v Hackney Umpires at Plumpton
Whilst the most splendid days of a summer that will ever give us selective memories of its brilliance have since passed, the cricket season remains hobbling along like a crocked sprinter who, despite their battle torn body, just wants to cross the finishing line because the crowd are willing him to- and not through any personal desire to see things to the bitter end.
It is fair to say the cricket season lasts as long as we will it to. I know of clubs who compete throughout October, and judging by the weather at some of Wanderers mid-autumn AGMs I can fully understand why. However today’s battle had that air of autumn resignation about it, the sense of rising electricity bills, sudden slips on sodden leaves at the first morning kerb and X-Factor boot camp.
It was my first playing SWCC visit to Plumpton since 1998, the year of New Labour, Barbie Girl, and when Arsenal were winning things. I know, it’s quite a while back. In fact some of our team were in infant school at the time, but, judging by the creaking bones of many a Wanderers veteran now, might still have been short listed for selection regardless.
Plumpton is like the family home really. You will always visit better, tidier, wealthier and modern abodes. But, regardless, there is no-where other than the scruffy old security of the musty old gaff with its 70s carpets and its time warp of an aura which exudes that comforting feeling for the middle aged grouch that cricket should only move on at the pace we dictate. Rightly so. And this grumpy old disposition was immediately edified at meeting the Glorious Sponge, the relief that my recruit found his way to the meeting point, and the ever more ample sight of Teflon Noakesy, Dave Field (most definitely the oldest swinger in town) and Smith snr, who despite his joy at an afternoon on parole, had the air of a man who gleefully swapped the frying pan for the fire…
A cloudy sky over the hallowed sports field then saw a 30 over effort decided on by the Sponge and his opposing number.
Now, the opponents for the afternoon, turning up in short numbers, heralded the title of Hackney Umpires. An oxymoronic plural on a number of levels. Not least because the suggestion that a person who calls for a wide and then mutters ‘Over’ in the same breath could ever regard himself in any way a proficient arbiter of the affairs of play.
And so it came to pass that our friends from the smoke batted first on a slow, low and sweating pitch.
Actually, this isn’t the Daily Telegraph. ……..
…. And so it came to pass that our friends from the smoke batted first on a muddy strip that would have had Wayne Barnes moving the scrum to a place where footholds and binding would have been made much easier for the 60 stone front row….
Now to be fair, our Luke chose to give everyone a go. And good for him. Although a mathematician of the Newtonic variety would have struggled with the permutation of numbers. I think Wanderers initially had 12, the Umpires 9, or was it ten, or 8 perhaps. Yeah, I think it was 8. Luke handed them young Lee Warnett. The match started at 9 a-side though- let’s confuses things further. The Butcher’s failed to show. You see modern technology is great as long as you keep it updated. The website suggested a one thirty start and it was assumed that this was their reasoning. Either that or Kim had given them the wrong time. The problem was absorbable given the general shortages amongst the opposition but exacerbated by the family’s appointment as the day’s tea makers. Given that a cricketers stomach is as important as his averages you could sense the general angst all round…..
In went the Umpires then, and progressed to 104 all out (well all out plus two batsman allowed to go back in again) and after a slow start they appeared to have set a competitive total. So what to report of note ? Well, the Sponge did his jump, the oldest swinger swung and other Wanderers bowlers, who I’ve not seen ply their trade before, look very accomplished. Josh Haylock also showed a nippy promise on his debut for the club.
But one old hand returned to much fanfare…
Smith senior, of the Nathan variety, returned after 7 years of forced/voluntary (delete as appropriate) exile. Coming on from the Pavilion end at first change the old master rolled back the years with an assortment of intelligent and hopeful dolly mixtures, a few mystery balls (to him just as much) and a reminder of his dangerous ability that hasn’t been extinguished by the onslaught of the midriff. Twas a joy to watch. Taking out three of the top four in the order, even if cow corner was an able accomplice, was a real achievement for someone thrown into the mix so late. Worth a Life Membership, Lukey, surely ?
And so the target was set. 105 in 30 overs. And the promise of the yummiest tea on the circuit half way through. We were all set for a comfortable, if not fattening, end to our weekends sporting endeavour.
Now Smith jnr, in whom the fairness gene has many a shareholding, allowed the Hackney travelers the chance to add a fielder or two to their carriage. Teflon Noakes walking out to field for the opposition after having a brief spray at the top of the order, would normally be greeted with raised eyebrows. But after a simple catch went down the watching Wanderers felt better. And with SWCC reaching the half way point with two wickets gone, and overs to spare, all was well when the Butcher Banquet commenced during a break at half way point, Butcher junior having made 16 and Jordon Wilson 23, whilst brandishing the bat like a meat cleaver.
Once all had eaten, perhaps a little too much in some cases, 15 overs remained. With just 45 runs needed and 7 wickets in hand, a late season win looked in the offing. But as the old saying goes; There is many a slip between Chicken Tikka Mini Pasty and lip…….
The Umpires decided not to limit their bowlers, and the Wanderers fielders, well one, decided not to drop any further catches. Wickets tumbled with little resistance. A crisis beckoned. Luke sweated over his lack of options, appearing at the wicket sooner than hoped. I, dismissed cheaply, had another chocolate cup cake.
So it came to pass, as the Oldest Swinger made his way to the wicket, the home side needed 13 to win with just over 4 overs available.
The final wicket summarised the madness of the day. Southwick Wanderers last hitting hope, unknown and on debut, struck a hard pull to a well-known fellow team member (Morgan, ahem) who held a difficult catch to win the game for the opposition. By giving everyone a proper game Wanderers had given the opposition a chance to set a reasonable total. By giving them a couple of fielders, and making no restrictions, Wanderers then won the game for them. And so it was, and once again, rightly so. For no temperatures rose (Well except Jordan’s on his run out), no eyebrows furrowed, and the spirit of Wanderers was maintained in its most fantastic form.
I was as proud of the club today as I was all those years ago.
Oh, by the way, I took a catch
v Jevington at Plumpton
And so to the last act, the end of the story, the dramatic final scenes. If this were a Shakespearean play then what to be ? A comedy ? A tragedy ? or perhaps both. Well, the final game of the season was certainly a tragedy in the puritanical playing sense, but since when was a voyage on the Good Ship Wanderers ever measured by what that spoilsport of a ships log, the Villainous Scorebook, brutally reported.
The air of the day imputed that ‘back to school’ feeling, as if the holidays were over, and soon a tedious Sunday afternoon spent watching West Ham and Everton play out the inevitable goalless draw will encourage feelings of deepest wistfulness for that sweet cover drive, the one which brought up double figures for the first and only time the previous season.
And so the Wanderers gathered, much in the same way as the Sussex members take their stripy deck chairs on the final day of the Championship season. Much chatter and reflection, stories that grow taller in the telling. The final day of the season is quite strange for this reason. A young cricketer, reaching his prime, would be nervously waiting a call from the Chairman of Selectors to see if his season is likely to be extended beyond these shores. A Sussex member, however, would be looking to avoid a call from the Chairman of Heavenly Selectors. It was once said that goodbyes at Hove are a long and meaningful affair as for a number of folk there will be no returning….
Today’s team sheet saw the return of Gywllim Jones, that big hitting Sefrican, as well as the old warhorse, Taylor Salerno. Gemma Manvell was washing her hair, deciding to send her betrothed, the beloved Daniel. And In dutifully preparation for married life, he did as he was told. So as the Wanderers, Jordan Wilson and Morgan Hockley-Jones, or Jones-Hockley depending on the scorer, walked to the wicket, the sun warmly shined and hope was on our side. It was downhill from there on.
Par-for-the-course at Plumpton in recent weeks appears to be directly proportionate to the length of the grass, which any gazelle hunting jungle beast would be most delighted to have taken residence in these last two weeks. Lusty blows and a series of textbook, sweet spot strokes, were failing to penetrate the inner field. When the first wicket fell with less than a handful of runs on the board it felt like a we should be clapping a 50 partnership. The frustration of ineffectual unheralded stroke play and bowling that made full use of a pitch devoid of bounce led to an all to familiar collapse. Put like that Wanderers performance can be read as unfortunate and blameless, so an addendum must be made to this subjective analysis. We were crap….
Wickets fell with regularity, the pacey and unpredictable Fielder brothers responsible for five of them. Most fell bowled or LBW. However, one run maker stood out, one regular attendee took up the mantle, one, just one, stood up to be counted. With a score of 22, ‘Extras’ showed us all how it should be done. And although Teflon Noaksey and extras have never been good bedfellows this one occasion was needs-must, being the two top scorers-Noaksey with 12.
Thus tea was taken after Wanderers had fallen for just 69. 9 players falling for single figures with Josh Haylock surviving for a credible 0 not out. Dave Field was actually out, yes, actually out. We have video evidence, it is below, but it will need to be independantly verified….
Now, far more cohesive than the Wanderers innings, the tea preparations were a joint affair. Mr Field playing a solid innings to see off the tricky tea making duties, with the author and young Haylock playing the cut shot beautifully through the baggettes and the quiche thus ensuring fairness of portion. And with three ‘o’ clock being the new five thirty Wanderers then took the field for the final time this year.
The greyish clouds were fairly high, and a times the watery autumnal sun gave a false sense of a prolonged high season when it broke through. One of those deceptive affairs of weather, it was hard to decide whether and how many jumpers were required. We need not have worried, we weren’t out there for long enough….
With the arrogance of youth, the Jevington openers turned the outfield from lowland heath into a bowling green. Runs flowing from the off. Only Morgan Hockley-Jones (Jones-Hockley) somehow escaping with credible figures. After trying to extract himself from affairs after just two overs, Lord Sponge was forced back into the action by his team mates as he was the bowler who looked likely to penetrate, his six an over economy rate proving credible in the circumstances.
Now no season is complete without a mention of the Oldest Swinger, the legend of the Field, the Dave of dutiful calling, that ever present thread that links Southwick Wanderers to the days of black and white. The snooker player, Steve Davis, was christened ‘Steve Interesting Davis’ by the boys at Spitting Image after his dour demeanour. I refer to our Dave as ‘Dave Re-assuring Field’ simply because when he comes on to bowl in carnage such as this, one senses, even if the result is inevitable, calm will be restored. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how quickly you wanted to get the pub, the breakthrough that the catch behind Mr Field drew with the score on 30 only hastened the end of the game. For striding to the wicket came a hungover man intent on finishing things off as quickly as possible. And thus he did. The surname of Blackburn duly ammended to Blackbeard as he wielded his bat like an angry sword condemning Wanderers hopes to the plank.
And so a crushing 9 wicket defeat it was to be.
As the ground was cleared, rubbish collected, and the pavilion lock turned for the final time this season, much of the team headed for the yonder pub with talk of yesteryears heroic exploits, near misses, could have beens, might have beens, weren’t but should have beens, tall stories from distant tours afar, and the memories that bind us all together.
And so another season has drawn to a close, and I’ve been here for just the last two weeks of it. But therein lies the most revealing truth, one never leaves the Wanderers, we just go Wanderering. But like the prodigal sons and daughters we return to find the same welcome and the spirit undaunted. A club that sticks to it’s social pricipals despite that constant pressure to change, and a club that still makes me feel proud every time I see that badge that Leigh Mayhew and I designed all those years ago.
Roll on next May.