Format: 40 overs
Result: Won by 5 runs
You’ve been Rob’bed.
Robert stood up confidently, meticulously checked the bindings of each pad in turn and then, happy that all was in order, he marched out to the middle with a nonchalant swagger. He’d been studying the form of the opposition bowlers from the boundary ropes with immense concentration. He knew their actions inside out, he knew what kind of bounce to expect from the dusty track he’d inspected prior to the start of play, and he knew that the weather conditions (bright blue skies and glorious sunshine) could only work his favour. He knew that this was his big moment, and he wasn’t going to let it slip through his grasp. He reeked of self-assuredness. He’d prepared, he’d played this moment over and over in his head. He’d taken into account every detail, every minutiae. Nothing could go wrong, he was sure of that. In short, he was confident.
He had his eyes on one bowler in particular – a minor television celebrity of relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things, but a man who passed himself off as so much more (if only to get drinks bought for him, and the fawning attention of the naïve young barmaid with futile dreams of stardom, down the local boozer). The cheek of the man – he could probably afford to buy the whole establishment on his ITV wages! His arrogance hadn’t got unnoticed by our plucky hero, and he was here to deal out some vengeance. He was Maximus in Gladiator, inflicting revenge on the Emperor for killing his family. He was William Wallace, bearing a nation’s hopes on his mighty shoulders as he took the fight to their oppressors with nothing but some blue face paint and some fuzzy kilts. He was a blood-soaked Carrie. He was Uma Thurman in tight yellow leather.
He took his guard (“Middle stump please, Ump”) as always, then defiantly blocked an imaginary delivery that probed his off stump – a routine he’d performed a million times before at home in front of the mirror. He was Bobby Boundaries, big hitter, slayer of bowlers from Banbury to Swindon and all else in between. This was his time. This was what Martine McCutcheon so famously sang about. This was his perfect moment.
And so, as the minor celebrity marked his run up and prepared to come steaming in, Robert made a mental note to hark his skipper’s words to “Block out the first few please, Daylight”. The minor celebrity turned and commenced his run-in and everything from that moment on seemed as if in slow motion. Robert could hear his breathing quicken slightly, felt his heat beat a little harder. He heard the tweet of the crested tit as it watched proceedings from its regal perch high up on the overlooking treetops. His eyes widened as he realised the delivery was full, too full: a full bunger angling down the leg side. This, this was the perfect ball to get first up, and Robert knew, he just knew that that ball was getting planted over cow corner. For a brief millisecond he feared for the crested tit’s safety. With big strong arms cultivated working the grounds at Abingdon Vale, he raised his weapon of Kashmir willow behind him, opened up his mighty chest, and with almost mythical power he swung the blade down and across, timing it with perfection to launch the ball into the next postcode. The contact was so sweet he barely felt a thing as he closed his eyes and pictured it sailing high into the air and over the ropes.
As ecstatic whooping filled the air, Robert opened his eyes and turned smugly back towards the pavilion to acknowledge the plaudits. He had done it, he had shown that minor celebrity that he was nothing, he was less than nothing, and had come a cropper at the mighty hands of Big Bobby Boundaries. Except his team mates weren’t cheering. It was the sound of the opposition cheering that now rang so loudly in his ears. Confused, he looked down and saw his stumps splattered, the bails now lying a good four feet back from where he stood. He hadn’t middled it at all. He’d missed it. How had this happened? What tragedy doth befall our hero?
Robert woke in a panic, beads of sweat running down his face. The room was dark, with just a thin stream of sunlight arcing through the room. He ran his wrist across his forehead and breathed a heavy sigh. He sat up and reached for his glasses on the nightstand. It had been a dream. Just a terrible dream! He sighed again in relief – he really had hit the minor celebrity for six!
He glanced at the clock – it was time to get ready. Today Robert and his band of merry men faced up to their latest challenge: Demijohns. Or was it Semijohns? It didn’t matter to Robert. They were all the same, just another obstacle on his way to cricketing greatness. He pulled on his whites, which he wore like armour, and headed off to Appleton.
Robert and his cheery cohorts had faced a month of bad luck as the weather decimated their fixture list like Alex Hales does a Division 2 bowling attack. But today the sun was high in the sky, small wisps of cloud peppered the azure Oxfordshire skies, and the grass was green and crisp underfoot. Demijohns, as it turns out, are a bunch of ex-St. John’s College attendees. Would their superior higher education result in greater tactical nous on the cricket pitch? Only time would tell. As Robert limbered up in the nets, he wondered where the skipper was and why he was always late on Sundays. Nevermind, thought Robert, you can always rely on the Chairman for a good toss. Sadly today Robert was wrong – the Chairman lost the toss and IVCC were put into bat. With Mrs CA’s payload due to drop any minute, the man with the most potent willy in Oxfordshire was reduced to an interested spectator, ready to rush his wife to the hospital at a moment’s notice should Ruprecht Tarquin Cable-Alexander III Esq. make a sudden claim for the opening batsman’s position his father considers very much his own. Instead it was the gentlemanly frame of the Baldons’ very own Mark Denning who accompanied Meier to the middle. Robert positioned himself on the best seat in the house: he was close enough to advise the scorer should he need assistance, was by far the closest to the scoreboard, and was excellently positioned to have the best view of the day’s play. Let battle commence, Robert thought.
He could see that the going was tough for the IVCC openers. Demijohn’s opening pair were both swinging it in to the right-handers, and the pitch – slightly damp after a few days of hard rain – wasn’t allowing anything to bounce up at all. He didn’t envy Meier and Denning as they sought to see off the new ball and build an innings. Meier was out first, aiming a drive straight down mid-off’s throat, bringing Ross out at number for 3 for his first appearance in IVCC colours in some time. Robert admired Ross’ attractive strokeplay and careful manipulation of the field with envy. But he knew his time would come – they surely couldn’t bat all day could they?
No. No they could not. Despite looking set to gather up his umpteenth half century, Ross miscued a glance to the legside and a leading edge saw him offer up a rather straightforward catch to a grateful mid-on, for a solid 26. IVCC were 70¬–2 and honours were about even at the moment. By Robert’s calculations, IVCC were headed towards a score of 150 plus. He worried that anything below 200 wouldn’t be enough.
2017 rookie Conway strode to the middle with customary Antipodean swagger. Robert liked the man – he was a good cricketer and was joyously chirpy in the outfield – but he irked at the man’s bright blue trainers. They simply were not cricket. However, like many an Australian before him, he had a keen eye and hit some ferocious boundaries before he was the first of the IVCC batsmen to have their furniture rearranged. Another solid 25 from Conway – something to tell the new wife about when he gets home. Robert congratulated him on a fine innings as he updated the scoreboard, whilst secretly glad that his time to shine was drawing ever closer.
Taylor was next but was very unfortunate to be stumped off his first ball from a rather ruthless decision from Umpire Bibb. You have good days and bad days in the cricket field, thought Robert. Cricket is a cruel mistress – she giveth, and she taketh away. He had been there himself and he offered his heartfelt commiserations to Will as their paths crossed on the boundary ropes. At 132–4, Robert knew his team were in need of some runs to bump themselves up over 150, a minimum total requirement to ensure a decent game. Keen to get the in-form Denning – who had been displaying some elegant strokeplay at one end whilst others fell around him – back on strike, Robert was watchful at first. He hit an early boundary to settle the nerves then followed that up with a series of singles to allow Denning the chance to hit the big runs. But the struggle to bat within his means was all too real, and Robert couldn’t resist one ball that was tossed up just that little bit higher, that little bit fuller. His heart sank when he misjudged it and his bat hit nothing but air. He knew he was out even before the ball hit the stumps. Was that the never-seen-at-this-level, the rare-as-unicorn-shit, googly? He couldn’t be sure.
The skipper was next in bat, and Robert was now a frustrated spectator as he watched Denning and Smith run hard (if you bat with Bill, you always run hard!). Perhaps the exploits of notching 90 on the board were finally bearing down on him, as Denning wearily missed a straight one and was clean bowled, leaving Smith to bat with the tail.
Madans, AKA Jim Arbuckle, sadly didn’t last long before he was clean bowled by the Demijohn’s opener in his second spell. Robert had watched the next batsman, Troth, warm up in the nets and had been impressed by his clean hitting and impressive power. Why did Troth not bat higher up the order?, thought Robert ponderously. Troth was clean bowled just a few balls later and Robert had his answer. Dickie also failed to trouble the scorer, and with our 40 overs just a few balls from the end, the skipper called Bibb through for a second without realising that Bibb’s trousers were failing and he was run out – caught, quite literally, with his pants down.
190 all out, including four ducks. Robert furrowed his brow. He wasn’t sure it would be enough. He knew that both Davis’ and Cav’s absences meant he would be entrusted with the gloves and unable to add to his own impressive wicket tally for the season. He shrugged to no one in particular: he didn’t mind, he had an important role to play and would do whatever he could for the good of the team.
Taking up his position behind the stumps, flanked by Meier at gully and Bibb at square leg, Robert was impressed with Troth’s early line and length from the Shitty Sewage End. With one delivery rapping the DemiJ opener square on the back leg, Robert rose in unison with Troth to loudly proclaim his assuredness that the batsman must be out. Celebrations abounded, and were followed not long after when Troth got one to nip back through the gate and bowl the other opener. As Troth returned impressive figures of 2 for 16, including one maiden, off his first six overs, Robert wondered whether they would even miss his bowling today.
Robert donned his helmet and stood up to the stumps for Dickie Tyler, opening from the Overgrown Stinging Nettles of Death End. Dickie initially struggled for length, but eventually settled into a nice rhythm, finishing with respectable figures of 5-0-20-0. With one DJ batsman trundling along at slower-than-Meier pace, the other (a Kiwi no less) was consistently finding the gaps and subsequently the boundary to keep the opposition score ticking along at roughly the required run rate.
Spinmaster General Bibb and the melanin-deficient skipper were the next two bowlers to chance their arm. Robert liked to keep against Bibb as he tended to bowl pretty straight and force the batsman to play the ball, leaving less work for Robert to do himself. He considered it tactical delegation. Today, the Bibbster took direction well and bowled a beautiful set, including bowling the Demi-dangerman Haines for 51 just when it looked like he might take the game away from Iffley. Robert also had the unenviable task of keeping to Smith on and off for a few seasons now, and he noted the carrot-topped skipper has struggled slightly this season. He has tended to bowl himself later in the innings and his form has subsequently suffered through a lack of regular practice. Luckily I’ve been able to step up to the plate with my bowling this season, thought Robert as another wayward delivery rolled down to the ever-energetic and always-zealous Taylor at fine leg. Robert was kept busy, nimbly dancing to the left and to the right to stop anything that was less than 5 inches outside the line of the stumps. With Smith’s first set of 4 proving rather expensive, Ross was called upon to tighten things up. And tighten he did! Ross bowled an absolute peach which took the edge and had Robert diving full stretch to see it nestle safely in his bear-like mitts. Robert beamed with pride; this was what it was all about. For a moment, for a perfect moment, IVCC briefly resembled proper cricketers.
At this stage, it really was anyone’s game. Robert couldn’t call it! He rallied his troops with familiar war cries from behind the stumps and his usual encouraging tidbits (“Try bowling straighter, skip!”). With the big-hitting Adams, the Bobby Boundaries equivalent in the Demijohns XI, looking settled and timing some colossal thwacks to the ropes, Demijohns were feeling confident. Robert found it hard not to admire the gall of a man willing to dance down the wicket to the skipper! Brief interludes by the Chairman and by Conway did little to trouble the opposition’s batsmen, causing more trouble for the scorer as he tried to keep up with the increased punishment being dished out to the quite village Village bowling. Oh how Robert wished he could toss the gloves to someone else so that he could have a chance. He licked his lips with relish at the prospect, but knew there was no one else in the side he entrusted with the role of gloveman more than himself, and so 15 yards back from the stumps was where he remained.
And then something remarkable happened. With 25 runs needed off 4 or 5 overs (Robert had lost count by this point) and with 5 wickets in hand, the game looked all but over. But the two most dangerous bowlers in the Village side conspired to turn the game on a sixpence and snatch victory from the jaws of certain defeat. Robert had noted the Chairman’s sideline in mid-game betting with parental disdain, but he chose to ignore it because the child-like Chairman amused him, much like a farm cat might find amusement in swatting a dormouse back and forth with his paws for a while before getting bored and biting its head off. Meier wasn’t offering very positive odds on an IVCC win at this stage.
Smith’s windmill bowling action and generous physique helps generate some searing pace not often seen in village cricket, and no matter the line, it’s this pace which will always cause batsmen problems at this level. And so Bill continued his tradition of only ever taking wickets in the tail by finding his range and bowling their no. 7 for 1, their n. 8 for 6 and their no. 9 for a first-baller to leave Demijohns’ batting lineup more devastated than the time Keaton Jennings got to 48 and thought he’d rescued his career on the fourth morning of the third Test against South Africa.
Bibb, never one to miss out on a party, whether at the wicket or in someone’s pants, soon got in on the action. With just one ball left of the penultimate over, bowled by Smith, and with the mighty Adams ready to deliver his lusty blows at the other end, the eager-to-get-off-the-mark no. 10 took an egregious single and with it the strike. What a plonker, Daylight said to himself and smiled ruefully. He nodded to Bibb as he took up the ball for the final set of six of the day. There was flight, there was line, there was guile, and there was turn. And there was a wicket, the no. 10 clean bowled. At least he didn’t get out for a duck, Robert supposed. Adams was clearly smarting up the end, his chance of securing victory for his side resting solely on the no. 11’s ability to steal a quick single. A dot ball played out – Robert deftly taking the ball just outside the line of off. Bibb’s third ball, the match-winner, was his usual speciality. Entire sonnets have been written about his bowling in these very match reports. I don’t need to draw you a picture this time as it’s painfully clear that Bibb absolutely car-parked him and won the game for the Villagers. Robert sprang down the wicket with Michael Flatley-esque nimbleness to congratulate Dan and the rest of the Village People. There’s no feeling sweeter than the succulent taste of victory.
The mood in the home dressing room was one of astonishment mixed with disbelief, and not just at the sight of the generously-proportioned Wookie as he made his way to the showers. A fantastic victory by 5 runs and one that will linger on longer than the smell in the changing rooms afterwards. Robert packed away his trusty kit, including his Abingdon Vale shirt that he insisted on wearing even to IVCC games. It had been a true team performance and Robert felt all warm and gooey as he recollected his own performance whilst tucking himself into bed that night. It hadn’t been vintage Berry by his own incredibly high standards, but he’d more than done his bit. As he placed his glasses gingerly on his nightstand and lay his head down on his pillow, his thoughts inevitably turned to the minor celebrity once again. He hoped that his recurring nightmare wouldn’t happen tonight, but he knew deep down it would. He smiled to himself though, for he knew that next week he could finally lay any demons to rest as Rob ‘Daylight’ Berry vs. Mark ‘effing’ Pougatch round 2 would commence on the battlefields of Horley the following weekend.
Ali Meier IVCC Chairman 11 August 2017