Inkpen CC at Inkpen, thirty overs
It was a beautiful day, driving South along the A34 to the bucolic tranquillity of Inkpen in Berkshire, to play Inkpen CC, new friends from last year and a team that plays the game like we do – laid back, with a smile, and with everyone getting a go. Bodley won last year’s inaugural fixture but arrived this year without several regulars and numbering only ten, though happily giving season debuts to Andy Mackinnon and young Dan Shaw. Bodley's burgeoning Brearley Stu Ackland skippered, with the team being completed by Matthew Neely, Gareth Jones, Leigh McKiernan, Tim Philipson, James Shaw, David Busby, and Andy Hudson. Thirty overs per innings, six overs per bowler, and no retirement – a perfect opportunity for a century, thought a few deluded souls.
On a picturesque park ground with flag fluttering and swallows skirting the grass, Stu won the toss and with both eyes on tea opted to field first, giving the team full rein to indulge thereafter. It was unanimously agreed that the pitch looked a little on the green side, a view confirmed when the opposition reported the absence of a working mower to trim the wicket. Truth be told, the outfield and the wicket were one single, unified whole, baked by the sun but as green as a Welsh valley. Not knowing what to expect, Stu opened the Bodley attack with Leigh, and in what was seen as a gamble, himself. After a couple of overs and a sharp catch by James from Stu’s skiddy seamers, it was blindingly obvious that the pitch was by a long way the most dangerous element in the Bodley attack. Over the next 25.1 overs a top score of seventeen and a ‘we have absolutely no idea what a good score is on this’ total of 74 was chalked up by the bruised Inkpen batters. In that time some quite silly bowling figures were returned, the silliest of which are included here only on the understanding that they in no way reflect the ability or skill of the bowler… Ackland 4-1-2-3, Shaw Jnr 3-1-4-1, Shaw Snr 6-1-14-3. Quite the most ridiculous figures, you'll agree. If all that isn’t enough luck disguised as excellence, the final Inkpen wicket to fall was a stunner from the one and only Mr David Busby. A loosener from Busby was struck into the on-side, collected by Jones and promptly returned to Busby who sent all three stumps flying from point blank range as he gleefully grabbed a run-out first ball off his own bowling. On a more serious note, the pitch had proven a terror, with keeper Neely not knowing what the ball was likely to do from one ball to the next, and pretty much all the batters reporting frequent chaos as the same length ball would skid through, bounce erratically, or deviate off the line in the space of an over. One batter was felled having been struck on the cheekbone sweeping, whilst others wore the ball in various softer parts of the anatomy. Thankfully all were ok and tea could commence unhindered.
In gorgeous weather and with great hospitality from our hosts, Bodley tucked into tea confident we could chase the score, and that the long haul of fielding was done. A superb spread of attractive triangular sandwiches, sausage rolls, chicken bites and pork pie was accompanied by a selection of crunchy vegetables and crisps, all of which was followed by a dizzying variety of Mr Kipling, mini-doughnuts, homemade rice crispy cakes, luscious cream scones, and an oh so moreish Victoria sponge, all washed down with gallons of tea. A real treat and enjoyed by all.
With tea over attention reluctantly turned to the Bodley batting innings. Being somewhat short of regular hitters the Skipper resorted to the tried and tested practice of chucking a few swingers up the order. Duly, it was the Skipper and Gareth that walked out to face the demon pitch. Stu, wearing a helmet for the first and probably last time in his life, faced the first ball and after some wild heaves looked set to play out a maiden when Jones called him through for a single off the last ball. Shortly after, and despite his best efforts to farm the non-strikers end in the hope of carrying his bat for as few runs as possible, Jones was ignominiously out. Matthew joined Stu and after a bit of playing and missing as the pitch continued to misbehave soon found his range to get the score moving. Stu was out, inevitably, in a Bon Jovi-esque blaze of glory, bringing Leigh out to crank up the tempo. By the tenth over 20-2 was a decent score, though the slow outfield was a cause for concern as the target began to look a decent one. To his great dismay Matthew was bowled in the eleventh, with Leigh and then Tim following after a couple more pinched boundaries to leave matters at 51-5 from fifteen. Normally this would be a disastrous scoreline, but the low total gave everyone hope, even if the pitch gave everyone nightmares. By now Shaws Snr and Jnr were at the crease, father and son batting well to push the team towards the winning line. But as victory drew nearer so did the Inkpen fielders, forming a close circle and intent on keeping James off strike. With Dan and then Busby out after a promising and entertaining innings, respectively, it was Bodley’s very own Rahul Dravid that looked to keep James company as a nervous Mackinnon watched from the ropes. With a boundary sufficient to win it for Bodley, James struck a mighty blow past point. As the ball suddenly slowed before the boundary a heroic fielder dived over it, grabbed it one handed, and tossed it over the rope. The yell that followed – ‘I don’t want to play this bloody game anymore!’ – providing a fitting and suitably good-humoured end to what was a very close game despite the low totals and gremlins in the pitch. So after two losses on the bounce and despite failing to pass 100 for three matches in a row, it's a return to winning ways. A massive thank you to Inkpen for that tea, and for a really enjoyable match.