Monday, August 09, 2010

Strolling to victory

To the list of great cricket victories that includes Headingley '81, Calcutta '01 and Edgbaston '05 can now be added Audley End '10 after my charity side, the Kirby Strollers, beat the Gold Bats yesterday in our annual country house match at the fourth time of asking.

It was not without adventure, though. Every captain's ideal scenario is to still have 11 fit men on the morning of a game and that is what I had when I woke. But at 10am one team member cried off sick and another had a row with his girlfriend on the way to the game and was dumped on the hard shoulder, never to arrive. Fortunately, we picked up one local player at the ground, so were only one short.

Not quite a fit team, though. Two were limping with knee injuries before the game began and a third managed to break (or at least severely bruise) the little finger on his bowling hand while warming up. But what joy would there be in amateur cricket if everyone was in peak condition?

The Strollers were founded four years ago when a friend asked me to come up with a way of raising money for the Kids' Company charity. A cricket game seemed a fine idea and I asked the Gold Bats, who are the cricket team of the PG Wodehouse Society, if they fancied being the opposition.

Naturally, we only wanted to play in the best location and so we were delighted that Audley End, an English Heritage stately home, agreed to let us play there. As well as providing a beautiful backdrop, there is a moat for batsmen to aim at. The first game was a thriller that the Gold Bats won only when they dismissed our last man with the very final ball and several hundred pounds were raised for charity from the donations of players and spectators. It has fast became part of the summer.

And yet, try as hard as we could, my team were unable to force a win in the first three years, despite the Gold Bats being of, let us say, a more experienced vintage than the thirtysomethings who made up my team. One of my batsmen was run out two years ago by two fielders with a combined age of 142.

The eyesight may fade and the knees may creak, but there is no substitute for cricketing nous and the Gold Bats have some dogged batsmen - as we discovered when we had them 80 for eight last year but could not take the last two wickets to win the timed match - and some very canny bowlers.

Still, the youngsters finally got a notch next to our name in yesterday's game to make the series 2-1 with one draw. Chasing 170 to win in two hours, we got home with just under ten minutes  and three wickets in hand. I was 12 not out at the close, biffing and running with very little talent or beauty, but the task had been made much easier by having a strong top order with four batsmen retiring when they got to 25 (a key local rule to ensure everyone has a game).

Well done Phil, Nigel, Lee and Gareth for making the bulk of our runs and thanks to everyone on both sides for a) turning up, b) being semi-fit and c) ensuring that the game was played in excellent spirits and with £400 raised for Trinity Hospice and the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society.

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