By Richard Higginbottom
O to be in England’s finest county at any time of year. Driving to the ground skipper Richard Higginbottom (returning to his native county) was listening to the Ipswich vs Norwich match and made two wrong turnings … once when the Canaries went ahead (boisterous cheering) and again when the Tractor Boys equalised (instant depression). The radio switched off, the Touran-encased trio of the captain, Roger McCann and Nick Duckett just made it before the 1.30pm start. Having won the toss, Richard elected to bowl with the view that as we’d lost two players very late in the day we’d better get the task of setting sparse fields out of the way. The home team was also one down and fielding two schoolboys (not the strapping 15 year-old of last time) so a fair match was made.
It’s early season so the wicket – whilst true – is a bit lower and slower than we saw in 2014, causing opening batsmen James Harrison and Richard Williams to play with some caution as Roger and “proper” home boy Jason Amesbury (of North Norfolk – the captain hails from way down South in Breckland) found a decent length. Particularly admirable of Roger who had caught the first flight into Gatwick from Dublin having commentated (for Guerilla Cricket – one for you to google) on the rain-abandoned Ireland vs England match. It appears that when there is a rain interval the commentary team enjoy a few alcoholic refreshments … who’d have thought it …). The strong cross-field wind meant the line was more difficult to get right, the wind over-assisting our kings of swing. The home batsmen saw off the opening spells and Sanjeewa Jayathilake – making his Gardeners debut – decided to announce himself with a ball intended to push James onto the back foot. Success – of a sort – as the ball was smashed over wide mid-on. A useful lesson as Sanjeewa extended the trajectory of the remaining balls in the over. Pete Shufflebotham took the opportunity to join us for the weekend and bowled a tidy first over but some good footwork from the batsmen subsequently had him politely telling the captain “that’s enough of my filth”. Sachith has often been the man to get us a wicket and he now deployed his off spin from the Memorial End … and the ball was driven well back towards the Memorial by both of our opponents. The captain is starting to think up all kinds of ploys to take a wicket – such as bowling leg-side looping full tosses with a brave volunteer at Short Leg off whom we could take a rebound. Fortunately we were saved from this by James dragging a wide-ish Sachith delivery onto his stumps to at last break the deadlock. A top drawer innings of 46. It was apparent pretty quickly that there was no let-up in the quality of the batting as Martin Todd looked assured from the off. Another big partnership? No! Sachith bowled a not-quite-so-wide delivery and this time Richard played on to get back to the warmth of the pavilion. Cold? Oh yes. The Gardeners’ skipper was the envy of the team as he had pads and gloves to help him keep warm. So were we destined to get wickets only with a little assistance from the batsmen? No again … Sachith greeted Robin Corrigan with a faster ball of full length that nipped in a touch and cracked into middle stump – a jaffa first ball. Meanwhile Nick had come on at the Hall End and was unlucky on a couple of occasions not to get a wicket. Oscar Harrison showed some tidy touches as Martin played some fine strokes, often against the better deliveries of Nick and Sachith. Jason returned to the fray this time with the wind straightening his swing and accounted for Oscar. Dan Peel assisted Martin with accelarating the scoring rate until Sanjeewa found a good ball to rattle his stumps. And shortly after Martin – for perhaps the first time – didn’t middle one of his imperious drives and hit the ball just out of Sachith’s range at Long Off … or so we thought … a turn of speed only usually seen from a Gardener when Last Orders is called got him to the ball just in time to take a superb catch. Roger wasn’t to be upstaged and soon after produced a delightful inswinger to send opposing captain Jon Goulding back to the pavilion. Oscar’s younger brother Alfie showed some determination to play out the remaining deliveries with ‘keeper Joe Smith. An attainable target?
Roger fancied a rest so the captain promoted himself to open with Adam Wood – who had ridden his motorcycle over from Beetley – he’s now a local as well. After his usual push to Cover and nudge around the corner Richard then went for a quick single for which his legs were not prepared, running as if under water and putting his team to an early disadvantage. Shuffs and Adam played themselves in for a while and then Peter played a sublime Extra Cover drive followed by a big six over Mid On. We were all thinking “game on” apart from the skipper (now scoring) who was thinking “I thought it was Summer” as the mercury started to plunge. Difficult to grip a pencil with shivering hands. Peel and Williams both bowled well without taking a wicket and then gave way to James Harrison who trapped Pete lbw for 24. A bit of delay here … some dissention at umpire Duckett’s decision? No … just disappointed to have got out. Roger played some solid defence and then left a wide one outside off stump from Goulding. “That’s an elegant leave” said our guest player Jeremy Cameron to your correspondent. [Note: thanks for coming to play with us Jeremy, we all enjoyed your company]. Roger repeated the play – only problem that this delivery homed in on his off stump. So it’s time for a philosophical debate – is leaving a ball on your stumps as bad as running yourself out when you’re the captain of the team? Well – just don’t bring it up with me and Roger in future, please …… Adam now tries to accelerate but although he’s staying in it’s not easy to get the ball away. At the moment we need someone to stay there. Jeremy played a lovely leg glide for 4 and has clearly scored some significant runs over the years … but a brief hesitation left him just short of his ground for another run-out. Adam is now playing a mixture of defence and attack as Sachith (7) attempted to launch an assault but was beaten by the spin of Alfie Harrison. Martin Todd was then brought on to wrap up proceedings from the Hall End and skittled Adam for a hard fought 32. Another top class delivery trapped Nick in front; Sanjeewa and Jason played some shots to get us past 100 before Todd closed the game out with another lbw. Was Shuffs (umpiring) being generous? Not a bit of it … no complaints from any of the victims.
It took ages to change and repack the kit after the game because we’d all got so cold. Indeed it was too cold to carry a handbag as Jason’s wife and mother both left their sacs-de-mains in the pavilion causing us to wonder which members of our team were so openly declaring their metrosexual status.
So thanks to our excellent hosts for an entertaining post-match chinwag in the Victoria with a particular mention for Jon who honoured us by sporting the Salmagundi cap we presented him with. And an apology for Robin – if I’d have realised that this was the person who got us onto the fixture list I’d have asked Sachith not to bowl him such a punishing first ball.
We drove down to Fakenham to our hotel and found the only place still serving food was the local Wetherspoons. Adam, Nick and Richard mused that the age range is more akin to our kids and felt like a sad bunch of old men out on the pull on a Saturday night. Good job Roger, Sanjeewa and Sachith are much closer to the age of many of the locals to make us look less desperate / dodgy. Pete failed to secure mushy peas with his fish and chips but graciously conceded to the Eastern affectation of garden peas – mainly because it was getting late.