilion and figured this was a good time to take a break, the cameraman regaining the field whilst 2-Bats took over the captaincy. Dave retained the bowlers for a while longer, allowing our spinners to gain a well-deserved wicket each before Paul J and Jeremy came on as we attempted to close out the innings. The King Of The Night Time World showed that he’s been deployed too sparsely (he’s been too modest) as he continued giving the batsmen just as much trouble as Adam had from the Village End. Buchan had shown sturdy resolve in reaching 14 but then edged one off Paul J for the crazier Paul to take a great catch at slip. Shortly afterwards Woodhill mistimed a pull and this time Adam dived forward neatly at midwicket to give Paul J his second wicket. No other Boars Head players had arrived so Shuffs declared at 8 down.
The usual excellent tea was produced (thanks Nina and your various team members) after which most of us put our feet up to watch David S and Chris open the innings (some were umpiring or scoring of course). The heat had built up during the day and Chris was as usual wearing his helmet as the sun beat down … not usually a problem but no boundaries were struck until the 9th over after a number of quick 1s and 2s mainly instigated by Dave. After a while Chris had to bat sans helmet as he’d overheated somewhat. Colin commented “blimey is that a microwave you’ve been wearing?” Dave started to locate the boundary more regularly as opening bowlers Buchan and Bulpin gave way to Shuffs then Baring. However Chris had got a bit frustrated by the heat and his “inability to score” so retired from batting – after sharing an opening stand of 95 – “and I’d only got about 22”. He’d actually scored 38 and had played very well. The fact it only included one 4 may have been a contributing factor. Lord Fakenham decided to up the scoring rate but only succeeded in giving Shuffs some gratefully received catching practice off Richard Gaylard. Dave S was starting to open his shoulders following reaching his 50 and perished for an accomplished 73 as sub fielder Paul J took a superb tumbling catch off Colin. With respect, don’t think Scholesy would have got that one following a ground-shaking fall earlier in the innings. Dave 2-Bats and Conor batted steadily to Stumps to leave us 130-3 overnight.
The grand opening stand hadn’t been planned for by the skipper so Jeff, now returning to London, didn’t get a bat. A great shame following his brilliant century last year. Jeff had a mild pop at the skipper (which I felt was justified) but very swiftly apologised to reveal that he is after all a true gentleman. Paul B was in a similar position, but as he’d bowled, taken a wicket and a brilliant catch, was far less likely to be aggrieved. Besides, he was staying the night so his main stage was now set …
Richard ferried Jeff back to Didcot station, then the bags over to the Bear at Wantage, locked up the Touran and cycled via the off-road route back to the Boars Head. I recounted how I avoided a third man hug of the day by shouting “get away from me!” at Jeff just as the waitress arrived at my side to take the order. Got a good laugh as I then had to say “Not you – sorry”. Dinner was take al fresco on this balmy evening. Lord Fakenham had returned to his earlier ensemble and Paul J reckoned he looked like Freddie Kruger. Paul B discussed motorcycles with Adam and Colin; it became apparent that Paul is a bit of a “careful” rider which earned him no kudos with his fellow bikers. Paul went on to many subjects and as always held his own. Dave S ranted against “consistency”. “Lacking consistency means just not good enough,” complained the flame haired marvel. The skipper claimed the highest level of consistency at the club, never making many runs and constantly making inaccurate observations. Seemed to get a bit too much agreement on this point. The night concluded with the nine Wantage-bound Gardeners to leave at 11.45. Colin went beyond the limits of the most generous hosts by giving three of us a lift there as his wife had been working serving us drinks so was driving home. Then as the rest of us were heading up the road that leads to the off-road trail, Colin reappeared and offered another three lifts. This left Richard and the two Daves who all had bicycles to pedal across the fields towards Wantage. As usual Dave S was under-illuminated and veering into god-knows-what but the three caballeros somehow made it to Wantage to join the others for a final drink before bedtime. Some shenanigans involving room-mates as both Daves complained that Doosra snores. Richard can sleep through an earthquake so went in with Nick. Dave H then found that Dave S snores louder than Nick after he’s had a few beers. Ha ha ha!!! Huge breakfast then Richard took a car load to view the Vale of White Horse while the 2 Daves and Nick cycled there. Pretty hilly and the cyclists somehow managed to get lost in the car park and were struggling to get back for 1pm start of play.
Richard delivered the other Gardeners and picked up Jim from the station. Paul J’s girlfriend Eva was on the train also so four of us got to the ground and changed just as the sweat-soaked 2 Daves arrived with 2 minutes to spare. Nick was still on his way and considering the built-for-comfort bike Richard had lent him made very good time.
Conor hit a couple of shots and then new arrival Owen Pye prompted a mistimed cut to the other new arrival – Paul’s brother David Jordan – at Cover. Jeremy got a superb delivery from Owen that bowled him, and then in the next over 2-Bats also fell to Owen after achieving some success in upping the scoring rate with some flowing strokes. Owen’s got some proper speed and was proving a bit hot to handle – luckily for Salmagundi the byes were also totting up as the ball was pinging past. We were now on level scores with the Boars Head with 6 down. Captain Higginbottom ran lots of runs but most of them were extras before he snicked one to the keeper trying to force a straight one from Colin through midwicket. Adam was also out in the same manner to his skipper very shortly after. Paul J batted well to get 14 before he got a similar ball to Jeremy and lost his off stump trying to drive a good ball. Jim played a solid innings to get us up to over 200 with Nick batting sensibly in support. The skipper shouted “I’m declaring after this over!” during the 48th over leading to Jim calling Nick through for a dodgy single … and getting Nick run out to close the innings. So the skipper ignited another minor issue he had to negotiate his way around … what a pillock.
A quick turnaround and the Boars Head are out in the field for their second dig. Openers Jordan and Parry are looking quite comfortable until they chance a quick single to Conor. The Irish Stallion picked up neatly and hurled towards keeper Richard who for once was alert enough to offload the ball quickly onto the stumps to complete the run-out. Rather improbably we’re looking slick. Merry shortly after followed as Lord Fakenham delivered a brilliant yorker. The Baronet is now bowling up the hill as the captain figured he needs punishing for spending the night in a ditch dressed as Freddie Kruger. [Note: this is one part of the report that is 100% accurate]. Meanwhile from the Village End Chris is the epitome of accuracy as he puts together an immaculate spell only spoiled by the unlucky absence of any wickets. It’s the reverse at the Pavilion End as The Whitley Bay Champion – following an extensive workout before the innings – returned to his usual proficiency with the ball, with the added bonus of finding some swing. Shuffs was batting very well again, this time with Jordan providing a calm influence. Jim had replaced Chris at the Village End and bowled very few bad balls – but those he did got severe punishment from the big man. Jim pinned Jordan bang in front of middle stump with a yorker but it was surprisingly given not out. Two overs later Jordan tried to sweep Jim and had got his front pad well down the wicket – it certainly would have hit the stumps but was not as “neck-and-crop” as the earlier appeal .. the umpire perhaps playing catch-up. Now Dave gets his reward for the vastly improved spell as he induces Shuffs into a moment of indecision resulting in a simple catch to the skipper behind the stumps. Over 100 runs in the match and now we’ve just got the mighty obstacle of Dave Richards to remove … and the North Eastern talisman bowled a late-swinging good length ball, coming in about a bat’s width to account for Richards. This is all a bit overwhelming for the Gardeners as we tend to talk about Richards in the same way most people talk about his slightly more famous cousins, Viv and Barry. We know he’ll be back to take some revenge in the future. Dave’s lately got into cycling and as a fellow long-distance man, the SGCC skipper can tell you it ruins your batting average. Dave S took a well-deserved rest as did Jim and we brought on 2-Bats (as he hadn’t bowled yet) and Jeremy (as he hadn’t bowled much). ‘Viscount’ Lindley played some useful shots before offering a second simple catch to the skipper off Dave H – now at slip as Dave S had taken the gloves for a change of scene. Joseph Scholes played a neat cameo with a super straight six until Chris languidly took a one-handed catch at Point off 2-Bats to dislodge him then 2-Bats removed Richard Gaylard without troubling the scorers. Now Boars Head are 8 down and not many ahead … but a sting in the tale – Owen’s just about as handy with the bat as he is with the ball, playing elegant and powerful strokes in all directions to support number 7 Colin who has been marooned for a while … now we’re chasing leather as Jeremy and Dave H got some brutal treatment. It’s time to bring back our openers … usually this doesn’t go to plan as one or both will have seized up a bit and the batsmen are now well set. However, it works as they can’t get Chris away and Fakenham produces two deadly deliveries – Owen’s out plumb lbw then Wheal is bowled – to leave the Gardeners a target of 120 runs in 20 minutes plus 20 overs.
Tea was the equal of the day before … thanks very much again. Time for Paul J to face the bowling with Adam. We were very quickly in trouble as Owen yorked Adam in the first over to give him a ‘Pair’. That was such a good ball you couldn’t help but feel nervous about our prospects. Enter Nick, who always plays cautiously and on this occasion we needed that approach to keep Owen at bay whilst trying to score runs at the other end. Actually it didn’t quite turn out that way … Nick borrowed Chris’ “microwave” from the previous day and adopted a “they shall not pass” attitude – and anything a bit wide on the off invariably got punched away behind square for one or two … plus Norman behind the stumps was finding Owen’s pace a bit extreme so we were managing on byes as well. Paul played himself back into form in the first innings and now looked supremely composed and unruffled. A hook shot off Owen impressed everyone who was fortunate enough to be there as it went through square leg for four. Colin was bowling a very tight line and getting low bounce from the Village End so the batsmen had to be watchful there as well. When Paul’s brother took over from Owen some filial rivalry went the way of the Gardeners as a number of flowing drives made it to the boundary from Paul. At the pavilion the number 5 batsman was concerned he might have to score at a furious rate in a frantic run chase so commenced a bit of “friendly” banter. Duckett turns his deaf ear on such occasions but Paul is not used to such “encouragement” and was concerned at his concentration wavering. The captain did that for him by inadvisedly joining in saying “I’d like a bat!” Paul offered to retire and the captain hastily apologised and sent him back to continue – but the concentration was broken and Paul got out. So another bit of “brilliant” captaincy as Paul was the latest Gardener to suffer justifiable indignation. Lord Fakenham appeared a bit bemused by events, but nonetheless tried to smash every ball and succeeded occasionally until getting bowled. Right then number 5: not so many to get … at six an over with lots of wickets … so Paul and Nick had done a good job. Jim played some good shots to make it more comfortable off change bowlers Jordan and Gaylard and the panic subdued – the winning run off the first ball of the last over. Doosra Duckett completed a career best 32 not out with Jim unbeaten on 16.
Back in the pavilion and we’re quiet as church mice in the changing room. Adam said: “Blimey, you’d think we’d lost”. Then Chris said: “How come I’m number 11? I’ve already been number 11 twice and you said that’s the maximum?”
A short pause.
“RIGHT ANYONE ELSE WANT A POP?” yelled the Salmagundi skipper. “COME ON I’LL TAKE THE LOT OF YOU ON AT ONCE, WHO WANTS SOME?” Fortunately this was taken as “humorous” but I wasn’t altogether sure I was joking. As usual my temper abated within one minute, Jim probably said something that made us laugh, Richard stole 2-Bats’ towel just to top up the number of people he’d upset and we repaired to the Boars Head for a quick post-mortem before returning to the capital.
Writing this in the week after, I’m a bit depressed as it’s now almost a year until we get to revisit. Thanks once again to Peter, Dave, Colin, and all the Boars Head folks for being the most wonderful of hosts.
Salmagundi Gardeners won by 7 wickets
A selection of pictures from Jeremy: