By Richard Higginbottom
It’s nearly the end of August; all the Gardeners have worked out that another Summer is sliding past and there’s an Ashes match to play. So captain Higginbottom had the most unusual issue of selecting from a squad of 16. Those who lost out will play the next time they are available and all but 5 were simply those whose name got drawn out of the “coffee cup of destiny” (a clean and dry one I hasten to add) on my desk in New York at 8am Eastern US Time on Thursday. The Players lost a player on Sunday morning but our 12th man (Graham Bruce) was available so gallantly accepted the offer to take up arms against his brother Stuart. Also on Sunday morning the ballcock arm in your correspondents water tank in the loft sheared off causing an emergency repair – first with rubber bands and later with a g-clamp – to be applied so that the house could be left without fear of flooding. Swung by Chez Steadley to eat an excellent lunch of Salmon a la Stead (are there no end to the Whitley Bay Champion’s talents?) and we sped down to Parliament Hill to arrive at exactly the same time as a heavy rain shower. So we repaired to the tea shop whilst The Players decamped to the Bull and Last (some of the Gardeners went there too) and we eventually agreed a start time of 2.50pm – a 30 overs match. Higginbottom won the toss and invited the Players to bat.
Toby is belying the fact that this is only his second game of the Summer and found a good rhythm from the off, removing Tim Langridge for a duck. Gopala has been a recent ever-present and he found the outside edge of Friend’s bat in the second over, George taking the catch at second slip and it’s 2 for 2. MacKay and Slade tried to knuckle down but Toby delivered a Yorker to rearrange MacKay’s timbers and it’s now 8-3. Roger joins Keith in the middle as Toby wraps up his fine spell. Jason and Jim provide probing deliveries to the Players but there is some classy batting now as the Players fight back and the ball starts visiting the boundary line a bit too often for the Gardeners’ liking. It’s time to ring the changes and on come Stuart and Dave Stead and we get immediate results: Keith crashes into a full toss from Stuart that Dave takes expertly at deep midwicket – out for 38. And then Dave holds on to a rare miscued drive from the Ulster Maestro to send the Players captain back to the boundary for 32. Steve Watson looked good from the off, getting his hands through the ball with some dashing strokeplay before he lofted one off George (coming on for the penultimate over) and Gopala took a good catch. Two balls later and Scott dragged his back foot out too far allowing Jeff to take a richly rewarded stumping – his glovework had been exemplary for the entire innings. Gopala’s final two overs were as hard to score off as the earlier 4 had been; just 9 runs off his allocation of 6. 132 which looks like a par score on this wicket.
Thanks to the Players for a splendid tea. Dave Stead said he enjoyed “possibly the best sandwich of the season” during the break.
The two Daves got us off to a good start in the face of some fine bowling by Jeremy Langridge and Steve Watson. Dave S was a bit unlucky to perish played on for 6 at the end of the 5th over and then Dave H and the skipper were hanging on a bit as Steve in particular gave us a lesson in how to bowl. Having weathered the storm, Roger and our arch-nemesis Ghost came on and we had to accelerate – well behind the required rate at this stage. For once in his life Richard used his feet and his bat well to hit to the straight boundary and we got up with the rate, Dave H also playing some neat shots until Ghost had him caught off an outside edge by Scott in the Gully. George looked comfortable straight away so Richard decided to properly heave at one off Michael but the ball was a little too good, clipping the inside edge and ‘keeper MacKay (also having an excellent game) took the catch – and the stumping, just to be certain. George took the long handle to Gordon Neill who had been bowling some very tidy spin – two fours and then a miss, MacKay stumping George for 22 (he almost got back but your correspondent was umpiring by now and stands by his decision). Stuart and Toby looked comfortable but a miscommunication resulted in both of them ending up at the same end, the Players making no mistake with the run out and Toby made the walk back. This probably put Stuart off a bit and he hit a few good shots before Scott skittled him. Jeff faced a lot of good bowling – Gordon persisting very well – whilst Nick helped us get back in the game with 7 off Scott’s last over leaving us with 15 needed off 2 overs. We couldn’t hit Gordon off the square in the penultimate over and that proved to be our last chance, the Players only conceding 2 with the excellent Watson bowling a sublime final over (again for only 2 runs) we were adrift by 10 runs. Another great Ashes match. Shame I left the urn at home due to the plumbing shenanigans earlier in the day.