By Graham and Bertie - Pob in Italics
Part 1 -Graham
It was during a familiar 3-set defeat at the hands of my wife, back on a sunny Saturday in May at Henley Tennis Club, and, more specifically, during yet another timely, interesting phone call that Emma had decided to take from one of her sisters, that a strange man on an adjacent court noticed me casually bowling some wibbly-wobblies against the net. The man had been the subject of my close attention, not to say suspicion, prior to this because Emma had earlier muttered to me something about recently sharing an “enjoyable sauna”, along with her mother, with one of the guys playing highly charged singles next to us.
“Excuse me, do you play cricket?” the strange man asked.
“No. Well, not for 14 years. Even then I was crap.”
Recalling the sauna incident, I was slightly hesitant about the strange man’s intentions but it latterly emerged from Emma it was actually his opponent who’d had the pleasure of that encounter. The strange man’s name was Cuddy, who turned out to be a very nice man and not at all strange, and so began my Woodpeckers adventure. To ease my insecurity I asked along an unusual chap I’d known for 18 years, Bertie.
Prior commitments conspired to make Tadworth only the 2nd fixture we were available for this season but the warm welcome we received on our rusty first outing at Marlow and the quantity and quality of email communication flying around made us feel part of something very nice indeed. This is despite the fact, in the pseudonym-ridden world of the Peckers, it’s impossible to figure out who anyone actually is, although I suspect this is quite intentional. Questions abound for us to ponder late at night this Winter by the ashes on the fire and on TV: Are E-Motty, Botty, Motty and Momotty all the same person? Might we have even batted with one of them at some point? How to distinguish between all the men of medium height with greying hair who loudly and repeatedly moan about being bossed around in the field by our captain? Who are the mysterious characters prefixed by a “Oh… wait til you meet” Big Merv, Horse or the Baron von Runkel? Who is Davide and whose cousin is he? Simon’s? And how does a Frenchman write so prosaically on limited overs versus declaration cricket? Has a longer email been written by anyone, ever? Might he not be French?
Further questions presented themselves in lieu of the depressing weather forecast as both sides arrived in drips (literally) and drabs in the pavilion around 1pm. A quick 20:20 before tea then same again after if the rain holds off? Settle it on the ping pong table? A 30 overs aside format was agreed upon and Tadworth were going to bat first. Lanno and I were playing darts and being told what triple 17 equalled by 8 year old Charlie, who I think is a “Puglet” or “Chuglet” or something similar, so I’m afraid I don’t know who won the toss. Lanno and Charlie were welcome late additions to our side that had, 7 days earlier, numbered 11, then had mysteriously dropped to 9 around midweek before being restored to a full compliment. Lanno is an Aussie off spinner living in Essex, a friend of mine, who came with a reasonable reputation having bowled A.N. Cook in a club match in 2014 and one which was heightened by his dressing room announcement that he’d taken a match winning six-for in an Essex Premier League match the day before. As we took the field around 1.30pm we only numbered 10, Bertie embodying the triple whammy of absent, uncontactable and whose last communication had been an out-of-the-blue 3.11am What’s App video of Phil Mickelson holing an iron shot from the rough in 2009. As the Bald, Fearsome and Gigantic Tadworth openers (BFGs) strode to the middle, POB noticed a dishevelled figure slowly emerging from the dense woodland at the far end of the ground, decked in jeans and t-shirt. It was indeed our missing man and without any show of urgency whatsoever, Bertie made it to the pavilion, changed and took the field. In the shelter of the bar a smattering of supporters representing a variety of ages, genders and ethnicities had bravely assembled – presumably affiliated in some way to our team or Tadworth’s but I don’t want to cause offence by attempting guesses at relationships, let alone nicknames. They all seemed lovely.
Part 2 -Bertie
Thanks for the lengthy introduction Graham, has anyone ever written a more roundabout opening gambit? Probably not, but I rather enjoyed it.
So, taking to the field, forever a joy, as joyous as ever it was... As one may have guessed by now, it was a typical English autumn day. Any semblance of the ok weather we had received in smatterings were now long forgotten.. Never has a team started with such lacklustre. After Pugs last performance, taking a five-for, a new bowler had decided to emerge for this week.. A rare off day for Pug I am sure.. After around 4 overs, we found ourselves staring down the barrel, around 38/0. Tiddles was also wicketless and apparently hasn't snaffled one this year, perhaps affected by the Pecker of the Year Curse. Then on came SP with his first and penultimate over. A series of looseners saw him dispatched over square leg for 6 on ball one. Having only seen him bowl once before, this was a disappointing opening over, and Pob ruthlessly removed him from duties after his first over. Visibly frustrated, he didn't bowl again until over 29, when Tadworth were well on their way to a heady 189/6 of their 30 overs. In between all of this, there was an inevitable break for rain, some dropped catches, Pob x2, Graham x2, various other culprits x a few, the odd missed run out chance, and the constant shuffling of the field to accommodate their 8ft6 opening batsman, who made 94...Our shuffling back and forth between boundary and saving the one, were in vain, as he effortlessly dispatched all our bowlers, apart from Bertie and Liam (admittedly Bertie never did have to bowl at him…) for six… With his custom made bit of willow… Pug was even able to have a conversation with the resident BFG while half the team wandered off into the woods to find yet another ball that was almost always in danger of being lost. Lanno took the first wicket after an opening stand of around 80, with BFG no2 Guiding him helplessly to Cuddy grateful mits at gully.
Amongst this running amok, there were some good moments, a fantastic run out eventually fashioned Mr Big Man's fall, as he foolishly took on Bertie for a second run, “laser arm” duly obliged, throwing his usual bullets to our new resident magician (known for making the girls disappear, not for this bowling prowess), who took out the stumps. Afterwards, Liam did tell us all that it was blatantly not out, but the umpiring gods (Jim Baker) were on our side for that one moment…
Conditions were hard, the ball was a bar of soap, Pob had hurt his hand, no one was firing on all cylinders, the outfield resembled a village football ground, there were barely any appeals, pob self banishing himself to the deep square leg boundary spending the afternoon retrieving various balls, and the weather was always going to bring things to an end… even our new aussie recruit who has once dismissed the test rock A.Cook could only manage a long hop first ball which was swatted away for four. To their credit, Lanno and Cuddy did bowl some charming little overs and ended on figures of 43/1 and 30/0 respectively off their full quota of 6 each. Dickie bowled some good stuff taking 2 wickets. Bertie also bowled economically with a bar of soap, conceding 15 off his three overs and taking one wicket. Other highlights were a brilliant performance in the field by young Charlie, and a damn good over himself, not taking after his father on this particular day. Good lad! Oh, SP returns for his second over of beamers, long hops and wides, emphatically blames POB.. “What do you expect when I’m not given the chance to get into my rhythm in my first spell”, to be fair to SP, he was essentially bowling with a dung ball, as the first smattering of rain never really gave way. He was desperately trying to impress parents Horse and Cappy with a wicket before they boarded a plane back to NZ that night
So in we trudged for tea, where we were greeted with the highlight of the day, a wonderful spread. The usual smorgasbord of sandwiches was accompanied by warm quiches, sausage rolls, chocolate eclairs, and some FANTASTIC home made cakes, including a wonderful Gin and Tonic cake! Yep, me neither.. Well done to those fine culinary hands over at Tadworth.
By now the rain was a steady drizzle, and off went Graham and Cuddy to give this total a crack… Very quickly, we needed 10 an over, having started the innings needing just over 6s. After some very “annoying line” as cudds described their opening bowler, a Surrey U21 ladies player, he eventually succumbed by playing “another premeditated shot”, to their other opening bowler for 29 including 3 6s. It was down to SP and Graham to chase down the total, with Cuddy and Tiddles looking after the scoreboard, as the rest of the peckers took up their comfortable spots at the bar with the other cake, carrot and something or other, which was also fantastic.
A couple of inflamed locals started to vent their frustrations on the boundary “never seen anything like it”, “this is getting ridiculous “ this is absurd”, you get the idea… we had been playing in ridiculous conditions for over an hour, it was genuinely raining and the players carried on Regardless. No doubt Pug (standing in as umpire) was busy waiting for us to be on the right side of Duckworth Lewis, which never looked like coming, and all of a sudden proceedings were called off, hands were shaken, and we got that rarest of results, a draw. Graham hit a well constructed 37, with a very useful strike rate of around 16, just the sort of attacking innings that was needed chasing now around 12 an over. But With that, a lovely pint and a quick bit of reminiscing, and the regular season was over.
It was a wonderful two days of experience, despite the rain, I will never forget the conditions we were playing in, watching Cuddy score under an umbrella, unable to even open the book, ink running down the pages, . It's just not cricket, without a bit of the ridiculous is it. Until next year, my dear old things!
Tadworth 189-6 drew with Woodpeckers 89-1 (match abandoned)