By Richard Higginbottom
Should Salmagundi be called The Players this season? Captain Higginbottom counted up the gentlemen who have fought the Salmagundan cause this year and with today’s XI we’re now up to 23. Is the captain the new Tinkerman? Not quite, it’s a case of being pretty lucky as some of our regulars (Whitley Bay Champion, Seal Clubber and the Somerset Shaman) have been hors de combat for most of this campaign. The captain’s tennis elbow isn’t yet serious enough to allow him to miss a match. Besides, this is cricket, not tennis. So did Saturday morning in Letchworth Outdoor Pool (opening day, ah I love the outdoors whatever the weather) free up the troublesome joint? Well, it didn’t do much harm, but it did affect the coin toss as Roger called correctly and opted to take the willow.
Stuart the Bruce! Richard found our season debutant (he’s been studying up to now) and asked if he’d like to try a bit of seam up to accompany Michael Day (another season debutant) to open the bowling. A few warm up deliveries and the South Coast Slammer was ready for action. Mike’s getting used to the slope in the first over and adjusting his line accordingly. Looks tidy. Up comes Stuart … ah left hander, around the wicket … great first delivery thumps into the pad. Captain and bowler united in the certainty of the lbw, the umpire agreeing to send Billy Yates back to the boundary for an aquatic bird of the golden variety. Stuart is on fire, completing a superb opening maiden. Mike’s second also excellent. Stuart’s seaming action is smooth as silk now and he knocks back Nick Davies’ off stump in the fourth over, then bowls an outrageous wide, then bowls another pearler to trim the off stump of Nick Breakspear. It’s 3 for 3 after 4 overs. Mike bowls another fine over; he’s now 0-2 off 3 overs. Stuart’s in again and Tim Langridge got a couple of shots away as the Gardeners try to maintain the pressure because Roger has now come to the middle. Sloppy over from Mike (JOKE) as he leaked 2 runs … could easily have had 2 wickets. Stuart’s line starting to suffer a bit and the captain’s considering giving him a break (the plan was to rest him for a while then bring him back later to deploy his customary off-spin). Mike strikes! A superlative inswinger castled Tim who was looking very solid. Next over and Stuart’s right back on-song winning an lbw decision from Tim (now umpiring) against his brother Jez (who didn’t look so happy … but I can assure the Langridge family that it had pitched on middle and was hitting middle and leg). 20-5. Captain pinches himself. Glad I had the keepers gloves on. Stuart never appears to tire but may need a break soon … gets one to go down the hill, beats Roger’s bat, cannons into his pads and the off stump is yet again disturbed. Stuart’s first Gardeners five-for includes the prize wicket of the Ulster Maestro. Brucie proudly held the ball aloft, said “good game, good game” and was promptly rested (don’t want the lad getting too big-headed). Mike completed an excellent spell after his eighth over and now we’re onto the stalwart bowlers Lord Fakenham and Jim Monahan. Keith Slade and Tom Monahan (we’d given him a free transfer to our great pals for the day) stemmed the flow, both starting to punish the bad ball as the Players at last began to rally. Jim plugged manfully away until he got one to turn through the gate of his enterprising offspring. Keith was now belting the bad ball a mile, a superb six onto the Khazi roof meaning a replacement ball was needed. We missed a couple of chances in the field. Jim took a rest – Chris bowled tidily and (’twas ever thus) was the victim of cursed luck. Jason accounted for Billy the Trumpet [tm] with the day’s weirdest dismissal, leaving a thigh high full toss to crash into his stumps. The Barmy Army bandsman stood nonplussed for a while giving the Gardener’s captain the chance to advise “I don’t think the umpire’s going to give a no-ball”. Ricky replaced Fakenham and removed Tom Hickox (who’d won the last Ashes test against us with an unbeaten half century); Keith kept slamming the bad ball to the boundary until Ricky produced another good delivery to bowl him and close the innings at 123.
Sardine and tomato sandwiches? Well, I managed to avoid them and located one of the salami rolls. Thanks as always to the tea providers. Parkin went down OK, so did fruited Madeira. The Victoria Sponge got binned as it was not cooked properly. I blame the cook for attempting to watch the Champions League final whilst mixing it.
So, a small-ish total. Captain’s been keeping so lowers himself down the order to just above Stuart, who has been rewarded with “pole position” thanks to his fine haul of wickets. Good accurate bowling by Jez Langridge and Tom Hickox (recently appeared on Later with Jools Holland, soon to be appearing at The Roundhouse – 2nd June). I wouldn’t classify Tom’s performing style as swing, but his bowling certainly is, making Paul and Adam defend manfully to keep him at bay. We’d had a relatively solid start of 18 when Paul mistimed one from Jez to give Billy Cooper a regulation catch at Mid Off. Chris enters the fray and his upright style always makes him look comfortable from the word go. Roger brought himself on to replace Tom and immediately delivered a perfectly pitched inswinger to clip the Kentish all-rounder’s off stump. Adam follows soon after as Jez homes one in to trim the bails. Ricky Day’s next in and looks pretty solid until Jez found a lovely yorker that Ricky attempted slightly too ambitious a shot off to leave us reeling on 23-4. Nick drops anchor; good, we need a man who can defend. Mike’s looking promising but then Roger bowls another superb inswinger to send him back to the boundary edge, and then finds the edge of Nick’s bat and we’re now in serious trouble. Jeremy steadies the ship a bit and Lord Fakenham is looking regal until he decides that it’s time to attempt to outdo Billy the Trumpet in today’s unwanted award for gormless moment of the day, missing a wafted drive then standing stock still outside his crease as the ball lolloped slowly to Tim who, somewhat disbelieving as a snail could have turned around and regained his crease in the time given, removed the bails. Jim was somewhat frazzled by these events and wasn’t expecting to be at the wicket so early (if at all) so that explains why he played an uncharacteristically uncommitted shot to Ghost to be bowled. The captain, growling, cursing, pawing the ground, made it out to the middle with a “they shall not pass” attitude befitting of our plight at 40-8. Jeremy continued to play well, keeping out good deliveries and hitting a number of fours whilst Higginbottom nudged and defended as we got our score up to 80 until the Norfolk Nurdler snicked one behind off Nick Davies. Stuart entered the fray and immediately set about Tom Monahan, taking our score up towards the century. Roger decided this was getting a bit close and brought himself back on. Stuart continued to play his shots, but the Ulster Maestro found another deadly delivery to castle Jeremy for a brave and skilful 20, Stu-Bru being high and dry on 19.
After the game the SG skipper couldn’t organise his own bag, the team kit bag, get the money sorted out, speak coherently, do anything useful really. Took ages to load the kit into the car. Struggled to drive to The Vine. Sat in the car for 10 minutes calming down so he didn’t present a miserable face to our best pals. We were on form in the pub alright as were The Players. Thanks gentlemen of both teams, you really are the best sort of fellows and I love playing cricket with you. Note for the batsmen of both teams: FORWARD DEFENSIVE. Practice it in the mirror at home every night until the next game.
Pictures at The Vine after the Ashes match: