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Priston Vs Venturers, Sunday July 28th

Priston 193-5 declared, Venturers 150-6.

This is what English village cricket (also available in Wales, elsewhere not so much) is supposed to look like. A quiet lane past the pub and the church. The old vicarage, a cedar, the sly shade of a Rural Dean and so on. Gregory, reluctantly captaining, won the toss and reluctantly fielded, acceding to a firm request by all the batsmen.

Events showed that they were right, but it didn’t look like it at first. Farooq began from round the wicket. Gregory advised him against it. He took no notice, so Paul Wilson, who was playing his first match for us for a few years, advised him again more firmly. Farooq’s line thereupon improved, but he had leaked a few runs. Olly’s length also did not settle immediately. Still, they both bowled quite well on the whole and looked like getting wickets, but never did. Ian and Gregory (because Mike wanted the same end as Ian), had another go with very similar results. Drinks arrived after twenty overs and we had made absolutely no progress at all. We hadn’t bowled badly; we hadn’t dropped catches; they had batted well, but not exceptionally well; they hadn’t been lucky particularly. There were a couple of close-ish LBWs that were not given, but not the sort you would risk a review on, rather umpire’s call at best. One from Gregory bounced just over the stumps; one from Ian caught the edge but fell out of reach. The sort of thing that always happens. Until Mike came on and lost his length, no one gave much away. And yet somehow the partnership reached 150 before finally the slightly less aggressive of the batsmen drove Olly to mid-off. They crossed, there was a single at the end of the over, and it was quite a while before we got to bowl at the new batsman. He played a bewildered scoop at his first ball, from Bruce, and Josh took a good catch that was going away from him. Bruce bowled the other opener for 92; Olly hit off stump twice, the first time with a no-ball. There was an apparent run-out, but Olly disclaimed it as he had knocked the bails off before he had the ball. Shortly before the tea interval and the conventional declaration, the two batsmen collided and sank in mid-pitch, but this time Bruce declined to complete the run-out at all. Ian collected a skied return catch and the declaration left us 194 to get.

Priston teas are impressive. The conversation was largely about ferrets (the ground has a problem with rabbits, who are undeterred by the eagles and the pine marten that are known to inhabit the fields), about which Bruce revealed a surprising expertise. Ian G, who with Shaun had saved a lot of runs in the field, hit a competent boundary and then picked out cover. Charles played forward attackingly instead of back defensively and was bowled off the inside edge. Shaun hit across the line of one that left him, and we were 10 for 3 when Josh joined Farooq in the fourth over. Josh had announced that he did not intend to play a defensive shot ever again, but he blocked the rest of it. Farooq did the same at the other end. Josh hit one firmly to mid-off, all along the ground, felt his shoulder and resumed blocking. After a while both batsmen grew in confidence and went beyond mere blocking. Farooq started to play some nice shots. Josh started to leave the ball alone where possible. They rotated the strike with singles from Farooq and leg-byes from Josh. The score slowly improved, then more rapidly. The fifty partnership arrived: thirty-seven by Farooq and thirteen extras. Farooq brought up his own fifty, to quiet applause once we had noticed, off the last ball before the final twenty overs. An over later there was louder applause for Josh’s fiftieth ball, still without a run. He turned his fifty-ninth ball to square leg for a single. We needed a run a ball and had the wickets to get them: without Josh’s innings, we would have been lost.

When Farooq got out, that was still a danger. To come were Paul, sound but out of practice; Olly, unpredictable; Ian, steady; Gregory, Bruce and Mike, all fairly useless with the bat. Indeed, Paul soon followed. Josh invoked the names of Chandrapaul, Tavare and Boycott, and blocked more firmly than ever.

Olly pinged a ball elegantly into the hedge, whence it was inelegantly retrieved. A spectator took advantage of the pause to ride her bicycle up the field, accompanied by shouts of “Allez! Allez! Allez!”. Olly hit the ball back into the hedge. Then he did it again. Even Josh ran a three. As the overs ticked down the possibility appeared, far off at first, that we might even win. But soon after reaching fifty, Olly was slightly unluckily bowled, and we still needed 46 from five overs. To get there we would have needed Ian to start hitting straight away and Josh to alter the habits of what seemed like a lifetime, and if it went wrong there was nothing much to come. Ian defended, and Josh invoked Mudassar Nazar, every Test cricketer from the 1960s except West Indians and Colin Milburn, and Trevor Bailey. The field crowded round. Frantic debate at the pavilion led to a decision to send Gregory in next, as the most strokeless of the bowlers, but he was not needed. Ian stayed calm, and Josh, with a concluding prayer to the ghost of W.H. Scotton, triumphantly blocked his hundredth ball and walked off, nine not out, with the match saved.

Cricket bat and ball