A beautiful day and an enthralling match with the most gentlemanly opponents, a magnificent lunch and tea masterminded by Estelle de Caires, concluded in the penultimate over, all witnessed by a large and enthusiastic crowd of all ages – followed by pints of beer, laughter, camaraderie and free chips in the Golden Ball. What more could we have wanted? Well, quite a few things actually. V&A cricketers are a discriminating bunch with high standards, and not everything went according to plan.
It wasn’t for lack of planning. I travelled to Stonor with Captain Dennis de Caires (my regular chauffeur Ashcroft having inconsiderately moved to Henley) who spent much of the journey discussing the optimum batting and bowling orders and how he could best ensure that everybody got involved. Arguably more interesting was the discussion of his recent role as artist-in-residence somewhere or other. Adam Jacot (another passenger) asked what “in residence” meant and Dennis explained that it meant he overnighted at the establishment. So far, so obvious. But it seemed he was expected to provide something else for all the young artists and students hanging about. Was he some kind of mentor, I asked. Not exactly, said Dennis. His role was more subtle than that. He was told at a certain point that he should “inform the space”. Dennis was clearly unsure how to do this. If only Nicky Bird had been there. If anyone knows how to inform a space, whether in the slips, beyond the boundary rope or in an empty field, it is Nicky. Sadly, he was off games.
So back to the batting order, which was to prove crucial. No problems with a powerful-looking middle order of Ashcroft, Mounsey-Thear, de Caires and Nieboer. But roles had to be found for everyone else. Morris and Emley opened, under instructions to score at four an over. Emley, classy and elegant player though he is, is not known for fast scoring, and I was told to chivvy him – except that I missed a straight one in the first over. The role of accelerator passed to Sunil, promoted to No 3. He executed a couple of lusty tonks, then Emley ran him out. Enter Ashcroft, another classy player, who can also hit powerfully, and needed to, with Emley continuing to leave balls outside his off stump, defend long-hops and politely pat overpitched balls back to the bowlers. The fans (Adam and Doris Bonkers) were getting restless.
Ross got a well deserved 50 but was out soon afterwards, hitting over a straight ball in a further effort to raise the scoring rate. Eventually the ball rapped Emley on the pads and umpire Julka was swift to raise his finger. Emley’s 31 had taken nearly as many overs, and the cream of the V&A batting was under pressure to score quickly just as the crafty opposition captain unveiled his best fast bowlers – notably Mr Noble, a schoolmaster who taught one of his sons. This is an interesting variation on the V&A’s youth policy. Unfortunately none of us have sons or grandsons at the kind of schools that have semi-professional cricketers on the staff. Dennis, having hit a couple of boundaries, was unlucky to fall to a fine catch in the deep off a full-blooded drive. Lachlan and CM-T fell cheaply trying to hit out, while Jago was clean bowled by one of Mr Noble’s quickest balls.
Meanwhile, there was a new anxiety in the V&A ranks. Our young spin bowlers, Tom P-G and Dario Simpson, had absconded to the pub in Henley shortly after lunch, and now the wickets were tumbling. When the unfortunate Andrew Wayland retired hurt with a torn calf muscle, Nick P-G was beside himself. The boys made it back just in time to get their kit on and bat, but senior V&A men were not impressed. They barely troubled the scorers and a final total of 176 did not look sufficient on a fast pitch on a hot day.
In the field, things improved. Lachlan bowled like a demon, and he and C M-T kept the run rate down, took a couple of wickets, and Lachlan left George Winters with some nasty bruises. Then the dreaded Mr Noble came to the wicket and in conjunction with the red-capped Ally Spry, took the visitors ominously close to their target.
Still the V&A fought valiantly. Tom P-G, possibly a little sheepish after his earlier indiscretion, hared after everything, caught one brilliant catch and narrowly missed another. C M-T geed everyone up, and briefly combusted when Sunil unwisely aimed at the stumps with the batsman already home and no one backing up. I pulled off the pratfall of the day when in chasing the ball towards the boundary I leant down and tried to flick it back to Sunil but only succeeded in flipping it over my head and over the boundary.
When Mr Noble succumbed to one of Tom P-G’s clever variations, and C M-T came back for one explosive two-wicket over, we briefly glimpsed an improbable victory. But some lusty hits from Clapp and the calm head of Spry took the Townies and Country Folk to a victory they relished – their last one having been some five years ago. No one in the V&A team begrudged them their victory, but we did feel we had underperformed somewhat.
Several lessons were learned. Tom and Dario, we hope, will not absent themselves for so long, however impregnable our batting might look. Andrew Wayland will stretch his calf muscles before batting. Emley will probably bat lower down the order in future games, and if he has any sense, he won’t pick silly arguments in the changing-room after the game with the writer of the match report.