All season, the standout game on the fixture card has been Southwater. Knowing that a completely new ground has been laid out, manicured and rolled as flat as a shirt front and a brand new pavilion had been built, the Mighty Greys were certain that this fixture would mean that they would take to the pitch behind the Marching Band of the Coldstream Guards, the crowds twenty thick at the boundary, the captains, chairmen and marquee players of each club giving breathless interviews from the middle of the press scrum about how honoured, thrilled and excited they were to play the inaugural match that day. The anticipation had been boiling up to fever pitch all season.
Then on Wednesday Southwater rang and said that they could only get five players, leaving the redoubtable Alex, not for the first time this season, reaching for the Emergency Fixtures Bureau.
Genius that he is, in no time at all Alex had set us up to play Reigate Pilgrims, a team based behind the Red Lion in Betchworth. Having dragged themselves out of cars, tents, caravans, trailers, vans, trees, tarpaulins and logs after Ursfest, the Greys lost the toss and finally took to the field to play their favourite form of cricket: village rules.
The Defence of the Realm Act 1914 no doubt had many essential features, but one of the worst was that it introduced severe pub licensing hours, especially on a Sunday when pubs closed from 2p.m. until 7 p.m. One way of getting around these hours was to create a form of cricket to help adult men with alcohol issues get through these hell hours until the pub door swings open again. There are lots of versions of Village Rules. We played the one with these three regulations:
- Tea is between innings, but can be at any time.
- Whatever happens, only twenty overs remain at 1830.
- Unless you can bowl more than twenty overs in the final hour.
A draw is possible – even probable – under these arrangements. Needless to say, younger Greysmen brought up in this age of instant gratification, pot noodles, pornography on demand, twenty second concentration spans and win at all costs cut throat capitalism eschew a draw and are only ever satisfied with the kill: the scent of blood of a mortally wounded team and the coup de grace of a butchered opposition. Or at least the vegans in the team are.
Talking of whom. With Cap’n Ben having crocked himself, Dom and Alan opened the bowling, Alan taking the wicket of another left-hander called Burgess in the first over. A lengthy partnership followed until a yes-no interlude, exploited by quick thinking and an underarm throw from Jerry, saw off (My gooodness this woman’s minute writing is illegible) someone for 3 Euros?
Another wicket fell with an excellent catch by Zonk at cover off the Shadow, followed by another Pilgrim falling to the Turning Ball’s top spinner. Delbert Covill, making a welcome return after a long period away from the Greys, also broke a threatening partnership with a carefully aimed throw down of the stumps at the bowler’s end.
In between all this, the clock and the scoreboard kept ticking over. Usually, we’re off by half four. Under these rules, it’s up to the batting side to declare, which they eventually did when Biff made ground to take an excellent catch off Jerry, the Vicar of Dibbley-Dobbley. The Pilgrims had set a very challenging target of 212.
Tea was nothing to write home about, the usual solid affair of triangles of cheese and tomato, tuna mayonnaise, some other stuff I chose not to investigate, and some shop-bought cakes and chocolate mini-rolls. It was only when I absent-mindedly turned my plate over and realised that it said “Property of Harrods”, that my suspicions began to be aroused.
The undoubted star of the day was a five year old Border Collie called Jess. As the Greys munched unknowingly on their gold-encrusted Fortnum and Mason’s sandwiches, those less lithe and athletic than your correspondent watched in silent envy as she effortlessly sprinted across the outfield chasing a ball, always catching it on the first bounce, and then never releasing it for at least another minute.
The time-honoured opening pair of Line and Brasher were reunited after the banquet interval, but Biff didn’t stay for long, caught behind in the fourth over. Jerry and Delbert batted well together, Del getting his trademark ground-hugging drives out of his rusty locker before swiping at a lifting delivery and getting caught behind. Jerry chugged along with Wiggy before running himself out going for a third. Despite a few more lusty blows from Ian, and some attempted clunks from Dunc, the Greys – who had taken to the field at 17.25 – were always behind the rate and a draw was looking likely.
More than 140 were needed off the last twenty, 120 off the last 10. In these situations, even if you’ve just passed your 2,000th run for the Greys, with just four overs to go and three wickets remaining, a pull to cow corner probably isn’t the wisest shot.
With just seven balls to go, the Greys were now eight down. Alan blocked the first one, leaving the Shadow to face the last over from Guy Mitchell, with just Chiefy left in the hutch.
With the first five balls seen off, a loss was now more or less mathematically impossible. It was time to think about an unlikely victory. 85 off one delivery. Improbable but cricket’s a funny game and anything can happen. And the Shadow and Alan are like greased lightning between the wickets.
We had been noticing all game that the ball slowed quickly as it reached the boundary.
Mitchell ran in, left arm horizontal to his left ear, and the Shadow took a pace forward and clipped it off his legs past backward square, timed with just enough pace to leave it short of the boundary. A superabundance of runs there.
Like a hungry panther he shot off towards the bowler’s end where, to his horror, he found Alan Monsanto sitting back onto his shooting stick, fag hanging out of his mouth, cap at a jaunty angle, Racing Post spread across his knees. He hadn’t moved an inch.
“Not a lot of point of running for that, old man” he said, as languidly as possible, “What do you fancy for the 3.35 at Market Rasen tomorrow?”.
On the boundary I could hear the baying of the crowd who had emptied out from the Red Lion to see the exciting denouement of the match. “Run”, they shouted, “Run”.
“Alan”, I pleaded, “Listen to the crowd. Think of your team mates. You’ve got to do it for them”. (PSM)
Like a washing machine starting its spin cycle, Alan’s muscles slowly started to crank up as he started to head for the batsman’s end, turning for home as his little legs steered him back to safety. But it was too late. We had only run two, with another 85 needed for victory and the match was drawn. (Editor’s note: Surely this should be 83 needed?? Terry response: “Whatever it was, I was up for it!”)
Quite by coincidence, the Shadow’s average for the season shot up by 300%, it was observed many hours later.
Back in the garden off the Red Lion, the Mighty Greys were in the middle of weighing up the pros and cons of travelling to Reigate to play the Pilgrims when a massive addition to the plus column arrived in the form of two large plates of roast potatoes, quickly followed by two large plates of Yorkshire puddings.
And then the bombshell.
They’d charged us £75 for the tea! It had been OK, but it was no Jevington. It wasn’t even a Luppitt. Having sent the scales one way with the roast, they started rapidly crashing in the other direction.
There was only one thing for it: Get in the motors and eat some more free food in another pub.