24.8.2003 Duncombe Park

My “Shorter Oxford” defines passion as strong enthusiasm, a characteristic apparently in abundance prior to “The Casuals” tour match to Helmsley last weekend. That is to say that Marcus, the game’s skipper, during the week before the game, had received at least twenty phone calls from individuals tendering their availability.  All cricket clubs, and rugby clubs come to that, have their tours; eccentric celebrations of sport beyond the familiar middens of, in our case, West Yorkshire and North Derbyshire.  The main outcome from travelling and playing in exotic landscapes is the accidental and unforseen bonding that takes place between the participants.  Some would say this results from the natural development of warmth and empathy for one’s fellow man.  Others, of a less generous disposition, might cite the copious sampling of local ale as the lubricant responsible for the deepening of hithertoo somewhat tenous friendships.

“The Casuals” tour contains some but not all of these elements.  For example, not everyone tours.  Attendance on the day of play is permitted.  In addition, those who do tour sleep at various locations rather than in a single hotel.  No late night revelry and compulsory four o’clock I.T. Botham curfew here.  Finally the ladies are invited, welcome shepherdesses tending their flocks of itinerant sheep.  “The Casuals” tour is civilised, but no less enjoyable for that.

One can only begin to imagine what was happening behind the scenes at that other little tour which, by the Helmsley weekend, was visiting Headingley.  On stage, passion is there for all to see.  The visitors display a collective fervour.  When some perform less well, others step into the breach, so the whole pulls together in adversity.  So it is with “The Casuals”.  Last Sunday at 2:00 pm, Marcus, despite the aforesaid potential wealth of talent, had meagre resources on which to draw – 9 of the usual suspects, all good men and true.  Up stepped Greg, nobly forgoing his lunch time dose in “The Feathers” and about to do more than simply fill the breach.  Sadly, Marc, Greg’s compatriot and worthy recruit, was hors de combat.

A late start, ten a side and a beautiful day.  We could have had eleven, had Walker junior not chosen to wallow in the shallow delights of fairground rides with his lithe young female companion.  When these facts entered the public domain, several grumpy middle-aged men could only let their lower jaws drop in wonder at the barefaced effrontery of eschewing opportunities to luxuriate in the summer game.

Helmsley’s first team was away at a cup match, leaving their Sunday side understrength for the second year running. It is a real problem this time of year for friendly cricket. Their subsequent fielding of five helmets was frowned upon by a number of “The Casuals” older committee members.  Those same members also took a dim view of Walker senior’s new acquisition of a designer cricket shirt, fondly purchased by his childbride.  Mutterings about the wisdom of buying  anything new as one gets older were heard.  The doves made kind reference to one’s ability to read the instructions.  The hawks’ moustaches bristled however.  New kit, especially toward the end of a dying season, was a flagrant, unwarranted and futile attempt to influence the following year’s team selection.  This intimidation would have to be seriously discussed during the long fallow winter months.

One further event which took place prior to taking the field needs to be mentioned.  That is to say Bill proudly drew my attention to his most recent and expensive concertina, and to other work in progress.  It is indeed a pleasure to bear witness to such passion as this, much as I have done with those inland mariners who choose to share their lives with a deisel engine.

Hemsley batted first.  Whilst one might have been wide of the mark if one had suggested that their opener was born within hearing distance of “Bow Bells”, his accent betrayed his origins to be well below Watford.  Sadly, like many a missionary, he alone got into the line of the ball, playing and missing once or twice to all of our quicks but otherwise untroubled.  The limping bespectacled veteran umpire, in past years their captain to whom one could push an easy single, has, in the mean time, become selectively deaf.  One caught behind would have exceeded the snickometer scale had it been in operation, as those on the front at Scarborough who heard the contact twixt willow and leather gratefully pouched by Will, could have attested.

The doughty lad who had chosen to settle in the frozen northern forests was accompanied, all too briefly, by a succession of his colleagues, including their new captain, a chirpy and lively cove who delighted in bowling to the unpadded at full speed in the nets.  “The Casuals” were thus soon into Helmsley’s helmet tail whereupon Marcus sensibly withdrew our opening attack and introduced the secret weapon, Greg.  He was treated with suspicion throughout his spell, as if delivering RPG’s in Iraq rather than beautifully flighted leggies.  And, towards the close of their innings, he floated down a peach which gently eased its way under the frontiersman’s bat and reminded us all how sublime cleaned bowled can be.    The only other noteworthy occurrence was Umbers’s catch at first slip, or rather he was unlucky or it was difficult chance or some such alternative way of describing how he dropped it.  Reassuring to those of us who struggle just to see the ball.

Tea was taken as England were down five wickets and not a hope in hell.

Umbers and myself trundled out.  I took the first strike and stayed down the fast bowlers end, carefully tutored by Umbers, surviving one LBW shout that was probably out.  A big step forward was always going to be enough at this level, and snicks and glances were enough to see the quicks off and give a solid start.  Umbers played well within himself, genial as always and there was a thought that we would see the runs off for no wickets.  Not so when their helmets started and I ignored Umbers advice and slapped a full toss to short cover where their athletic captain took a good diving catch.  Followed by Jim and Marcus before their total was overhauled.  They were a half decent bowling side, but not with an inadequate total.

Hussain undoubtedly has it and S. Africa collectively have it.  Bill has it.

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