“Summer afternoon” – wrote Henry James – “to me, those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.” And it was a shimmering heat haze greeting those headed south this past Sunday, this glorious spell supplying another day ideal for smooth ale, village cricket and sunburn.
Nestled in the Surrey Hills south of Guildford, Blackheath is a timeless example of the sleepy English village on the road to somewhere else, which – until the area was beset by panting sales executives with carbon-forked road bikes – could have happily hosted a grizzly Midsomer Murder. A strong playing community, the ground is a delight to encounter off the beaten track, nestled in heathland, encased in oak. An excellent clubhouse, with Hogsback TEA in the bar and a prominent television, offered an impromptu “Fan-zone” for soccer enthusiasts.
In his call to arms, Skip POB evidently decided he wanted a sighter of three debutants and had – alarmingly – called for a net before play. This had the startling effect of producing a strong and early arrival, with some showing up more than an hour before play, even Runky a generous 20 minutes before 2pm.
Taters nonetheless still managed to be 30 minutes late, arriving with the fair Jane and a lavish and artfully constructed excuse. Colin, with a 6am finish on his belt, was physically present but notably absent as we took the field at 2:15.
A coinless toss negotiated, the Peckers were field-bound. MD of the Sports-Sphere James “Roger” Harper, his colleague Nick “Melon” Hopcroft, and Chris “Spinach” Wilton had all been co-opted into a debut for the Peckers. Melon is a top 10 in the world Rackets player and had impressed with bat and ball in the nets, and (formerly a hockey goalie of repute) a hesitant Roger was persuaded to take the gloves. Hopcroft was thrown the new nut and bowled like a top 10 rackets player for several fruitless overs, in combination with Horse, whose rich variety of deliveries kept everyone guessing.
Hopcroft was thrown the new nut and bowled like a top 10 rackets player for several fruitless overs, in combination with Horse, whose rich variety of deliveries kept everyone guessing.The youngsters of Blackheath were fearless, smashing the generous number of bad balls across the fast running outfield. Horse managed to bowl their pinch hitter with his surprise straight one and a couple of catches added to his tally. Spinach entered the fray with a slingy bowling action reminiscent of Lasith Malinga - had the Sri Lankan been a bushy blond Chartered Surveyor – and kept the hard-working Roger up to his task behind the stumps. Bereft of inners, Roger was suffering a severe case of Hurty Finger Syndrome, and after 18 overs surrendered the gloves to a reluctant Colin, still seeing in triplicate, for whom keeping wicket was a bruising experience, particularly standing up.
On a hard and bouncy outfield, it would be fair to say that the Peckers’ fielding was moderate… if we are being generous. Blackheath, for all its beauty, is an unforgiving mistress to the fielding gentleman, and – like any good mistress – has a number of humps, bumps, and slopes to navigate. That said, the number of dropped catches. missed stops and wayward throws told of a side unused to applying the basic principles of fielding, preferring those of the Muay Thai gracefully demonstrated by Cannon. Certainly ducks, kicks and punches were more common than long barriers and soft hands. I managed to headbutt one to extra cover going for a catch
The bowlers toiled in the hot weather and wickets fell only with hard work. Runky and SP both bowled well for no reward, the Baaron’s guile and flight wonderful as ever, and SP unlucky with an LBW shout turned down by Horse’s sire, which left him short on gruntle and long on chunter. Taters’ artful pause in the delivery stride won him many admirers, though it was hard to imagine it wasn’t more for effect for his watching belle. He snaffled a wicket to spare Colleen’s blushes, who wore more than he caught behind the sticks.
Several bats made good starts, particularly McMullan, who struck the ball fiercely and confidently with traditional Aussie technique. He finally fell LBW to Melon for 70, who celebrated with an impromptu Gala. This dangerous player out of the way, Blackheath lost their momentum towards tea. They lost the tidy and technical Harrison for 49 to a real Honeydew soon after and their next man soon hoisted a full tossed Spinach high to midwicket where the camp bellow of “HORS-EEES” prefaced a safe pouch by the equine, grazing in the meadow. The old beast cantered across and it nestled in his girth, much to the delight of the watching Gowar stable.
And, with this, the Blackheath innings fizzled, leaving them 255-7, bizarrely the same score and chase that Withyham had set us just seven days previously. That had ended in a tense final over finale. To Tea. Delicious it was with Hot sausage rolls and coronation chicken sanis the highlight...oh and Spain going out on penalties
“A gun is no more dangerous than a cricket bat in the hands of a madman”, Prince Philip once said, and those words must have echoed in the minds of Blackheath at the sight of Ade Potter manfully striding towards the crease for a brief stay in an opening role. Surprisingly, he was partnered by Tris Sheehan, a wonderful batsman and Pecker of lore. It was mainly surprising as he had been nothing to do with the first innings of the match but somehow Skip had negotiated a change of personnel.
Tris scored quickly and dramatically for 18, before making way to Taters and Colleen who took the match to Blackheath. It was powerful stuff from this combination, and one would imagine the young bowlers of Blackheath will have nightmares about the combination of speed and ferocity with which these two went about their business; Colleen wide-eyed and staring, Taters oozing class and bravado for the watching J They would add 93 for the 3rd wicket before Colleen’s dismissal to a full bunger for an enigmatic 59.
Momentum has become a sporting cliché in modern times but Colleen’s wicket, a brief…. purposeful display from Cannon, and Taters’ lovelorn capitulation (also 59) brought what looked like a rapid-fire victory chase to an emergency stop. Roger and Melon found themselves at the crease, and with a combined 15 years absence from the middle, resembled archaeologists painstakingly trying to identify the middle of the bat.
Overs ticked by, time slowed. They scratched around. They pilfered a single. An edge for four. A chance. Four Byes. POB became more vocal. The scoreboard showing 255, modest for so long, began to take on a more ominous presence.
Bit by bit, they began to find their feet, and fluency began to re-assert itself in these two fine sportsmen in a glacial partnership of 73. There was plenty of time for Melon’s annual performance review in the middle. Blackheath helped the cause, with some mis-fields and the fast boundary offering a healthy contribution in Extras. With 30 required and 5 in hand, the match seemed settled.
Now a Blackheath breakthrough, Harper clean bowled. They sensed their chance. The excellent McMullen quickly took a marvellous C&B to dismiss Hopcroft. From nowhere the Peckers were 7 down and 20 short. A limping SP and POB were at the crease, trying to eek out a 4th consecutive win. They nudged and nurdled to within a hairs breath of victory until a swing and a feather edge from POB (trigger finger from Cannon, irked by his batting position) brought Horse to the non-striker end. SP was man enough to see off a few hair-raising balls and carefully waited for the bad ball. He was inspired by his 'olds' Horse and Caps arrived from New Zealand for a two month stay of following their favourite cricket team
The Peckers would win this one in a late finish, against the fine young men of Blackheath, a real treat of a fixture in the calendar. As ever, an enormous thanks to our gracious hosts for their hospitality, a good game, excellent tea and excellent TEA - a delicious taster of a glorious slice of English country life.
Glorious report horse, and incredibly the second match in a row that the Peckers have chased exactly 255-7, the joint 3rd highest run chase in Pecker history to make it 4 wins in a row-Great effort lads, particularly the same equine for his 3 wickets and Taters, Collleeen, Roger and Melon for their splendid knocks
Jane had appeared in the Teddington report last year ...with references to Taters giving advice on which university she might attend on account of receiving her A-levels results only that Friday...and other glorious innuendo which i won't repeat
We now got to meet the lovely Jane, now a fully fledged 'Tater' so it seemed appropriate to find a nickname -Pa Taters is known as Spud and Ma T as Mavis(Piper). On googling young potatoes I came across this...
Italians do the same—as I learned years ago when I saw a young man passionately embrace una bella ragazza (a pretty girl) whom he called “la mia patatina.”
“Did he just call her his little potato?” I asked. A Facebook friend has since explained why: La patata cotta bene diventa morbida e gustosa (The potato, cooked well, becomes soft and tasty). So It's Patatina ...or possibly Tina for short