On Tuesday preceding our midsummer ‘test match’ at Ardington, Mr S. Bruce, vice captain of the Salmagundi Gardeners, approached Mr R. Higginbottom, captain of the same: “Please fast forward the week to Friday night – I can’t wait for next weekend”. Alas I am not capable of time travel (yet) and if I was I would first go back to May 1895 so I could watch W.G. Grace compile his 1,000 runs before the end of May and then I would drop into 1911 to watch Victor Trumper play in the Ashes; with the benefit of 100 years of history, would Spofforth and S.F. Barnes now be considered demon bowlers? And what made Bradman tower above the other batsmen? Could I get Douglas Jardine to buy me a gin and tonic whilst he devised his bodyline theory?
Anyway enough meanderings … we didn’t fast-forward but Saturday came and with Conor and Joe on board from Wembley Park, we met with the other Gardeners and the Boars at the ground ready to commence proceedings at 1.45pm. Owen Pye is hors de Combat (we wish you well) so Pete Shufflebotham is captain – who called correctly and put us in.
Well, with Stuart in prime form with the bat this year and pawing the ground to play, he was the obvious choice to open the batting with David Hollingsworth – a man with an excellent record at Well Street (come on, how many of you Gardeners knew that was the name of the lane the ground was on?). Sure enough, the scoreboard was ticking along nicely without any real alarms until both of the openers offered catching opportunities to the Boars Head which were declined. Emboldened, Stuart powered on, getting to his half century in good time with Dave on about 30. Stuart consolidated for a while after this as Boddington, Pete and Robertson put some good overs in until the Southampton Slammer opened up, a flurry of boundaries taking him to his maiden century. 1 six and 16 fours, he duly retired with the score at 164 in the 28th over – a record opening stand for Salmagundi (so well played Dave who had also contributed 41 at this stage). Adam and Conor both got very good deliveries soon after and it’s 170-3; Jeff steadied the ship as poor Dave got a little stuck in the mire adding singles until the Seal Clubber was bowled by Joe Scholes for 13 and then Dave, agonisingly on 49, was bowled by Robertson. So that’s a set with the 99 he got a couple of years ago. 203 for 5 now so the Boars have recovered well. Graham was looking good but then he got a quality ball from Robertson and it’s 220-6. Richard joined David Stead (the Whitley Bay Champion) to see us to tea at 236-6. Game on.
Tea was the usual Ardington treat – quiche, cocktail sausages, hummus, cakes – good effort to break the concentration of Dave and Richard, who continuing after the repast had the twin goals of 300 total and 50 for Dave. The Salmagundi skipper was relatively free scoring (for him) and added a few boundaries himself whilst mainly concentrating on nudging singles to get Dave on strike, who duly reached 50 in the 48th over, allowing us to declare at 309-6 with Richard on 25.
Joe opened the bowling with Graham; Boars Head openers Robertson and Dickie Tarran looked composed in the face of some accurate bowling until Graham … OK let’s pause a bit here. Robertson had launched himself down the track. The ball had (according to Graham and the umpire) pitched in line and struck in line. Therefore it is recorded for all time as M. Robertson lbw G. Bruce 5 and well played Graham, that’s a good player back in the pavilion. We debated it enough at the time and after play, so (ahem) we’ll discuss it no more here. Joe Scholes played a couple of handsome strokes and Graham – he refuses to be outshone by Stuart – bowled him with a lovely ball. Shortly after Dickie had run down the track a bit and Stuart shied the stumps, for Bruce-the-Younger to cry “Ooooo I’ve got a century I can do what I like!”. Superbly camp voice applied to that gave us all a good chuckle. Where was I? Oh yes Joe ripped an off-cutter past Leo Boddington’s defences then Graham accounted for Dickie, caught by the Whitley Bay Champion. And our nemesis of old Dave Richards was accounted for by another top drawer delivery by Joe. 55-5: time for our openers to take a break; Jason and Tim took a wicket each (David Parry played some fabulous cavalier strokes in his 26 before Joe caught him off Jason; Tim bowled John Buchan). Paul Freeman held out manfully with Elliot Hutt as Conor (a very occasional bowler) and Adam (one of our regular bowlers) took up the attack. Conor bowled out Freeman and we drew stumps at 7pm with Pete defending stoutly as Elliot played some handsome strokes.
Nick Duckett had turned up during the afternoon – he fascinated the locals by recounting how he broke his wrist by falling down a trench in Transylvania. No, that’s not one of the London late-night drinking dens that Nick frequents, but the actual country, home of Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, etc. I suppose we’re lucky he didn’t land on a pointed stick. Anyway, the injured soldier bit worked a treat and so many people bought him drinks he came back with me and the WBC to check into the Bear at Wantage to take a break from drinking (yes – I can’t believe I’m typing this either). We spotted a place called ‘Lenny’s Lizards: Reptile Rescue and Care’ at which Dave stated “these small towns have all lost their character with national chains like this opening up”.
Bags duly left at the hotel, back in the Granny Smith (Dave’s Nissan Micra) to the Boar’s Head where Stuart has told everyone in the pub, on the way to the pub, a couple walking their dog, the cattle in the next field and a cat all about his magnificent century. To be fair, he’s more restrained than I would have been. The pub has an extensive gin menu and I was persuaded to try one that smelt of pine needles. Why would this be a good thing? Anyway they stuck a spring of rosemary in it too, so I suppose that works. My peri-peri chicken was excellent and I heard good reports of all the other food on the menu. The company was of course convivial and it was quite strange for me to be drinking a bit more than usual as we were all taking the “foot bus” to Wantage later. Colin is 2 toes less than last year and was happy to show everyone the scars / neat work of the surgeon. I’m less squeamish than most but declined the offer. I think he’s on very strong painkillers at the moment as he entertained us with some eye watering tales involving semi-naked nurses, overlapping relationships, crustaceans (I’m being deliberately oblique here), a non-existent window he leaned against and therefore fell through (actually he makes Del Boy look very narrow). Shuffs, red-faced, retired at 11 as he worked out the enormous gin & tonic he’d just consumed was 100% gin. 11:30; where’s this path? A few of us checked with the locals, I claimed to know the way (I do when I haven’t had a skinful) and off we set. All good for the first three-quarters of a mile and I took a right turn, shouting “this way”. Most of the Gardeners disagreed with me (this is not unusual) so being somewhat mellowed I did the opposite of the usual and said “OK” and we stayed on the path we were on. Over three miles and one hour later we’re still in the middle of nowhere on a chalk path. The banter is excellent, Graham Bruce has led the shirts off brigade (he looks a bit like the lead singer in Biffy Clyro) and now over half of us are wandering in the direction of what I later found out would be Hungerford (i.e. South instead of West). I thought I heard a wolf howl … I checked with the others … they heard it too. Am I in the middle of a Meat Loaf video? Cometh the witching hour, cometh the 2-Bats, who duly found a hidden right turn that led us up to a road which would lead us back to Wantage at around 1.30am. (30 minute walk, someone said). On the way we sung songs, no-one really had a ding at me (much) for not insisting on the earlier right turn, Stuart told us more about his century, we sobered up a little bit but not quite enough for three of us to stop ourselves mooning at a passing vehicle (we all know who the guilty parties are). “Every year we do something more mental than the year before” I lamented. “I wish I’d gone with Jason – I could be cosily tucked up in a ditch by now” said Jeff. Dave H located the North Star but unfortunately had about as much idea as the rest of us about how to actually navigate using it. No-one had read the guide on how to use Google Maps. I am actually quite proud of our lack of technological prowess. An excellent bonding process. A great bit of exercise. A brilliant way of lessening the hangover the next morning. Another chapter in the Gardeners legend. These positives outweigh the negatives …. er, right.
Well, we all had a good night’s kip (Nick was locked into a soundproof room), breakfast was good, post-breakfast the unlikely cocktail creating team of Dave, Dave and Richard invented something thick, alcoholic and savoury called ‘The Bolivar’ that we’ll be launching at a tea time later in the season (maybe). Joe led us on a rummage around a record shop (good call). Richard took the luggage, both Daves and Jeff back to Ardington where the Boars Head groundsman (also called Pete Shufflebotham) reckoned we should check out Hendred cricket club – which we did, another beautiful ground a couple of miles to the East of Ardington. We will probably be playing two matches next season – Saturday in Ardington, Sunday in Hendred, as the test match is increasingly arduous and not easy for Peter to resource. It’s been a hell of a good experience and I heartily thank our great friends and hosts for making it all possible.
Back to cricket matters and we open the second day with Dave Stead bowling up “what” Hill and Graham bowling down it. Elliot reached his half century (a lot of sumptuous drives, cuts and pulls) and then Graham bowled him a pearler of a yorker to bring in Nigel … no, not Scholes … Hutt … who is the Hendred 2nd XI skipper and is clearly no number 11. Peter and Nigel settle in then started to dictate play, both playing some superb shots. Crikey they’re catching us up … Pete reaches his half century and we had to adapt the field for run saving as well as wicket taking. Last over (we have a maximum of 50 and Nigel knows he’s near a half century) so attempts to launch one from Stuart that stays low and bowls him for a fine 46. It’s a lead of 38 for the Gardeners.
Here’s my old mate Ray Horne (both of us, together with Dave Stead, late of Christie’s auction house). Richard relegates himself to 5 so he can have a catch up and the rapid promotion didn’t do much for the concentration of Jason or Joe who both received fine deliveries from Theo Hutt to have us reeling at 1 for 2. Are we being Hutted or Huttled today? Either way its shaking us up. Tim Clamp – batting so high in the order he had to stem a nose bleed – then played like a batsman in a stand of 50 with Dave S (a beautiful off drive sticks in the mind) before he got a good ball from Leo Boddington. [She never drinks her own, that Veronica Dribblethwaite]. Now I’m thinking of Melanie Sykes in an ice cream van. OK, back to the game and I wandered out looking to score quick runs. Felt OK until I half hit a long hop into midwicket’s hands for 5. Apologies for the foul language all of you in earshot (most of Ardington I should think). Dave and Graham held on until tea when the lead was 140. Debate at tea-time: what do you want and when do you want it by? I want the chocolate cake right now, actually … but it transpired Dave and Graham were talking about targets. So I gave them (and all the remaining batsmen) the instruction that it is hammer time. Dave said he didn’t want to listen to ancient rap music but I think he really knew what I meant. I headed off to find Jason as if he’s gone to the far fishing hole he might not get back in time for the final innings. On and on I walked looking for ‘Freddy Kruger’ who this year had swapped his trilby for a shabby baseball cap. Over a creaky bridge, over 3 fences on and on by the stream and lake until I could see Lockinge church but unfortunately not the Clerkenwell Cobbler. Bemused I hurried back as I was worried we might all be out or I would need to declare. As the ground came back into view Dave stepped down the pitch and hit a magnificent straight six. It transpired that the Whitley Bay Champion had lost Graham for 9 but then Jeff had got a quickfire 24 and now 2-Bats was helping him as he went well beyond 50. Dave H was bowled around his legs and then Stuart hammered 18 quickly as Dave S got to 76 before losing his wicket. Declaration time … the Boars Head need 213 in 35 minutes plus 20 overs.
So it’s Joe down the hill and Stuart up it. Everyone has summoned up their last bit of energy – even Jason, who 2-Bats managed to summon from the pond near to Ardington House. And within 6 overs we had the Boars Head 4 wickets down with the Hutt brothers, Boddington and Rindley all gone as our openers claimed 2 each. Robertson looked impervious to this, playing some impressive pull-drives and Dickie got into the mood too as they got on top of us. Time for a change of pace as Tim and Dave S came on. Still lots of great strokeplay but then Dave trapped Robertson lbw with a somewhat more plausible shout than the day before. Nigel Hutt continued where he had left off in the morning, excelling with drives, pulls and cuts. Dickie kept going manfully until Tim bowled him. Realistically with the overs running out fast the draw is the most likely result as Shuffs joins Nigel … the Gardeners last opportunity however presented itself as Tim got Nigel out for 39 with one that stayed low. Whip back on Stuart and Joe for the final two overs and well played both Pete and Paul Freeman who hung in there well in the face of a dozen top quality balls.
Back at the Boars Head afterwards we’re all a bit weary but grateful that another great match has been added to our history. Colin was supposed to come along and film the action with his drone but I suspect he managed to fly it into the back of his head and is now having an emergency brain surgery. The operation took 7 hours – six hours of it trying to find his brain.
Until next year, thanks very much to the Boars Head, you remain the best of hosts. Salmagundi!