In conversation with a possible new recruit to the cause this week I was pressed to describe what sort of cricket we play. ‘Languorous’ sprang to mind, which is about all one can reasonably expect from the sort of waifs, strays and aesthetes that we have tempted to the Stonor Valley in years gone by. An air of disdain for responsibility, blended with the faintest whiff of Tiggerish insouciance are all that is required to pass muster. Cricket as escapism is, I wager, why we’re all really here. Joe Tetlow escapes his weekly dose of Lefty socialism, courtesy of Green Alliance. Christiaan Jonkers escapes the workmen who toil away on his new East Wing. Nicky Bird, I suspect, escapes the police. Whatever the motivations for playing, the one thing that is for certain is that it isn’t about the result at all.
Except, of course, that it absolutely is.
Star CC came to us for the first time last season in our hour of need. Let down by an opposition (who shall remain nameless) the day before a match, Star gallantly volunteered to travel the two hours from their Hackney ends to give us a game. We’re delighted to have them back and are especially flattered that they would like not one but two fixtures a season. Alas, the list of those waiting in the wings is a bit long for that, but the enthusiasm is much appreciated.
Despite the rigours of their journey, when 11:30 came around the V&A were only eight to Star’s eleven. Fearing the requirement to run off a gentle hangover, I politely offered a quiet Mea culpa and suggested that we ought to bat first to allow our stragglers to arrive. So far, so good. Forty overs a side, and off we went.
Robin Hayley (9) is one of my new favourites due to his description of himself as ‘A Cricketing Tart‘ (a gun for hire who travels England playing at the more picturesque grounds on the circuit) and the fact that he brings an attache case with him to every game. It’s not a Le Carre affectation, it hides a Backgammon board inside it. He passes muster. Hayley opened with the resurgent Tom Ayling (0) who has managed to claw himself away from the desk that Christiaan vacates most Saturdays to play cricket.
Things started badly. Ayling miscued a drive that found its way into the hands of short cover. Hayley played a glorious cover drive before chopping on in very unfortunate circumstances. Joe Tetlow (4), in a recent vein of fine form, was out shortly after and at 17-3, things looked rather rum. Another new face, Jasper Arnold (1) took to the crease and was joined by myself (16). With age, my patience at the crease has dwindled. Sick of the sight of their opener Lakhan picking batsmen off I decided a counter-attack was due. Did it work? Only briefly. When Arnold was run out, Matt Wright (71*), who is about as languid as they come, strolled to the wicket. When I skied one shortly after the score was 37-5, with barely an hour gone. In the words of Nicky Bird, we’ve never been quite that fucked before. Personally, I blame Chris Mounsey-Thear for announcing via memo earlier in the week that we had a more dependable top order than the England Test XI. Our collapses are common, but never at the top of the innings. Still, cometh the hour, cometh the men…
Christiaan Jonkers (49) and Wright, it turns out, are exactly the sort of men you want in a crisis. Jonkers’ beard is no longer new, but it is becoming W. G. Grace-esque in stature. Some might say that he is too, but I couldn’t possibly comment on that. The ‘they’ve come to see me bat‘ attitude is there, though… “Bat for lunch!” I pleaded. And they duly did.
Lunch was a cornucopia of charcuterie and salads, foregoing the fillet of beef to help us all with our cholesterol levels. Nicky was away all weekend holding hands with bookish retirees on a battlefield somewhere but still managed to rustle up a proper spread. Once, I’m told, Nicky did it all: got the team, did the lunch and tea, kept wicket and tried to score the occasional run. The fact that he continues to do so 47 years after his first effort is remarkable, and we’re all very fortunate for it. We talked about the black market for wine, how you might ‘fake’ what’s inside a bottle and I think I heard Nick Stoop discussing something to do with the minutiae of reggae in the distance. This is something he does with incredible insight, as evidenced by our journey up to Stonor earlier in the day.
After lunch, the captain’s instructions were to get on with it. Both Jonkers and Wright began to unfurl glorious strokes on both sides of the wicket, racing along to a century partnership. Rupert Morris, erstwhile of the V&A (and providing backing vocals to Bird on the catering front for the day) claims that Jonkers’ pull shot is played with ‘a cultured disdain’, and on current evidence, it’s hard to disagree. Alas, one shot too many saw Jonkers fall, selflessly, one short of a well deserved half-century. Niam Scott-Ram (1), on debut and aged only 13, doggedly defended the last few balls and managed to scamper a single to end the V&A innings on 170-6. Wright strolled off as languidly as he’d strolled on, lit a ciagrette and promptly announced that he hadn’t batted since September 2021. I shudder to think what he’s like when in mid-season form! Without his runs we’d have been all at sea.
Tom Ayling (2-39) and Adam Jacot (0-20) opened the bowling for the V&A, and kept things tight from the off. The last time I saw Ayling bowl he very nearly vomited in his delivery stride. Strong drink had been taken the night before (we were on Tour, of course), and I think, dodgy hamstring aside, that he would have preferred to bowl off-spin. Short of a pace merchant or two, his swift medium was very much required. After a rather fraught opening salvo from Bittu and Kawal, Ayling had both openers caught in the same over. Jasper Arnold took a very sharp catch in the gully to dismiss one of them and the score was 52-2 off just 11 overs. It is worth noting that Jacot was unlucky not to have several LBW judgements given in his favour. When a batsman misses a straight one that hits the base of middle stump, they’re usually out bowled too. Some studying of the no-ball rule might be, ahem, in order…
Enter Nick Stoop (2-30), also on debut for the V&A. Bowling up the hill, and into the wind (which he really doesn’t like, apparently) Stoop threatened the stumps regularly and kept the scoring rate low. I (2-47) attempted to bowl off-spin, rather expensively, from the other end. Two wickets in two overs kept the game in the balance. A freak run out by self, deflecting the ball onto the stumps at the non-strikers end saw the back of their ‘best batsman’, Raj, for a duck. At tea, it was all to play for, with the V&A chasing victory and Star CC on 120-6. Tea does one of two things to a team. It rather subdued us on this occasion. Catches didn’t quite go to hand and runs leaked away… Niam Scott-Ram (0-13) bowled two economical overs to keep us in it, but with plenty of overs in hand and needing a mere 15 overs to win with three wickets left it looked all but over.
Enter Jonkers (3-14), from The de Caires’ End.
What happened next deserves context. Desperate to avoid the wrath of his good lady wife, one of the Star CC tailenders had to leave at Tea. They were therefore ten, and given the good nature of both teams, it was decided between skippers that the Star player who had scored the fewest runs would be offered the chance to bat again. In his third over Jonkers dismissed their set man, caught brilliantly by a diving Robin Hayley in the gully. Two balls later, and it went for four. The score was 169-8, two runs to win. Looking to finish in style (and with a hefty word of encouragement to swing for the fences from Joe Tetlow), Sunny heaved one in the air and was out caught. 169-9, and a moral victory for the V&A. In strolled the opening bowler Lakhan to bat again… although he had scored 14 earlier including a towering six. I promptly turned him around and sent him off the field (naughty, naughty…), and called back the last man, Sunny, to have another go.
Well, he certainly did. An audacious heave across the line! The ball skewed up in the air to land safely in the hands of the man at mid-off. Jonkers took 3-4 in five balls and must be one of the only cricketers in history to dismiss the same batsman twice, in two balls, in the same innings.*
So, a victory, and a damned close one at that. Languorous we may be in our attitude, but the elation at the end of the game goes to show that winning isn’t everything: it’s the only thing!
*If anyone has any evidence to the contrary on this fact please do enlighten me