The final scheduled fixture of the V&A season (there are now a couple of impromptu additional fixtures planned) has traditionally been against A Few Good Men. Sadly, on this occasion they should have been renamed Too Few Good Men because, despite the best efforts of their captain, Alistair Metcalfe, they could muster a mere eight players when eleven is the traditional number. The V&A were also a few regulars short, but such is our current strength in depth that his proved to be a welcome development allowing some of the more occasional members of the V&A squad. Nick Emley, captain for this match, was concerned about the lack of batting and consequently implemented the impromptu opening partnership of Jonkers and Grantham with the instructions to ‘get your heads down’. Observing my batting in the nets, Lachlan suggested that I might not be psychologically suited opening the batting. He may have a point, but the opening position is never a particularly popular one in club cricket: players who fancy themselves as a batsman wanting to bat at four and seven if they don’t.
The bowling was tidy but unthreatening and the score progressed without mishap to 50 in the ninth over before Vin Grantham got the toe end of the bat on a wide one and was caught behind. Nieboer, whose batting has regained a fluency absent earlier in season, went quickly and effortlessly to 34 before surprising everyone by holing out to deep square leg and I missed a grubber to depart lbw shortly before lunch, which was taken at 100 or so for 3 off some 20 overs.
Sarah Jenkins’s lunch was what Nicky used to call ‘the usual fare’: rare roast beef, baked potatoes, assorted salads and slaws. With the rotation of caterers it is now not so usual and seemed reinvigorated in its return. It was excellent and much appreciated all round. I was pleased to see funds had been allocated to a cheese board, which was delicious and not the pate which is not. We discussed mottos and Lachlan pointed out that the Latin inscription on AFGM’s badge was both grammatically incorrect and contained a made up word. Nicky claimed never to have taken much notice of his old school motto (Manners Maketh Man) and nobody demurred. Despite taking 8-43 for his school, Worcester RGS, Enzo felt that he was a disappointment as an opening bowler to his cricket master. It transpired that the opening bowler the previous year had been Imran Kahn.
After lunch Rob Taylor and John Clayman both played some crisp shots before falling to over ambition. This brought Nick Emley and Tom Bird to the crease. Two more contrasting batsmen can scarcely be imagined. Tom has found some of the form of his youth this season. He still rarely scores a run on the off side, but has introduced a cunning defensive stroke to keep out the ball which cannot be flayed through midwicket whilst dispatching everything else. He was going nicely when an ill judged single to Ben Horan (fielding as a substitute) resulted in a run out by a direct hit. Horan was promptly removed and replaced by Lachlan, resplendent in flowerpot hat, who dropped a catch and gave away overthrows. In the end the V&A staggered rather than galloped to a final total of 185-5 with Emley and Bowden at the wicket. The miracle of modern science that has allowed Martin to play cricket at all, stopped short of enabling him to run and he is less than spritely between the wickets. In fact they shouldn’t really be called runs at all, as his progress between the wickets is mainly taken at little more than a stately walking pace.
We opened with Enzo, who defies the years to run in with the new ball and test youngsters half his age. He also has a marvellously theatrical appeal, which he used to no avail in pursuit of an LBW but soon had AFGM’s captain caught at the wicket. At the other end Ben Horan also found the edge of the bat and AFGM were tottering somewhat at 18-2. Enter Alex Douglas, who, on profile especially, bares an uncanny resemblance to Douglas Jardine. He played the innings of the match. Uncertain at first, he soon found his feet driving strongly though cover and mid-off helped along by a few pies from your truly. At tea, if not at level pegging, AFGM were certainly not out of the hunt.
Tea was marked by a fine cream cake in celebration of Lachlan’s impending 37th birthday. Delicious as it was, it came on top of an already substantial consuption. Not for the first time, I filled my plate with scones and muffins and cakes and biscuits, dully washed it down with a cup or two of tea only for some further delicacy to appear late in proceedings. Last week it was trifle, this week Lachlan’s cake. By the time I rolled back on to the field, it was all I could do to move, never mind bowl. Fortunately, my efforts before tea and the depth of our bowling rendered me surplus to requirements.
Lachlan, who had not bowled hitherto, now pinned the batsmen back whilst skittling a couple with a spell of great control. At the other end John Clayman, who bowls rather slowly with neither spin nor swing, nor any flight or guile so far as I could detect, but with the tremendous asset of being straight also knocked over a couple. As wickets fell and the required rate rose AFGM’s chances began to diminish, but whilst Douglas remained there was hope. With three overs to go and 36 need Douglas at last missed one which cannoned into his pads to a chorus of appeals. It looked straight enough, but in games where the umpire is a member of the batting side, LBWs have been refused on the most spurious of pretexts and to give this one would spell certain defeat for the batting side. Praise can, therefore, not be too high for Ali Metcalfe who did the decent thing and raised his finger. An over later the final wicket fell leaving Clayman with four wickets and AFGM 23 runs short of their target.
And so to the Golden Ball, where sadly Ernie had failed to assert himself on the barman and came back with the news that they would not be open for business for another half an hour. The unfortunate consequence of this was that the opposition decided they would rather wend their weary way home when in fact, it required little inducement to get the ale flowing. Ross Ashcroft had chosen to eschew the game in favour of the Henley Show, a sort of pagan ritual, where would be country folk gather in a field to ooh-argh over mangle-wurzels and plows, whilst being sold fake Barbour jackets by sharp eyed types from Croydon. On balance Ross felt the event was not worth a return visit. Nicky Bird, never one to turn down an opportunity to inject a bit of smut into a conversation, asked if it was preferable to the hypothetical prospect of sleeping with Diane Abbot. Ross thought the Henley Show won by a short head. Returning to cricket matters we mused on Stokes’s good fortune at being acquitted of something he plainly did and Cook’s early retirement. Hobbs played into his fifties to good effect, as did Grace, but he had to retire when his bulk made him a liability in the field. “The ground was getting a bit far away” he ruefully admitted.