In 1987 a crack commando unit was sent to Ford Open Prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit.
These men promptly escaped from the minimum–security stockade to the Hanover underground.
Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as cricketers of fortune.
If you have a problem, if no one else can you, and if you can find them, maybe you can play for the Gr-A-y Team.
Hannibal looked at himself in the mirror. He combed his lustrous silvery locks and reached for a cigar. He only smoked cigars on Sunday mornings when preparing for a mission. Today was his 412th. During the day, undercover and with action always imminent, he made do with cutters choice rollies, a master of disguise. He put on his black suit jacket and transformed immediately into the Shadow. It annoyed him that his trademark socks and flip-flops combo had become fashionable, but he would wait it out. He picked up his bag and prepared to leave the house. The plan for the day was a simple one, bat first then bowl them out. He hoped the plan would come together. He loved it when it did.
Across town Biff-A-Barracus was worrying about the day. He hated car journeys, especially in the Bongo to Staplefield. Fortunately, the van (no longer red and black but a flashy silver) had been out of action since taking Friendly fire at Denton. A few pints of Harveys at HQ normally calmed his nerves but the pandemic had put paid to that, he would have to make do with his trusty box of Punk IPA instead.
“I love this Punky flavour, and I pity the fool who says otherwise” said Biff A to no one in particular.
Murdoch Fenton was already at the ground with Jerry Face Brasher. Murdoch Fenton had been released from the insane asylum for the day to keep wicket for the GrAy Team. No one else was mad enough to do so. Face had helped get him out that morning and they were now relaxing with monster cans of Heineken and fruity IPAs in front of the pavilion.
Jerry Face Brasher is best described as a smooth-talking conman who serves as the team’s appropriator of vehicles (Car Tsar) and other useful items (Sussex Cricket Tickets, Barrels of Harveys for the EGM, etc). Since returning from Nam he has been working undercover at Royal Mail but there was no disguising the fact he still has the best hair in East Sussex. He had recently helped recruit PO Dan, aka the Metro-gnome, aka Diamond Dan and he took great satisfaction that his apprentice had been performing so well in recent missions. He could take a back seat after many years of faithful service.
The remainder of the team assembled in dribs and drabs until all 11 were present. Non-active agent EO arrived jauntily on a bicycle from Brighton then went AWOL almost immediately, updating the Whatsapp from an undisclosed location in the trees while experiencing flashbacks of failed missions to Staplefield in the 70s.
The site had been carefully chosen as two pubs were located within a grenades throw of the wicket. Five other non-active GrAysmen ensconced themselves in the aptly named Victory beer garden waiting for just that. They could never drink in a pub called The Defeat. Some had come for the cricket, others for the beer but all were eager to see if the shadow could repeat his PSM feat from the previous year. New balls please!
Captain QB stuck with tails and it finally did not fail. “We’re batting” he said.
“Tails NEVER fails’ said Biff A.
Wiggo and Biff A opened the inning on a crumbly and cratered wicket, just the sort the GrAy team specialized in batting on. Wiggo was in a hurry crunching the first pull of the innings for four through midwicket.
The Staplefield bowlers had long Shoaib Akhtar-like run ups but collapsed on reaching the crease resulting in a series of half trackers that Biff A and Wiggo dispatched to the boundary with any number of flashing blade cuts and pulls.
“I ain’t got time for that jibba jabba” Biff A said to himself as the ball flew to the boundary rope. Memories of a maiden ton at the same ground many years before floated through his mind.
But it was not to be as he was the first casualty with the score on about 70 from 8 overs. The files on this period are in pencil and are hard for the author of this report to decipher. Biff A was soon followed back to the hut by Wiggo and the GrAy Team had two new operatives at the crease, Robor and Hatrick. The wicket was behaving like a minefield with balls jumping off a length. The weather was also inclement and a rain delay resulted in Hatrick batting in steamed up glasses. The post-match autopsy suggests that this may have resulted in his dismissal, mistiming a cut shot to backward point. We will never really know. One hundred and something for three became a hundred and something for four when Face fell in a similar manner to Rick. This brought Murdoch to the crease and he and Robor added some runs, with Robor dispatching a couple of big gun sixes before falling for 55.
Staplefied commander Sadler brought himself on to bowl and took three wickets in two overs as Murdock, Clunk and Zonk fell in quick succession. The innings finished on a high with PO Box Dan scoring his first runs for the GrAy Team with a pull/swept four from the last ball. 210 for 9 off 40 seemed competitive on a dodgy track.
The second innings.
The first ball of the reply and the Staplefield opener is dispatched by Diamond Dan before he knew what had happened, caught stone cold in front no doubt. A sharpshooting assassin of diamond ducks, he collects them on his mantle piece and polishes his flock each morning.
Another over another wicket as captain QB got in on the act. Attacking on two fronts always works. Two soon became three and then four as Hermitage and Newland worked their magic. 18-4 and the game was in the bag surely?
And then, time seemed to slow and stop…. Reality took on a dream-like quality…. The rooks grew restless at the tops of their tall trees. A flock of Canada geese jostled for position overhead, emerging from a rainbow that had appeared in the sky.
The Staplefield batsman took advantage of this atmospheric change and began to send the ball to the boundary. Two lost balls seemed to auger a change in fortunes. Le Clunk began resting on the ground between deliveries as the GrAy team lost their way.
Biff A looked determinedly in the hedgerows for both lost balls, emerging with a cut face but to no avail.
The replacement ball was as heavy as a rock and seemed to follow Face around the field, a series of difficult chances. Nice drop Kimo sabe!
From 18-4 to 102 for 5 and Staplefield were back in the game. Their Sri Lankan number 4 playing nicely with Sadler who made 50.
The GrAys desperately needed a lift. They got one when QB returned for a second spell and Sadler sent one high into the clouds. But shelled by Robor on the boundary.
Oh shit that could be the game!
But Sadler went for a big one again and this time Robor takes it. He’s pumped from the previous miss and raring to bowl. There is relief at the demise of Sadler but Staplefield are still very much in the game needing just 5 0r 6 an over with wickets in hand. Agent Zonk crucially removed aforementioned Sri Lankan operative at this point. Crucial.
Hatrick and Robor bowl the final few overs economically and pick up wickets. Robor bowling while simultaneously fielding at cow corner at the behest of the skipper. Diversion and distraction tactics that date back to the Napoleonic Wars.
One of Robor’s wicket sends the bail flying a club record 39.5 paces although this is disputed as not verified by Murdoch through official club procedure (PSM).
It all comes down to the final over. The Staplefield tailenders need an unlikely 20 for victory and have already shown they can clear the boundaries. Biff A Barracus is the man for the job.
“Biff A you’ve still got your hat on” cries Wiggo helpfully from the boundary.
“Shut up, fool!” replies Biff A.
You can feel the tension as Biff A delivers bowls the ball high into the air.
Four. Oh no!
Misfield on boundary from Robor – 4.
Surely the GrAy Team can’t mess up this mission?
Dot ball. Huge sigh of relief from the team.
The game is won. Biff A held his nerve at the last.
Any final thoughts Hannibal?
Rolling a rollie -“I love it when a plan comes together, nominations are open!”.
Funnily enough The GrAy Team ended the year the Greys was founded. 1987. Coincidence? I think not. The final episode of the final series was also called ‘The Grey Team’. I’ve got enough to create a conspiracy theory here surely?