Eltham: Eltham CC 183/9 dec. vs. Tetherdown CC, 129/7: Match Drawn.
Limited overs cricket is binary: you win or you lose, in the Trundlers’ experience with a stout preponderance for the latter. Thus have we overlooked the excellently English psychology of our sport, delivered by the gap - the same one by which all Englishmen commemorate Dunkerque - between victory and defeat. On Sunday there was to be no limit to either side’s overs; to win, a team needed to outscore the opposition and dismiss its innings entirely. A third outcome, in which neither side wins or loses, was on the table.
And how we Trundlers had forgotten the different complexion that third way casts! How agreeable we found it is to wallow in the tepid purgatorial waters of no particular result! The broad smile on Skipper Frais’ face at stumps, as he tucked his bat under his arm and stalked grandiloquently from the field, said it all.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves: a conclusion is nothing without its premises.
The premises in this case belonged to the Eltham Cricket Club, not far from the Sidcup bypass, some miles the far (or, as it is known in N10, “wrong”) side of the Dartford Tunnel.
Our opponents boast a century and a half of proud history. This is their sesquicentennial year. They point also to auspicious forebears: Eltham is where the 66 year-old W. G. Grace played out his cricketing dotage, his last match concluding as the Great War erupted around him.
So, rarely has a day been so generously filled with auguries. Cricket was in the air at every level of abstraction. We left our sons and wives contesting the pride of Tetherdown Primary as North Middlesex Under 10s (stewarded by Honourable Trundler Hayward) took on their Highgate counterparts (stewarded by Honourable Trundler Ball). As we navigated the sweltering traffic of Hackney Wick, Agnew and Blofeld jacked the temperature further with reports from Nottingham. Messrs Pattinson and Haddon of the formal penal colony were making easier work of their tenth wicket partnership than expectation predicted they should.
Amidst the heat shimmer of Sidcup, the spirit of Grace himself awaited. It is a handsome and generously-proportioned oval, well concealed from the road. It promised a fast outfield and a dry but well-matted playing surface. Skipper Frais took an executive decision to field (he now equivocates about whose decision it was, but no one else of the playing 22 has made any claim to it). He resorted immediately to his New Zealanders, and given the option, Buxton at once took the uphill, upwind end intending to let gravity do its work.
Eltham’s openers had a resolute look about them. They were not especially troubled by our opening armoury. Buxton was relieved to see his first few looseners allowed to glide harmlessly down the leg side. Gordon’s first ball was not treated quite so magnanimously, Bulpitt getting quickly into position and lofting it mightily for six behind square. As the mercury touched thirty it looked like it might be a long day.
Skipper Frais, still adorned with the Duck, kept his horses fresh by frequent rotation. While Master Bonfield’s line and length was enough to have Buxton openly pondering his shelf-life as an opener, still it couldn’t crack the Eltham starting pair. That task fell to the crafty Mr Morris, a label I hope he will not be affronted to hear gives him the benefit of some considerable doubt.
To a ball well flighted and of good length Eltham’s Fisher drove full-bloodedly and straight. It wasn’t with malice aforethought that Morris laid fingers on it, nor even reflex, but the simple inability to get out of the way. This was nonetheless enough to do for the non-striker Bulpitt who, backing up correctly, could only watch in horror as the ball cannoned from Morris’ annular and clipped his bails. As his team arose incredulously, Morris composed himself, assembled a nonchalant air and, while not in so many words saying so, evoked the idea that this turn of events might have been part of his plan. His watering eyes, bitten lip and swelling fingers told a different story.
1/72 off nine: Eltham’s tail seemed a long way off, especially if that was how we were going to get them out. Wouldham was the next man in, and after some circumspection he too set about accumulating runs with apparent ease. Frais brought Buxton back on to stem the flow which he did, to the accompaniment of the day’s only minor controversy. Having failed in a Leg Before Wicket appeal that might have succeeded on another day, (a day for which your correspondent will also save his treatise “On The Manifold Injustice to Left Armers of the LBW Rule”) and then being carted around the ground for an over, Buxton again trapped Wouldham low, this time with a faster yorker unequivocally bound for the base of the middle stump. The Trundlers went up, as did the umpire’s finger and, to our surprise, the batsman’s dudgeon. Wouldham marched off giving unsubtle indications that he felt we knew he’d hit it. He was the only one of that view. To his credit he was able to concentrate and apply this sense of injustice to an impressive bowling spell later on, and was to have a revenge of sorts on the New Zealander.
Still, Tetherdown’s fortunes began to turn. Gordon switched to the downwind end while Trunders debutant Ritterband commenced a lengthy spell of Left Arm Orthodox - his first in 20 years - into the breeze. Fisher, now well over his half century, was scoring freely until he leathered one firmly but uppishly into the mid-off area. Gordon, mid-way through exit manouevres from that magisterial bowling action of his, conjured a change in momentum to his left which, though deft, went far enough neither to catch the ball nor, fortunately, to impede Buxton at mid-off who managed to catch it with that trusty solar plexus of his.
With Fisher’s admirable knock at an end and three wickets down for 128, Frais felt able to tighten his ring*. Having taken a couple of overs to rediscover his range –no disgrace after a couple of decades’ layoff – Mr Ritterband started to get the better of the new batsmen with generous flight, immaculate length, and unpredictable bounce. James, an enthusiastic cutter of the ball, looked less at home playing off his legs and eventually lobbed a noncommittal stroke straight down Everett’s throat at wide midwicket.
Eltham were still regrouping themselves when the curse of the flailing hand saw for another non-striker, this time Meeson, off Gordon, who celebrated the wicket with a similarly disingenuous look of wisdom after the fact.
Not long after, Seeds failed to make his ground for a cheeky single and Swain, who had been holding up the middle order, chose the wrong ball to have a slash at, and lost his leg stump to Gordon. Morris compounded a fine tight bowling spell with a sharp catch (mostly with his other hand) off Bonfield senior at point. With the run rate slowed to a trickle and the afternoon wearing on, Eltham declared their innings closed. Over quite splendid array of cheese and pickle rolls Tetherdown girded (and girdled) themselves for the run chase. 178 needed, and as many overs as could be fitted in, with a maximum of 20 after 6pm.
After a hard day in the field Tetherdown’s bowling attack, with thirty seven overs between five of them for just thirteen culpable extras, felt as keenly as ever that they’d done their bit and should be allowed to observe the remainder of the match from the shade of the pavilion. It was not to be so.
Still, as things started out we were hopeful. Everett and Phillips both looked good in the face of a disciplined opening spell from Tanveer and Swain. Indeed, the first departure from the field of play was not a batsman, but the Elder Bonfield, shaken from his umpiring stupor by the realisation that he was due to bat at number 3, was therefore next in and really ought to have his pads on. In hindsight he may wish he’d stayed put.
In any case, as is so often the way with the Trundlers, both openers got a start – we were fully eight overs in before Phillips caught a thin edge to the keeper, and Replacement Umpire Grays, with a doleful look, raised his finger. Phillips felt he had cause to regret the absence of a TV replay, but none of the Tetherdown men with a view of the incident shared his misgivings (with the exception of incoming Bonfield: had he known what was coming next he might have sought Phillips’ reprieve from hotspot, a third umpire, an appellate court and might even have thrown himself on the mercy of his maker).
Still flustered from his moment of umpiring panic, Bonfield D played all around his first ball from Swain, and it played all around him, striking his toe, pad, bat and wicket like some sort of pinball before coming to rest in the keeper’s glove. In the confusion, Bonfield stumbled forward and the keeper stumped him for good measure.
Now it is just as well a man can only be out once in a cricket innings, or we might have been four more down on the spot. “I don’t believe it”, Bonfield muttered as he gazed at the parched earth.
Mr Grays adopts a charming air of bafflement when he umpires, and here it was well justified. For a moment, as Eltham’s inner ring carried out their war-dance, hopping excitedly from foot to foot, Mr Grays froze, overwhelmed by the choice for which he was spoiled on what to give Bonfield out for. Finally, having decided a single finger wouldn’t do the occasion justice, he raised two.
Now if ever a team needed a skipper’s knock the Trundlers did, two down and hardly batting down to eleven (by this I mean no slight on our lower order: we only had ten players). And out strode Skipper Frais, having ostentatiously coated himself with suncream, as if to say he had come to stay for a while, but with a large yellow duck on his back, as if to say he hadn’t. It was between him and Mr Everett to salvage the situation.
Mr Everett is a fine strokemaker on his day: put a mullet and a walrus moustache on him and, in the throes of a crashing cover drive, you might mistake him for a young David Boon. Having held “judicious” as his watchword for ten overs the Bristolian thought he’d done enough to start playing expansively. Alas, Eltham’s Swain had other ideas and his containing line and length proved too much: dreaming no doubt of a fine ton at Launceston, Everett chased outside off, intent on one of those blazing Boonian drives; the ball stayed true to the line it was bowled on and accounted for his leg stump.
With 40 odd on the board, three down and a good 30 overs’ worth of play remaining, those making arrangements for an early supper back in N10 would not have been dissuaded by the sight of Mr Grays approaching the wicket. Certainly not if they had heard him remark, as he set off, “well, the main thing is to score a run. As long as I manage that, I’m happy”.
Your correspondent is an experienced lower order batsman, having waited upon all kinds of late wicket stands over his career. There are times where the not-out batsmen are in such apparent control that the next drop can relax, catch a few winks, even pop across the road for a pack of cigs and the latest issue of the Racing Post. Attending on Mr Grays’ batting affords no such tranquillity. You feel more like an anxious relative visiting a trauma ward. But never for long: Grays got his run, cut deftly through the vacant leg slip area, added another the same way, before lofting one gently off the shoulder to midwicket and retreating gratefully to the pavilion, his day’s work done.
With no specialist batsmen to come and just forty two on the board, it once again fell to the workhorses to do something about the situation. Your correspondent was next, and the skipper came out to greet me for some encouraging words. Residual sunblock gave skipper’s face a pale and waxen aspect which I misconstrued as the early signs of heart failure. I feared the heat may be getting the better of his pulmonary system; it was certainly getting to mine. I felt quite light-headed.
Now bowlers are from Mars, batsmen from Venus. They think about the world in contrasting ways. Often they misunderstand each other. My Captain started babbling in ways I had trouble making sense of.
“Occupy the crease,” he said.
I looked about me to check. “But I am occupying the crease,” I replied. I began to fear he was being patronising.
“Only hit the balls that are there to be hit,” he said.
Now I knew he was. “But they’re all there to be hit. That’s what they’re bowling them for.”
The idea of remaining at the crease for longer than the handful of deliveries it usually takes a social cricketer to put one on the sticks seemed oppressive. But as the first over passed I had an epiphany. Swatting wildly at deliveries wide of off stump lost its appeal. I had a go at leaving one. You heard me: I left it, completely alone! I even waved my bat flamboyantly in the air! O, how strange and bracing a sensation!
Then one pitched at a good length on middle stump, given enough air for me to override my fight/flight instinct. I held my bat vertically out in front of me. The ball bounced off it, rolling harmlessly back down the pitch. I wasn’t out! Umpire Phillips looked ready rub his disbelieving eyes with his cravat, but they were not deceiving him. By Jove, this new idea of defence is marvellous! Mr Frais and I started taking gentle singles! We rotated the strike! I PADDED OFF!
I can’t deny there were moments when my natural instinct to wallop the living daylights out of the cherry got the better of me, but generally our partnership was one of caution, taste and elegance. The runs began accumulating. Then Mr Wouldham, with whom you may recall there had been a testy exchange earlier, came into the attack. He was still simmering about my successful Leg Before Wicket, and creditably marshalled his frustration into a parsimonious bowling spell. He finally got his just desserts when, at the Non-Striker’s End, I upheld our club’s venerable tradition of inexplicable running between wickets.
Captain Frais pushed the ball to the fielder at short midwicket, and transparently no run was available. I ran anyway. I believe it was Mr Seeds at Midwicket who heeded Wouldham’s strangulated cry, and so it was that, with me well short of my ground, the bowler set about obliterating my wicket with his bare knuckles. He was still at it as the younger Bonfield, my replacement, arrived at the crease.
Such a display of animal spirits might have unnerved another lad of that age, but young Bonfield displays worldliness beyond his years. He was quickly into his stroke-play, which is handsome indeed, and promptly cracked his first to the boundary and snuck a single from his second. It was only courtesy of an extraordinary snatch low down in the gully (from Wouldham, I believe, mostly with his other hand) that Bonfield was dismissed following what looked from the boundary like a gracefully carried-out late cut.
Only Gordon, the untried Ritterband and Morris remained. Your correspondent has voiced concerns before about Morris’ excessively low place in the order, but today there looked to be no doubt that he’d get a fair old go, especially once Mr Gordon had completed his customary round trip to the crease and back. But this was to reckon without the ministrations of Mr Ritterband, the debutant. Ritterband’s casual references earlier in the day to “not having played since the first XI at school” were presumed by all to be unfalsifiable braggadocio. They were now clothed in hopeful plausibility.
There were eight or nine overs remaining of the 20 after six, perhaps more. Mr Ritterband took a conventional guard on middle stump, left his bat there, but then stationed his feet six inches outside leg, affecting a curious stance resembling nothing so much as a gothic arch. Anxious looks were exchanged between Frais at the non-striker’s end and your correspondent, out for another spell of umpiring. We wondered wordlessly what kind of first XI encouraged this sort of display. So did Eltham: the ring came in, far tighter than anything Frais could imagine, all ten of them stationing themselves around the bat at a radius of about six feet, like jackals at a poisoned watering hole.
Yet as Mr Tanveer’s arm rolled over, Ritterband snapped into an orthodox position and batted correctly, smartly across the square. This was to be the unvarying sequence for the remainder of the game: Frais at one end, Ritterband at the other, a scrum of fielders intruding from all sides, but masterful and resolute defence rolling across the block from each ball, as the sun lowered in the sky. Not a run was scored in the last seven overs. It was magnificent to watch, though it might pall on a ball-by-ball description. Skipper Frais was magnificent in concentration, Ritterband a revelation as his foil, and as they walked from the field at stumps, the men of Tetherdown felt the joy of Dunkerque, made real in South London. W.G. Grace, the spirit of cricket himself, would have been smiling.
*It is, as Trundler Oral History records, a thing of rare complexity in any weather, and its tightening only adds to the sense of marvel.