V&A PLAYERS: TOM BIRD (SKIP), PHIL GOODLIFFE (W/K), JAGO POYNTER, NICKY BIRD, ADAM JACOT, JOE TETLOW, OLLIE MARSH, NICK CONSTANTINE, CHRISTIAAN JONKERS, ADAM KNIGHT.
We couldn’t get into the pavilion, the key didn’t work. But Jonkers picked the lock! Is there no dubious activity beyond this Woosterish figure? I once referred to his unctuous shop-walker manner as Uriah Heepish but he objected; Pecksniffian sounds better.
The Invalids were 10 and we were 10, with me. I am not an asset these days and in the field I was useless. A flattering description actually, and at one point, a ball having whizzed through my hands at gully, Tetlow asked skipper Tom Bird whether he and I should swap places. But Tom demurred, thinking perhaps that there was no place to hide me. I eventually ended as long stop, where I needed a runner. Adam chivvied me in the field, told me to shut the fuck up and stop dawdling. He reminded me of my prep school headmaster in Gerrard’s Cross in the fifties, less the hand up trouser leg. Years ago, after putting down a slip catch, I was told to swap places with Rupert Morris, which is like swapping Burke with Hare. But the humiliation of being subbed by a duffer like Morris still rankles.
We were down on numbers ‘cos the weather looked iffy, but it shone in the pm, and there was but the one shower at luncheon. The Invalids (founded by two wounded officers in 1917) arrived in beautiful striped jackets (matching our colours) and too many were horribly young and butch. But there were a couple of real oldies, which perked me up, until they turned out to be the scorer and umpire. Their keeper, Graham Seed (an actor who played a wicket keeper in the film Gandhi, incidentally) had a bit of a pop at us for not calling the game off as he thought the pitch unplayable. But it wasn’t. Later he had a bit of a pop at Adam Jacot, which is always fun. I told everyone not to mention The Archers where he played Nigel Pargetter for nigh on 30 years until he fell of a roof. Just like we mustn’t mention Downton Abbey to Lachlan, where he too was written out. It is tactless.
Tom lost the toss and they batted, on a pudding. Their batting was impressive, correct and stylish. We opened with Ollie and Christiaan, both bowling nicely, Ollie off a short run. Haynes and Toothill were untroubled but scored slowly. After six overs Tetlow and Nick C came on and Nick lured Toothill into smacking an uppish drive to mid-off where Jago, the ceramicist, palmed it with nonchalance. Harrison-Smith came in and out, caught by Ollie at cover off Tetlow. In came Shillingford and was bowled by Nick C, a ball that just nicked leg stump. The batsman rather aped Gatting’s bemusement at being bowled by Warne. However, Warne and Constantine have fuck all else in common, certainly not Liz Hurley. Joe bowled Haynes (for 15) and they were 47 for 4.
But a fine partnership and some mighty lofted drives (good tactics on a wet outfield) saw Peters and Gilmore (excellent bats) advance the score to 87 before a shorter ball from the wily Knight was heaved to deep square leg and beautifully caught by Tetlow. Peters continued the run fest until bamboozled by a smart bit of captaincy. Tom told Jago to bowl round the wicket on middle and leg and entice a catch to him at deep mid-wicket. Which is exactly what happened! Tom caught it with aplomb. And blow me down the very next ball almost the same thing happened! Blimey. But this time Tom dropped it. Their skipper, the wine supremo and Tom’s boss Sam Clarke, entered but was trapped LBW by the returning Ollie. Tetlow bowled their No. 9 and Graham was caught and bowled by Joe, who ended up with 4 for 16 – his crafty mix of long hop, full toss and precise – confuses. Nick C with 2 for 18, and Jonkers with 0 for 12 off 6 overs, were highly commended. The Invalids had scored 127 off 29.5 overs, a good score on that pitch. We were to have 30.1 overs to reach the target.
Luncheon was taken inside, and was distinguished by the superlative wines. The wine trade looks after itself. It is always a pleasure sitting next to Adam Knight at lunch as he is informed and informative and listens as I bang on about tanks, from the Mk1 to the Centurion. The lecture takes time as does any good vintage. Adam Jacot sniped from the stalls about RADIO BIRD but frankly RADIO JACOT is worse, a lot of health issues and faux erudition. He sniped at Hemingway and Heller and Fitzgerald. In the obligatory quiz, Adam Knight asked what was Gatsby’s Christian name. My quiz was name 5 drunks who nevertheless had stellar careers (Spencer Tracey, William Holden, General Grant…). Nick Emley doesn’t quite qualify. Another question – how much did Billy Bunter weigh? In the pub we bemoaned the loss of Wags. What is the collective noun for a bunch of them? I was, by the way, accused of being the Martin Bashir of the match report, a manipulator, a purveyor of fake news or worse. Wholly false: I lie by omission only, avoiding mention of Sarah’s filthy pâté to avoid offence. Match stats are sacred; they are only wrong when I don’t have the scorebook and have to make them up.
We opened with Jago and Joe, who faced jolly good bowling from Williamson and Shillingford. Jago hit two stylish fours (a beauty to square leg) but was out for 12 when he misjudged one on the wicket. Joe (1) did likewise. Enter Marsh and Tom Bird. Tom looked in form. But no. He was also bowled (for 4). Nick C came in and was caught (0) and Knight shone briefly but was LBW (Peters) for 3. Jonkers was caught for a duck. Jacot pulled a sublime boundary but was caught for 8.
All this time, while wickets tumbled, only Ollie Marsh had mastered the bowling, with a series of astute singles to keep the strike and some elegant boundaries. I walked to the crease with 79 on the board, some 6 plus overs to go, and only Goodliffe to come. Tom had told me to cut out any scoring shots (‘except your late cut’) and to leave it to Ollie. I blocked an over as instructed. But then Ollie was bowled, for 40. Enter Phil. I said ‘no quick singles’. Unnecessary instructions. He is a genius at defensive batting, our Trevor Bailey, so I had confidence and let potential runs go. But with 4 overs to go he ran one and I faced 4 balls. Then he ran another and I continued the grim defensive strategy. I faced the penultimate over and managed to keep their opening bowler out. Phil faced the last over and blocked with Yorkshire grit (actually he was born in Worksop). But there was one ball left under the rules which I had to face to earn a very unlikely draw. Their other opener hurtled in (so it seemed). The ball skidded off the turf. There was a flurry. But the ball missed the wicket! A draw! Snatched from the jaws of defeat.
An alternative view of the last 6 overs was given by Graham Seed, as we walked off. ‘That was very very boring’.
But in The Golden Ball none of us minded I imagine. All was jollity when the chips arrived. And the Assendon Strangler, Christiaan Jonkers, managed to keep his hands off the chickens