By Richard Higginbottom
All through the week leading up to our first visit to Jesus College the weather forecast was ominous. Indeed, a neighbour of mine was starting to gather pairs of animals for the garden shed he has recently converted into a ramshackle wooden boat. Obviously he knows something I don’t. Anyway, we agreed to cancel teas when given a tight deadline by the Cambridge catering team; in the unlikely event of play being possible, the Gardeners would bring tea. Of course, the weather forecast then improved and your author was busy on Sunday morning filling rolls. For an away game! There’s nothing I won’t do to make play possible for the Gardeners. “You’re b****y mad” was the unanimous opinion of Mrs and Miss H. That’s part of the captain’s job description, I mused.
So … game on! The Whitley Bay Champion’s back let him down … we couldn’t get a new 11th man but our gracious hosts ensured we were always 11 strong in the field, the skipper having won the toss and decided to field as he figured we were slightly more promising with the ball than the bat, given the addition of Players Roger and James.
“Hello Joel how are you?” asked the captain. “Pretty well thanks” replied our new find … “good here’s the new ball, please take the first over”. Not as much of an honour as it should have been … straight into a strong headwind. Took quite a few deliveries to find his range; Branchard-Lewis – studying for Umpire Qualifications – gave him an official warning for bowling beamers. Bit harsh … none of them were going to harm the batsmen as they were nowhere near them. Higginbottom – wearing the gloves – was astonished (I thought nothing surprised me) when one cleared his head (standing back) by a good 6 feet. Meanwhile at the other end James was bowling incredibly well. some late swing and movement having the college batsmen in all kinds of trouble. A wicket was sure to fall … and sure enough in the 4th over James delivered a jaffa to rearrange David Wilson’s wicket. Joel now responded and chalked up a maiden … pressure on … but the high class Rutter and Moore picked off some uncharacteristically loose stuff from James in over 6. Joel bowled another tidy over and the captain rested him, then James delivered an astonishing double-wicket maiden, Rutter’s leg bail being broken by a rapid off-cutter (we gave the remnants to James as a trophy) and another full length swinging delivery accounting for Voss. 40-3 after 8 overs: game on. Roger took over from Joel and bowled very tidily into the stiff breeze, unlucky not to take a wicket early in his spell. James completed his excellent stint and Chris came on at the Hare Statue end. Mr Packham! What a spell from the Man Of Kent, constantly probing line and length, generating some proper nip. In the meantime Moore was demonstrating some delightful off-side strokes, anything in his favoured hitting zone was being stylishly punished for boundaries when the Gardeners couldn’t quite make the stop. Clarke in support had little of the strike and Roger accounted for him with a trademark inswinger in the 17th over to end this dangerous stand of 47. The next over Chris bowled his first loose ball just outside leg stump and Moore clipped the ball smartly to James who made no mistake with the catch. Goes to prove that (a) pressure gets wickets and (b) your best deliveries often don’t get the prize. Roger plugged away for a gallant six overs into the breeze before the skipper rested him, bringing Crazy Paul Brasted to the action. Chris and Paul together brilliantly stemmed the flow of runs and we were constantly threatening to add to our wickets. Chris relented the pressure on one more ball and produced an almost identical trick as Evans chipped to James – bit harder this time but the Ulster Express made it look easy. Paul shortly after sent Aspden back to the pavilion from a miscue to (yet again) James. 107-7. Chris took a break and 2-Bats come on; an over to settle down as Cartwright, having overcome some early innings nerves, hit some good shots to quickly advance the College score to 141 before Dave H induced Gallagher to loft to Mid-Off where Adam skilfully deployed a mixture of forearm, sweater and beard to trap the ball. So long as it doesn’t hit the turf, we don’t care. Jesus captain Jim Sipthorp supported Cartwright well as we tried to wrap up the innings, Joel resuming this time with the wind in his favour and claiming the skipper’s wicket for 13. Adam had been unlucky up to this point not to get at least one wicket, but finally Branchard-Lewis was undone by Adam’s method and the innings closed on 188.
Tea … well obviously a bit down on our usual visits, I don’t have a team of liveried staff. Someone snitched on Crazy Paul who offered the opinion “not up to the usual standard”, being unaware of today’s hasty arrangements. I couldn’t agree more; hopefully normal service will be resumed next time.
Wicket keeping for the first time in a year meant the captain wanted some time to relax, so went down the order and put his feet up (after clearing away the remnants of the tea, re-organising his kit bag, checking availability for next week, advising the batting order, press-ganging team-mates into umpiring / scoring duty). College fielders were outstanding, supporting some pretty accurate fare from openers Gallagher and Cartwright, meaning that Roger and Chris had to work very hard for any run. With the score on 21 Roger attempted to break the shackles with a booming on-drive but only got a faint edge … or did he? The Jesus team appealed strongly, Adam considered for a long while before pointing skywards. I won’t report precisely Roger’s reaction because a gentleman of his stature doesn’t need his good name besmirched on this organ. But suffice to say he was not the happiest man in Cambridge. Dave H joined Chris and the excellent fielding continued to make runs a most expensive currency. Clarke and Wilson continued the miserly offerings of their antecedents and this caused Chris to not quite middle a drive, Wilson comfortably pouching the return catch. David W’s figures were quite astonishing – 5 overs, 3 maidens, 3 runs, 1 wicket. Time for some lob bowling to tempt the Gardeners to their demise … Branchard-Lewis struck in his first over as Hollingsworth holed out to Rutter. Doosra Duckett needs a little more pace on the ball to glide the ball away for runs, but manfully hung in there until a skyball smashed directly into the base of his stumps. A no-ball? Neither umpire was giving the Olympic Salute, so off trudged the lugubrious Lancastrian. James had got a bit weary of the sterile proceedings so leapt out to bat ahead of Adam. “Good idea skipper” someone said to me. “Er, no, just a misunderstanding”. Wish I’d had the presence of mind to accept the praise. James shaped up well but then Aspden found a good delivery to dislodge his bails. Now Adam gets to go in. Score one run. Then play over / under / all round / through a Branchard-Lewis delivery to get out. The captain thought “what a bunch of clowns” and was immediately befuddled by a quality leg-spinner from B-L that made him wake up a bit. 2-Bats quite correctly pointed out that I was being “Mr Grumpy”; I thought it was justified but of course it never is … as if any of us try anything other than our very best. Anyway, Mark Buttle had played some good shots and worked with the captain to add a few more before Moore took advantage of Mark backing away (to make room to play I hasten to add) castling him and bringing Joel in. The captain figured he’d better look like we were still trying to play shots and crashed into a delightful cover drive … which skimmed along never more that 6 inches off the ground into his opposite number’s hands at short Cover. Great catch. Insert Anglo-Saxon word of choice, I went through them all on the way back to the pavilion. Joel had got off the mark but Voss rattled the woodwork to leave Crazy Paul sans partners at the end.
Afterwards in the Champion of The Thames … a splendid evening with our hosts, thanks gentlemen for your high standards of play and sportsmanship. Roger had just enough beer to calm down. The Whitley Bay Champion joined us … poor fellow clearly itching to get into the action. Duckett had to go home to get his tea. Adam’s ready to play more games. My elbow hurts. Can we get some willow on leather next time?