Sunday, 7 July 2013

Tetherdown Trunders vs Cuxham CC, Sunday 23 June 2013

It was under heavy skies but borne upon hopeful hearts that a small flotilla of Tetherdown men set out on the three and a half hour* voyage to Wattlington, a pretty Oxfordshire town abutting Lake Windermere‡.

There was much to discuss: not only prospects of play but the matters expected to arise from the scheduled extraordinary general meeting: chiefly, who should wear the duck shirt and under what circumstances, and who should occupy the camp stretcher. These matters turned out to be of lengthy debate but little eventual moment.

‪An air of apprehension therefore, and not just because Binns was to skipper, led to unusual circumspection at lunch: much tomato juice and soda water was consumed – more on this later – and many a jealous eye turned to Duncan’s exotic Scotch egg, the like of which no one recalled having seen previously.

‪The meal dispatched, it was quickly on to Cuxham, where in the shadow of the Chilterns and under scudding skies the locals awaited. As we pulled in a processional of reverent Oxonians, sitting pretty on 2 from 2 in recent fixtures, brought the scorer’s chair to the pavilion.

‪Captain Binns lost the toss and was asked to field. Skipper’s remorse saw him agree to trot up the slope, tacking into the teeth of the nor’wester from the Leeward End. Buxton wasted no opportunity to let out the sheet and come honking down from the Windward.

Wattlington Oxfordshire,  abutting Lake Windermere
‪For all the New Zealander’s theatrics it was the skipper who made the first breakthrough, bowling opener Atkins as cheaply as he did comprehensively. Thereafter his bowlers were able to restrict the locals’ rate of stroke in a most satisfying fashion.

‪After eight overs Bonfield relieved Binns at the Leeward End, Colley relieved Buxton at the Windward and Frais relieved himself at the midwicket boundary.

‪Tightness in the field continued, in bowling and bladder. Bonfield’s generous flight had the batsmen at sixes and sevens, as if sharing the rest of the field’s awareness of a Glowering Presence in the covers. Indeed, Colley had snapped up Gavin’s mistimed push on the off side before anyone in the fielding side had summoned the nerve to so much as encourage him. Two down for thirty odd: the visitors sniffed opportunity.

‪Not long afterward, Bonfield was persuaded to abandon a creditable experiment with a leg slip and was immediately rewarded with a wicket, this time a ball pulled firmly to short midwicket which Buxton gratefully retrieved from where it had become lodged in his solar plexus.

‪Bonfield could be convinced to eschew slips; Colley couldn’t get enough of them. Leg slips, fly slips, all sorts of exotic concoctions: he even took to inventing new varieties of slip to ensure every angle was covered. But when he eventually drew the false shot he was looking for, it steepled high and wide into the deep extra cover. As the ball prescribed its arc, its bowler threw back his head and issued his customary howl, apparently unconcerned that he himself had directed Binns to station seven men, not counting the keeper, behind square. It was Mr Kohler who showed great fleetness of foot in making ground from third leg fly slip to catch it.

‪There was a certain poignancy to that effort. It was to prove Kohler’s last significant display of athletic prowess for some months, for shortly he was to give the phrase “leg slip” a whole new, ghastly, meaning.

‪The Ducksman, Frais, came into the attack for Bonfield, and plied a containing line and length. ‪This allowed the Trundlers’ ace out of his hole.

“Gordon’s alive”, as the saying goes, and the man from Karori Heights, well used to a stiff breeze, hoisted not just full sail but jib, genoa and spinnaker and as he thundered in was fair blowing into the blighters too. What a marvellous, colourful sight; and yet the gathering storm over Drayton St. Leonard had nothing on the one behind the New Zealander’s eyes. Before long Colley’s ululations were but a distant memory: growls of existential ardour were emanating from somewhere deep inside the Wellingtonian as ball rapped pads and beat edges with regularity.

 The luckless reintroduction of his countryman confirmed that it just wasn’t to be the New Zealanders’ day with the ball – how often do we hear cricket fans saying that? – and the latter overs wore on punctuated only by further trips to the boundary from various Trundlers, occasioned as often by the lunchtime soda as the home side’s strokeplay.

‪Messrs Morris and Freeman briefly graced the attack before Binns and Gordon brought matters to conclusion without further fall of wickets, but without undue inflammation of the run rate either.

Cuxham's bowling (courtesy Buxton's Gizmo)
‪Fewer catches were held in the second half of the innings, Messrs Kohler, Frais, Colley and Buxton all putting down chances they might have held on other days, but none egregiously enough to trouble the camp-bed judges. As the men of Muswell returned to the pavilion they reflected on a good session’s work: 123 in 35 overs felt an achievable target with wickets in hand.

‪Phillips and Colley strode out confidently. Umpire Buxton carried a scoring gizmo that promised all kinds of intra-game analysis. Cuxham’s openers bowled intelligently and with knowledge aforethought of the conditions. It quickly became clear it was not the sort of track on which one could compile a quick fifty. Of Tetherdown’s opening pair Philips looked the more likely to do it, elegantly pushing the ball around until he was deceived for seven. Colley batted patiently and correctly, rarely looking in trouble, accumulating the odd single and providing a foundation which allowed the incoming Frais to assume the senior hand in the partnership.

‪The Ducksman also looked comfortable steering the ball around, at least until Cuxham introduced their youth squad. Angus Parker, screaming in like a Hobie Cat to Buxton’s earlier schooner, sent a succession of lively balls short of a good length past Frais and Colley’s outside edges before having one each nip back and collect an off stump. Yet, with Frais out for 12, Colley for 13, and in Aylott LJ and Bonfield two new men at the crease, the run rate began slowly to tick up.

‪The arrival of Luke Styles, the other prong in Cuxham’s youth attack, did for Lord Justice Aylott. “He bowled me,” he confided to the incoming Buxton, “I seem to have missed it”. Thus informed, Buxton strode out, and did enough to last the over, eventually scampering to the other end when a ball squirted into the covers.

‪ At the other end Cuxham’s Atkins was mid-way through a lengthy spell of loftily flighted balls, most directed at a dead patch outside off stump. Determined to play correctly, Bonfield was having trouble penetrating Atkins’ ring, which was densely packed on the offside. For the incomer, however, Atkins momentarily drifted onto middle, the ball rose invitingly, and Buxton’s moment of brief dazzlement arrived: an uncultured swipe saw the ball sailing into the brook at Square Leg. This worked less well against the livelier pace of Styles from the far end, however, and presently Buxton found himself repeating Aylott’s wise words to the incoming Kohler and heading back to the shed.

It is a pity that Bonfield wasn’t party to this conversation, conducted midway between the pavilion and the wicket, for it might have fortified him not to do precisely the same thing a couple of overs later. Steam was verily emanating from his ears as he returned to his brothers knowing the team’s interests had lain in his remaining at the crease. Binns strode out, with the look of Custer about him, prepared to mount a last stand. 

At this point the Trundlers weren’t far off in terms of runs, but the supply of recognised batsmen was beginning to dwindle. Mr Kohler, however, was unquestionably one of those, and a gazelle between the stumps to boot. As long as this pair could remain at the crease, it felt quite doable. But disaster was to strike. To a shorter ball Kohler gathered himself erectly and battered it magisterially through the covers. On any but the lushest of outfields that would have been the end of the matter: the umpire would wave, the scorer acknowledge, and the outfielder would trot over the boundary, vault the fence and retrieve the cherry from deep in the neighbouring paddock. But having observed the leaden outfield the Tetherdown men knew better than that and Kohler’s commanding cry brought Binns – on this occasion alert and en garde – bolting from the non-striker’s end.

Trundlers' Wagon Wheel. Strong behind square.
It was then that a rifle-crack reverberated around the shire. Perhaps, we in the pavilion thought, the storm was finally breaking. We were soon disabused of that notion: Kohler crumpled as if felled by a sniper, and from the turf began issuing all sorts of guttural exhortations, none sanctioned by the Wisden Almanack. Binns, raw from his mid-week experience and with ears pinned back, kept running. Kohler, still prone, had moved his conversation on from the prospects of the single, and was reciting extracts from Roger Mellie’s dictionary. In any case it was apparent he would not make his ground, possibly not even by the end of the week.

Our hosts were magnanimous: no run-out was effected; without a word the ball was taken to be dead, and paramedics at once motioned on the field of combat. It did not look good.

With Kohler unfit to continue, the Beast unsheathed his new blade and made his way to the middle. Some four overs remaining and thirty odd required: you could see in his eyes that Mr Freeman knew his moment had come. But he had not accounted for the intervention of Binns who, perhaps upset by the grisly scenes of the previous over, had quite forgotten his mental rehearsals about the importance of running between the wickets.

Having deftly whipped his first ball off his hips for a single, Freeman found himself at the non-striker’s end. Binns steered the next ball into the gully area. The record does not reflect whether Binns played any part of his stroke with open eyes, but if he did he will have noticed that the gully area (which is, of course, behind square) was plainly populated, and by a fielder who had cleanly stopped the ball a mere handful of yards from the wicket. By his actions we can assume that Freeman had noticed all of this, had determined a run was so obviously unavailable that it went without saying, and had returned to his crease without articulating a call (which was his to make) to that effect.

Freeman looked most startled, therefore, to hear Binns’ blood-curdling cry of “YES!”, and quite horrified to see his captain galloping heroically away from the danger end. Nothing if not a pragmatist, and realising that motion in any direction other the pavilion’s was a plainly a waste of energy, Freeman turned and trotted directly back to the changing shed, correctly sliding his bat as he crossed the boundary rope.

This brought Mr Gordon to the crease, once (but only once) upon a time an opening batsman for the Trundlers. With a little over three overs left and still 27 required, the visitors’ optimistic spirits began to wane. As he tends to, Gordon maintained an admirable strike-rate of 50% before joining at least six of his comrades in playing across the line to a straight ball, but his final score of 2 scarcely budged the total, and it was Mr Morris, in your correspondent’s view most unfairly asked to bring up the rear, who showed great style and elegance in amassing a total of 1 not out and looked as likely as anyone to compile a match-winning innings. His intentions were frustrated by his Skipper’s faltering resolve. Mr Binns finally succumbed to the same temptation as so many of his men in swatting across the line to a ball on off stump, to depart and concede the game, on 7.

105 all out, then, but the Trundlers’ most creditable performance versus Cuxham to date, promising much for next year’s fixture.

‪*give or take 
‡ I crave your indulgence.

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