Last year we thought we’d played our last two day test match … but thanks to E&W Hendred getting byes in the first two rounds of their cup competition, we returned to Ardington for another bite at the Test Match cherry – don’t know if this is the last one – dire mutterings from Shuffs as he was scraping together a team for both days. Well, scraping together teams is also what I do, apart from hauling about the kit bag, arranging the fixtures, booking hotels, checking railway timetables … so Adam got his brother Simon to join the BH XI on Saturday and I got two of my part-time Gardeners to join the Boars Head on Sunday. And if you read on, you’ll find out that I’m rather a generous captain …
The usual ‘Ardington Weather’ was predicted days before the match this year, so for once I wasn’t inundated by requests for a “loan” of sun cream as folks were well prepared. (Note: I haven’t yet come across anyone trying to repay a sun cream “debt” – probably a good thing). Meeting up with our hosts before the game and it’s great to see that Owen Pye has returned to something near a good level of fitness. The hot weather has opened up a number of cracks in the wicket so Elliot Hutt (this year’s BH captain) was not surprised when I opted to bowl first. Though this had absolutely nothing to do with the state of the pitch and everything to do with the likely state of the Gardeners in the early part of play on the Sunday.
Into battle and Joe Woolmore is bowling at speed down “What” Hill. Dickie Tarran comments that he’s a bit swift; “We told him to hurt you, but not too badly” someone commented. Joe found a neat inswinger to dislodge Dickie soon after. Owen’s in and Joe’s on fire, finding a beauty of a yorker to send back the Boars Head number 3 for 3. Now some consolidation by Guy Bosley and Elliot – though the Gardeners Captain shelled a rocket at gully in the meantime off Joe. David Stead had bowled a fine spell from the Pavilion End and bowled out Bosley for 15. Time to apply the Clamp; Elliot is obviously going to take him on and aims a big drive off the Melton Mowbray Music Master – goes spiralling off the edge over keeper Jeff Round’s shoulder – for Paul Jordan to dive full length and claim a sensational left handed catch. “Crikey!” as Tim put it. Dave added a second wicket as Dave Parry wandered around outside of his crease and Jeff completed the stumping. Time to give Conor Aspel a spell (neat, eh?). And the Tipperary Stallion strained at the bridle, putting down a difficult chance off his own bowling as we sought further reward for our endeavours. Darren Weal played well in clawing the total towards three figures until he was undone by a Doosra from (of course) Nick Duckett. Simon came in, got in a mix-up immediately, and was run out without scoring. Very sad. Pete hit some solid boundaries before Graham got one to stay a bit low and pinned him in front. Neatly drop-kicked his bat in homage to the England rugby team who at last got a win today. Joe Shuffs perished to a catch by Conor off Tim, then Archie Bosley played skilfully to add an unbeaten 12 to get the home team to 109 before Simon Wood II (looking remarkably like Simon Wood) was out for 2.
Tea was splendid. Dave Stead needs to get away early so he opens the batting with Dave H and they were put under some great pressure by Elliot, bowling a searing opening spell. Dave S had weathered the storm but then located the safe hands of Owen at midwicket off Archie and we’re one down with 45 on the board. Adam deflected his first ball off Elliot for four, reached the sanctuary of the other end, where Guy Bosley (taking over from his son) pinned him lbw. Accurate stuff from Guy who was skidding the ball in dangerously, a low one doing for Paulie J and now we’re struggling. Tim played adventurously before also going for 9 then Dave, having batted really well, got beaten by a screaming fast ball from Elliot for 28. Richard softly paddled the ball into Conor’s hands at midwicket (someone wrote ‘caught Judas’ in the scorebook; I simply noted that he catches better for the oppo than for the Gardeners). Jeff got us firmly in the ascendant with a belligerent 33 – we had been a bit turgid up to this point. Removed by a superb leg cutter from Owen. Joe played a controlled innings and Graham batted steadily through to the close. We’re 70 ahead on first innings with three wickets in hand.
And so to the Boars Head after Adam and Richard had deposited the kit at the Bear and returned in the Woodmobile. By the time we got there Tim and Graham had chosen each other as room mates and were demonstrating a surprising commitment to diversity. Serious chat this year about Irish politics, treating sugar as a hazardous substance, how Jos Buttler gets his hands into position to hit yorkers for six. Joe was feeling a bit unwell so Dave Parry gave him a lift back to the Bear where he locked himself into the best room. The conversation got a lot more interesting as the alcohol consumption continued. Dave Hollingsworth offered to guide us in a tantric yoga session the following morning (surprisingly few takers). Kim wasn’t too sure about the seriousness of Richard’s ‘vengeance’ on Conor where the Tipperary Stallion would be rooming with Doosra whilst Richard donned a pair of Newcastle United pyjamas to share with Kim. Anyway, to make it up I told Conor I’d got them a double bed. “Dammit I prefer twin beds” he replied. Kim said she found that “a bit insulting” but agreed with the Packham observation (on another occasion confirmed by Higginbottom) that her man indeed “purrs” when sleeping.
Now we’ve all had plenty to drink and it’s time for the walk to Wantage. Will we get there before the sun comes up? This time we make no mistakes and indeed at the point we join the cross-field path 2-Bats (this year: New Bats as he’s gone through two already) and your correspondent recognised we were on the right track and congratulated ourselves. In Wantage: Jeff – who only had the soup (plus most of the chips we were given) – went into the kebab palace and ordered popcorn chicken. One of the assistants put on a ridiculous fancy dress outfit and offered to escort him to the Odeon before his boss duly produced the required savoury. Adam was hovering near a nightclub door and was challenged by a man of no more than 20. Mr Wood informed his verbal assailant: “You know nothing – in fact, you probably know less than nothing – I’ve forgotten stuff you will never learn”. The doorman at the nightclub then started to get a bit close to Adam so I put my arm around him and said “come on Grandad I’ll get you back to the care home now”. Duckett picked the lock to Joe’s room. Conor found there was a single as well as a double in their room and said “there’s your crib babe”. Graham and Tim headed off arm-in-arm. Jeff crunched his way through his chicken and roomed with Dave. The three amigos shared a triple – me, Paulie J and Adam. Now, you need to remember that Paulie J is the chairman of Trisha’s and is not called ‘The King of the Night-Time World’ for nothing. So after we had abluted PJ told us “you’re not allowed to sleep until we do the quiz”. We were remarkably good, getting around 75% right, Paulie shouting “He takes great catches, he knows everything!” or something like that. Apparently I contributed “Velazquez”, “Morocco” and a lot of gurgling and belching. Goodnight all.
The next morning we had the perfunctory breakfast in the Bear with a surprise non-ingredient as each person ordering the Full English got one less ingredient than expected – no eggs for Graham, no mushrooms for Dave. We figured out the waitress might have been scoffing them en route to the table (possibly unfair). About half of us walked back to Ardington and the rest were driven by Richard. Once back at the Pavilion Richard announced he was off for a walk to Lockinge Church via the stream and lake. No takers as the Gardeners took to lolling about by the pavilion. Seriously missed out … the beautiful weather combined with the idyllic countryside as I took a circuitous route down to the church; a dazzling array of butterflies, dragonflies with a delightful and varied soundtrack of birdsong. Up to the excellent statue of ‘Best Mate’, triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and trained here. Down into the churchyard and back along the bank of the pond. Through the Ardington/Lockinge community orchard and out back to Well Lane. Meanwhile Joe had been skinny dipping in Ardington House Lake; some pictorial evidence of this was taken by Paulie J but I don’t believe I should publish that on here.
Sachith arrives with Pax; “How many have you got Pete?” asks Richard – answer 10 – so Pax is a Boars Head player today. I’ve also got my work colleague Toby Gallington – who lives nearby – to appear for the home team. And there are five other changes for the Boars Head – mainly enhancements as these fellows were playing league cricket on the Saturday. Sure enough, our first innings endured for 10 more runs in just under 3 overs – a lead of 80 – and the Boars Head came out to bat again. So much for most of us getting a longer break before fielding!
Toby is straight in at number 1 for the Boars with Dickie; Joe and Graham are bowling well and we got a breakthrough when Toby popped a mishit drive back to Graham for 4. Pax was dropped by Sachith off Graham … as most Gardeners know I don’t usually mention dropped catches, but it was amazing that Sachith reached a flying edge, a full length dive at speed saw him only narrowly fail to hang on – great effort. Pax was looking to move the scoreboard along but Graham bowled him with an inswinger for 8. Dickie had been circumspect up to now, but he and Owen started to get going very well and we were now chasing leather as our first innings lead disappeared. Can Sachith stem the flow? Better than that, he bowled Owen for 25 then immediately pinned Joe Scholes for a golden duck. We’re probably slightly ahead at this point. Alex Dawson played some elegant strokes before Sachith bowled him for 17. It’s very even. Elliot got after us from the off, a stunning straight six off Tim being his first shot. He’s going at quite a rate whilst Dickie – who had completed a fine half century – perished to Tim. Theo Hutt joined his brother in giving our bowlers some tap until Sachith managed to bowl Elliot. Theo continued, ably supported by star guest Jonny Spitfire, until Joe trapped him lbw for a classy 26. Jonny went for 9. Shuffs hit Joe for consecutive fours (both handsome drives) and was left unbeaten on 18 when Joe found a yorker to skittle (much to good to be) number 11 Nigel Hutt. Victory target 162.
Did I mention I’m a generous captain? Pax bowled a superb spell and accounted for both our openers Nick and Graham. Elliot is bowling some great stuff too and removed Conor. Our top 3 out for 3 altogether. Adam dug in but Theo Hutt came on and bowled a fine spell, removing Adam for 5. Sachith was trying to blast Pax out of the attack but Pax bowled him for 2. Big trouble. Paulie J calmed the situation down in the face of this superlative bowling show. Toby now came on and removed Joe for 1 with a lovely ball. Higginbottom’s player finding is now getting dangerous. However, Dave Hollingsworth carries some Ardington grass around in his kit bag as he wishes he could play on this track all the time, and proceeded to make us all look poor as he played some marvellous drives, cuts and pulls to at last get us back into the game. Blemish: a mix up let him to run out Paulie J. The captain’s now in and an over-indulgence on Leffe the night before is at last working its way through as he couldn’t locate the middle of his bat. At least he hung around to help Dave in a stand of 30, but the run rate is getting a bit beyond us. Richard tried to lift a sweep off Owen but went too far across to the off and was bowled for 10. Richard to Jeff: “Hit the bad ball, otherwise don’t get out”. Jeff completely ignored this, looking to club everything – and he did very well, although there was by now not enough time to seriously contemplate winning. Dave completed his half century and Jeff was unbeaten on 18 when the sun set on another class Ardington Test Match. Only Tim didn’t get a bat in the second innings, meaning that 38 wickets had fallen in the game and we were 26 runs adrift. Thanks as always to Peter for his sterling work and being the greatest host, and to all players on both teams for continuing to play in a great spirit.