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Southstoke Vs Venturers, Wednesday May 3rd

Southstoke 85-8, Venturers 86-1

In 1958, Gerard Hoffnung spoke at the Oxford Union and delivered, with timing that David Gower would have envied, the famous monologue known as “The Bricklayer’s Lament”. (

In today’s match, the part of the bricklayer was played by the innocent and kindly gentleman who had come along with the Southstoke team to act as umpire. The part of the barrel of bricks was played by Sunil.

Sunil had produced a couple of elegant drives before this point, but the shot that started the chain of events was more of an IPL slosh at a slightly short, straight ball delivered by a left-arm seamer from over the wicket. It was technically a caught-and-bowled chance, but the bowler, falling away to leg in his follow-through, got nowhere near it. The umpire, on the other hand, was right in the way and the ball arrived, at some pace, at, um, just below waist height.

He toppled over. No bending at the knees, no doubling over: no sound even. Just an elegant sweep like the hand of a clock from upright to supine. Gregory, at square leg, signalled “Dead Ball”, which is the right thing to do when an umpire is injured but was perhaps a bit literal in this case. The umpire lay on the ground, surrounded by concerned but amused players. Gradually it became clear that no actual damage was done, and it was permissible to laugh. After a while the umpire even laughed himself, and at once wished he hadn’t. Water was brought, and after a few minutes play resumed. The umpire considered himself fit to continue. His counters had gone flying and Gregory had dropped his into his pocket in order to suspend play, so Jamie called out the classic line:

“How many balls left?”

It took a while to get the scorers to understand that we actually wanted to know.

The rest of the over passed uneventfully, Sunil taking a single off the last ball. At the end of it, though, the umpire decided that he needed to go off. Chris came out to replace him, and he walked slowly towards the pavilion and was helped up the steps.

He had reached the fifth step when the next ball arrived. It was a full toss, and Sunil connected well with it. It struck the umpire on the right leg, on the full. He staggered but did not fall, and was hustled to relative safety inside until the over ended. Then he was escorted away to a car, parked at the top of the bank that flanks that side of the ground. Inevitably, he fell off the bank.

A minute later, as he staggered towards the car, Sunil launched another pull, the ball flying to the midwicket boundary amid shouts of “Sunil! He’s that way! Behind you!”. A minute later, he had been driven out of range and we went back to cricket.

In fact there wasn’t much more cricket left by then, which was as well as it was already quite dark and soon began to rain. Sunil scooped a ball into unreachable space between the bowler and cover (no mid-off) but there were no other alarms. We were chasing only 86 and were one down. After we had lost the toss and fielded, Imran started with a wide, but was thereafter very accurate and impossible to get away. Jamie was a little more wayward but slightly quicker and they couldn’t get him away either. Between them they conceded only a single boundary, which was an edge that went at catchable height through slip. There wasn’t one, but he presumably wouldn’t have caught it anyway. We didn’t, generally. Gregory got both hands to a gully catch off Jamie; Bruce got one hand to one at mid-off of Gregory; Joel got both hands and one knee to one at mid-wicket off Chris. All three went down. They were all not quite straightforward but not really difficult either. Simon’s approach to stumpings was to fall onto the stumps with outstretched arms, in the manner of a polar bear diving off an ice floe, but he never had the ball. Neither do the polar bears, of course, but it isn’t so important to them.

Despite this, we came close to bowling them out. Jamie, who started with a wide, eventually hit the stumps; Chris began with a wide, but his slow dobbers accounted for three, all also bowled. Gregory, after starting with a wide, went in for quite unnecessary variation, and got a wicket when he tried a slow dobber as one of his variations. The second boundary arrived only in Chris’s last over, the sixteenth, despite the very short boundary on the pavilion side: a couple more followed.

After an uneventful over from Sunil, Steve started up with his own slow dobbers, beginning correctly with a wide (and the umpires were generous to us about wides), and his third ball passed the batsman at waist height, pitching near to the popping crease before bowling him. For this he was wrongly no-balled: the ball would have been nowhere near waist high had the batsman been standing upright at the crease, as the laws specify. Two balls and two fours later he produced a higher full toss, which was pulled into Imran’s hands. He did catch it, and Steve probably should have been no-balled this time, but wasn’t.

In Sunil’s last over the umpire, perhaps already nervous of him, gave an LBW that may have been a little on the high side, and Steve finished off with an accurate final over, beating the batsman with the last ball and was politely collecting his hat from the (other) umpire when Simon’s throw rolled past him, followed some seconds later by the batsman, stealing a bye that he should not have made two-thirds of.

Ian opened our innings, got three from his first ball and, as soon as he was back at the striker’s end, aimed over the pavilion. He missed, and was bowled by a full toss that struck off stump about half-way up. Clearly confused by Steve’s bowling, he stood there asking “how is that not a no-ball?” until Gregory firmly gave him out, telling him “because it passed you at about knee height”. Despite this setback, the dark and the sometimes low bounce, we made rapid progress: Jamie cleared the pavilion once. The dark made it difficult for the fieldsman at least as much as the bowlers, and when you have a batsman hitting the ball like a barrel of bricks…

Cricket bat and ball