Sunday 9th September. Aldworth CC at Aldworth, timed game.
Sunday saw our second visit to West Berkshire for Aldworth CC, a quaint little village to the East of the A34, not too far from similar fixtures Peasemore and Inkpen. This neck of the woods, and the A34 corridor in general, seems to be an oasis of gentle, friendly village cricket with not a league moonlighter in sight. Having had a close game in our inaugural Aldworth fixture last year, the team were looking forward to this year's match, and to the much talked about village pub, The Bell (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/pubs/3336316/Berkshire-Pub-Guide-The-Bell-Aldworth.html). It has a serving hatch, great beer, and is right next to the ground. Bloody marvellous. With late Summer leave, playing for other teams, tennis (yes, really - apparently it's not just played by husbands and wives in early retirement), woodland bongo-bashing, and goodness knows what else all taking their toll on the team, spots were up for grabs and a new look side took to the field. Aldworth play a timed game, with the first innings being two and a half hours, then a thirty minute tea, then a second innings of one hour, plus twenty overs. A draw can be achieved should the chasing team avoid being bowled out. Bod skipper Gareth Jones won the toss and chose to bowl first, given that we looked stronger with bat than ball today and the draw was an option. Eight overs per bowler and no retirement - glory beckoned. Got all that? Then we shall begin.
With only eight players at start of play we opened up with Phil Burnett and Stuart Ackland, and a few gaps in the field. Phil bowls a tidy first over as we get a feel for the pitch - hard, bit of grass, a few big cracks, Stu's first over goes for some tap, as they say, with four boundaries being spanked by the hard-hitting Aldworth openers. After this, and the realisation that the very quick outfield is not one you want to be diving on, making chasing even harder, the batters went after the bowling with controlled aggression and well-timed singles. Despite the early onslaught, things looked up when Stu took wickets in the sixth, eighth and twelfth over, and the nagging length of Andy Hudson getting one in the eleventh to peg Aldworth back. A mixture of bowled, an lbw, and a sharp catch from Jones behind the stumps, the wickets were testament to the fact that the pitch was doing all sorts, and seamers bowling a good length on a tight line at the stumps - even short of a length - gave plenty of opportunity for the ball to go anywhere. By this point the batters had already racked up 58-4 from those twelve overs, with less than an hour past. But four down is four down, and we hoped we'd be though the batting pretty soon. Up to a full eleven and enjoying blue skies after early morning clouds things began to go somewhat against us as the number four bat began to calmly dismantle the bowling and cause the fielders to look wistfully over at the pub. A terrific catch by Mike Webb, now behind the stumps, saw off the dangerous looking number six bat, and gave Phil a well deserved wicket but the number seven proved just as productive, flicking off his legs with relative ease. The fifth wicket saw Aldworth on 116-5 from twenty, but by the sixth the change bowlers had been punished to to put them at 192-6 in the thirty third. With the final half hour now well underway that number four batter upped the intensity further and smashed his way to 88 not out, giving Aldworth a whopping 255-7 from thirty nine overs. Crikey. Special mentions must go to the boundary riding Arthur Keegan-Bole for his much-admired long barrier, and to Dom Hewett for the most casually taken catch in the outfield we've seen for many a year, lovely stuff. Time for tea.
After all the excitement a cracking tea was served in the village hall that doubles as cricket pavilion, a splendid facility. On proper china plates with endless tea to be drunk, a fulsome spread of sandwiches, sausage rolls, pork pies, chicken drumsticks, quiche, tomatoes, crisps and nibbles was gobbled down by a hungry Bodley. Just as seconds were being considered the cakes appeared - coffee and walnut, Victoria sponge (with strawberries through the cream, most delicious) and a chocolate tray bake - all taken gleefully with more tea and the thought of no more fielding having to be done. As anyone who has played cricket will know, tea is far more enjoyable when you've already fielded and are therefore able to fully sample the delights on offer. Sadly, for the most part, cricket is that much harder when you've yet to bat, as runs on the board generally go a long way to winning. Nevertheless, we headed out for the second innings with a positive mindset that we could almost definitely, if they bowled badly enough, get the draw by batting out one hour and twenty overs - about 35 overs, we reckoned.
Phil and Mike opened the batting, and as is Phil's way, he scored only in boundaries. Unfortunately those boundaries were limited to just three though, and he out for twelve. Next over and also scoring only in boundaries (we were kind of trying to chase the total, honest), Mike was out for four. 27-2 from eighth overs, with a fair few extras, happily. Arthur was now in with Malcolm Webb, power and poise, if you like. Both looked good, and continued to hit the boundaries through a rarely-sighted full close field - short leg (with helmet), leg slip, three slips, gully, mid-on, mid-0ff, basically everyone inside the ring, incredible stuff and a real intensity out in the middle as the ball thudded in from some very sharp bowling. Arthur was very sportingly called back having been given out lbw by an unnamed Bodley umpire (can you guess? Of course you can), a perfect demonstration of the marvellous spirit the match was played in. Malcolm was caught behind off a thin edge from an unplayable deliver that just moved enough to catch the edge., bringing veteran sightscreen biffer Andrew Milner to the crease. Andrew showed his intent (draw, anyone?) by getting off the mark with five - not run, obviously, it was overthrows and a single, but great stuff all the same. Andrew was out for an entertaining fourteen in the twenty second over after a fruitful 34 run partnership with Arthur. Sadly, Arthur was out a few overs later for a hard fought 24. Bodley were, by this point in the twenty fifth over, 92-5. Clearly, we were unlikely to overhaul 255 to win the match and claim ownership of the rights to the deepest well in England (down the road, opposite the pub). But the draw was a possibility, definitely. Aldworth had other ideas, and the bowling changes that we'd hoped would bring some light relief and perhaps a few pies to tuck into, brought only more pace, more close fielding, and more pressure. Tim Philipson, playing completely against his instincts to hit the ball into the the aforementioned well, was out for not much, likewise the skipper, and whilst Dom decided to play out the draw by hitting the ball back over the bowlers head for four, we lost Mankind's Last Hope Andy Hudson soon after - that forward defence and dramatic leave being undone by the wicked pitch. So, Messrs Busby and Ackland, at ten and eleven, found themselves out in the middle with Aldworth needing one more wicket, Bodley 146 to win, and eight overs left to play. So it was with edge of the seat thrill that we watched these two attacking-minded veterens very deliberately play out an over, then another over, then another. Not a run taken, not a shot played, and not a chance given. Stu's inimitable forward defensive slap was in full flow, whilst Dave's backlift had lowered from it's usual periscope position to resemble more of a lazy umbrella in a light shower. The stubborn resistance had forced a bowling change and to the great horror of the batters the quicks (quicker, should I say) were back on, bowling to that unchanged close field, maintained throughout the match. With some of Bodley's players by now at risk of needing to use the pub's defibrillator, Stu and Dave ploughed on, entering their fifth over together, with four to go at it's completion. After a tremendous dot ball and looking for all the world like they could bat for days, the bell tolled ...and Stu was bowled. All out in thirty two overs for 109. A narrow loss, by 146 runs. Quite a game, the second innings played with an intensity you don't often see in social cricket but friendly all the same, and one enjoyed by all. A demonstration of Bodley's unique approach to playing out the draw can be brilliantly demonstrated by the fact that our runs came as follows - 8 singles, 14 fours, 1 five, and 40 in extras. A fantastic effort and one that shows the speed of the outfield, tight ring field, and devil in the pitch as extras top-scored for Bodley. Well played Aldworth - looking forward already to next year's fixture.
The team repaired to The Bell Inn next door, squeezing into this fifteenth century alehouse with it's lesser-spotted serving hatch and superb collection of beers, and took seats in the garden to leave the quizzical locals to the interior. A round of Happy Birthday was rustled up to serenade birthday boy Phil, and the team enjoyed a well-earned sit down and post-match analysis. Next year we plan to take a full complement of high-speed ball-wangers to Aldworth, and hope that Alistair Cook takes us up on our offer of opening the batting. Next match is the Authors XI at Warborough on September 22nd, see you there.