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Briefs from the field

Sunday August 11th 2019

‘Remarkably few ‘keepers have become captains; and many of those who have have quickly given up the job.’
— Mike Brearley, The Art of Captaincy

On strict assurance that he was about to leave the country, the Chairman, Selectors, and Life Members/Platinum Donors Circle of the Rain Men CC collegially thrust the almond-scented chalice of captaincy at your present correspondent, for his final, as it were, run-out. His first act was to press-gang a competent vice captain, N Pool.

This is the East Hants game that Marcus every year says will be played ‘in Bumble’s back garden’; which is completely true, except it’s more like his manorial lands, the whole place is entirely unsignposted and satnav-proof (‘Guy Burgess country’ ©A Doggett-Jones), the ‘garden’ is an impeccably-mown field, off a farm track off a private lane around the corner from a deeply private school (#XMen more like), and hidden even then behind the log piles, garages of classic cars and clubhouse big enough to host wood-burner, hunting trophies, vintage F1 kit, and bespoke toilet poetry. Oh, and said bloke ain’t the actual Bumble. But apart from all that…

We were on time. Almost. And even had a crowd – comprising Marcus, Sam, Amelia and Martha… to say nothing of the dog, who filled in at deep extra cover for the first few overs.

Overwhelmed by the responsibility, the captain promptly lost the toss, but White Hunters agreed to bat first, anyway: the format a match of 70 over total (and you thought you’d seen everything…!), enabling the declaration, draw, and all that jazz, plus local rule of not-out-first-ball which their captain said he was sometimes slightly embarrassed to offer opponents but which Smyth, mindful of how some people get a lot of golden ducks, said would suit us just fine thankyouverymuch.

D Brook, in his first appearance of the year, gamely let himself be volunteered to start the bowling, and plans hatched earlier in the week (gasp!) saw P Reidy stationed at mid-off, to which their opener promptly slapped the first ball. Initially appearing to pouch an absolute sitter, Reidy clearly then recalled the first-ball business, and dismissively allowed the ball to hit the ground.

Thus notified, their No.1 fell anyway to a comfortable catch by D Owen (the only kind he knows, apparently), all part of Brook’s extremely economical 7 overs for just 9 runs. The No.2 went to a sharp run-out (also from Owen). And thus strode to the crease the dark-haired Morgan-Grenville – the first of two or three handsome young spunkers in this team who like to spice things up by playing ‘Name That Tree’ before they heave their 6s into it.

Our would-be-nemesis began despatching it to all parts… and never stopped, Pool and S Sutton manfully absorbing the worst part of the onslaught. Our fielding was actually quite reasonable (above ground, at least), but M-G 1 needed no help to take his opportunities, and by the time he switched to left-hand just to be sure he could hit good clean boundaries that way too, Pool, at what was suddenly mid-off, felt he might as easily admire the strokeplay from the comfort of the grass.

Unbloodied and emphatically unbowed, Morgan-Grenville was graciously recalled to the dressing room on 51 (alas! we shall not see his like again, etc.), whereon one might have thought our luck would start to turn.

At this point, though, the oppo asked what might be ‘sensible’ to aim for, re ‘making a game of it’: 170? 180…? We said 150 might prove quite competitive – but, inexplicably, they did not seem convinced. They also raised the as-yet-undiscussed issue of bowlers being limited to 7 overs, which scoffers, naysayers and milquetoasts of all stripes had feared could pose a problem for us. Sensing our difficulty (ha!), they then withdrew this stipulation; but we agreed the only gentlemanly way though this slight awkwardness was now to demonstrate our veritable smorgasbord of strength in depth.

Step forth gallantly T Russell.
…….“Bowler’s name?”
…….“As in ‘Bertrand’,” quoth he, rolling his Rs, his eyes, and his sleeves up. He took 3 wickets off his ‘allotted’ 7, including two steeplers which held up in the wind to the advantage of Sutton and a one-handed running grab from Pool at mid-wicket. Russell also took a catch off F Peckham, who was in turn relieved by Doggett-Jones (2 overs for only 7 runs), then joined in the attack (‘…’) by D Fenton, released at last from his grim posting downwind and at the bottom of the slope. He held the line with an extremely creditable 2-0-6-1 (caught behind), while Doggett-Jones relieved himself beneath the conker tree.

Also making his/its season debut, T Russoff’s ‘broad church’ bowling (it’s where he practises?) was, in the circs, unlucky not to claim a wicket. There was the matter, too, of his blown run-out, Owen – having secured his own first, mind – genially offering that the wicketkeeper might have hit the sticks so hard that the ball was not in his gloves at the point of contact (Russoff himself levelly remarking that if the keeper had left the ball entirely alone the Arm of the Lord™ might well have flattened them directly).

At 140-ish for 8 it had seemed possible that we might hold them to a manageable total. Inevitably, though, the remaining gun bats now came in (M-G 2 and Schooler, remembered from his Dulwich College 1st XI kit last year), and proceeded to swash and buckle their way through approx. another 50 runs.

All but one White Hunter having reached double-figures, they declared, amid a few raised eyebrows (and after exactly half the overs), on 195-7. The tea included Skittles – which we chose not to interpret as some pass-agg mindgame.

The captain had but one instruction for his ten Rain Men and true: to smash a six off every first ball – if only, really, to see what might happen.

What happened is that no-one tried it.

Russell was clean-bowled (philosophically) in just the second over, and Doggett-Jones fell shortly after him. Both Davids were now at the crease, though, which boded well, especially once Owen started clipping casual maxima into the woods. His reward, alas, was some debilitating back pain, and he was stumped, most uncharacteristically, and on ‘only’ 29 runs (our second highest), taking a hefty swing at something that was – how to put it? – not there. Brook too was batting fluidly, until a “no-yes-no” mishap, remarkably reminiscent of this same fixture last year, sent him back to the pavilion on an unusually low score.

The Hon. Capt. was welcomed to the crease with a face-height no-ball that he had just enough time and survival instinct to flail over the slips for 4. (The bowler did concede that it was probably a 5.) But, a golden duck having been howsoever Jesuitically avoided, he thus opted for Set Menu B: the familiar series of near-edges, agricultural hoiks, and the essential dropped catch – in this case to the tune of “Oh, bollocks…!” as the ball carved gently and magnetically towards deep backward square… only for the poor fielder to be blinded by the early-evening sun at the right instant.

When Smyth was undone by – natch – a straight ball, we had well over half the runs required, and half our wickets in hand. Or, viewed another way, we had six batsmen left, and perhaps no more than six overs to trouble them.

But Rain Men aren’t renowned for riding out inevitable, boring draws without them getting just a *bit* exciting.

Sutton went for a duck, and Pool followed not long after with an edge to slip. Fenton chose this strategically crucial time to boost his averages, clubbing away a couple of healthy fours before obligingly taking on an unproblematic ball about a yard outside off stump and dinking it to M-G 1 at mid-on. And behold, suddenly blood was in the water, and White Hunters needed two wickets to win.

The opening attack returned – but sadly for them their efforts were, quite literally, misdirected, a dozen immaculate away-swingers coming down like the wolf upon the fold in first slip’s flannels. (If only they had thought to aim, er, at the stumps.) Under a barrage of ‘encouragement’ from the fielding side, Peckham displayed the sang froid of a Victorian statue, and Reidy – under categorically unambiguous direction from his teammate – was obliged to put the willow on the leather just once.

And then, with two balls to go, it was no longer possible for them to win. It’s not the done thing, I’m sure, for the square-leg umpire to be seen punching the air; but there we have it. With Russoff d.n.b., we’d clinched the ‘moral victory’* by a parson’s nose.

We repaired, all in good sporting humour, to the Thos. Lord pub, in West Meon, where, high on the fumes of having locked in a better all-time captaincy record than S Rose, I could have sworn I saw a diorama of dead woodland animals above the bar, playing a cricket match.

* We came joint second by exactly 60 runs. Or ten 6s, NB, in your old money

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