By Richard Higginbottom a.k.a. Captain Grumpy
Why the new soubriquet? Well, please read on and all will become clear. Weekend started well enough at a sunny Stevenage station as the captain picked up Doosra and we headed West. The mood darkened with the clouds as heavy rain and heavy traffic slowed our progress leaving us late on parade to pick up our team-mates at Didcot. However, as we arrived at Ardington the rain stopped and we met up with Dickie who’d just removed the covers (yes that’s how splendid this place is) to allow the wicket (somewhat damp) to breathe. So we repaired to the Boars Head (thanks to Simon and Adam for picking up Stuart who was on the following train thanks to some underground delays). The Sun duly came out and we headed back to the ground to meet up with our good friends; today Owen is skippering the home side and the Gardeners won the toss and elected to bat. Main reason for this is that for the last two years we’ve fielded first and Richard fancied a change of plan.
Into bat went Adam … shaped up well … then played a Cover Drive slightly too loosely to give Shuffs a catch off Owen’s bowling. Second week in a row we’ve lost a wicket before scoring a run. Paul joined Nick and was second man out, edging behind to danger man Colin Bulpin – the man of the two-step run-up and tight line – after he’d scored 4. Nick then played a classic Cover Drive off Colin which brought a big approving cheer from his team mates … but then the very next ball spat at him and Nick gloved it giving Scholesy a second catch (this after Richard and Stuart had opined that “any nick today is safe”). Not the only thing Richard got wrong this weekend. Enter Jeff, who soon enough was demonstrating the confidence of ownership of this wicket, our fond memories of his 2012 century being rekindled as he used his impressive power to warm the hands of the fielders – who were withstanding the onslaught very well. Dave H hadn’t batted for a while and was feeling his way in before chasing a wide one outside his off stump from Buchan and offering a difficult chance to Scholes junior – who took the catch expertly. Jeff had got to 20 in a hurry and then swung over a straight yorker from John Buchan to join Dave back in the pavilion. That’s the top 5 gone for 43 and Higginbottom now hopes Simon can repeat his heroics of 3 years ago when he rescued the Gardeners innings with one of the most esoteric knocks most of us had seen … unfortunately Wood-the-younger has not got full use of his legs at the moment (get well soon Simon) and could manage only a single before offering a (well taken) catch to Shufflebotham off (again) Buchan. Stuart now starts to cut loose, hitting a four and then a six; Conor was just getting in when he got out, popping a return catch to Burrows. Chris held his end down with good technique as Stuart added another four and another six; clearly he was heading for his third half century of the season (I thought it but didn’t say it, so don’t say I jinxed it) until he swung over one by Burrows for 30. Stuart’s verbal reaction was the same as his captain’s and neither of us should be particularly proud of that. Jeremy looked solid then got one that jumped a bit off a length from Burrows (final bit of moisture in the wicket now going) and Scholesy had his third victim behind the stumps. Captain comes in … now I assume I had the “face like thunder” that it felt like I had. Chris continued to play well and Higginbottom managed to get a few off the square and we’d got the score from 87-9 up to 119 when an injudicious sweep against Yearling was adjudged lbw. Pathetic show of dissent from Higginbottom who thought it too high and going down leg. Took me far too long to calm down so the apologies I made to Dave Richards – poor fellow consigned to umpiring as his back has betrayed him – are repeated here. I remember the wise counsel an umpire gave me years ago: “I’ve never met a batsman or a bowler who thinks an lbw decision against them was right”.
Tea was of course excellent … sausage rolls and carrot cake starred but the sandwiches were all very good.
Stuart hurtled down the hill to bowl at Dickie, who confessed to being a bit nervous but didn’t bat like he was, playing some neat shots as together with Boddington 31 was added for the first wicket. Paul was bowling pretty well, getting his line and length together (he’d come back from an injury-enforced lay off the week before). We needed some inspiration; a tickle around the corner off Paul from Boddington, Stuart sprinted to the ball and hurled it at great speed to Jeff who showed incredible dexterity to glove cleanly and removed the bails in one action leaving Dickie with his bat in the air having to take the walk to the pavilion. Owen came in and looked impressive from the off, some big hits off both openers before we brought on Chris and Jeremy to test the Boars Head. Jeremy found a lovely tempting delivery to draw Boddington down the wicket and beat his bat, Jeff again showing superb technique in removing the bails. Buchan looked to take the attack to Jeremy but succeeded in producing a high quality low catch from Stuart to take the score to 72 for 3. Owen’s now amassed 40 in short time and the captain decided if anyone ever gets lucky with dodgy bowling, it’s him. Sure enough a low full toss was swung away to deep midwicket on the skipper’s first ball; Paul stood firm underneath it and made a difficult catch look simple with a very comfortable take. Salmagundi! Richard then found a genuinely good ball (if you bowl enough balls it can happen) and bowled Lindley to make the Boars Head 100 for 5; can we rattle through the last 5 to keep the hosts in sight? Shuffs suggested not, hitting Richard back over his head for 6. Captain unbowed kept bowling partly thinking that lightning can strike again in the same place and partly that he was batting at 11 so could have a couple more overs. A hard chance went down then the keeper missed a leg side take (shocking ball) after which the ball was pinging all over the place as Colin (who’d been playing himself in at 5) traded blows with Shuffs. The skipper described Jeff harshly who reacted by pretending to throw the stumps down whilst aiming at the captain. Afterwards I confessed to Jeff that I wish he’d hit me as it was what I deserved. Somewhere amongst this mayhem Dave missed a catch he’d normally take and some unnecessary catcalls were led by the captain who should of course have stemmed them. I could blame (a) desperation for the Gardeners to do better, (b) my continuing bad elbow – for which the Aspirin was in the kit bag, not as a hangover remedy (good spot by a couple of the Salmagundans) or (c) cranky mood coming from getting started several times this season but not getting to 30. Whatever, pretty poor show for which I (again) apologise.
Anyway, back to the action and Adam’s come on and is bowling well, withstanding the Shuffs / Bulpin onslaught until Shuffs missed a fine ball from The Third Man* who then immediately added a second as Burrows prodded one up to a slow moving Higginbottom at Cover who made a simple catch look harder than it was. Chris came back as Colin was still causing us many problems and produced a jaffa to send him back to the pavilion. J Shcoles and Yearo added a few each before Conor took a good running catch to give Chris his second victim (J Scholes) and Yearling was caught by Jeff off the returning Stuart, leaving keeper N Scholes high and dry at Stumps with the Boars Head lead set at 74. *Adam: he now lives in Norfolk so he’s our third man from that fine county playing for the Gardeners. Incidentally, after emerging form the shower Adam took quite a time to recover his towel from his kit bag; “for god sake Adam put something on” someone cried (might have been Nick); captain helpfully pointed out he didn’t have to because “he’s called Adam”.
So, after the captain gradually calming down before working out the driving logistics for the evening we sat down to a good meal and ales at the Boars Head, where Shuffs and Colin entertained us well. Much ribbing of everyone in sight; captain probably went over the top again; perhaps this time he can blame lack of alcohol as he’s the cabbie tonight, so isn’t turning into the usual soppy drunk “you’re my best friend you are” etc. Hatched a cunning plan for the top 4 to get the scores to parity in the morning and then a powerful middle order of Lord Fakenham (who was picking up Lady Fakenham from Heathrow on the Saturday), The Prodigy (Stuart) and Seal Clubber (Jeff) to give the home team a target, with Doosra at eight to rebuild the innings if necessary. What a scheme! Anyway, we talked about Holkham Hall and now Shuffs and Colin plan to join us for what we hope will be a weekend away second only to this one. Or will the 3 weekends (now adding Lyme) all be first equal? If travel really does broaden the mind, narrow-mindedness is the least of our worries. Paul counted the chips on Crystal’s plate “SEVEN!” he cried, which was the first we knew of his secret admiration of Strictly Come Dancing. [Author’s aside … I only watch for Darcy Bussel]. Anyway, Paul’s point was that the chips seem to have been allocated too randomly (he counted “NINETEEN!” on Stuart’s plate). The South Coast Slammer told him this was because he was a growing boy and that the waitress fancied him. Someone made an unkind comment in response. Captain relieved because for once it wasn’t him. Anyway, it produced a result of a bonus plate of onion rings and chips that meant Dave didn’t have to resort to sneaking chips off Shuffs’ plate when he wasn’t looking (high risk strategy: Shuffs has put people in A&E for stealing a crisp off him in the past). Whilst Chris ferried Dave back to the station we discussed Paul’s earlier defence of Jimmy Savile. “Oh come on Paul even YOU can’t defend Savile” had been heard somewhat incredulously in the middle earlier in the day. It turns out that the Somerset Shaman was repeating the mantra that you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, even if he was a paedophile, rapist and necrophiliac. So that’s the last time I want to hear anyone complain about Stalin, Hitler, Genghis Khan, Mao, etc. Seven of us eventually clambered into the Touran and continued talking nonsense of which Richard was contributing fully so he missed the turning; thanks to Jeff navigating us back for the loss of less than 10 minutes. Some people returned to the bar. Duckett and Higginbottom kipped fitfully. Conor and Stuart slept like the dead, earlier talk of necrophilia notwithstanding. The rest were mixed.
Sunday dawned dry and bright. Hurrah! Big breakfast, captain reiterated his plans, drove up to Ardington, dropped off the troops who headed for the cafe (which was closed) and collected Lord Fakenham. Back to Ardington and whilst the young and keen contingent (pleasingly more than half) set to net practice, the baronet took us on a guided walk to Lockinge church via his favourite fishing ponds. Delightful people and dogs amongst the glorious scenery – a real treat for Chris, Adam and Richard. Thanks, your lordship.
Into bat … Conor looked good but then was bowled by Burrows. Skipper’s now in and determines to build a stand with the Kentish all-rounder. Doesn’t quite work as Colin takes a return catch from Chris and now we’re on 22 for 2. Jeremy comes to the wicket and together we’re working the bowling around quite well until Richard sweeps straight to a fielder. It’s Jeremy’s call to which Richard is surprised and therefore doesn’t move until it’s a bit too late; then the home team make a bit of a hash of the run out meaning that the skipper is run out by only a yard … so if he’d run straight away without arguing he would have been safe. However, all this was analysed around 15 minutes later (or more), Richard disgracefully spitting the dummy for a second time “THANKS JEREMY” followed by a stream of invective too foul to repeat here for which I am still embarrassed. 26 and a feeling of being cut off with a big score at my mercy. Still not a good excuse. Fortunately my old friend Ray has turned up and I was so pleased to see him my foul temper was cooled in around 25% of the time it may otherwise have taken. Later on I grovelled an apology to Jeremy who deserved far better. 51 for 3 so we are 23 short of the plan; can the baronet get us level then take us ahead? A couple of splendid fours and then bowled by Dickie attempting a third big hit. 63 for 4. Stuart’s ready for a big score; strokes away a four and then receives Dickie’s best ball of the day, getting a snick to keeper Scholes (again) who’s having a good match. Still one shy as Jeremy is bowled by Shuffs and Nick goes out to attempt the recovery operation; good omen as the last stand Jeff and Doosra enjoyed at this place amassed over 100 runs. A slow one from Shuffs looped up and plopped down on a good length, bouncing quite highly, going over Nick’s bat and landing on top of off stump. Jeremy said “if we watched a slow motion replay of that we’d be here until tomorrow”. Brilliant wit as I was starting to feel terminally depressed at this stage but it still got a laugh. Jeff smacked a couple of fours; Adam picked out Parry the younger with what wasn’t a bad shot and came back to the pavilion for one run. Paul was left stranded this time as the same Parry produced a kicking off-spinner to get Jeff out and the Boars Head had a target of 10 to win.
So, Stuart’s fired up and bowled a superb inswinging yorker to remove Scholes the younger first ball (had to feel a bit sorry for him on that one). Could have had another wicket in that over … instead we got a second when Burrows aimed a drive at Stuart who took the catch well off Fakenham’s bowling Parry the elder closed out the match calmly. Well played the Boars Head.
BOARS HEAD WON BY 8 WICKETS
So we went on and played a 25 over game to fill the remaining time up. Some good cricket here as Nick took a great catch to remove the dangerous Parry the younger for 22 off Stuart. Conor took a good one off Chris to remove Parry the elder quite a bit later (it took over 3 overs for the father to face one ball). Lord Fakenham (4 for 25) and Chris (2 for 32) bowled brilliantly to have us recover after being put to the sword early in the field. Stuart came back well to claim 2 for 18. Nick, Jeremy and Paul all bowled well under pressure to limit the Boars Head to 128, Paul getting out D Weal to close the innings.
The reply didn’t start well, Stuart chasing a wide one and getting out at Point off Shuffs. Richard played a dodgy sweep once too often and was given out lbw. He was a long way down the wicket, but if it’s a straight one (or even if it isn’t) you shouldn’t complain. So another set of apologies, this time to Nick and Shuffs for this discourtesy. I’ve seriously been analysing what’s caused me to be even more acerbic than usual this week. I phoned Dave Hollingsworth to make amends with him for Saturday’s shenanigans. “Have you been making a lot of these calls?” he asked. I have to say that made me laugh … very perceptive. I’ve committed to a “July Resolution” with Dave to be less harsh. Anyway enough of this amateur psychoanalysis. Fakenham crashed a couple of fours then got bowled by Scholes the younger. And then a 45 stand by Adam and Conor gave us a shot at reaching the target … ended by Parry the younger snaring Adam with a return catch after the Third Man had shown great technique in dealing with the extravagant turn. Conor shortly after undone by Burrows. Nick gloved one to the keeper (Scholes senior now on 5 for the weekend) then Paul got a jaffa from Parry to get out for 1. Chris played handily then got caught off (again) Parry and then kept his kit on as he had to run for Jeff. [Note – Higginbottom had set the batting order on “who looks least shot” and poor Jeff was struggling because of his continuing recovery from Tendinitis in his ankle]. Jeff hit a 4 and a 3 (he likes to get value from a runner) and then sought to see out Parry’s final over before a planned final assault … unfortunately 5 balls of stout defence ended with another brilliant ball to end our resistance. Well played again Boars Head.
BOARS HEAD WON BY 32 RUNS