Not-normal cricket season finally begins

Avebury Clubhouse


nd so, finally, on July 11, armed with hand-sanitiser and our own packed lunches, and more or less changed and ready for action, a motley assembly of MCC cricketers turned up to Broadleys for an intra-club warm-up.  After an eternity of shape-shifting governmental three-word slogans and not quite guidelines about what we should and shouldn’t be doing with respect to Covid-19, Boris & Co. finally decided that recreational cricket was permissible within certain boundary (sic) conditions.  Following (or not, depending on one’s role in determining Tory policy) what seemed to be interminable ‘interpretations’ of the “science”, it eventually dawned on those allegedly in charge of running the country that club cricket – relative to some of the other things already permitted (e.g., eye-testing in locations several hundred miles from one’s residence) – is a relatively low-risk activity with respect to the probability of viral transfer between consenting adults.

The nominal captains for the warm-up, Cox and Williams, conjured up two reasonably balanced sides and James’ team went out to bat.  The afternoon’s proceedings were agreeable, played mostly in a Spirit-of-Cricket mode, and included some encouraging evidence that some of our members had not entirely lost the ability to bat/bowl/field.  Equally, however, those that had never mastered one or more of those skills showed no sign that lock-down had miraculously endowed them with new-found attributes (indeed, obvious signs of regression were unfortunately clear to see).

If memory serves, there were some half-way decent bowling spells from Ellsy and Ilo, in particular, and some ridiculous respect shown by ‘proper’ batsmen to well-known 3rd team trundlers for fear of the embarrassment of getting out.  The target of about 160 off 40 overs didn’t look too imposing as Bondy and Pascall Jr. opened the Cox XI reply until Jeremy was out 1st ball to a smart c&b by Chopper.  Will didn’t hang about for long either and only a very restrained Hendy Sr. kept the scorers active.  With James now skippering and umpiring at the same time (always a dangerous combination) he introduced some of his more creative bowling options and the required run rate fell to feasible levels.  Seeing that (a) his side might actually lose the game, and (b) that M. Cox might not even have to bat and be suitably humiliated, James took the only available course of action to ensure that the former did not occur and that the latter did: that is, Willy, for a few minutes, became Threaders and… game over.

Even this egregious behaviour could not spoil what was a most pleasant day capped off by beer, banter and burgers, spaced 2 metres apart, of course, outside the clubhouse on an idyllic July evening.  Next up, a proper friendly of a mixed 2nd/3rd team (plus James, for some obscure reason) away at Avebury’s delightful ground next to the fabled stones.  Those, who have played there before, will recall a cramped, ramshackle and shower-free pavilion of some vintage and will have been pleasantly surprised to find that structure a thing of the past.  Instead, a new, functional and modern structure awaits the visitors, with all amenities – very nice but off-limits for the moment because of you-know-what.  Another beautiful day and, after negotiations, our skipper (M. Cox) led us into the field.

Within the space of the opening spells, MCC had the top 4 Avebury batters back in the pavilion; a wicket for the skipper and three for a “rampant” Ellsy who finished his 8-over spell with 3-30.  Harry Steele took over from Matt and also grabbed a wicket, handily stumped by Tom Shrubsole (whose famous sibling was on-hand to see this and three other catches); Avebury 5 down with less than 50 on the board.  Inevitably, some innings rebuilding had to occur and the oppo numbers 6 and 7 somehow managed to restore respectability until Dicko, having warmed up with 25 overs of square-leg umpiring (we had 12 players, in case you’re wondering) finally broke the partnership and left Chris Ruddell to clean up the tail (3-34), a just reward for an excellent spell.

Lovely, and off I trudged to be “consoled” by my teammates, not only for the rest of the game but, possibly, for what’s left of my life…

After the break, MCC opened with your correspondent and Colin Sinkins.  The first ball bowled, after a last-minute change in the field to position a backward square leg, was a generous long-hop that I steered/guided/smashed/lobbed directly to the aforementioned member of the opposition who managed to catch it.  Lovely, and off I trudged to be “consoled” by my teammates, not only for the rest of the game but, possibly, for what’s left of my life…

As for the rest (and, why do I care, you ask?), Colin and Tom batted sensibly and timed a few good shots in pushing the score to about 50 before both got, triggering the loss of 3 more cheap wickets.  James looked like he might win it in Stokesian fashion but then repeated the fate of our opener except with a full-toss, rather than a half-tracker.  Coxy hit some splendid blows, surprising even himself, but it was only a matter of time before our last wicket fell and we lost a game that we shouldn’t have by 33 runs.

Onward then, and the first “real” match of the season.  Your scribe found himself, not unreasonably, scraping into the 3rd XI and a visit to play Goatacre’s 4th XI.  The smattering of rain encountered on the journey soon turned into something more serious so the stumps were removed and the square covered.  However, not too long after, with a decent breeze blowing, two very optimistic captains tossed up and we got underway just as the next wave of rain arrived.  ‘Play’ was called nonetheless and two overs were endured as MCC rattled along at 5.5 per over.  The oppo captain had, by then, seen enough and we retired consecutively to the pavilion, to our cars and to the pub.  It appears that it is possible to play ‘normal’ cricket after all…

woodman circle

 Professor Richard Guy


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