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V&A v. Cricketers Club of London

V&A PLAYERS: Nicky Bird, Nick Emley, Roger Smith [Skip], Sunil Julka, Christiaan Jonkers, Ross Ashcroft, Ed Knight, Tony Bloom, John Langley, Andy Taylor

Our opposition, The Cricketers Club of London, are well known to the V&A for it was there, 40 years ago, we had our first annual dinner dance. A disaster. Not just because the food was dreadful but because we had a guest speaker, the Surrey and England spinner Pat (Percy) Pocock, whose speech was embarrassing. A farrago of filth. He told jokes which, apparently, he had told hundreds of times at cricket dinners to riotous laughter. But to the V&A, jokes about Essex girls went down poorly. Simon Barnes was in the audience, a man of impeccable liberal persuasion, to whom quips about shag-happy pretty dumb blondes driving BMWs, and cripples falling down stairs, were less than rib-tickling. And in the audience we had the wife of our then Treasurer who was herself pretty, blonde, drove a BMW and lacked further education. She sat next to Percy. It was not a match made in heaven.

The dinner was so filthy that I refused to pay. I was taken to court. The court ruled that I did not complain on the night and thus my later objection was a tactical ploy to avoid payment. The reason I did not complain was that I was insensible with drink and when you are insensible it is difficult to articulate reservations about the Coronation Chicken. Anyway I coughed up grumpily but The Cricketers Club was cursed and it folded. However, the name lives on in a team of charming ex-members of mixed ability and age. An understatement. They had two or three good players, and an outstanding all-rounder, Ben Ladd-Gibbon, who plays for Somerset. He was the best batsman we have ever seen at Stonor. They also fielded three men in their seventies and one, Pete Langman, who suffers from Parkinsons. This truly admirable bloke wicketkept with aplomb and ran faster than I do unhandicapped. Long may he continue to grace the game. I commend his beautiful book THE COUNTRY HOUSE CRICKETER [ISBN 978-0-9575662-4-8], sold in aid of research into this miserable disease from which Nick Jenkins also suffers.

Their skip. Tom Brockton, preferred a declaration game, 20 overs from 5.30, because if we played our usual limited overs they would score an impossible 300 if they batted first (they were that good), and, if we went in first they would pass our total in a trice, so it would be best to leave another option, a draw, open. We batted first, opening with Ed Knight and John Langley, both out smartish. But then a 50 partnership between Ross and Andy Taylor, steadied the ship, playing good bowling beautifully, Andy smiting the ball lustily as is his wont, and Ross driving elegantly. Such was the age of their elder members that our batsmen ran 5 twice, something oppositions do only when I am fielding in the deep. Ross was caught behind off a sizzler from Ben just before lunch.

Lunch and tea were cooperative efforts. Sarah Jenkins cooked, Andy picked it up, I presented it and added some poncy flourishes, Annette added strawberries, Jane some cakes. At lunch we discussed the serendipity of life, how if Hitler had not been rejected (twice) by the Vienna Academy of Art because he was a rotten painter, he might not have turned his hand to genocide, which he was very good at. Life often offers lucky breaks like that. I argued that WW2 and the deaths of 50 million were thus the fault of the Viennese admissions tutor. John Langley thought this a bit harsh. It was strange playing without Martin or Dennis or Adam. Usually I find something rude to say about Adam and his walliness in the field, but if he is in Mexico with a lady it is tricky. You can discover how Mexico went if you read his forthcoming article in the excellent Air Sudan in-flight magazine he writes for. Some of you asked after my affair with the Jenkins dachshund. I saw the ill-mannered beast this week and it assaulted my leg again, without asking. When I interfere with the tea lady at least I offer a pretty please. Incidentally, there have been complaints that V&A players are not waiting and allowing our guests first pick of luncheon. Last week I was accused of sitting down with a heaped plate before the oppo had even come off the field. Not true, one or two ambled past me as I finished.

After luncheon Nick Emley and Andy kept up a good run rate until Emley departed. I suggested in a recent Match Report that Emley runs like a pudding between the wickets. He objected. He says puddings are stodgy and he is not. OK, he runs like a blancmange. Whatever. He was run out again. For a nimble 12. Christiaan came and went (5), caught off the bowling of Bickley, who also caught and bowled (brilliantly) Andy Taylor for a superb 56. A talkative old cove called Mr Horne bowled 6 overs of accomplished spin. He has played for some smart clubs like the Nomads, and even with Patrick Cobb and his Butterflies, which shows he must love playing cricket. Mr Horne arrived at Stonor with a charming and attractive driver. Lucky man, as Eisenhower was lucky with his driver, Kay Summersby. Sunil scored two thumping 4s before being well caught and then our skip came in and promptly upped the run rate with some big hitting to all points before being bowled by Ben for 37 more than useful runs. At the death Tony Bloom (12*), coming back from France for this fixture and looking fit after his grim illness, and N Bird (10*) smacked a few to reach a reasonable total of 198 declared. But in 48 overs!

Their innings started briskly. Despite tight bowling form Christiaan and Ed Knight their openers, Ladd-Gibbon and Chapman, reached 76 (with L-D having scored 50) before Christiaan bowled Chapman with what looked like a full toss. Andy kept a good line, but it was Sunil and Ed who picked up wickets, with Tony Bloom taking a catch at point, not that common a sight at Stonor. One or two dropped catches probably made no difference because the reprieved batsman was out the next over, but there was that ubiquitous comical moment when one fielder, Jonkers, called – MINE! – while another, Knight, went for the catch anyway, and dropped it.

But all this time, while wickets fell, Ben Ladd-Gibbon was hitting fours and sixes imperiously, bisecting fielders or hitting over their heads. A county player is in a different league, literally, and it was a pleasure to watch. Their tactful captain asked me in a drinks break whether it would be acceptable to retire Ben when he scored 100 (not if but when). I said it would be entirely acceptable. And that made a game of it. In the end they were left with 7 to win off the last over. Sunil was bowling. The sprightly Mr Horne scored a single off the first ball. Tom, who had scored 30 or so now faced and hit another single. Horne lobbed a catch off the fourth delivery to John Langley at mid-on. It slipped through his fingers. It made no difference because they had another batsman to come in and they had crossed, Tom was now facing. With 4 to win off two balls. He missed the penultimate. So a boundary off the last ball and the match was won. He smote the ball to me at deep mid-wicket. I stooped to conquer but Ed Knight, perhaps not entirely confident that I could bend, raced to intercept. The match was drawn.

Towards the end a phalanx of evangelical Christians walked along the boundary and thence up to the hill above Stonor Park to be happy and clap. Emley says you can smell them a mile off. It is their sanctimonious certainty that they are saved and you are fucked that grates. But they are wrong. Jesus loves a sinner. Crapulous lechers who write on lavatory walls like me will find the pearly gates open. St Peter will say go and join Dylan Thomas and Alan Clark for cocktails but hurry, Bernard Manning is doing the cabaret.

Skipper Roger Smith usually veers between comatose and manic. Things get to him: injustice, Australians, dropped catches off his bowling. But he was calmness and tact on Saturday, he told no-one to fuck off. In many ways I envy him. He is rich, handsome, has a nice car and has had two interesting wives, while I still have the same wife and car I started with. The car still works but the wife does not and needs replacing. Applications with CV and photo to nick@nickybirddesign.com. Priority will be given to Helena Bonham-Carter.

Nicky Bird