By Richard Higginbottom
It’s the middle of the year so where better to be than in the bucolic splendour of Ardington? I pointed the Touran towards Didcot and was beset by a worse than usual delay on the M25 car park, so was late on parade to pick up seven cricketers, a WAG and a wag-gy tail (i.e. cricketers dog). 6 of us into the Touran (including WAG and Waggy) the remainder in a cab and we were at Ardington ready for the start of proceedings at 1.30pm Vikas had got there under his own steam but another WAG (Mrs S) and a MIG (Mother-In-Law of Gardener = Mrs S’s mother) had found a shop so our opening bowler had to be summoned by text after Richard had lost the toss and home skipper Owen Pye had opted to bat. Crazy Paul Brasted texted to say “All kinds of things happening won’t be there until tonight at best” led to all manner of conjecture – Doosra Duckett and the captain actually being quite relieved that his monster motorcycle hadn’t propelled him into a ditch. Dave 2-Bats Hollingsworth is flying in from Germany and will arrive later courtesy of his cousin – so we’re nine strong and we need a tight opening spell from both ends.
Tight? Stuart’s on line straight away and then Vikas’ non-bouncing loosener strikes Owen on the arm (apologies all round) and then the big man rips in a devastating full length ball to castle the home skipper. Stuart’s getting edges but no fortune. Vikas is bowling incredibly well as Theo Hutt finds out, a Yorker rearranging his wicket in the fourth over. Richard Eldridge is trying to play shots and is doing well until a nip-backer in Vikas’ third over takes the top of middle stump. This is good stuff. Skipper takes a mental note to bring Vikas back later if we’re in trouble and on comes Lord Fakenham who has slipped out of his customary Ardington attire of fishing overalls (aka The Frogsuit) and has immaculate whites on underneath. How many layers we wonder? Someone reckons he’s the “Human Onion”. Anyway it takes the Shoesmith a few balls to find his rhythm (the unkind might say to propel the ball through the air with enough effort to reach the batsman) and then he produces a straight ball that nipped IN to the batsman (yes you read that right) which would definitely have beaten all of his team-mates who have faced him at net practice (yes I know you avid readers find it hard to believe, but sometimes – not often enough – we practice). And it did for the unfortunate Joe Burrows. Colin Bulpin and Peter Shufflebotham (as he’s not the captain I’ll call him the MC) are now together and the Gardeners are encountering some resistance. Ashwin Rattan bowled from the pavilion end and the dancing feet of Shuffs got him in great position to belt 15 runs of the first over from our spinner. No slogging here at all – high class strokeplay. Colin’s leg injury has got even worse since last year so now he’s batting with his left leg in a brace. The SG skipper couldn’t resist the jibe of “won’t make any difference you never move your feet anyway” – only to be proved right to the Gardeners’ cost as Colin smote some lively blows – an excellent on-drive off Jason amongst them – until he holed out to Conor for 13. Peter continued in imperious though slightly less prolific vein as Ashwin found his feet to rein in the run rate. Dickie Tarran played a solid innings in support of Shuffs as the home team rallied well against some very good bowling. Ashwin broke the partnership by inducing a lofted drive from Dickie that Stuart collected neatly. Shortly after Joe Scholes located Vikas in the field off Jason’s bowling as the MC’s partners took swift pirouettes on the dance floor. Pete reached his half century just as the toe of his bat was cracking under the strain. It’s Doosra time! The Lancashire Lobster tempted Pete Yearling into a swipe (no red blooded male can refuse) and Vikas again took the catch. Ashwin got Nigel Scholes to prod gently at a tweaker and Stuart tumbled forward well to catch. So now it’s the ultimate Lancashire showdown of Duckett vs Shufflebotham … and the Salmagundi man takes the prize as Shuffs mishits a drive to Extra Cover where Dave Hollingsworth takes the catch to end the innings.
We’ve got through pretty quickly so it’s not tea-time yet. Dave and Stuart head out to open the innings as the rest of us chat about Dave’s arrival at the game … late because of getting around from Gatwick (we were pre-warned) then Richard forced him and his cousin apart (who must think I’m a dreadful oaf) and after a three over delay (everything has to be just so) Dave appeared on the field – and his first action was to lob the ball up to Nick who was unaware of the action and got a crack on his head with the ball. “You should have bl***y well stayed in Germany” said Doosra after a short recovery period. Both batsmen looked comfortable enough until Stuart misjudged one from Theo Hutt and was lbw. Jason begged the captain to go up the order, which meant Richard put him in at number three with the proviso that “you don’t bat like a man desperate to go fishing”. Well, as Pete Townsend puts it, I won’t be fooled again as a series of ugly swipes garnered 3 lucky runs before the aesthetes amongst us were put out of our misery by Theo skittling the Slogging Shoemaker. It’s nearly teatime so His Lordship puts his ’19th Century Onesie’ on to chow down before heading to the pond. Ashwin joined Dave to ensure no more wickets were lost before the break.
As always it’s a great spread (thanks Nina and to the ladies who set it out for us). Incredibly Higginbottom is on a cake ban at the moment but everyone ensured me the confections were delicious. So instructions to 2-Bats and Ash to respect the good ball but move the score along as the loose deliveries came. I doubt they listened to this advice although they certainly played like they did, Dave starting to expand his repertoire around the ground as Ashwin got some stylish strokes away before he missed a straight one from Joe Burrows – lbw for 17. Here’s Jeff and his century in the first test match we played here resounds in the home team’s memory – there’s clearly some nerves in the fielding team. Unfortunately after a couple of good shots the nerves get to Jeff as he’s beaten by a Joe Scholes leg-spinner. Getting a bit tight now though Dave’s still there and looking serene. Which is appropriate as he’s now joined by someone called Sareen. Muscular strokeplay becomes the order of the day as the big man cranks away some mighty drives and pulls. Dave reaches his half century and goes into the doldrums as Vikas takes command. This actually couldn’t have been planned better (not that I’d planned it like this – Vikas is only here for the Saturday so I’ve put him up the order). Dave’s got up to around 65 as Vikas reaches his maiden half century and we were starting to wonder if he’d overtake 2-bats when vintage spinner Nigel Bearing induced a tickle behind and we lost our fifth wicket. We’ve agreed an innings limit of 50 overs and Richard goes in to bat with the idea of helping Dave to a maiden century – and mishits quite a few as he tries to get Dave on strike. When he eventually does start to locate the middle of the bat it’s going for either 2 or 4 so again some more adjustments – including actually leaving a wide half-volley outside off stump – to keep Dave going. The Walthamstow Allotment Keeper is on 99 as Shuffs serves up a home-grown turnip of a long-hop enabling Dave to pull the ball away ……….. straight into Theo Hutt’s hands at backward square leg. Richard sinks to his knees in disappointment, groaning. Very similar reactions at the pavilion amongst the other Gardeners according to Stuart. Dave himself looks like someone who’s just opened a beautifully wrapped present to find there’s a dried up cowpat inside. Oh well, 99s are less common than centuries. Richard and Conor had a bit of wild flailing and running for the remaining few balls as we declared on exactly 250 and closed play for the day.
A quick shower and off to The Boars’ Head … ah nearly – Dave’s got a bit confuddled and it
takes this meticulous man twice as long as usual to sort his overnight stuff out (not helped by some unfriendly cajoling from Richard). Stuart gets a lift to the station from one of our hosts so Richard heads over to Wantage, checks in at The Bear and returns en velo via the splendid off-road trail that links Ardington to Wantage via East Lockinge. 11 minutes on the bike … surprising what the thought of beer can do to spur one on. We’re having a talk with the hosts about the days’ play – how well Vikas played – some relief that he’s only playing Saturday I think. Also much well-deserved praise and sympathy for Dave H. Which as the night wore on, with the addition of alcohol and the related high spirits, shockingly disintegrated into comments such as:
“I’m buying you an ice cream with a chocolate flake in tomorrow so that can be your new profile picture”.
“What’s your entrance music going to be? 1999 by Prince? 99 Red Balloons? 99 in the Shade by Bon Jovi?”
“There’s 99 reasons why you should buy the next round”.
“If I’ve told you once I’ve told you 99 times, don’t give your wicket away”.
Excellent food was accompanied by Dave Stead (umpiring this year as his “leg injury” – per Colin “it’s only a leg injury if you can’t stand”) giving us some sports questions and then testing our knowledge of Spain. So I was just about OK on the first part and 2-Bats (a Spanish expert – that’s how he makes a living) was totally dominant on the second part, scoring 99 out of 100. (Alright this is getting gratuitous even for me now).
Andy did some sterling work after midnight taking two carloads of shambling cricketers back to The Bear (Richard tested his eyesight, balance and bike lights cycling back – all surprisingly worked fine). We relocated to The Swan for another couple of drinks and to decide which one of us got the Single Room. “Dave only needed a single” quipped Jeff (the remark that got the biggest cheer of the night). Some sleight of hand by Doosra (also referred to as “blatant cheating” and “bare-faced lying” by some of the other Gardeners) resulted in him scoring single occupancy.
Woke up at 7.15 wide awake after a 2am bedtime. “Too early” I thought, turned over and next thing I knew it was 9.30. Raining outside but clearing. Doosra’s wearing his shades to breakfast. “Why the shades?” asked Chris Spicer. “Because it’s SO BRIGHT” came the reply. So some decent (in parts) food and quite a lot of coffee later I headed to Didcot to fetch the Sunday contingent of Paul Jordan (accompanied by Iva – another WAG) and Jonny Spitfire – a long-awaited Gardeners debut for the French House stalwart. Vikas, Stuart and Ashwin had returned to London. Steve ‘Wang’ Bulman drove himself to the ground as did – TA-DA! – Crazy Paul Brasted who had arrived on his crazy 2.3 litre Triumph motorcycle (known as “The Widowmaker” I think).
So into the field with eleven men and Wang is … wanging the ball down, an amazing inswinger to left hander Dave Parry getting him out for a duck. Steve very soon after accounted for Rob Lindsey, Conor taking the catch and now it’s looking like a short game. Again Colin played some handsome strokes and again was caught for 13, Jonny getting the wicket as Paul judged the catch to perfection at deep Square Leg. Some friendly criticism for “over-celebration” from the home crowd. Time to ring the changes and the captain brought on wicket keepers Jeff and Chris to bowl in tandem (the captain wearing the gloves in the opening session). Both bowled some useful deliveries and had chances missed off them (seven dropped catches in the Boars Head innings) but Pete and Dickie punished everything loose with big shots. Better try to get some control back as the hosts near 100 – and Amesbury – sharp despite his overnight sojourn in a ditch in the Frogsuit – got Peter to loft one towards Cover and Chris took the catch to end his innings. Shortly after came a classic Amesbury dismissal as Freeman shaped to whip the ball through the leg side as an extravagant outswinger circumnavigated him to knock down middle stump. And then Dickie’s resistance was ended as a catch was put up and his innings was ended for a very good 43. Richard Eldridge and Owen Pye joined forces – we kept Jason going down the hill and brought Paul Jordan on up the hill. Every loose ball was now disappearing to the boundary so we needed to take whatever fleeting chances came our way. This we failed to do as Higginbottom took over from Jordan and the bat continued to dominate as we flagged. All this time we were down to ten fielders as Dave H’s ankle had given out on him (Colin didn’t have a spare leg brace he could lend him) so the leather chasing was particularly onerous. We took pity on Jason and brought Wang back to have a go down the hill as Jonny rejoined up the slope. Both batsmen had cruised past their half centuries and were now playing some adventurous and effective strokes as the score shot upwards until – after being clobbered – Steve got a Yorker to spread Richard’s stumps for a buccaneering 84. Owen wasn’t done yet and reached a sublime century before the returning Jason bowled him a wide he couldn’t reach and Chris (now with the gloves after an intermediate stint from Jeff) took a brilliant stumping. leaving the home side to declare on 339. Salmagundi has 215 to win in 65 minutes plus 20 overs.
Excellent tea this time despite Nina not being on duty – “so good that the cakes get a table of their own” reported one of the Gardeners (anyone wishing to lay claim to this gem let me know – Peter related it to your correspondent). Paulie J’s in a bit of a mood as he (me too) was disappointed at some of our fielding. This serves to focus the mind of the King Of The Night-Time World and he’s got that “I’m here to win” look about him. I thought that Nick did too but he got a steepling delivery for his first ball from Joe and Colin (just imagine how good he’ll be if he has to use a wheelchair) took a fine catch. Jonny decided this Bulpin fella deserved no respect and smashed him over wide Long On for four boundaries in one over – so all of a sudden we were ahead in the game – but Colin got his revenge, striking Jonny’s stumps with his final ball of that same dramatic over. “Doesn’t Jonny look well” said Dave H; “Yes a bit less like Dracula than usual”. Don’t know (or maybe I won’t say) who replied with that one. Great knock; two more overs like that and I’d have put my feet up. Much work to do and not a lot of time to do it in. Big respect to the Boars Head as they whipped through their overs leading up to the 6.15 final 20 start time – obviously both sides going for the win. Colin’s got his darts hitting the target now and in very short order accounts for Jeff and Steve as the hosts take control of the game. A short recovery before drinks and then the last 20 overs start. Paulie J now plays some fabulous shots – lofted drives, authoritative pulls, a dominant square cut – the man has clearly got the bit between his teeth. This is aided in no small way by the enterprising Chris Spicer who is finding gaps in the field and eking out every possible run as Colin was rested for a while. Chris smashed a six and now we may be (just slightly) ahead of the game … but it’s so fleeting. Paul had garnered his half century and then pulled one from Colin straight into Square Leg’s hands. A stand of 102 for the fifth wicket … can we keep the momentum going? Conor swung and missed a few times as Colin came back on from the Village End and the bowling tightened up at the Pavilion End. Chris was well caught by Joe Scholes off Dickie for a tremendous and high pressure 42; Paul tried to play shots – very hard with no practice – and managed to hit a return catch (a diving one at that) to – of course – Colin and this is starting to look like a comic book story “Single Pin Bulpin wins a match single-legged”. The captain’s in and must have washed his bat overnight because he hasn’t got a clue what to do with it. Hitting boundaries from the off is not exactly what he’s known for (though I take offence at the words “boring” and “obdurate”) and some brainless swishing (NO I REFUSE to play for a draw) led to his demise stumped off Colin, following very soon after Conor who’d had his wicket rearranged by the demon. So just an over left for our own one-legged man Dave H to hold out … and he just managed it with Jason being kept at bay at the non-strikers end. Phew!
A great match and an honourable draw. Thanks Peter, Owen and the rest of your fine bunch of men (and just as importantly women).
… and as if all that wasn’t enough fun, Lord Fakenham’s mind was obviously still in the trout pond when he came out to bat late on in the match and had it pointed out that he’d forgotten to put his pads on … here he is returning to the pavilion to correct his wardrobe malfunction.