Far From The MCC, 30 overs, at Warborough cricket ground.
On Saturday Bodley brought their season to a close with a 30 over match against old friends Far From the MCC at the bucolic Warborough cricket ground in South Oxfordshire. After last weeks rain-off this was our last chance for a hit before the long winter months and inevitable weight gain. The team was a good one, and our new skipper - Shackleton (sure to lead us away from certain doom and into glory) promptly won the toss and elected to bowl. We have not beaten the Mads in a good few years (indeed, only the veteran members of the team can recall when we last did), so hopes were high that an upset could be sprung. With overcast skies and a commendable lack of stretching we lurched out onto the field of dreams...
The Mads openers settled into the somewhat damp crease and Robinson marked out his run-up, like a bull considering a matador across the Plaza de Toros. The previous days rain and a brief shower had left the pitch - uncovered, in the Yorkshire style - looking more a bowlers wicket than a batters. Gav steams in, steam puffing from his nostrils and with a tail-wind carrying him forward. Our Yorkshire bull hops, skips and pounds into the crease before the ball whistles down the length of the pitch on a good length, whereupon it bounces as much as a lead weight hitting the beach and a collective 'hmm' rings around the arena. Glad we're bowling, the eleven men of Bodley mutter to themselves, as the rest of the over plays out with patience being the batsman's watchword. At the other end it's Bodley's entertainer in chief and ladies favourite, Stu Ackland. The shuffle, shimmy and skiddy red ball of love are all present as the batsmen struggle to adjust to Stu's ample line and very vocal critique of the crease onto which he shuffles. Almost immediately, a bag of sawdust is summoned by the angry bowler, and after the crease has been made to look more like the floor of a sawmill, Stu announces he is ready to continue. The watching hordes lean forward in their seats, then an intake of breath, and voila! The shuffle remains but where once there was uncertainty and chaos, now there is only purpose and precision, as ball after ball of slow, then slower, then even slower balls are delivered into the keeper's waiting hands, and the batter swings in vain at the cursed pitch. After a few overs it becomes clear that batting on this pitch is a real challenge, and the Mads - all more than able batsmen - are being kept from scoring freely by close fields and zero faith in the pitch. After a couple of overs the pressure tells, the action begins, and the games undergoes the first of many swings. With Robinson and Ackland still on, three wickets fell in quite quick succession (much as they do when Bodley bat, dear reader), to reduce the Mads to not very much for three, from not very many overs. Two for Stu - a bowled and an assured pouched catch by Mackinnon, and a bowled for Robinson being ample reward for tight spells. Through this scintillating test-match standard stuff, the other Mads opener was defying the run of play and steadily accumulating.
Gradually, but surely, the rebuilding job was begun and Bodley were soon back to insulting each other in the field and counting the red kites overhead (the way they circle high above one another, like planes stacking at an airport, really is most distracting to behold). After about ten overs skipper Shackleton brought young Malcolm Webb on to bowl, along with that wily old silver fox, Milner, sprightly on his latest set of knees and enthused by the pitch on offer. Webb soon found his line and length whilst Milner was causing the batters to adapt and take risks as he mixed up his line and played with the low bounce. The Mads were well set by now though, with one batter in particular giving a wonderful demonstration of how to come down the pitch to the spinner. Straight bat, uncomplicated, swift footwork, and a perfect head position all added to an engrossing battle as the ball was repeatedly pushed back at the cover fielders, finding the ropes on just enough occasions to keep things ticking along. A run out soon rocked the Mads ship though, and shortly after a much-deserved wicket to Milner, and Bodley were back in the hunt with the score not much past 100 and not too many overs left. A very well earned retirement at 50 odd for the Mads number 1 brough another new batter to the crease, and field drew in. The skipper was by now bowling himself when not prowling the covers, all flowing locks and waving arms, like a catalogue model channeling an advancing goalkeeper. With the score creeping well beyond the 100 mark the mystery bowlers were introduced - Philipson and Busby. Philipson soon had the batters swinging at air, as his almost unrivaled command of variety ensured the lengths were changed as often as the line. Busby, at the other end was delivery his trademark blitzkrieg, and soon had the fielders clapping for more for more. As is often the case late in a game, with runs needed and risk being taken, wickets fell - both of our maverick bowlers taking one, to the delight of their team-mates. Philipson's a canny bowled, and Busby profiting from a skied catch by the skipper. After all this the Mads ended up on 147 - a good total on a very tricky pitch, and with only nine players to share the load.
After all that excitement it was time for tea. In the Edwardian surrounds of the lovely clubhouse both teams tucked in to the largest concentration of pork products ever seen. Sandwiches were munched, cakes scoffed, and tea was taken. And then both team waddled out to resume hostilities under improving skies.
Bodley's established opening pair of Neely and Shackleton took up positions and prepared to get us off the mark. Neely was soon off the mark, working the ball around in that left-handed sort of way, whilst the skipper watchfully saw off an over before unfurling some classic drives between some straight-batted defiance. With two quite different bowlers operating the batters very much stuck to one end, Neely having a rough ride from the canny lengths of Hoskins, who was very unlucky not to have an lbw in his first over. After some well-disguised changes of pace he had his wicket though, Neely going to a quicker one. This brought Webb snr to the crease, and a steadying of the ship to be undertaken. Well, what happened next? Collapse? Calamity? Comic relief? Not at all! A mere fifteen overs and 72 runs later these two were on 79-1 and going nicely, Webb playing the still low pitch beautifully, and Shackleton doing what Shackleton does. Sadly when 80-1 in the sixteenth over Webb fell, a very well made 29 having set us up to chase the total. This brought Milner to the crease, and the old wizard didn't disappoint, quickly finding his range and launching a few for four down the ground. Shackleton was by now approaching his half-century and with it retirement, which soon came about with the score on 105-2, well played David. The quality kept coming though, with Robinson next to the crease. Fans of Bodley will be well aware that Robinson is a dab hand on slow n low pitches, being a deft cutter and with a punishing hook/sweep/spank to the leg side when the bowler lets his line drift thereover. The Mads bowlers had for a while proved very tricky to get away but the score was building and the match sizzling as Milner and Robinson managed a few profitable overs to move things on. Then on 135 from 28 overs Robinson fell, caught hitting out, a very good knock that kept us in the hunt. 13 needed from less than two overs. Unfortunately for Bodley Jones walked in t bat, having been told by teammates to go 'bat crazy' - or something along those lines. This Jones promptly did, the crazy part being achieved by swishing the bat in the vague direction of the ball only to be bowled behind his legs. 13 still needed, from 9 balls. Ooh, exciting, thought Bodley, still doing their best to ensure none of the tea went to waste. Webb Jnr was next to the crease, the pressure was on. The Mads kept the field largely up, and the bowlers were sniffing victory. With the pitch now slightly uneven and the fielders on their toes it is all Milner could do to work the ball into the covers for singles. At least, they would singles under normal circumstances. But today young Webb was running like Usain Bolt to a party, and ones were turned into twos in a thrilling display of intent. Milner largely kept the strike but lost it on the last ball of the penultimate over, and with one to go the score was 142-4 ...only six needed. A run a ball. Drop and run. Simple. Pah! It's never simple! Webb pushes to leg, takes a single, and the field again bears down on the established batter, 29 overs down and it's come to this, five balls to decide the spoils. Dot ball follows and the crowd are by now so engrossed that even the opportunity afforded by all that unattended cake cannot keep all eyes from the action. Milner takes guard, and ...another breathless piece of running by Webb to push Milner to take the second, with the safety of the strikers end giving Bodley the edge as the ball is fired in from a fielder well behind the bowler. Clearly, the Webb family had their weetabix this morning. Three needed. Again, Milner pushes the ball through the covers, and again Webb pushes the second run, making the danger end and the fielders throw by only fractions of an inch. Score level. Bowler runs in, even the birds have stopped circling to watch from the nearby horse chestnuts towering over the boundaries edge. ...a satisfying crunch and the ball careers of the bat, beats the ring, chased by the fielder, but to no avail ...four! 151-4 and Bodley take the spoils.
A really most enjoyable match played in the right spirit by all and a fitting way to end the season. Hands are shaken and photos taken, and Bodley finally have a victory to celebrate after a rain affected, damp old season. Well played all, and a huge thank you to the Mads for such a thrilling game. Both teams repaired to the Six Bells in double quick time to be met with a most amusing selection of ales and make plans for the same again at next season's end. We'd like to say a sincere thank you to everyone that has played for us this season, to all who have come to watch and lend support, and most of all for all the little things through the season that have brought a smile to our faces and enthused a doubting cricketer to keep going - we play this sport to better know ourselves, our friends and colleagues, and to share the experience of collective effort and toil as we strive to improve, and we look forward to doing it all again next year with new faces and old friends. Of course we also play to enjoy the glory of a cricket tea and to dress up in white clothes and a garish wool cap, but the less said about that the better. Roll on 2017.