By Chris Packham
Shambles – a condition of complete disorder.
With the French House’s Johnny Spitfire acting as dog minder to Baxter (the Hound of Hampstead Heath according to one dog walker who’s mutt was very nearly ‘Baxtered’, causing a complaint to the park keeper who was himself floored by the beast when he came to check our permit) he completely forgot to mind the stumps. “Can we use yours?” asked he. Of course, but who had our kit bag? With the skipper on his hols, we assumed he’d dropped it off at Dave Stead’s as per usual. Dave lives a mere ten minute drive from the ground, so naturally was the last to arrive. This surprised no one but the fact he was schlepping only one bag did. Had Richard gone into de-mob mode and left the Gardeners in the lurch? Dave had no knowledge of the bag’s whereabouts and denied having seen Richard since he played two weeks previous. Today he was playing in track suit bottoms and a tennis shirt because that morning he put his cricket whites in the wash and they were still on rinse cycle. This struck me as a strange thing to do, but was merely the prologue to the drama that was to unfold.
Spitfire’s merlin roared down the phone and organised a cab to bring the stumps and bails to Golders Green tube where Paul Brasted volunteered to pick them up on his motorbike. “Take them out of the bag”, said Johnny to whichever barfly had answered the pub phone. An hour or so later and with no sign of Paul, Jason rang him. “They sent the bag, I’m having trouble keeping it on the bike” Why they didn’t have the cab come to the ground or Paul didn’t ask the cabby to follow him to the ground or how Paul answered his phone while riding a bike and holding a cricket bag is beyond the scope of this report to answer; but he will be appearing at Zippo’s Circus twice nightly with a Saturday matinée (the gorilla suit is still under negotiation).
While we were waiting and deciding on the plausibility of whittling stumps out of fallen branches, a group of uniformed revellers had started to gather just behind the bowlers arm: a scouting jamboree?, the Golders Green branch of the Hitler Youth? Whatever they were, it was all very odd as they stood around in circles and commenced communal hand clapping like demented line dancers (come to think of it is there any other kind). It could only get worse if someone gave them a microphone; someone gave them a microphone.
Eventually the stump rider arrived, the stumps were placed, the French were put in to bat by our captain, Dave (2-bat or not 2-bat) Hollingsworth and Baxter was put on a lead. This is neither the time nor place for a cricket report, but there are certain events that should be noted. At one point both batsmen, having just finished the J. Monahan tome on the dos and don’ts of run calling, were in the same crease at the wicket keepers end, so the fielder, a certain Mr A. Wood, with cries of “bowler’s end, bowler’s end” ringing in his ears, threw the ball… to the wicket keeper. With the batsman hardly bothering with this lost cause, the keeper quickly threw the ball to the bowler, a certain Mr S. Bruce, who proceeded to fumble it to the ground as the batter sauntered past. Stuart is very positive when calling for a catch, but it was a surprise to hear him shout “STUART’S” when a ball from his bowling went straight up off the bat to be caught by the keeper as Stuart thundered down the pitch after it. It would be unkind to comment on Stuart’s beamer which fortunately missed the batsman’s head by six inches, but unfortunately smacked him on the collarbone dead centre.
It then started to get cold and cloudy, a storm was brewing. Our captain had dropped a bit of a sitter early on, but just before the taps opened he took a wonderful running catch. And when I say the taps opened for once I’m not exaggerating. Boy did it rain. If it had been a Which magazine test on the waterproofing of cricket bags it would have been deemed harsh (a point of consumer interest, Kookaburra kept me dry). Most gave up trying to shelter in the bushes and simply got soaked whilst eating soggy sarnies. Of course it was unfortunate for those who gave up their shoes for boundary markers, but there’s a lesson to be learnt. When the storm finally passed, shoes were drained, bags were opened and wet clothes were changed into. What state the French House kit and scorebook ended up in, I dread to think.
In blazing sunshine we left the scene, the pitch being far too wet to continue the match.” I touched the ball once”, muttered our dispatch rider as our bedraggled bunch wondered off reflecting on whether there might have been a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon; a dry, warm prison cell for example.
If one of the teams had brought stumps to a cricket match, and if we had started on time
instead of two hours late, we just might have finished the match, but as neither team did that’s irrelevant. Except, when Dave S opened his car boot what he saw made him step back in surprise. Yes, there was our kit bag which he had placed there when Richard dropped it off the weekend before, after which they went into Dave’s flat for a cup of tea, all of which Dave had completely forgotten. A Salmagundi moment, or time to call the men in white coats? and I don’t mean umpires.