Blenheim Park CC at Blenheim Palace. 40 overs.
Is there a finer setting for a cricket field in all England than that on the South Lawn of Blenheim Palace? Perhaps, or perhaps not. At any rate, it’s an impressive scene, particularly when a solid 48 hours of unbroken rain has watered the greensward to a lush, deep verdure. And then out comes the sun to brilliantly light up the sea of green with the magnificent bulk of the Palace as a backdrop. It’s a spectacle that enthrals visitors from around the globe. Be that as it may, for some of our number that is simply not enough of a draw: the lure of the Wood Festival in far Chiltern Hills once again calls Stu and James, Gareth has his new wheel-barrow that simply must be pushed up and down the back garden, and Leigh has decided he has much better things to do on this particular Sunday.
So, with some regulars unavailable, Bodley calls on Ollie Pascoe, a cricketing friend of David Shackleton, to step into the breach. Word has it that Ollie is a useful hard-hitting batsman who can bowl a bit. Also, up from Sevenoaks for the game is Tim Saunders. A mere 200-mile round trip to play cricket for Bodleian CC. Top effort Tim. While Bodley occasional Chris Marsh makes his seasonal debut. The XI is completed by: Tim Philipson, David Busby, Gav Robinson, Phil Burnett, Nigel Walker, David Busby, Matthew Neely and Andrew Milner. Alec Paton is on hand as 12th man. The pitch is the greenest of green-tops which had not been cut before the game as the lawn mower refused to start. At least the wicket is pretty dry thanks to the covers. Captain Milner calls the toss correctly and invites Blenheim to bat. A chance for our bowlers to make hay out of the long grass. Besides we are always better when we are chasing a total aren’t we?
Nigel takes the first over and, ever-reliable on his home ground, it’s a very tidy maiden. Nothing for the batsmen here. Phil bowls at the other end and is in the groove: again no runs off the bat. Then, unalloyed joy, Nigel strikes in the third over to clean bowl opener Martin Cox with a beautiful delivery moving off the seam to peg back off stump. One wicket down with 3 on the board. The Blenheim batsmen now dig in, surviving and scoring ones and twos here and there. After ten overs Blenheim are 25 for 1. Bodley are fielding well and seemingly are in control.
Ollie takes over from Phil and bowls tidily to a good length, while David Shackleton replaces Nigel at the other end. After 25 overs the Blenheim total reaches 85 with the loss of a single wicket. The captain, perhaps ill-advisedly, calls up the slow spinner. A quiet enough couple of overs and then the Blenheim pair decide to put the hammer down. The ball flies to all corners of the park: fours and sixes. Now it’s 142 for one in the 31st over. Yikes! Time to bring back a seamer. Gav, the swerve-master of the South Lawn, takes over from Ollie while Phil relieves the shell-shocked spinner. Gav strikes in his second over to take out the Blenheim number three with a beauty: bowled for 83. Then Phil gets in on the action to take two wickets in two balls. The first a wonderful catch by David Shackleton at deep long on. Text book technique under the high ball. Next ball the stumps are disturbed and the Blenheim number 6 is on his way. Gav, not to be outdone, takes two more wickets in his next over: David Busby clasping a tricky catch to his chest at mid-on to dismiss the opener for 57. Then Chris Marsh takes a smart catch at gully. Wonderful stuff. Blenheim 154 for 6 in the 34th over. Shortly after, Chris dives for the ball and lands heavily on his shoulder. It looks nasty and he leaves the field in some pain to make straight for the Palace. Only later do we realise than an ambulance has been called and poor Chris is taken to A&E with a suspected fractured collar bone. Terrible bad luck. Alec, as 12th man is on hand to step into the fray. Thanks Alec.
Shackleton, back on to finish the innings, takes a wicket as Ollie safely holds on to a catch at short mid-wicket. Then smart work between Milner and keeper Neely runs out the Blenheim Oxfordshire under-13 player. Stuart would not have approved but he was away in a wood somewhere so it’s ok. Gav gets his fourth wicket with the help of Phil’s assured catch. I think it’s fair to say Gav reallylikes bowling at Blenheim – who could forget his 5-fer last year? After 40 overs the Blenheim innings closes on 176 for 9. A decent total but, as the pitch seemed to be getting more benign as the afternoon wore on, it’s gettable we feel. Tea is taken under the trees. A decent spread with a large, selection box of chocolates in the mix.
Matthew and David stride out to begin the Bodley assault. Unfortunately it’s not long before Matthew is back in the hutch. Clean bowled by the wily Spearman in the second over. Mathew swears he will never, ever, ever open again. We’ll see. 2 for 1 in the second over. Time for a Bodleian dig-in. Shackleton is joined by Ollie at the crease. A couple of biffed fours shows Ollie is not the “dig-in” kind, boundaries are more to his liking. Things are looking up. Then, oh dear, Ollie is bowled off his pads to one aimed at leg stump. 17 for 2 in the seventh over. Up steps Tim Saunders and a most encouraging partnership builds. Clearly this is not an easy pitch on which to build an innings: patience, technique are the watchwords here. The partnership ends when Tim lofts one to midwicket and the Blenheim fielder makes no mistake with the catch. Sir Gav now makes his entrance and is looking full of confidence, as well he might, after his heroics with the ball. Unfortunately a 21 run partnership is brought frustratingly and prematurely to a close when Gav is run out by a sharp throw from mid-wicket. Four wickets down, 63 on the board, and 22 overs bowled. Still, David is still there looking set for great things. Tim Philipson is next man in, and his swing is as finely grooved as ever as we all know. A couple of swishes and the ball is imperiously dismissed to the boundary each time. A joy to behold for his teammates gazing on in awe. At the other end David is playing with great panache. Has there ever been a more correct stylist to grace these fields? I don’t think so. While these two are out in the middle there is hope. But all good things must come to an end and this good thing ends when Tim is adjudged lbw for 12. A very useful 35 run partnership and we are 98 for 5.
Eleven overs left, 79 runs to get and 3 wickets remaining. It’s beginning to look a long-shot. Our final 4 wickets fall in short order. Phil and Andrew do not tarry long. Then, agony, Shackleton is out, caught Cox, bowled Angol for 54. Another great innings from David. Nigel’s is the final wicket to fall leaving David Busby on 1 not out. 109 all out in the 35th over and Blenheim Park the winners by 67 runs.
Once again Bodley came to Blenheim with high hopes only to leave second best. As so often our bowling (mostly!) and fielding were excellent but we just need to bat with more depth. We can’t rely on David to do all the heavy lifting in the batting department. I’m glad to report the game was played in an excellent spirit, cemented by both teams repairing to the Woodstock Arms after the game. Sunday cricket at its finest, and we look forward to the fixture next year.