Cricket, as a sport, is only described as ‘gripping’ by a meagre few these days. You’d think that the fixture at Stonor, Saturday last, would be the pinnacle of the sport. Down to the wire, nails bitten to the quick (on my part, anyway) and brows furrowed in concentration. Then, Sunday happened… I was in the number at Trafalgar Square – I wept with joy, I sank to my knees in a swill of discarded beer… and then Adam Chataway, erstwhile of the V&A and skipper of The Jesmond Jaguars sent me this:
“A great weekend for the game of cricket thanks to a pulsating contest that delivered heart stopping drama until the last over. I am gratified to see the impact our game has had on raising the profile of cricket and bringing it to new audiences. To have played our part in creating today’s scenes (Monday) at the Oval, an outfield packed with youngsters swinging mindlessly across the line while failing to make contact with the ball, shows the indelible mark our batting performance has left on British sport.”
He might be onto something there…
The Jags are a top bunch. They are affable, able and always up for a scrap. I suggested a format at the toss that, I’ll admit, I had cooked up in the car on the way down to ensure a long game which could hopefully keep everyone interested until the final ball. Timed games are excellent, because a team that bats well must then take ten wickets to win. Should the opposition have the bit between their teeth, everything remains in the balance. Tension builds, frustration seeps through the cracks in a teams morale and sets fast. Anyway, we tossed. I lost. Adam wanted to bowl. 80 overs in the day, and a maximum of 42 in the field for The Jags. I was quietly pleased.
The opening salvo from Eccles (1-30 off 9) and The V&A’s resident turncoat Chris Mounsey-Thear (0-40 off 9) was unnerving. The closeness of the air and the double-paced pitch saw the ball spitting off a length at one end (Eccles is very tall), and skidding through at the other (CM-T is less tall). Nieboer (4) and Derewlany (24) made a measured start: ducking, weaving, bobbing and occasionally heaving themselves about the crease, trying to find some runs here and there. They did a solid job, until Nieboer was strangled down the leg side by Eccles to leave the score at 22-1 from 9. Derewlany fell shortly after to a sort of ‘wally shot’. Andy Taylor (73) and Charlie Behan (19) got into their work, the former displaying that rhythmic tempo at the crease which marks a batsman of quality. At lunch the score was 130 odd for 3.
Lunch was provided by Dear Leader, Nicky Bird. Having played in the XI against The Hermits two weeks ago, he has decided to eschew whites for the rest of his cricketing career and don the apron instead. Usually he claims to have done it, but has the help of Sarah Jenkins. This time – he actually did it himself! It was delicious. One rather hopes that he’ll do it more often. I knew it would be a good one because, before the toss, he and I exchanged the following words:
Bird: Nick, I need you to remember to remind me about something later on…
Constantine: (rolls eyes, expecting some sort of senile joke) Sure, Nicky, what’s that?
Bird: That I’ve put all of the lager in the deep freeze.
Constantine: Liquid lunch?
Bird: Maybe. I think I buggered up the beef.
After lunch, things moved up a notch. The scoring rate increased, no doubt helped by the hazy effects that a decent lunch have on the fielding side. Batsmen came and went and I had my heart set on a declaration at 40 overs. Tom Bird (32) batted with panache. Tom has a habit of selling the bowler a dummy at the crease: he looks the other way to the direction for which his shot is intended. I mused to Christiaan that wearing a helmet would ruin his aesthetic. Christiaan laughed, so I assume he agrees. Joe Tetelow (24*, and the faster fielder the V&A has ever seen) batted well to steer the score to 263 for 7 off 40 overs.
The thing about a timed game is that it’s jolly fun to have a full slip cordon. At our level, the ball rarely goes to hand in the slips, and when it does it has a habit of wriggling away from the outstretched fingers being thrust at it halfheartedly. Ben Horan (1-30 off 8), and Derewlany (2 for not very many at all, off 6.4) found their line and length early, and when Nick trapped Butterworth LBW for 6 (complete with a kneeling appeal) the vim of our youth element appeared to be coming to the fore. To make a game of it, I wheeled through a few overs, trying to exploit the demons in a deteriorating wicket. This allowed Lachlan Nieboer (as fine a first change bowler as you’d wish for) to trundle in down the hill, with the wind at his back. What a spell it proved to be. His 5 for 26, from nine overs, saw him trap Chataway (12) LBW, catch Peake (31) off his own bowling, bowl Rowan (1), bowl North (20) and finally, bowl Matt (0) for a duck. Apart from one spilled chance in the slips (I dived to my right at second slip, got my fingers to it, only to be told by Andy Taylor that he ‘had it’) it was a miraculous spell of pace, accuracy and aggression. I’ve never seen him bowl so well. The fact that he did nine overs on the bounce, in a sultry mid-afternoon haze, is a testament to his vigour. Having a younger girlfriend clearly does wonders for ones physical fitness.
Rob Taylor (2-34 off 9) tweaked his way to the much-lauded wicket of Chris Mounsey-Thear (8), trapping him LBW. CM-T has changed the course of several of these fixtures in recent years with his ebullient batting displays. On a more sentimental note, it was a joy to have CM-T and his whole family with us for the day. He is a credit to both teams, and wears the various caps of fatherhood, cricketer and digital marketing maven with a constant smile on his face. See you soon, Chris.
The back of the innings had been broken. The target was out of reach and with 16 overs to survive, I rather thought we’d be in the pub early. It was not to be. Runs were picked off, overs passed by, and every ball became more important. A late flurry from Derewlany and a decent ball from Horan had the Jags 9 wickets down. Eccles (27) looked set to farm the strike and get his team over the line. I crowded the bat, and the slips. Nick Derewlany was to bowl the last: dot. dot. dot. then, Eccles was struck low on the pad and the entire V&A rose as one and bounded down the wicket toward Adam Chataway, pleading for leg before. It takes a man of true grit to give his last man out, so near to a famous draw.
Victory for the V&A, and what a win it was! It’s not so much about the result on such enjoyable days. Had the roles been reversed, I certainly wouldn’t have begrudged the Jags a win in such a nail-biter. Mark your cards for next season! And now, to add colour to the narrative: Radio Bird…
Nicky Bird is too lazy to do the stats so adds a few (rather pointless) words.
The timed game, not usually my preferred format, worked well. Without it the game would have petered out into a lot of boring overs, going nowhere. Nick Constantine did well to declare when he did and orchestrate a thrilling finish. Their umpire was generous to give their man out LBW and lose the match; no one on our side would have complained if he had rejected the appeal. Speaking of which our appeals err on the exuberant side. Adam Chataway, the Jaguars’ skipper, thought them ‘vulgar’ and a bit ‘intimidating’. Christiaan Jonkers (nursing an injury brought on by a touch of obesity) said that anything less than vociferous was ‘useless’, the umpire thinks the appeal flabby and unconvincing.
What a difference youth makes. Yoof brings ability. The ability to catch and run and throw. I had dinner with Terry Blake – captain of The Hermits for 40 years – on Saturday night and he said The Hermits have played their last season, victims of not having a youth policy. We will miss that nice Mark Palmer who called us ‘c*nts and f*ckers’ when displeased by an accurate ball that dismissed him. No worse than that bloke last week in The Authors game who had a similar opinion of our team. Perhaps they both have something.
Lachlan, that Renaissance Prince of a man, erudite and athletic, was my Man of the Match, for his five wickets. Closely followed by A. Taylor, whose 73 was the basis of our unbeatable total. His Dad trolled up too late to see it. We had an interesting chat – with Nick’s Constantine’s Dad, Michael – on our ancestry. I suggested that Constantine was Greek and that my mother had told me all Greeks had crabs. This didn’t go down that well. Bill Taylor said his name was Yorkshire and dead common, like Bird which was hardly up there with Jacot de Boinod or Pritchard-Gordon or Huntington-Whiteley. This conversational recitative was a far cry from my discussing Lieder and Richard Strauss with Lachlan. But you must take the chaff with the wheat, the riff-raff with the cognoscenti.
My lunch was finished in no time. This either meant it was good or it was meagre. I overcooked the beef thinking that riff-raff prefer theirs better done. I once provided Lapsang Suchong tea to sip. One V&A stalwart thought it ‘off’. I said it was meant to taste like that. ‘You fucking kidding? ’ he asked. I shall not name this oik.
The kitchen electrics fused. Thank God for Stephanie. She looks after Ottalie and Tom and fuses. A Renaissance woman. Christiaan wouldn’t know what a fuse is. One must be careful with Woosterish folk like Christiaan not to talk over their heads. It is no use saying something like ‘he calls a spade a spade’ if he has never seen one. Martin Bowden and I had a learned discussion about underwear. And how brownie points with the missus last 7 seconds but one fuck-up lasts 7 years. There was a depressing discussion about world affairs that could best be summed up by a Will Rogers quote –
“Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”
Boris Johnson is an esteemed V&A Vice President. Vice is what he does. The real sin in the wine-on-the-sofa incident was the waste of wine.