By Richard Higginbottom
So we’ve got to the last weekend in June and … no wait a minute it’s the first weekend in July what happened there? Ah yes, the captain and the Whitley Bay Champion were at a wedding last week where Mr Stead delivered an excellent Best Man’s speech in honour of our friend “Crazy” Paul Oberg. (If you’re wondering, the correct nickname for Mr Brasted is “Crazier” Paul). Highlight of the speech was the time when Mr Oberg managed to ride his bicycle into a tram rail on our trip to Montpellier; David recalling Paul’s athletic dismount of the bike as it continued along as if it was a full-size Scalextric model. Happy days.
Anyway that was a lot of fun but this promises to be at least as good. It rained just before we got to the ground but (as always it seems) the ground was ready for action at our scheduled start time. Richard called correctly and home skipper Owen was a bit surprised at the invitation to bat. All part of the cunning plan, the exiled East Anglian related to his team-mates. “Would you care to tell us what that is?” inquired Jeremy. “Just as soon as I’ve created it” answered Richard.
Well, the easy bit is give the ball to Stuart. Actually it was going to be Steve but he got caught up in holiday traffic on the M4 so arrived just as we were taking to the field – therefore we gave him a chance to relax into the game. Another not-too-late comer was the aforementioned Paul, who was the subject of “Brasted Bingo” where the Gardeners were invited to guess how many minutes late he would be. Actually he was there by 1.45pm so an uncharacteristically optimistic Jeff took the winnings. Stuart down the hill, Dave Stead up the hill, both straight into the wickets, Stuart accounting for Darren Weal, Graham taking the catch and Dave finding a superb inswinger to trim Shuffs’ bails. Wait and watch as the big man returns to pavilion … BANG! the changing room door gets strength tested with Millichamp & Hall grade A willow. Dickie Tarran must have thought thunder was in the air as the cows were also looking nervous … but apparently they look like that whenever Dickie’s anywhere near. Anyway, he located Steve at Mid On off Dave’s bowling very soon after, the catch being skilfully taken by a combination of forearm and torso. More complicated and less reliable than using hands, we mused. Colin and Owen steadied the home ship for a while until another deadly Steadley inswinger castled The Bionic Man. Steve took over from Stuart as Joe Burrows – who had looked promising – gave Graham a second catch, this time off Dave. So the WBC was rewarded with a rest, Jeremy coming on from the Pavilion end. The combination of Jeremy and Steve continued to apply pressure, but Owen was batting beautifully and taking the lion’s share of the strike to move the Boars Head on. The recovery was interspersed by Jeremy bowling out John Buchan for 9 and then Steve removing Scholes pere-et-fils in short order. Paul Freeman helped Owen take the score into triple digits as the home captain reached his half century. Graham came on at the Pavilion End to relieve Jeremy and after he adjusted to the windy conditions skittled Paul, leaving Dave S to come back on to try to get his five-for; thwarted as a comedic run-out ensued, Owen scampering to regain the strike off a knock-down from Steff, shouting “YES!!!!” at hyper volume. Once the ball had been returned to the bowler’s end to complete the simplest of run-outs, Steff said “I couldn’t hear your shouting because everyone else was shouting”.
Let’s have tea; now, this is no laughing matter. I continue to eschew anything with a high sugar content and I am most grateful for the kind words on this year’s Higginbottom chassis, more than 30% lighter than the 2015 model. I’m hoping to make this new shape a permanent feature so the cakes were denied me, but with rave reviews from my team mates. I can confirm that the pizza, hot dogs and sandwiches were excellent and it’s just another part of a truly great weekend.
Time to take responsibility; I strap on the pads and head out to the middle with Dave Hollingsworth – who made 99 last year – to begin our reply. Colin’s as tight as ever and Owen is bowling pretty well too so the pair of us are watchful, not wanting to waste an opportunity to bat on another one of Shuffs’ groundkeeping productions (incidentally we never thank Peter enough for his efforts – splendid show as usual). Dave cracks a couple of boundaries after a while (the persistent rain this Summer means the outfield is much slower than usual) and we’re settling in nicely. Higginbottom can’t quite get the ball to the boundary, but after a while the 1s get replaced with 2s and the 2s with 3s. In fact, Richard had scored 25 before he located the boundary and gave a distasteful shout of celebration as the ball trickled over at deep square leg. Joe Burrows has now taken over from Owen at the Pavilion End and now Richard thinks he can crash the ball everywhere, resulting in top edging a pull into Owen’s hands at midwicket. Three dozen within an opening stand of 85. Incidentally also thanks to the home team who called me back after a dodgy lbw decision was given. Graham, you can stop apologising now. Dave H reached his half century but then gave Darren Wear some catching practice, leaving himself a not-agonising-at-all 49 runs short of his century. Conor’s brought girlfriend Kim along and he’s impressing her and the rest of us … surprisingly, with his cricket! Four 4s in his breezy 22 before he also located Owen’s hands off John Buchan. Steve Bulman … batting so high in the order he thought his nose would start bleeding now found his range. His back foot Cover Drive off Colin possibly the shot of the day, some lusty drives and pulls also featuring as he muscled his way to a quickfire 39 in the company of Dave Stead who is playing his usual wide range of elegant strokes; lofted straight drive and a square cut come readily to mind. Steve was castled by the returning Colin and now the Boars Head struck back impressively, Dave trying to work with the lower order but it was a bit like trying to navigate the rapids on a burning raft with the keystone cops as the crew. Paul had clearly washed his bat the night before as he didn’t have a clue what to do with it and Joseph Scholes bowled him for 1. Jeff was hors-de-combat because of a blow to the head that had left him needing medical attention earlier (Stuart had subbed with the gloves) so he recorded a rather woozy 8 before returning a catch to Dickie. Beer-fuelled Stuart batted like he didn’t care, but Owen did and took the resulting catch also off Dickie. Graham got a big edge off Dickie and Colin once again demonstrated what a fine all-round sportsman he is by making a sharp slip catch look easy. Jeremy got a couple and was not out as Dave looked to finish the day in grand style, giving a fine running catch to Owen at deepish Mid On – four catches in the innings for the home skipper in a fielding masterclass. Stumps drawn and the Gardeners are 113 ahead on First Innings.
Checked in at the Premier Inn in Didcot with its panoramic views of the A34 and the Power Station, we returned to excellent food and drinks at The Boars Head. Too much Brexit talk by Paul and Sarah turned the Pancetta Chicken into some kind of poison which Sarah’s stomach violently rejected overnight. Graham, who had the same dish, reported no ill effects. Perhaps voting Leave gives you a delicate constitution? When Graham had arrived at the ground earlier Stuart had shouted “That’s so Shoreditch” at his attire of skinny turnups and a floral shirt (don’t forget he’s got an impressive beard too). “Yes, you might win Gay Shirt of the day for that” the captain had quipped. But lo! in the The Boars Head Richard was in direct competition, his sage green floral number (White Stuff, £39.95, available now) being counter-proposed by GB. “Hey I’ve only been able to wear stuff this camp for a few weeks; if anyone thinks I’m gay I take it as a compliment … you think I’m THAT well dressed? Thanks!” Crazy Paul thought the second round of pale ale was off … I think he was right, but no Gardener (especially the captain) is allowed to agree with Paul on anything (and even if they did, Paul would find a new way to disagree), so I just put it to one side. Jeff was treating his sore head with a combination of beer, wine and gin as well as paracetamol. Can’t help thinking that this combination has probably never featured in a drug therapy plan contained in one of his academic papers. Shhhlurring and mellooow was our Canadian colossus. Get the feeling I’ll be keeping wicket tomorrow. It’s now 11.40 and I can’t get a cab until 1.15. I write down on a napkin what I’ve drunk as I feel sober and find that the ‘off’ second pint stopped me in my tracks and I can load up the Touran, backed up by our landlady who takes the rest of us over to Didcot. Steadley goes and gets a midnight snack from the service station and I’m in there too … bought a punnet of strawberries. Wow times change; would have been a big bar of chocolate in the bad old days. And a bag of wine gums. Some cadbury’s chocolate eclairs perhaps. And maybe banana flavoured milk. You get the idea.
Breakfast was pretty good and we visited Didcot where the Bruce Brothers gave a social and architectural critique of the town. “What a f**king dump”. The saving grace for me is that it makes Stevenage look truly beautiful, so in some ways a rewarding experience. We’re keen today and the fielding drills went very well, Stuart batting the ball at most of the Gardeners and Richard getting some much needed keeping practice as Jeff continued his recovery. Bobby Hillman and David “Red” Guy drove up to join us and Nick came in via train and taxi. Pete’s looking ready for business. Here we go for day 2.
Stuart’s first over safely negotiated, Dave Parry crashed Graham’s first ball for two then failed to spot his cunning full toss the next ball and we’ve got our first wicket. Owen comes in to join Shuffs and Stuart’s bowling is getting more and more testing as the batsmen opt to hang in against Stuart and make runs off Graham and then Jeremy from the Pavilion End. Some forceful strokes by both of them – there was a tight squeak for lbw against Pete from Jeremy in there somewhere – meant they added 60 for the second wicket until Stuart produced one of the highlights of the match, a full length off cutter knocking back Owen’s leg stump for 32. We gave Stuart a rest from bowling, though he proceeded to chase down everything in the field as Red made his bowling debut for us at the Village end and Bobby took over at the Pavilion End. Dickie Tarran’s on form today and playing some powerful shots, stretching our fielders and Pete continued to play a rich mixture of text book attacking strokes. Meanwhile Conor goes down with a twisted knee then Jeremy pulls his hamstring as the leather chasing takes its toll. Thanks to the Boars Head for generously offering replacement fielders, one of whom did the trick as Shuffs failed to middle a pull off Bobby, Joe Burrows taking a good catch at deep midwicket. 81 for the Lancashire Hotpot (I’ve never used that one on him before: I hope it sticks). Stuart’s been prowling about so I asked him if he’d like to bowl. “Yes- now please”. I like that attitude … it’s clear that I’m going to need a giant spanner to prise the ball from his grasp as he began his second spell down the hill, scattering Dickie’s stumps after Mr Tarran had made a solid 35. Now Stuart would not be denied … we rotated the bowlers at the other end but our Vice Captain found pace and rhythm, accounting for Colin lbw for 6. Lindley played very well for 17 and half avoided the Stuart trap – Bruce the Older catching him off Bruce the younger. Paul Freeman got a useful dozen before he was bowled and then Stuart managed to rack up a six-for (first of his career) by castling both Joes. Graham is not to be totally outdone by his big brother and ended the innings by bowling out Joe Burrows for a second time.
Tea … was that even better than Saturday? Apparently the cakes were again marvellous. Our hosts are now well aware of my cake ban and are reporting the superb quality of scones, victoria sponge, etc. The pineapple and melon were very refreshing was all that I could counter with.
So we’re set 109 to win (actually we thought it was 112 but let’s not muck around here with mathematics) and got 44 minutes plus 20 overs to get them. Colin and Owen whip through their overs (these boys play almost too fair) and Nick is finding the unerring accuracy tough as David Hollingsworth’s head, feet and hands are all working in harmony as he times the ball away, mainly through driving but also with the occasional cut and pull. Dave reached 31 with no alarms at all and then reached at the worst ball Owen bowled, toe-ending the ball into Joseph Scholes’ hands at Cover – an excellent catch diving forwards. Jeff’s in and Owen continues to struggle for length, getting clubbed away a couple of times. “Blow this” Owen said, sending keeper Shuffs back and walking half way to the pavilion. Steaming in, I was expecting a beamer, bouncer or full toss. No, it’s a full length off-cutter that skittles Jeff for 14. 50 for 2 and a glimmer of hope for the Boars Head. Glimmer becomes a blinding light within a few balls more as Bobby, Graham, Red and Paul fall for a combined total of 4 in the face of accurate bowling by Colin and Owen. It’s 58 for 6 as the captain approaches the wicket, being correctly informed that “you’re the underdogs now” by Dickie. Colin bowled full length on middle stump for the remaining five balls of his over, exactly what his team needed … and I didn’t. Just before heading out to bat, I looked over my shoulder to Stuart … “see you soon in the middle: we can get these”. This was bravado and trying to make it look like I was the epitome of grace under pressure. Someone said “captain’s innings needed”. Maybe I heard myself say it.
The day had got warmer as clouds burned away. Colin and Owen continued. The captain got the scoreboard slowly into motion again with a number of deflections, prods … occasionally a punched drive. Nick is struggling in the heat, intercepting anything on his stumps but not often locating the ball with his bat outside off stump. The run rate crept up a bit. We had drinks … hit everything we can but don’t throw it away. Owen tossed the ball up even higher, getting more bounce which added to the lack of pace meant Nick couldn’t deflect any delivery for a run. Richard took some risks against Colin, added some more and got away with it. Dickie had got wickets in the first innings so Owen figured he wanted to win and brought him on. Richard benefitted by scoring 9 off that over and the Tarran experiment was rapidly brought to a close. Is there an earthquake pending? No turns out it’s Stuart pawing the ground itching to get in. Richard farmed the bowling by dropping the ball near him and running like hell; Nick responded well. The final over – 4 to win. Colin’s still bowling darts. Nick defends one and Richard – nearly standing on Nick as he played it, enables the run. Stole another sharp one off the next ball. Nick missed one then another block and we scramble through again. Scores level. So tense I can hardly breathe. Hit the ball but straight at a fielder and not hard enough. Last ball. “Run like hell, no secret tactics here!” Richard shouted to Nick. Richard bunted the ball down and ran. For Nick the spirit was willing but 37 overs in the hot sun had sapped him and Joe Scholes’ superb pick up and direct hit meant that we had drawn the match with the scores level. “Is that a tie?” someone asked. “No, that would have had to have been our last wicket” replied Richard. From somewhere near the pavilion a low, plaintive wail was clearly audible … not too sure what happened, but I thought I heard “16-overs-6-for-and-in-my-pads-for-10-overs-for-a-draaaaaaaaaaw”.
Amazing match, incredible result. Thanks again to Owen, Peter and all the other fine folk of Ardington for a great weekend.