Variety is the spice of life, and this was a spicy day in the best possible sense. Not in the euphemistic sense that implies angry argument if not actual fisticuffs. There was none of that. The Legends are a gentlemanly crowd. Although their umpire turned down a couple of strong appeals, one (a run-out) was resolved by the batsman giving himself out, even though he had scored 59 and was on the brink of winning the match for them. The other (a stumping appeal) was meekly accepted by the V&A team even though they had a good case – I was fielding at square leg. Fortunately, new V&A wicketkeeper Phil Goodliffe would never dream of questioning the umpire’s decision. One can think of others who might have been more querulous.
I mean spicy in that the day ebbed and flowed with glorious unpredictability, offering something to titivate even the most jaded palate. It began with the dodgiest of weather forecasts – overnight rain, with thunder, lightning and heavy showers all in prospect. In the event, the thunder was audible but not deafening, black clouds threatened but mostly skidded past, it rained for about 15 minutes towards the end of our innings without causing any interruption in play and by 4pm the skies were blue, the wind had died and the match approached its thrilling climax in glorious sunshine, in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The Legends brought WAGs and sprogs with them, so Octavia and Alexia Ashcroft had company as did our catering staff.
Rob Taylor was our captain for the day, and he lost the toss, so we batted in sticky conditions against a canny bowling attack, led by a slow bowler who flighted the ball so cleverly that he only conceded 14 runs off his seven overs while taking the wickets of Grantham and Morris. Even the normally fast-scoring Chris M-T struggled to get the ball away, and had managed only one boundary when he mistimed a slog against a left-arm purveyor of donkey drops. Jago timed his sweep rather better against the same bowler, but holed out at deep square leg. Better bowlers were introduced, but Ashcroft alternately thumped and nurdled his way to a highly creditable 39, Jacot contributed a useful if scratchy 16 and Nieboer hit a six and four fours in his 35, the most fluent knock in our innings. Eventually, we mustered 164 off our 35 overs, which wouldn’t usually be enough, but wasn’t bad in the circumstances.
By then, we had enjoyed yet another magnificent lunch courtesy of Megan Ashcroft, who tops the catering rankings by some distance. Her Coronation Chicken was superb, and Jago was kind enough to bring me a generous second helping. Happily bloated, I can remember nothing of the lunchtime conversation that often provides the best material for a match report. I do remember that tea was of equal quality, with scones, cake and tarts with crème patissiere. Thank you, Mmmmegan!
Back to the cricket, and it was the Legends innings that provided the most compelling drama of the day. We opened the bowling with one of our newer recruits, Enzo Nicoli, on loan from the National Theatre. Enzo was once a Worcestershire youth cricketer who modelled himself on Dennis Lillee, and sure enough he bowled with much the same flair and accuracy. In between overs, he was being geed up by fellow-quickie Dennis de Caires, although the banter was of a camper variety than that of Lillee and Thommo. Also the fact that Keeper Phil stood up to both of them suggested that perhaps they weren’t quite as quick as those legendary Australians.
A word about Phil. Although it is no surprise to learn that he was once a goalkeeper, he only took up wicketkeeping a few years ago because he found that with advancing years he was losing the fielding agility that had been his main cricketing asset. When not crouching behind the stumps, he now moves with the speed and grace of an arthritic ostrich, but when the ball is delivered, his anticipation is flawless and his hand speed remarkable. He wears a Hannibal Lecter style face mask and stands up to everybody except Nieboer. OK, so there were a few byes, but there was one stumping (not given) and his presence certainly stops many batsmen from advancing out of their crease. Phil is quite deaf, so we don’t expect loud appeals for caught behinds, but it must have been slightly disconcerting for Lachlan to embark on one magnificent foot-stamping, finger-jabbing LBW appeal, only to find that his performance elicited not a flicker of a response from his own wicketkeeper. Happily, this only spurred him to bowl even quicker, until one devastating yorker actually split the middle stump in two.
But that was all later on. Earlier, the Dennis/Enzo partnership had reduced the Legends to 8 runs for four wickets. Enzo took three of those wickets, the pick of them being a brilliant slip catch from Dr Vin. The most theatrical was Dennis’s caught and bowled when the opposing batsman sent the ball lobbing gently towards Lachlan at short cover, only for Dennis to charge across and claim the catch, obliging Lachlan to step aside for his own safety.
Two more wickets saw the Legends six down for thirty-something, with a V&A victory seemingly a foregone conclusion. But Baillie, their best batsman, took an unexpected liking to C M-T, who was clobbered for 15 in an over, while the later order all proved to be fine strikers of the cricket ball. Captain Rob decided to tempt Baillie with the slow left-arm spin of Poynter. Baillie was tempted all right, and when Jago had gone for 21 in two overs, that experiment was abandoned.
With two overs to go, the Legends needed about 13 to win with their last pair at the wicket, but Dennis found the perfect ball to bowl the dangerous Simmonds and a splendid game was concluded with another fine V&A win and a jolly drink or two in the Golden Ball.