WITLESS 2011

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WITLESS 2012

 

A wry parody...

On The New Cricket Season

 

With apologies to Sir Neville Cardus

                Spring time. The sweet o’ the year. When club players the length and breadth of the land are performing the familiar annual rituals to mark the game’s re-emergence after a winter- long slumber. 

                The battered old kitbag is opened, and from the dank interior a pair of spikes produced. Knocking the soles together the cricketer shakes off the sods of a long-gone match, and the dulled whiff of dog’s dirt plays across his nostrils. Delving into the bag’s deeper recesses he removes the box from its support, sallow and still with the sharp tang of ammonia from a long and ultimately fruitless innings, and notes with regrets the black spores that have begun to grow on his whites. He really should have taken the time do some laundry late last summer.

                The old bat, now amber with age, is removed from its cover. A peeling sticker sits over the maker’s mark, remnant of some long-forgotten visit to a beer festival many tours ago. A number of russet bruises mark the edges. The middle has never been used in all the years since the bat was bought.

                Out on the council pitch the grounds keeper stands with hands on hips, contemplating the task before him. Before he can begin work on the strip the outfield must be cleared of wind-tossed chip papers, cigarette ends thoughtlessly discarded, the odd syringe. Some ignorant oaf rides his bicycle across the square. The groundsman gives a warning shout. The cyclist tells him to fuck off.

                The doors creak open on rusting hinges, and the pavilion breathes a musty sigh, its first for six months. Players straggle in, at first quietly reverent then bolder as chatter mingles with the sound of knocking in. Liniment is applied, stretches and warm-ups crudely performed as tired muscles are coaxed back into life after the lay off. At last the players clack over concrete on their way to the middle, still waiting on the one or two reluctant to budge from a nearby tavern.

                Out in the middle the batsman takes his guard while, a chain away, the bowler stands at his captain’s shoulder and sets his field. The run up is paced out, that first delivery mimed. The bowler works one side of the new ball, a model of concentration as the batsman taps down patiently. The umpire counts the field a second time, thrusts his hands into the frayed pockets of his coat and calls play.

                The bowler trundles up the slope, slowing with every step, and lets loose the ball, his arms and legs flailing at the follow through. The ball pitches two thirds down, passes the stumps two feet down the leg side. The umpire turns to the scorer and signals a wide. The next ball is fuller, straighter. Without the slightest movement of feet the batsman, all bottom hand, drags the ball through mid wicket and to the boundary. The bowler curses to himself, turns his back to the batsman and makes his way back to his mark to try again.  

                So it begins again as it has done every year in all its frustration and futility, in hard-fought defeat and pyrrhic victory, and thus will a similar scenario play itself out a hundred times on a hundred different pitches before summer’s end. The lone observer who has paused to watch only while his dog befouls the outfield, will shake his head at the pity of it and observe to himself Fimum non poliendum est,1 before resuming on his way.

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1 ‘You can’t polish a turd.’

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Rubber's got a brand new bat

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Alex Page on this year's game against Village CC

Gandhi’s Sandal

 

Village C.C. vs. St Radegund

              

 “Sacrifice is the answer but what is the question?” the Mormon asked at my door. “‘Which derivative, overblown five- minute Elton John excrescence knocked World in Motion by New Order off the number one spot in summer 1990?”’ was my immediate thought. But, being English, I ummed awkwardly and took the magazine. For then I knew not of sacrifice.

                Sacrifice of course is the heart blood of great sportsmen. Steve Redgrave gave himself diabetes as he trained for Olympic Gold; Sachin Tendulkar forsook the cover drive to score 241 in Sydney; Rod Thomas left an open bar to play the Veras. Now was my time.

                I had found myself employed by Millfield School and Master in Charge of 4th and 5th team cricket (my employers may have overestimated my ability). On a weekend when I was meant to be on a stag do in Bedford before the Rad-Village match in Cambridge, I had Saturday and Sunday school fixtures in Shropshire and Somerset. Something had to go. The sacrifice was made.

                I told the Head of Games that the opposition could not get a team out. I told the opposition that we couldn’t get XI. Simple. To the car I wandered with my atlas pointing east.
                As sure as nought follows a net, the stag
do went from bar to Nite Club. This was not a reputable establishment. If a venue plays fast and loose with spelling it’s no surprise it’s fast and loose with morals also. Strip joint would have been a better moniker, and a better Monica they had. I, however, found myself with Irene, a Greek girl. Helen of Troy she was not.

                Irene would not leave me alone, pestering me for drinks and trying to extort cash left and centre. In fact the only thing I could think of to get her to go away was asking whether she had “taken up this line of work to ease her country’s fiscal crisis?” Did she put her ‘tips’ into an envelope and send them home to help the government? It clearly hit home. The truth hurts. This line of questioning she did not like. She asked me to “go outside and think about what I’d said.”

                Though not unfamiliar with the naughty step, it seemed a little unusual. In Soho, so my ‘friends’ tell me, one can pay a lot of money to be treated like a disobedient schoolboy. Irene was clearly blind to the potential. If her inability to spot a business opportunity is indicative of her countrymen, it is no wonder that Greece is stony broke.

                The next morning I woke with a tongue like Gandhi’s sandal and a head like he’d put the boot in. So much for passivism I thought, before I drove to the Rad for a pre-match snifter. Things from here are hazy.

                I saw some friends and missed a straight one. Other than that, there’s little I recall. A review of the scorecard suggests Nick Day made a stylish 66 as I mooched around in the outfield. And Highball tore through the middle order as I wondered whether Irene would give a discount to undrape via a wooden horse. With the Village rallying thanks to Ek (26) and A-Bomb (28*), we were soon in the pub.

                As I drove back to the West Country I mused on sacrifice. Though Irene debased herself, it may have been to aid her countrymen. I’d given up commitments for a cricket match I don’t now quite remember. And Gandhi turned to violence in metaphor at least. Sacrifice may be many things but it may not be memorable.

 

Dr Alex Page is no longer employed at Millfield School

Greece remains in meltdown despite its emigres’ efforts.

Elton John has yet to sue a cricket mag.

That’s it.

 

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Taking personal protecttion to the limit...

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Croatians on Tour.

Easy Does It…

 

St Radegund vs. K.K. Sir William Hoste

             “Don't worry, we're in plenty of time for the ferry. Pomalo.” Oliver was in a relaxed and gregarious mood. Generously inviting Mrs Beard and myself to a spot of lunch chez Roki, we chatted over Dalmatian specialities: Pag cheese, Pršut ham, a delicious home-grown salad all washed down with a few bottles of the Rokis’ own wine. We discussed the likelihood of the Sir William Hoste Cricket Club bringing a junior XI to play in Cambridge. The idea seemed pregnant with possibilities. Oliver saw it as a reward for the hard work the younger members of Vis's burgeoning cricketing population had put in over the previous year. “It'll be fun, none of them have played on grass wickets,” he leant back and took another swig of Vugava. “Of course, I will be captain! Easy.” Relaxed he may be, but Oliver didn't have to catch a ferry which, if missed, would cause a chain of travel connections across half of Europe to unravel like some cheap Chinese pullover.
             “Pomalo. The ferry is never that punctual leaving Vis harbour. Besides, my father is also going on this ferry.”
Oliver's mum Valerie interjected, “Half of Vis is on that ferry. Hajduk Split are playing in the Champions League tonight – the ferry'll leave on time. And Niko left 15 minutes ago.”              “Shit!”
             We made the ferry. Late, but only just. Aided by a some eccentrically brisk motoring involving hairpin bends with dizzying – if beautiful – views, a minor excursion the wrong way down a one-way street (“Much quicker – trust me!”) and a smoky arrival on the quayside. “See!” said Oliver triumphantly, “Pomalo!” The great rear ramp of the ferry started to rise as we hurried inside. A couple of even more desperate chancers snuck on after us. We weren't quite the last to board. Pomalo!

             Nine months later Oliver's pregnant possibilities gave birth to a bouncing baby tour. Not that the chain-smoking, hairy, cricketing youth of the "Pearl of the Adriatic" looked anything like cherubic… The Tenison Road Youth Hostel seemed like a good location for the main touring party but some of the senior members deserved better. The family Lipanović (Tony, Pina and their son, Petar) stayed with your scribe, while the Highballs played host to expat spinner Tom Howard and his intended. Oliver Roki, of course, partied on through with the bright young things. Pomalo!

                If the hosting of the visiting team seemed complicated it was nothing to the sheer palaver of finding a ground to host the match itself. Jesus was ruled out early on. Queens’ College ground was a familiar and friendly replacement until with 72 hours to go we were bumped by the college. A flurry of emails and phone calls followed. New favours were sought, old favours called in; and just about every ground in Cambridge, including Fenner's, was contacted by the increasingly desperate core of Rad cricketers who took it upon themselves to make this fixture happen. The nearby village grounds were desperately courted. Newton was ruled out (too wet). Landbeach was a no-go (too Wendyball), Histon also (1st team game), Cambridge University Press (more Wendyball) likewise. Finally, Highball announced that Emmanuel College ground was available, but at crippling cost. A quick confab amongst the interested parties weighed the cost of getting to Cambridge from the middle of the Adriatic Sea and the cost of staging the match. No contest. It takes ten years to build a reputation, ten minutes to lose it. The game goes ahead. Since Pomalo is a specifically Dalmatian concept – roughly translating as “chill” or “take it easy” – it can be imagined that this episode, involving some of the most English of English cricketers, was somewhat lacking in Pomalo. It was a damned close run thing. Closest thing I ever saw. The match on the other hand was more like Trafalgar than Waterloo...

                The St Radegund batted first and racked up 164 for 3 from 30 overs, Olivier de la Bouche retiring unbeaten on 51. The innings was not without drama as Bubbles was comprehensively sold down the river by de la Bouche for a diamond duck. Tony Lipanović took a couple of good wickets and the newly demoted Space Cabin Boy threatened yet another run out but somehow survived to the close. Some observers whispered that the total looked a little light bearing in mind and excellent pitch and fast outfield. Other, more experienced heads merely whispered, “Pomalo!

                The Hoste innings got off to a quiet start, safely scoring two runs off the first three overs. Then the wheels came off. Sviličić was bowled through the gate by Beard. As the feared Lipanović strolled the crease he joked, “Be gentle with me!” He needn't have worried, the resultant ball was nowhere near him. However, it did neatly remove off stump. A costly wicket this for the bowler, since the attentive reader will have noticed that Tony (who is a big gentleman) was staying at the bowler's home – suffice to say that any angst that night was thoroughly washed away in a tidal wave of whisky. Things didn't really improve for Sir William Hoste from there. Bubbles and de la Bouche performed an impromptu fielding exhibition (for money, of course). Lawlor-Anderson ripped through the middle order, as the younger members of the club proved utterly unused to a swinging, seaming ball on an English pitch in early May. Not surprising, really! A dogged but sadly runless Petar Lipanović threatened to upstage his father but when he was out the Hoste innings closed on 38 all out. As the skipper, Oliver Roki said, “It could have been worse!” Pomalo!

                Hoste recovered from the defeat and subsequent heavy session with admirable spirit (plenty of the latter!) and though splendidly late for play (Pomalo!) played a much closer match against old friends Springfield C.C. the very next day.

             A bleary-eyed Beard delivered the family Lipanović in good time for the early morning airport bus on Monday. The rest of the team were nowhere to be seen. The last announcement for Stansted was called as several hurrying Croatian cricketers appeared on a distant horizon. Eventually, sweating, gasping and with one foot firmly in the bus door, Oliver Roki wondered aloud the whereabouts of the rest of his team. An increasingly irate bus conductor called “very last call for Stansted.” Half running, half walking, one-hundred-percent smoking, they finally appeared and hurried inside. A couple of even more desperate chancers snuck on after them. Not quite the last to board. Pomalo!

Beard

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Another spoof ad in questionable taste.

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Chris Evans's report of an ill-tempered evening game.

Dr. Smallworld
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beer
Smallworld C.C. vs. St Radegund

                New opposition (for most of us), a new ground (for most of us), but the same dull old summer evening in Cambridge. The overcast sky and chill, though, gave us no warning that this would end up being one of the most heated games this year, putting Haslemere-Dixon bouts of old to shame.  But let us begin at the beginning.

                We were thrashing them basically.  Beard and Haslemere as usual caused carnage with the top five. The opposition fluffed the scorebook, but we’re looking at about 4 for 10 territory here. Naisby kept the runs down and Haslemere pinged the wickets at the other end, including a fine caught and bowled.

                So we took pity. Well I assume this was the case. It’s not often you get C. Evans as first change bowler… and he struck straight away, well not him exactly. Smallworld’s Ishan drove the ball to Jetlag at coverish somewhere, diving forward he missed but followed through with a Barryesque stop right in the nadgers. Despite the obvious pain he still recovered the ball and got the ball back in for a run out before collapsing.

                So far so good, bugger all for 5, then things started going, shall we say, rather pear-shaped. One of their fellows tipped one of Evans’s finest non-break balls to Lewis’ gloves for a copybook caught behind. Aspden, fielding out somewhere near the boundary, was taken in by his moans about not hitting it, and insisted we call him back. Nark #1. Jessop joined in the bowling in the middle and after conceding a few took his first wicket for the Rad (according to the scorebook he took 3, sorry Dave).  Evans assisted Lewis in a stumping by actually turning one, and even our little non-hitter couldn’t moan about that one. Downing and Haire rounded off the bowling and after taking the foot off the gas, Smallworld actually got to 120.

                But in the last over of the innings, Lewis took a top edge in the mouth, splitting his lip open. Occupational hazard for a wicket keeper, so why is this significant? Well… Lewis opened along with Naisby, the skipper hardly pausing to change pads as it was getting Essex girl dim out there now. So dark light, chap with a split lip, what do we get? Nice full length balls? Nope. Chin music. Nark #2. Thankfully their wicket keeper wasn’t up to it, so all Beard and Lewis had to do was watch it and let them concede the extras (38 in the innings). But then a strange thing happened. Lewis and Naisby promptly managed to get themselves run out, amongst complaints of a close-in fielder shouting ‘Yes!’ and ‘Come on!’ to encourage his team. How exactly our two erstwhile Northerners mixed up a broad high pitched downtown Bangalore accent with gruff Yorkshire is still a mystery though.

                JLA steadied the innings with a lovely, long, steady knock, blocking the odd straight one, watching the wides go well wide, and crashing the rest for fours. Aspden helped for a while and in the process was run out backing up… thankfully they quickly withdrew that one (well, I think someone told them to), but was promptly caught a few balls later.

                Jessop didn’t trouble the scorer, Downing crashed away for a quick 10, to bring us up to 80 for 5 off 12. So, an obviously annoyed Haslemere joins Jack in the middle. Why obviously annoyed, you ask? Well, the fours were a bit of a giveaway really. Crash, bang, wallop, eight runs odd per over and we soon cross the ton with six overs to go. Jack goes eventually, being clean bowled on 25, which brought Evans to the middle (or at least I think it was the middle, it was quite dark by then). An over of dots, four for Halsemere, four for Evans, a run wide, a massive top edge for four followed by a nice drive to the boundary even if I say so myself to finish off the job. 123 for 6 off 18.

                Surprisingly there weren’t many handshakes afterwards and it was a quick retreat to the Red Lion.  Not exactly the best natured game, but a win. Now my notes scribbled up later mentioned Dr. Strangelove. I do wonder why? ‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.’

Bread Of

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St Radegund public house, 129 King Street. Cambridge CB1 1LD. Tel: 01223 311794