Three Songs for Summer
In the corresponding fixture last year rain had fallen heavily overnight and the wicket was soft and wet. MSCC had batted first and declared, narrowly failing to bowl out the Bushmen. This season the wicket was bone-dry, MSCC batted first and declared and bowled out a depleted Bushmen XI with ample time to spare.
The Bushmen had travelled far, some by car and some by train. Some had been summoned at short notice and some were playing despite injury. It proves that going to the gym is a dangerous activity for a gentleman of a certain age. A delayed start, following a delayed train gave time for that rare activity, a MSCC fielding practice. At least 8 of the home team were involved in what can only be described as warming up.
Last season Mark Ford-Langstaff, still at the time waiting to achieve his personal half-century, had limped off lame with half an hour of the game remaining, this season he nearly didn’t make the start of the game following a step into a rabbit hole while clearing grass cuttings. The delayed start allowed time for rest, recovery and recuperation, and time to reflect that this season he had just passed 50…. Happy Birthday Mark.
The Bushmen can claim one of the most venerable players to still be donning whites, and others who can give your veteran correspondent a start of half a decade or more. Fast bowling and impish fielding were to be unlikely, scampered singles a distant memory. In contrast MSCC had one of their younger teams, aided by the addition of Sathya’s locum, a like for like replacement, young, slim, agile, eager and South African. “Zippy” Stoop had played at Middleton Park for Bicester and North Oxford in the season opener and would now represent the home team.
With all players assembled play commenced, Mark F- L and John Springer batting first. Achillini took the new ball from the farm end. John dispatched the ball to the groundsman’s shed for the first boundary of the day. Evans from the Church End, one of Bushmen’s younger trio, struggled to find length or line, Mark waited patiently for a ball he could hit and was soon away with a boundary of his own. In the third over John attempted a drive over mid off and was well caught by Whyte, a second of the younger trio. Max Nalborczyk batted at three and was soon helping Mark to keep the scoreboard moving forward. Having reached 20 Max struck out properly for the first time, driving hard at a delivery from Owens. The ball struck the middle, the sound rang out, the bowler stuck out a left arm and miraculously clutched the ball. Dumbfounded Nalboryczyk departed.
Tim House joined Mark and there was no slowing of the scoring rate. A twelfth man was recruited for the Bushmen, he took to the field in red shirt and loose trousers. The loose trousers were to be a hindrance, braces would have been a help. As the waiting batters enjoyed the afternoon sunshine and more of the endless supply of Simpson anecdotes, melodious tones were heard drifting from the Pavilion. Was it true that Rick Astley had come to Middleton?
“Never going to run around” could apply to several of the players“ We know the game and we’re gonna play it” was apt. Alas the Mancunian minstrel was not watching, it was Asif’s son giving Seril a full demonstration, dancing included, of his version of the song.
In the middle, far from the entertainment, Mark and Tim were making hay. The only danger would be the unexpected straight delivery. This duly came Mark’s way as he was bowled for 47. Harry Way jumped from his seat joining House in dissecting the Bushmen attack. House opened his shoulders and deposited two straight sixes into the long grass, Way latched onto the short ball. In no time the Captain was calling the batsmen in, just as House passed his half century.
The Springer family provided the refreshments for tea. Umpire, Richard Lumb on seeing the spread, added five minutes onto the tea interval for seconds and thirds. The cakes were delicious, many thanks to the Springers.
The Bushmen were unlikely to make inroads into the Middleton total. At 7 - 3 after five overs the game was over as a contest. Asif Kamal had picked up a wicket with the fourth ball of his first over and with his second ball of his second over, both clean bowled. Seril Shah picked up the third. That was the end of the young triumverate and it was left to the senior rearguard to try to bat out time. Achillini was the only player to provide real resistance. He hung around for nearly 30 overs keeping all bowlers at bay. Zippy bowled four overs of classy leg spin. Harry Way also bowled. The fielders crowded around the bat, only Asif was left in the outfield chasing the occasional aggressive stroke. Jamie Lumb picked up the first of two stumpings to help Tim Riley toward three wickets in three overs, Mike Simpson bowled Bajaj for duck and did not complain even a little bit when a catch was spilled from his bowling. The game concluded with Max bowling Popperwell with a fine inswinging delivery.
The teams retired toward the bar and barbecue. Andrew Hickman had kept spectators well lubricated as the game headed towards its conclusion, Seril Shah continued to lubricate as the Bushmen enjoyed the hospitality in the sun. Tim House ensured the barbecue was cooked to professional standards and supplied cucumber relish which had the bon viveurs purring.
The recent half centurion was serenaded with a chorus of Happy Birthday by the massed ranks, while it was noted that he should have made a half century of his own with the bat. Cake was distributed to all.
As the sun began to set and only the diehards remained a third song of the day was struck up by Simpson and Lamb*, it was something about “she was only a cousin” , at this point your correspondent made his excuses and left!
*Simpson and Lamb recordings are available at all good stockists.