Category Archives: short piece drafts

Summer of Cricket

Summer of Cricket

1. 21-25 July Lord’s L Irish Cruise

2. 4-8 Aug Edgbaston W Caldon Canal – Leek

3. 11-15 Aug Old Trafford D Hilton

4. 25-29 Aug Trent Bridge W Helmsley

5. 8-12 Sept Brit Oval D President’s Day

All the tremendouses, amazings and unbelievables have been said several times over by test players struggling to keep their grip on reality. We followed every minute from some out of the way places: luxury cruise liner sailing around Ireland, the heart of Staffordshire and N. Yorkshire. It was the spine that held the summer together. Tense stuff that could have boiled over into naked aggression but never did. McGrath and Warne’s farewell to test cricket. Mine too – grumpy and bad-tempered, more of a disgrace than my batting. I no longer wish to participate in something to which I can no longer contribute. Its no fun when there is not a shred of competence. As Sam Stier said, ‘You looked so uncomfortable’. Never a truer word and of no comfort. Go before you are pushed.

Lost the spring in the heel, the throwing arm and all coordination with bat in hand. It must be a sad and sorry sight. Last year the eyesight, this year the weight bearing. Time to make it official. Worse than Elvaston last year (first team bowler returning from injury came onto bowl at 20 overs just as I’m going in at number six).

When you’ve run out of skill, you need all the help you can get and don’t need your own umpire giving you out. When others clearly have a lot of skill you get a little pissed off when they throw their wickets away or have little enthusiasm for the task – on more than one occasion – everybody has an off day.

Shootout 4

Shoot-out at Lowerthong.

Two middle-aged men, dressed in check shirts, ten gallon hats and rough leather trousers, stood facing each other, twenty two yards apart.  One was tall and bald, the other squat and silver haired.  Neither was smiling.  Their right hands hovered over their six guns.

‘I’m going first.’

‘No, you’re not, you’re the bad guy.’

‘Who said?  The bad guy always goes first.’

‘You always get to go first, and you’re downwind.  Do you know we haven’t got the right kit?  These are Winchester sharp-shooters.  Strictly speaking, we should have Colt 45’s.  Its shocking.  Yesterday, I was nearly fobbed off with an eight gallon hat.  The standard of gun fighting is dropping every year.’

‘Aye, I know.  I’ve kept up my times though.  Still got the quickest  draw since Billy was a kid.  You remember Billy Iredale from the old days?  Fastest gun in the valley, ‘till I came along.’

‘Er, Dick, are you playing today?  Or shall we get one of them to keep wicket?’

‘Oh, sorry skip, miles away.’  Dick’s reverie of two aging gunslingers, slugging it out on a B cowboy movie set, too old and too proud to back down, gradually faded.

He turned his attention to Phil Cross, the opening bowler.  Even though he was in his fifties, Phil still used a long run up to the wicket.  The first ball zipped down the leg side for four before Dick could get a glove on it.

‘I’ll send you an appointment for the optician, Dick.’

‘Sorry, Phil.’

Bert Hammond bowled the second over off seven strides, several short of his prime.  Dick had to stand closer to the stumps, but he didn’t fare much better as the third ball kept low.

‘Have you got a bad back lad?’

‘Sorry, Bert.’

‘We don’t want extras to be their top score do we Dick?’

‘No Bert.’

Phil and Bert were proud men with above average careers behind them in the local leagues.  Their breath was short and their muscles ached and yet they still ran in as if every ball could take a wicket.

Umpires knew to pop a cotton wool bud in their left ear when Bert was on, just in case the ball hit the pad.  Phil’s manners were more muted, more a supplication to a higher being as the ball passed the outside edge yet again.

Phil and Bert saved their worst for each other.  Everyone misses difficult catches, but Phil had made it an art form.  Sure enough, the third ball of Bert’s second over was hoisted to long off and put down by Phil.  The Hammond roar was not far away,

‘Whatever are you doing Cross?  You dozy slaphead, you should’ve swallowed that.’

‘I’ve caught more catches than you’ve bowled straight balls.’

Phil only had to bide his time.  Next over and Bert let one through his legs.

‘Bend your back you idle sod, Hammond.  Spend less time admiring your Grecian 2000.’

‘Stop pitching half volleys outside off stump then.’

Dick’s eyes glazed over.  The insistent rhythm of The Magnificent Seven’s opening bars surged through his head.  They’re losing it he thought, but they can’t give in.

It was supposed to be a friendly game of Sunday cricket.  It had all the important ingredients:  a dry sunny day, a decent forecast, a picturesque cricket ground and an opposing side bristling with slow cowards.  The Wanderers had come over from Barnston, cricket’s bottomless pit.  Their skipper had won the toss and elected to bat.  Our skip would’ve fielded first anyway; neither Phil nor Bert could raise a gallop just after tea.

They could still take wickets.  Towards the end of his spell, Phil got a long hop to lift a touch.  The batsman dollied it to point off a top edge.

‘Well I never, did you see that?  If it’d been any shorter it’d’ve bounced behind him,’ sniped Bert, looking heavenwards in disbelief.

Not to be outdone, Bert bowled their star man soon after.

‘Someone had to get him.  He was blind,’ sighed Phil, hands on hips at short third man.

There are moments when, in a what can otherwise be a lonely game, the players meet for a chat.  Dick had noticed that these occasions mostly occurred at the tea interval and in the bar after the game.  However, the taking of a wicket was also a major bonding event and Phil and Bert thrived on them. Their team mates, those that weren’t deaf, were more than happy to idolise the pair.  Hopefully, a bit of praise mollified their outrage and diminished their insults.

At all other times, the only people to share the intimacy of Phil and Bert’s exchanges were Dick and the umpires.  The batsmen had their own problems, like seeing the ball.  As the umpires had heard it all before, Phil and Bert relied on Dick for support.

Phil’s last ball of his six overs was pulled toward the square leg boundary, sending Bert on a sixty yard dash.  Having returned the ball, Bert doubled over, coughing and wheezing like Doc Holiday.  Phil was the first to comment,

‘Get the twelfth man on, skip, he’s knackered.’

Bert slowly walked back to first slip.

‘I’m getting too old for this Dick.  I get palpitations.’

Only minutes earlier, Phil had held his back and Bert had been quick to console him,

‘Come in off your shorter run, in fact just come in, your time is up.’

Dick had tried to be more diplomatic,

‘OK, Phil?’

‘Aye, well no not really.  My back’s being playing up for a while.’

At the tea interval, sat round a table of sandwiches, buns and mugs of sweet hot grey fluid, Phil recalled the previous season’s game,

‘I got 5 for 32 against these last year.  We buried ‘em.  I took my two thousanth wicket that day.’

Some of the newer team members, like Dick, looked askance.

‘Well, I have been playing for forty seasons.’

‘And you’ve kept all your figures?’  Dick asked.

Bert intervened, ‘He always did, even when we were kids.  Bit of a statistics nerd.  You did bowl well though, I remember it now.  I missed out and I batted badly.  It was the pitch, suited your leg cutter.  Too soft on top for me, and the ball was out of shape.  In my day the balls were always hard and true.  Its shocking.  Standards are dropping everywhere you look . . . ’

The skipper clutched Dick’s shoulder, ‘Dick, get your pads on.  Nobody’s volunteered to open, so your’e coming in with me.’

‘Yes, skip.’

‘Phil six, Bert come in at five.’

‘Righto, skip.  Stroll round the boundary, Bert?  Don’t get out too soon will you Dick?  My back’s on fire.’

‘Quite a pair,’ said Dick as he walked to the dressing room with the skipper.

‘Who, Phil and Bert?  Terrors when they were younger.  Its great they still want to play.  The rest of the guys love them.’

‘They’re getting a bit past it.  How come they keep going?’

‘Why have you started playing again?’

Well it was a good question, since he wasn’t much of a cricketer.  He didn’t really know.  It had always been part of his life, wherever he was.

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He didn’t play in the two following games, what with family commitments.  Why Amy’s sister had to arrange a family BBQ on a Sunday afternoon was a mystery to Dick.  There were compensations though – he caught a re-run of ‘High Noon’ while everyone was getting ready.  For once he forgave the hour his daughter spent in the bathroom, and the delays that followed Amy’s insistence on doing fifteen jobs simultaneously – another of life’s mysteries.  Gary Cooper, aging and frail, but such courage.

The weekend following, whilst Dick and Amy were sat at the breakfast table,  a letter from Inverness arrived.   It was from his first wife.  In the early seventies,

their marriage had gone wrong in every way and they hadn’t been in touch since.

Dick went pale and handed the letter to Amy, which she read aloud.

“Dear Cain,

I have tried to get in touch for the last couple of years, but since our Glasgow days, you’ve moved around so much, I’ve only recently managed to trace you.  Its a long time ago now, and I should have told you sooner, but I was

pregnant when we split.  A boy, Frank.  I remarried and all was well.  I told Frank all about us and he never took it any further.  He died two years ago, leukaemia.  It was terrible.  Thing is, he had a son, Ben.  He’s a lovely lad, but a wanderer, a dreamer, not practical like his dad.  Frank told him everything and since he died, Ben’s wanted to meet his real grandad.  This will be a shock, but what do you think?  Frank’s wife was against it, but he’s a persistent kid, so she said it was OK to write.  Enclosed is a photo of Ben.  He’s just had his thirteenth birthday.

Regards

Jane”

‘Phew, this’s a stunner.’  Said Amy.  ‘Cain.  I haven’t heard that name in years.’

Cain was Dick’s first name, out of use and forgotten by almost everyone.

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Strange, the next time he turned out for cricket, the players were sat together in the dressing room.  Usually, they each arrived late or at the last minute, and changed alone.

‘What’s up lads?  Ambrose and Walsh playing for them then?’

‘We haven’t a full team, Dick.  You won’t’ve heard.  Phil and Bert aren’t so good.  They’re not playing.’

The skipper broke up the party.

’Come on lads, we’re fielding.  Dick, would you care to put the pads on? Nobody else wants to.’

‘Yes, skip.’

Dick took the field with Reg, a portly former officer and gentleman.

‘Are Phil and Bert alright, Reg?’

‘Well, we’re not sure.  Bert broke down with chest pain, running round the boundary.  Said he had a bit of angina and not to worry.  I ran him straight home, but he wouldn’t call out the emergency doctor, stubborn I suppose.  I phoned him in the week and he was still waiting to see his own doctor.’

‘What about Phil?’

‘His back’s gone.  Still in bed apparently, can’t move, and we’ve the Melbridge Cup in a couple of weeks.’

Play started and Dick didn’t speak to Reg again until the tea interval.

‘What’s the Melbridge Cup?’

‘Its the annual fixture between Melthwaite and Townbridge.’  Dick recognised the names of neighbouring villages at the head of the valley.

‘We’re hosting it as part of our fiftieth anniversary celebrations.’

‘Didn’t Phil and Bert play for them?’

‘Aye, and they’ll be dead set on playing this year, seeing as its here.’

Later,  in the bar after the match, Reg smiled over his pint.

‘Another good win.  Not at your best though Dick.’

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Early in the afternoon of Cup day, Dick tried to organise Amy and her sister.  What do we want to go to cricket for?  Its a special match, Dick’d explained.  The rest of the team will be there, with their families.  Bar’ll be open.

While they change, Dick thought he’d watch that Kurusawa retrospective rather than record it.  Oh, I’ll record it anyway, what time does it finish, 3:45.

When they finally arrived Melthwaite were batting, 4 down for 150 off 25 overs.  Dick spotted Reg nursing a glass half full of ale.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Nicely.  Phil’s had a spell off a shortened run.  Only went for two an over.

No wickets though.’

‘Bit risky with his back.’

‘Both sides have players in the town team over in York, so they’re a bit short.  Phil said he was fine.  Bert’s on for Melthwaite as well.  Coming in at nine.’ Lowerthong is the prettiest ground in the West Riding cricket league: a horizon of Pennine hills, shady riverside trees, drystone walls and a large bank of green comfortable grass.  Smoke from a BBQ rose vertically like the mast of a becalmed dinghy.  Drinkers, murmuring and clinking glasses, ebbed and flowed in front of the bar, occasionally breaking into laughter.  Picnicking families babbled on the grassy bank.  The cricket square, however, was dark and turbulent.  Still moored, Melthwaite were struggling to break free, confined by the buffeting of the Townbridge swell.  A storm was brewing.

Dick said he’d see Reg later and went back Amy and her sister, sat on the grass.  The sandwiches were out.

‘Who’s winning?’

‘Melthwaite have got two hundred and thirty, but Townbridge have to bat

yet.’

‘You mean there’s more.  They’ve just come off.  Haven’t they finished?’

‘Its the tea interval, that’s all.’

‘What’s the time?’

‘There’s a clock on the scoreboard.  4:30.  Why?’

‘No reason.’

Dick sighed.  She never has understood cricket, where did I go wrong?  He began to hum ‘Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day’ and picked up a sandwich.  Several pieces of pie and a bun later, he turned his eyes toward Lowerthong church tower, standing proud of the foliage behind the pavilion.  The clock showed five past five as Townbridge started their innings.

No surprises during the opening overs.

The family next to them turned on the radio.

‘Here is the news and weather at five thirty.’   Townbridge were 40 for 1.

‘Mm, poor forecast.  Dick we haven’t brought anything in case it rains.’

‘I’m off to the loo, where is it Dick?’

Dick pointed Amy’s sister in the general direction of the pavilion.

‘Dick, you’ve been really moody since the letter.’

‘It takes some getting used to.  First I’d a son and then I hadn’t, and now I’ve a grandson.’

‘A lot would be pleased.’

‘Aye.’

‘Its something you’ll have to face.  Either you see him or you don’t.  You can’t not make a decision.’

Amy’s sister returned and sat down.

‘Sorry, did I interrupt something?’

‘No.  Dick’s still struggling whether to see his grandson or not.’

‘Ah Dick, ever the dreamer.  All those years not knowing you were a dad.  What a waste.’

‘Oh thanks, that makes me feel better.’

‘Here is the six o’clock news.’  Dick checked the scoreboard; 101 for 4.

Mm  . . .  they’re cracking on a bit.

‘Well, I mean, its quite a responsibility, being a grandad.  Taking him to the cricket, explaining the Japanese influence on cowboy films.  That sort of thing.’

‘You’re having me on.’

‘Am I?’

She was right, thought Dick.  You drift along, accept what life gives you.  Then something happens that surprises you.  I could do the cricket and the Japanese lesson, but what else would he want from me?  Am I enough?  Gary Cooper’s gaunt ill face appeared in front of him.  Marshal Kane had an hour and ten minutes until the train came, carrying his destiny on it,

‘I sent a man up five years ago for murder.  He was supposed to hang, but

up North, they commuted it to life and now he’s free.  I don’t know how.  Anyway, it looks like he’s coming back.’

Dick shivered; brilliant.  What a film.  Gary never backed down from anything.  He remembered the blurb on the film poster.

“The deserted, lone marshal who stubbornly insisted on delaying his newly-married life with a pacifist Quaker wife in order to stay and confront his former nemesis – Frank Miller.  The story of a man who was too proud to run.”

‘News and sport now at six thirty.’  Dick shook his head and returned to the present.  How they doing now.  153 for 5.  They might just do it.  Bert hasn’t had

a bowl yet.

‘Its quarter to seven, Dick.  Sky’s looking grim, we’re off.  Try not to be too long.’

Many others had had the same idea and were leaving or had left, and for a brief moment, Dick was alone.  Anyone on Lowerthong church tower, glancing over at the cricket, would have seen a solitary seated figure, dwarfed by the emptiness of the deserted banked field.

Tree branches began to billow and rustle as the wind got up. Clouds were gathering, still high over Lowerthong, but darker and lower on the horizon.  Those Melthwaite and Townbridge stalwarts that were left, gathered in front of the pavilion, no longer in shirt sleeves.  The coals on the bare BBQ glowed and grey ash flew untidily.  Dick joined Reg on the edge of the small crowd.

Townbridge needed thirty off the last four overs with three batsmen left.  On the other side Melthwaite were running out of bowlers.

‘Bert’ll have come on, Reg.’

‘Aye, Dick.  Come to think of it, Phil might have to bat.  What a finish.’

6:50 on the scoreboard clock.  Another over, another wicket, six nearer the total.

Eight runs off the next over; unlucky Bert.

6:55.  A wicket in the thirty-ninth but another eight runs.

Seven to win, the last man in, Phil, facing the final over from Bert.  The first drops of rain splashed onto the flags in front of the whispering anxious pavilion.

Bert paused at the start of his run and adjusted his left sock.  Seven strides and the ball shaved Phil’s pads.  Groans of encouragement from Townbridge.  The next was a yorker which Phil blocked.  More groans.  The keeper picked up and threw the ball back to Bert.  He turned and walked back to his mark.  Lowerthong church bells began their seven o’clock ritual . . . dong.

One two three strides . . . dong.

Four five six strides. . . dong.

Bert’s arm aloft  . . . dong.

Phil stood waiting . . . dong.

Pitched half way . . . dong.

Pulled and missed . . . dong.

Melthwaite shouted for joy. Townbridge cringed.  And then, deathly quiet apart from the pitter patter of rain falling steadily.  The crowd gradually fathomed what had actually happened.  Bert lay face down across the crease at the bowler’s end and Phil, on his knees, keeled over and came to rest on his arched back, pale and agonised.

They’ve killed each other, thought Dick.

Then it was all activity, and sirens and ambulances.  Lightening arced across the low black clouds, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder and the rain lashed down.

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Dick had to work away a lot after that and lost touch with Sunday cricket.  It must’ve been two years before he revisited the shoot-out scene.  He wandered over to Gabrielle, faithful scorer, and peeped at the scorebook over her shoulder.

‘Fancy that, Cross and Hammond are playing.’

‘Dick!  Long time.  Take a good look.’

Well is that Bert, red-faced, huffing and puffing up to the crease, and is that batsman scratching around, Phil?  Hang on they can’t be, they’re only lads.  The penny dropped.

‘Grandsons.’

‘Correct.  Now look again.’

Dick couldn’t see anything.  Then the tallish umpire behind the stumps took off his cap and scratched his bald head.  Dick quickly checked the man standing at square leg – silver hair and rather squat.

He waited with Gabrielle for the tea interval.

‘Its a thing dreams are made of, Bert.’

‘Aye.  The lad’s got promise.  They don’t have the same commitment we had though.  Moping on street corners, drinking in pubs.  Standards are not what they were.  Still that’s how it is these days, Dick.  I’ve had to adjust, can’t stay in the past you know.  Who’s this you’ve got with you?  Is he a cricketer?’

The willowy youth introduced himself in a thick scots accent,

‘Hi, I’m Ben.’

‘My grandson.  No, he mopes around like the rest of them.  Spends most of his time at the movies.’

Dick turned to Phil, ‘Did you get any more wickets, Phil?’

‘Nay lad,’ his hairless head cracked in two, ‘but I dropped my five hundredth catch.’

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Shootout 3

Shoot-out at Lowerthong.

Two middle-aged men, dressed in check shirts, ten gallon hats and rough leather trousers, stood facing each other, twenty two yards apart.  One was tall and bald, the other squat and silver haired.  Neither was smiling as right hands hovered over six guns.

‘I’m going first,’ said Phil.

‘No, you’re not, you’re the bad guy.’

‘Who said?  Anyway the bad guy goes first.’

‘You always get to go first, and you’re downwind.’  Bert pointed at his gun, ‘Do you know we haven’t got the right kit?  These aren’t Colt 45’s. Strictly speaking, we should have Colt 45’s.  Its shocking.  Yesterday, I was nearly fobbed off with an eight gallon hat.  The standard of gun fighting is dropping every year.’

Phil nodded, ‘Aye, I know.  I’ve kept up my times though.  Still got the quickest draw since Billy was a kid.  You remember Billy Iredale from the old days?  Fastest gun in the valley, ‘till I came along.’

‘Dick . . . Dick, are you playing today?’ shouted the captain from mid off, ‘or shall we get one of theirs to keep wicket?’

Dick shook his head and his recurring daydream faded, ‘Sorry skip, miles away.’  Two aging gunslingers, slugging it out on a B movie cowboy set, too old and too proud to back down.

Crouching ten feet behind the wicket, Dick turned his attention instead to Phil Cross, the opening bowler.  Even in his fifties, Phil used a long run.  The first ball zipped down the leg side for four before Dick could get a glove on it.

‘I’ll send you an appointment for the optician, Dick.’

‘Sorry, Phil.’

Bert Hammond bowled the second over off seven strides, several short of his prime.  Dick didn’t fare any better when the third ball kept low.

‘Have you got a bad back lad?’

‘Sorry, Bert.’

‘We don’t want extras to be their top score do we Dick?’

‘No Bert.’

Phil and Bert were proud men with respectable careers behind them in the local leagues.  Their breath was short and their muscles ached and they still ran in as if every ball could take a wicket.  When Bert was on, a wise umpire wore cotton wool in his left ear.  Phil’s manners were more muted, more a supplication to a higher being as the ball passed the outside edge yet again.

Fielders were bottom of the pile in Phil and Bert’s scheme of things, to be tolerated as long as they took catches and picked the ball up cleanly.  So it wasn’t long before the Hammond roar when Phil put down a skier off the third ball of Bert’s second over, ‘Whatever are you doing Cross?  You dozy slaphead, you should’ve swallowed that.’

Phil was unfazed, ‘I’ve caught more catches than you’ve bowled straight balls.’

Next over, Bert let one through his legs.

‘Bend your back you idle sod, Hammond,’ shouted Phil, ‘Spend less time admiring your Grecian 2000.’

Bert retrieved the ball from the boundary, ‘Stop pitching half volleys outside off stump then.’

Supposedly a friendly game of Sunday cricket, it had all the important ingredients:  a dry sunny day, a decent forecast, a picturesque cricket ground and an opposing side bristling with slow cowards.  The Wanderers were over from Barnston, cricket’s bottomless pit.  Their skipper had won the toss and elected to bat.  Lowerthong’s captain would’ve fielded first anyway as neither Phil nor Bert could raise a gallop just after tea.

Towards the end of his spell, Phil got a long hop to lift a touch.  The batsman dollied it to point off a top edge.  Bert looked heavenwards in disbelief, ‘Well I never, did you see that?  If it’d been any shorter it’d’ve hit ‘is big toe.’

Bert then bowled their star man.  Phil was stood at short third man, hands on hips, ‘He was blind. Someone had to get him.’

There are occasions when, in a what can otherwise be a lonely game, the players meet for a chat.  The taking of a wicket is one of these moments and Phil and Bert thrived on them. The rest of the side were more than happy to collaborate in the hope that a spot of mid-wicket bonding might mollify Phil and Bert’s outrage.  Otherwise, since the batsmen had their own problems, like seeing the ball, the only people to share the intimacy of Phil and Bert’s exchanges were Dick and the umpires.  As the umpires had heard it all before, it was left to Dick to listen.

Phil’s first ball of his sixth over was pulled toward the square leg boundary, sending Bert on a seventy yard dash.  Having returned the ball, Bert doubled over, coughing and wheezing like Doc Holiday.  Phil was the first to comment, ‘Get the twelfth man on, skip, he’s knackered.’

Bert slowly walked back to first slip and propped his arms on his knees.  ‘I’m getting too old for this Dick.  Palpitations.’

Minutes later, Phil stopped suddenly as he ran in to complete the over and clutched his lumbar region.  Bert was quick to console him, ‘Come in off your shorter run, in fact just come in, your time is up.’

Dick tried to be more diplomatic, ‘OK, Phil?’

‘No Dick, I’m lying on the floor for a rest,’ replied Phil.

At the tea interval, surrounded by sandwiches, buns and mugs of sweet hot grey fluid, Phil improved enough to open the scorebook at the previous season’s game, ‘I got 5 for 32 against these last year.  We buried ‘em.  I took my two thousandth wicket that day.’

Tom Fuller’s eyes widened.  A recent immigrant from Wolverhampton, and an accent to match, he had yet to pick upmidlands, his Bert explained, ‘He’s always kept his stats, even when we were kids.  Bit of a nerd.  You did bowl well though, I remember it now.  I missed out.  It was the pitch, suited your leg cutter.  Too soft on top for me, and the ball was out of shape.  In my day the balls were always hard and true.  Its shocking.  Standards are dropping everywhere you look . . . ’

The skipper clutched Dick’s shoulder, ‘Dick, get your pads on.  Nobody’s volunteered to open, so you’re coming in with me.

‘Yes, skip.’

‘Phil six, Bert come in at five.’

‘Righto, skip,’ said Phil, ‘stroll round the boundary, Bert?  Don’t get out too soon Dick.’

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Family commitments prevented Dick from playing the week after.  Why Amy’s sister had to arrange a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon was a mystery to him.  There were compensations though – he caught a re-run of “High Noon” while everyone was getting ready.  For once he forgave the hour his daughter spent in the bathroom, and the delays that followed Amy’s insistence on doing fifteen jobs simultaneously – another of life’s mysteries.  Gary Cooper, aging and frail, but such courage.

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Strange, thought Dick as he arrived at the ground the following Sunday.  Usually players arrived late or at least the last minute, and changed alone.  Yet here they all were, sat together in the dressing room.  The mood was as grey and flaky as a sightscreen in need of a new coat of whitewash.

‘What’s up lads?  Ambrose and Walsh playing for them then?’

‘We haven’t a full team, Dick,’ said Tom, Lowerthong’s latest recruit and the local chemist, ‘you won’t’ve heard.  Phil and Bert aren’t so good.’

The skipper broke up the party, ’Right lads, we’re fielding.  Dick, would you care to put the gloves on?  Nobody else wants to.’

Dick took the field with Reg, a portly former officer and gentleman.

‘What’s the score then, Reg?’

‘Rain stopped play at Headingley . . .  oh, you mean Bert and Phil.  Not sure.  Last game, Bert broke down with chest pain, running round the boundary.  Said he had a bit of angina and not to worry.  I ran him straight home, but he wouldn’t call out the emergency doctor, stubborn I suppose.  I phoned him in the week and he was still waiting to see his own doctor.’

‘What about Phil?’

‘His back’s gone.  Still in bed apparently, can’t move,’ Reg paused, about to stroll to midwicket.  He half turned, ‘we’ve the Melbridge Cup in a couple of weeks.’

‘So we have,’ said Dick, adopting the position behind the stumps.

Forty overs and two hundred runs later, a despondent understrength Lowerthong Sunday eleven queued for tea in the small pavilion.  ‘What’s the Melbridge Cup?’ asked Tom.

‘Its the annual fixture between Melthwaite and Townbridge,’ said Reg, ‘we’re hosting it this year as part of our hundredth anniversary celebrations.’  He carried on.  It wasn’t polite to interrupt when he was in full flow, ‘ a long-standing ritual . . .  going back hundreds of years . . . part of the late summer fertility festival . . .  chance for local boys to prove themselves  . . .  rite of passage . . .  being selected was highest honour . . . ‘

Dick and the regulars had listened to this many times.

‘Didn’t Phil and Bert play for them?’ asked Tom.

‘Aye, and they’ll be dead set on playing this year, seeing as its here and the Cain Circus is in town.’

‘Sorry, the Cain Circus?’

‘You have to have been down a coalmine for the last five years not to have heard of Christopher Cain,’ said Reg.

Tom sat back and folded his arms, ‘Sure, famous defence barrister and crusader for “Drug Pubs”, but what has it got to do with us?’

Reg gave the tea table a short account of Chris Cain’s rise from the relative obscurity to a big London success, still in touch with his roots, particularly Melthwaite cricket which he was part of in his youth, ‘he was a protégé of Bert’s.’

‘I can’t see what it has to do with us,’ insisted Tom.

Reg sighed and shrugged his shoulders, ‘I invited him and he said yes.  Committee OK’d it.’

Everyone went quiet and looked at Reg studying the table cloth.  “Drug Pubs” were supposedly safe places for the public to take cocaine and heroin, but like any radical proposal, it split communities in two.  Those for the idea said that Reg had done well.  It would be great for the centenary to have a celebrity so locally well connected.  Of those that were against, some were simply anti drugs of any sort.  Others were not keen on Cain himself, a bit of a go-getter, using drugs as a way up the political ladder.

Reg sat up and buttoned up his shirt, ‘It’ll be low key, no advertising the fact.  Maybe one reporter from the local paper.  Chris’s actually in Sheffield that day, so he’ll drop in after.’

Tom scraped his chair, picked up his plate and started walking across to the bar, ‘Well, I think its appalling.  Drugs should be banned and no one should encourage their use.  We’ll be seen as condoning Cain’s campaign.  I mean, the low life and the robbery?’  Tom shook his head and left the pavilion.

The start to Lowerthong’s innings did little to raise morale.  Dick, Reg and the skipper were all out for single figures.  The middle order began to resist and grind out some sort of a score.

Dick hadn’t said much since Reg’s news.  Difficult with his only son a victim of the very activity that Cain was trying legalise.  As he started his customary walk around the boundary, Reg joined him.  Dick knew the answers were not as simple as people like Tom made out.  Young Richard had had a normal childhood, a good school and a promising life ahead of him.  University was looming when the heroin overdose happened, an accident, and a tragedy.  Over five years had passed

and Dick still had both sides of the argument going round in his head, ‘no drugs, no deaths,’  . . . ‘drugs are here to stay, get them safe.’ They sounded like electioneering slogans as they bounced between his ears.



On the afternoon of Cup day, Dick’d tried to get Amy and her sister organised.  What do we want to go to cricket for?  Its a special match, Dick had explained.  The rest of the team will be there, with their families.  Bar’ll be open.

Lowerthong is the prettiest ground in the West Riding cricket league: a horizon of Pennine hills, shady riverside trees, drystone walls and a large bank of green comfortable grass.  When they arrived Melthwaite were batting, 4 down for 150 with 15 overs to go before tea.  Dick, Amy and her sister sat on the bank.

‘Anyone fancy a burger?’  Dick wandered over to the BBQ where he’d spotted Reg nursing a glass half full of ale.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Nicely.  Phil’s had a spell off a shortened run.  Only went for two an over.

No wickets though.’

‘Bit risky with his back.’

‘Both sides have players in the town team over at York, so they’re a bit short.  Phil said he was fine.  Bert’s on for Melthwaite as well.  Coming in at nine.’ Dick said he’d see Reg later and went back to Amy and her sister.

‘Who’s winning?’

‘Melthwaite have got two hundred and thirty, but Townbridge have to bat

yet.’

‘You mean there’s more.  They’ve just come off.  Haven’t they finished?’

‘Its the tea interval, that’s all.’

Dick sighed.  She never has understood cricket.  Where did I go wrong?  He began to hum “Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day”.  Strange sitting here, not being able to hear what the players are saying.  He turned his eyes toward Lowerthong church tower, standing proud of the foliage behind the pavilion.  The clock showed five past five as Townbridge started their innings.

The family next to them turned on the radio.

‘Here is the news and weather.’

‘Mm, poor forecast.  Dick we haven’t brought anything in case it rains.’

‘I’m off to the loo, where is it Dick?’

Dick pointed Amy’s sister in the general direction of the pavilion.

‘Dick, Fuller is being released today.’

‘As if I didn’t know.’

‘We’ve talked and talked.  Its time to do something.’

‘It might be best if we moved on.’

‘I’m stalled of moving every five minutes.’

Amy’s sister returned and sat down.

‘Sorry, did I interrupt something?’

‘No.  Dick’s still struggling with the Fuller thing.’

‘Mm . . .  you got us all in hot water when you gave your evidence.’

‘Oh thanks for reminding me.’

‘Here is the six o’clock news.’  Dick checked the scoreboard; 101 for 4.

Mm  . . .  they’re cracking on a bit.

‘Well, I mean, you tried to do the good thing.  But he only got five years.’

They were right, thought Dick.  You drift along, accept what life gives you.  Then something happens that surprises you.  You do what you think is right and then it comes back and bites you on the bum.  Am I up to this?  Gary Cooper’s gaunt ill face appeared in front of him.  Marshal Kane had an hour and ten minutes until the shoot-out.  Dick shivered; brilliant.  What a film.  Gary never backed down from anything – “The story of a man who was too proud to run.”

‘News and sport now at six thirty.’  Dick shook his head and returned to the present.  How they doing now.  153 for 5.  They might just get them.  Bert hasn’t

had a bowl yet.

‘Its quarter to seven, Dick.  Sky’s looking grim, we’re off.  Try not to be too long.’

Many others had had the same idea and were leaving or had left, and for a brief moment, Dick was alone.  A man in a dark suit stood on Lowerthong church tower and trained a pair of binoculars across the cricket pitch.  He spotted the solitary seated figure, dwarfed by the emptiness of the deserted banked field, and spoke into a lapel microphone.

Tree branches began to billow and rustle as the wind got up. Clouds were gathering, still high over Lowerthong, but darker and lower on the horizon.  The Melthwaite and Townbridge stalwarts that were left, no longer in shirt sleeves, gathered in front of the pavilion,.  The coals on the bare BBQ glowed and grey ash flew untidily.  Dick joined Reg, who was talking with the skipper, on the edge of the small crowd.

‘Oh, hi skip, didn’t see you there.  Close game.’

‘Hello, Dick.  Yes it is.’

Townbridge needed thirty off the last four overs with three batsmen left.  On the other side Melthwaite were running out of bowlers.

‘Bert’ll have come on, Reg.’

‘Aye, Dick.  Come to think of it, Phil might have to bat.  What a finish.’

Six-fifty on the scoreboard clock.  Another over, another wicket, six nearer the total.

Eight runs off the next over, unlucky Bert.

Six-fifty five.  A wicket in the thirty-ninth but another eight runs.

Seven to win, the last man in, Phil, facing the final over from Bert.  The first drops of rain splashed onto the flags in front of the anxious pavilion.

Bert paused at the start of his run and adjusted his left sock.  Seven strides and the ball shaved Phil’s pads.  Groans of encouragement from Townbridge.  The next was a yorker that Phil blocked.  More groans.  The keeper picked up and threw the ball back to Bert.  He turned and walked back to his mark as Lowerthong church bells began their seven o’clock ritual.  Phil waited.  Seven strides, right arm aloft, a small grunt of effort and the ball’d gone.  Phil stepped outside off stump and watched the ball carefully, first pitching half way and then rising toward his bat, raised and ready.  As the clock fell silent, he pulled mightily to leg and the ball smacked into the keeper’s gloves.

Melthwaite shouted for joy. Townbridge cringed.  And then, deathly quiet apart from the pitter patter of steadily falling rain.  Bert lay face down across the crease at the bowler’s end and Phil, on his knees, keeled over and came to rest on his arched back, pale and agonised.

They’ve killed each other, thought Dick.

Then it was all activity, and sirens and ambulances.  Lightening arced across the low black clouds, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder.  The wind whipped into the trees and the rain poured.

Further thunderclaps and the skipper twisted and fell, a neat black hole in his forehead, blood seeping onto the pavilion flagstones, a knife seemingly discarded in his right hand.  Reg nodded to two others and the skipper’s body quickly left the scene.  Dick noticed the man in a dark suit on Lowerthong church tower was packing.



Dick lost touch with Sunday cricket after that and it was two years before he revisited the shoot-out scene.  He wandered over to Gabrielle, faithful scorer, and peeped at the scorebook over her shoulder.

‘Fancy that, Cross and Hammond are playing.’

‘Dick!  Hello.  Long time.  Take a good look.’

Well is that Bert?  Red-faced, huffing and puffing up to the crease, and is that Phil, scratching around, trying to bat?  Hang on they can’t be, they’re only lads.  The penny dropped.

‘Grandsons.’

‘Correct.  Now look again.’

Dick couldn’t see anything.  Then the tallish umpire behind the stumps took off his cap and scratched his bald head.  Dick quickly checked the man standing at square leg – silver hair and rather squat.

He waited with Gabrielle for the tea interval.

‘Its a thing dreams are made of, Bert.’

‘Aye.  The lad’s got promise.  They don’t have the same commitment we had though.  Moping on street corners, drinking in pubs.  Standards are not what they were.  Still that’s how it is these days, Dick.  I’ve had to adjust, can’t stay in the past you know.  How’ve you been?  We’ve missed your steady opening knocks.  That was a bad business, when was it?  Must be two years ago now.  Who’d’ve

thought it of Sam Fuller, the skipper of all people.’

‘Aye.  I was more surprised that Reg was in special branch.  Did you get any more wickets, Phil?’

‘Nay lad,’ his hairless face cracked into two, ‘but I dropped my five hundredth catch.’

3006

The Sunday team

Just how much do you know about your fellow players.  Sunday teams emerge from a clutch of the interested once they are over the hill, once they can no longer make the second team.  Perhaps where cricket hasn’t been played before, perhaps partly as a nursery for younger players.  Lowerthong were a bit of all that, but mostly they came from a generation of good school players who wanted to carry on playing together.  People who would see each other regularly anyway.  Who were comfortable with sharing, children at the same time, producing a cycle of the wealthy, comfortably arranged as an accident of birth.

Tom and Dick were not part of this cycle.  Reg and the skipper were, and so was Cain – definately ‘one of us’.

A loose alliance of the idle.

Tom Fuller

The nasal drawl came from the midlands, a town like Dudley.  It irritated or amused.  He was unskilled in country matters.  He wondered why the local farmers spent so much time mowing grass.  Still the pubs reminded him of the concrete jungle to which he was more used.  He said his parents were still there, and a brother.  We all imagined interminable symmetrical terraces, much like Leeds or Sheffield or any other city.  A snotty kid growing up with the rest of them, designer trainers and jeans, mobile phone clamped to one ear.

Reg describes two sorts of people.  Those that wear long sleeves and those that wear short sleeves.  Tom arrived with a bulging dressing at his elbow, he was a long sleeved man.  ‘Can’t do much today, skip.  Trapped my elbow in the door.  He had the local chemist, moved north with his wife and family twelve months ago, no one was sure why, but he could play cricket well enough.  Even with his left elbow a problem he was able to pick up and throw, bowl at half pace.  He’d have to see about batting.

Dick

Dick had the northern qualifications, and a residents’ twelve year pass.  He’d been accepted, though he may not have felt acceptable.  He’d lead a life of variety in many places, but increasingly middle age nagged a vague disquiet that he could have been something else.  His list included several cities in the north, then Wales and America, which had impressed rural values.  It suited a temperament which tended to isolation, made worse by the professional course he had chosen.  He wasn’t at ease with the aggressive natures that many professionals needed.  Then Richard junior, a talent.  The pain was dull, reinforcing a sense of unreality.  Mid fifties, time was running out, time to make a stand and stop drifting.

His northerness had not disappeared.  It wasn’t an accent, but the tone was spiky, the sentences clipped and the smiles limited.  He made Lowerthong because he could, not because he fitted.  Amy sent him out to stop him being with himself, watching old movies or reading historical novels.  He often said very little, disquieting for many, as if he had the answer.  He was burdened by lots of possible answers, things done and seen.  Beneath the surface was an ambitious father who had underachieved and wasn’t allowing the next generation to.  The quietness was not judging others but himself.

Reg

Ex-officer and a gentleman.  Southerner who didn’t quite fit the local well-to-do mould, moved with job, never played cricket, good hand-to-eye, joined things to help out his sons.  Yet seemed well connected.  Moustache upright bearing, chatterbox,

The Tale

Its about something from the past coming back to bite you on the bum a la High Noon.  Kane and The Fuller gang.  Citizens not taking sides, wife running out on him until the final reel.

Wife fed up with playing cricket.

Turn it upside down – Kane comes back after many years.

Movie producer/politician – high profile anyway, with an entourage.

big crowds possibly – come for the centenary match, or to see Bert and Phil.  rain eventually sends them all away

Local boy made good, problem with Fuller in the past, politics, police don’t know enough to carry a grudge  Kane important enough to have security and maybe intelligence that implicates a local attempt at something.

Dick at college with his brother.

I was at college with his brother.  Chris is Oxbridge, met him a couple of times’   Kane is not the Kane he knew, what’s going on?

Tom Fuller, the local dentist – Fullers.  Is he a character with an imagined past, not what he seems, a surprise – a drug addict turned state’s evidence.  Trial in the offing.  Trying to forget a past which Cain’s arrival produces the risk of resurfacing somehow, exposure.  To what extent will Tom try and cover up.  How important are secrets to him?  Is their a connection with Cain in the past.

Do we need to know, or will it come out in the last chapter?  Is Cain simply a plot device, not really in the story.  The turbulence that will make the characters react.

It has to be something of interest to the reader about character, Bert Phil the skipper Tom or Dick Reg

Would or wouldn’t people come to support the centenary, essentially a local showdown, Cain coming will help or hinder?  Tension for Reg

Is it a drugs story?  advocate of drug pubs or something?

Cain is advocate of loosening legislation on drugs, a la prohibition and alcohol

background is law, a lawyer, brother of someone in college with Dick, so met in the past.  ?sees is as a career opportunity part of political progress

Tom is chemist and anti-drug freedom, why not sure.  Certainly make Tom unreliable, saying one thing and doing another.

Dick? is father of a drug overdose, very aware of how young people get drugs torn between banning and safe use.  O

Shootout 2

Shoot-out at Lowerthong.

Amy gave Dick a peck on the cheek and wished him luck.  He was a mess.  Shirt hanging loosely out the waist band of his trousers, cricket bag bursting and his bat at an untidy angle against the car boot.  In a rush and late again.  Most of them were.  He wouldn’t be the last to arrive.  Sunday afternoon cricket.  He couldn’t not do it, but . . . .



Two middle-aged men, dressed in check shirts, ten gallon hats and rough leather trousers, stood facing each other, twenty two yards apart.  One was tall and bald, the other squat and silver haired.  Neither was smiling as right hands hovered over six guns.

‘I’m going first,’ said Phil.

‘No, you’re not, you’re the bad guy.’

‘Who said?  Anyway the bad guy goes first.’

‘You always get to go first, and you’re downwind.’  Bert pointed at his gun, ‘Do you know we haven’t got the right kit?  These aren’t Colt 45’s. Strictly speaking, we should have Colt 45’s.  Its shocking.  Yesterday, I was nearly fobbed off with an eight gallon hat.  The standard of gun fighting is dropping every year.’

Phil nodded, ‘Aye, I know.  I’ve kept up my times though.  Still got the quickest draw since Billy was a kid.  You remember Billy Iredale from the old days?  Fastest gun in the valley, ‘till I came along.’

‘Dick . . . Dick, are you playing today?’ shouted the captain from mid off, ‘or shall we get one of theirs to keep wicket?’

Dick shook his head and his recurring daydream faded, ‘Sorry skip, miles away.’  Two aging gunslingers, slugging it out on a B movie cowboy set, too old and too proud to back down.

Crouching ten feet behind the wicket, Dick turned his attention instead to Phil Cross, the opening bowler.  Even in his fifties, Phil used a long run.  The first ball zipped down the leg side for four before Dick could get a glove on it.

‘I’ll send you an appointment for the optician, Dick.’

‘Sorry, Phil.’

Bert Hammond bowled the second over off seven strides, several short of his prime.  Dick didn’t fare any better when the third ball kept low.

‘Have you got a bad back lad?’

‘Sorry, Bert.’

‘We don’t want extras to be their top score do we Dick?’

‘No Bert.’

Phil and Bert were proud men with respectable careers behind them in the West Yorkshire leagues.  Their breath was short and their muscles ached and they still ran in as if every ball could take a wicket.  When Bert was on, a wise umpire had cotton wool in his left ear.  Phil’s manners were more muted, more a supplication to a higher being as the ball passed the outside edge yet again.

Fielders were bottom of the pile in Phil and Bert’s scheme of things, to be tolerated as long as they took catches and picked the ball up cleanly.  So it wasn’t long before the Hammond roar when Tom put down a skier off the third ball of Bert’s second over, ‘Whatever are you doing Miller?  You dozy wassock, you should’ve swallowed that.’

Tom, new player, journalist and a Brummie with an accent to match, had yet to appreciate West Yorkshire’s small talk.  If he’d a tail it would have been between his legs as he walked back to extra cover.

Next over, Reg Harvey let one through his legs.

‘Bend your back you idle sod.  You are close enough to the ground,’ shouted Phil, ‘and spend less time admiring your Grecian 2000.’

Reg retrieved the ball from the boundary, tweaked his moustache and, winking at Tom, yelled toward Phil, ‘Stop pitching half volleys outside off stump then.’

Supposedly a friendly game of Sunday cricket down at Lowerthong, it had all the important ingredients:  a dry sunny day, a decent forecast, a picturesque cricket ground and an opposing side bristling with slow cowards.  The Wanderers were over from Barnston, cricket’s bottomless pit.  Their captain had won the toss and elected to bat.  Lowerthong’s skipper would’ve fielded first anyway as neither Phil nor Bert could raise a gallop just after tea.

Towards the end of his spell, Phil got a long hop to lift a touch.  The batsman dollied it to point off a top edge.  Bert looked heavenwards in disbelief, ‘Well I never, did you see that?  If it’d been any shorter it’d’ve hit ‘is big toe.’

Bert then bowled their star man.  Phil was stood at short third man, hands on hips, ‘He was blind. Someone had to get him.’

There are occasions when, in a what can otherwise be a lonely game, the players meet for a chat.  The taking of a wicket is one of these moments and Phil and Bert thrived on them. The rest of the side were more than happy to collaborate in the hope that a spot of mid-wicket bonding might mollify Phil and Bert’s outrage.  Otherwise, since the batsmen had their own problems, like seeing the ball, the only people to share in Phil and Bert’s intimacies were Dick and the umpires.  As the umpires had heard it all before, there was only Dick left to listen.

Phil’s first ball of his sixth over was pulled toward the square leg boundary, sending Bert on a seventy yard dash.  Having returned the ball, Bert doubled over, coughing and wheezing like Doc Holiday.  Phil was the first to comment, ‘Get the twelfth man on, skip, he’s knackered.’

Bert slowly walked back to first slip and propped his arms on his knees.  ‘I’m getting too old for this Dick.  Palpitations.’

Minutes later, Phil stopped suddenly as he ran in to complete the over and clutched his lumbar region.  Bert was quick to console him, ‘Come in off your shorter run, in fact just come in, your time is up.’

Dick tried to be more diplomatic, ‘OK, Phil?’

‘No Dick, I’m lying on the floor for a rest,’ replied Phil.

At the tea interval, surrounded by sandwiches, buns and mugs of sweet hot grey fluid, Phil improved enough to open the scorebook at the previous season’s game, ‘I got 5 for 32 against these last year.  We buried ‘em.  I took my two thousandth wicket that day.’

When Tom Miller’s eyes widened, Bert took over, ‘He’s always kept his stats, even when we were kids.  Bit of a nerd.  You did bowl well though, I remember it now.  I missed out.  It was the pitch, suited your leg cutter.  Too soft on top for me, and the ball was out of shape.  In my day the balls were always hard and true.  Its shocking.  Standards are dropping everywhere you look . . . ’

The skipper clutched Dick’s shoulder, ‘Dick, get your pads on.  Nobody’s volunteered to open, so you’re coming in with me.

‘Yes, skip.’

‘Phil six, Bert come in at five.’

‘Righto, skip,’ said Phil, ‘stroll round the boundary, Bert?  Don’t get out too soon Dick.’

‘No Phil,’ Dick strode toward the changing rooms.  Too bad if I said no for once, he thought.  Never opened at school or since really, until now.    Taking advantage of his good nature.  There’s plenty of other things he could be doing.

Dick did his ten overs, saw off their quicks and dutifully became Barnston’s first wicket.  A small contribution to half decent stand.  His school sports master had described him as a steady bat.  Lowerthong’s Sunday cricketers were less complimentary.

‘Batted Dick,’ said Reg lounging outside the clubhouse.  It was the polite thing to say in friendly cricket, or hard luck if you’d played like a lemon.  Dick wasn’t inclined to take such comments seriously.

‘Come on Dick, no need to be grumpy.’

‘You sound just like my wife, Reg.’



Family commitments prevented Dick from playing the week after.  Why Amy’s sister had to arrange a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon was a mystery to him.  There were compensations though – he caught a re-run of “High Noon” while everyone was changing.  For once he forgave the hour his daughter spent in the bathroom, and the delays that followed Amy’s insistence on doing fifteen jobs simultaneously – another of life’s mysteries.  Gary Cooper, aging and frail, but such courage.  I couldn’t do it thought Dick.  The brave pointless act.  Make a stand.  Maybe once upon a time.  It was only a film.  Could be real though.  A vague disquiet grew somewhere below his chest.  Might it have been different?

Amy swept in, ‘Come on Dick, snap out of it, we’re all ready.  Get the car.’



Strange, thought Dick as he arrived at the ground the following Sunday.  Usually players arrived late or at least the last minute, and changed alone.  Yet here they all were, sat together in the dressing room.  The mood was as grey and flaky as a sightscreen in need of a new coat of whitewash.

‘What’s up lads?  Ambrose and Walsh playing for them then?’

‘We haven’t a full team, Dick,’ said Tom, ‘you won’t’ve heard.  Phil and Bert aren’t so good.’  He raised his left arm, showing a substantial bulge at the elbow, ‘and I can’t do much.  Trapped it in a door.’

The skipper broke up the party, ’Right lads, we’re fielding.  Dick, would you care to put the gloves on?  Nobody else wants to.’

Dick tucked his trousers into his socks and found the keeper’s pads.  Just a doormat, he thought, and we’ve no chance, eight men at best.

Portly Reg, former officer and gentleman, followed Dick onto the field,  ‘Do I detect a smidgeon of mutiny?’

Dick drew in a big breath and took a long look at the pitch, ‘What’s the score then, Reg?’

Reg shied a practice ball for Dick to catch, ‘Rain stopped play at Headingley . . . ,’ He received a withering glance, ‘Oh, you mean Bert and Phil.  Not sure.  Last game, Bert broke down with chest pain, running round the boundary.  Said he had a bit of angina and not to worry.  I ran him straight home, but he wouldn’t call out the emergency doctor, stubborn I suppose.  I phoned him in the week and he was still waiting to see his own doctor.’

‘What about Phil?’

‘His back’s gone.  Still in bed apparently, can’t move,’ Reg paused, about to stroll to midwicket.  He half turned, ‘we’ve the Melbridge Cup in a couple of weeks.’

‘So we have,’ said Dick, adopting the position behind the stumps.

Forty overs and two hundred runs later, a despondent understrength Lowerthong Sunday side queued for tea in the small clubhouse.

‘What’s the Melbridge Cup?’ asked Tom.

‘Its the annual fixture between Melthwaite and Townbridge,’ said Reg, ‘we’re hosting it this year as part of our hundredth anniversary celebrations.’ As he was reputed to consider it bad form to be interrupted when in full flow, he was allowed to carry on at some length, ‘ a long-standing ritual . . .  going back hundreds of years . . . part of the late summer fertility festival . . .  chance for local boys to prove themselves  . . .  rite of passage . . .  being selected was highest honour . . . ‘

Dick and the regulars had listened to this many times.  For years, the fixture had been the site of legendary battles between Phil and Bert and, played on a local feast day it had traditionally drawn large crowds.

Then Reg suddenly recaptured the team’s attention, ‘Aye, and Chris Cain is in town.’

Dick felt as though he’d walked into a door.  Just the sound of the name was sufficient to bring up images of, how long ago?  Must have been fifteen years.  And now he was coming back.  Under a bit of a cloud.  The tabloids were at it again.

‘Sorry.  Chris Cain?’ Tom’s question brought Dick back to the present.

‘He used to play for us occasionally,’ Reg gave a short account of Cain’s rise from relative local obscurity to a big London achiever, still in touch with his roots, particularly Melthwaite cricket, ‘he was a protégé of Bert’s.  I’m surprised you’ve not heard of him.’

‘Heard of him sure,’ Tom sat forward and folded his arms, ‘I can’t see what it has to do with us.’

Reg sighed and shrugged his shoulders, ‘I invited him to the game and he said yes.  Committee OK’d it.’

Everyone went quiet and looked at Reg as he studied the table cloth.  Then they all had something to say.  Personalities like Cain tended to produce divided opinions.  Many said Reg had done well; it would be great for the centenary to have some sort of a celebrity.  Others simply resented tainted success.  A mild fuss but they were all curious.

Reg sat up and buttoned up his shirt, ‘It’ll be low key, no advertising.  Maybe one reporter from the local paper.’

Tom’s chair scraped along the floor as he stood.  Then they were all returning plates and mugs to the tea ladies and heading for the changing rooms.

The start to Lowerthong’s innings did little to raise morale.  Dick, Reg and the skipper were all out for single figures.  The middle order then began to resist and grind out some sort of a total.  The skipper sat and watched with the scorer.  Dick and Reg toured the boundary.

‘Bit of a stunner, that,’ said Dick.

‘Apparently . . .  ‘

‘I was at college with Cain’s brother,’ said Dick, ‘Visited him a couple of times, so I knew him a bit before I came here.  Part of the reason for moving.  The area.’

Reg stopped to catch up with play, ‘Good shot . . .   innocent until proved guilty you know.’

‘What? . . . oh Cain . . .  yes, absolutely.’

Another wicket fell. ‘I’ll get padded up,’ said Reg.

Dick was left alone to ponder the news.  He and Cain had been acquainted, no more, except for the one incident when they became brief intimates.  Cain left on an upward trajectory.  Dick remained, shattered.  A long time to rebuild.  Naive and trusting some said.  Working too hard and not seen it coming.  Those who had not known misery were fortunate.  The dogged guilt, the cheerlessness, others’ embarrassment.  A little of the joy returns.  Not the enthusiasm or the confidence.  Amy said it could have been worse.  It was the worst Dick had ever been.

When he called in the toilet, Tom was changing his elbow dressing.  ‘Here let me help,’ said Dick.

‘Its OK,’ Tom swivelled away and roughly tied the bandage.

Back in the changing room, Dick sat on one of the rough wooden benches and watched the game through the long window.  There’d been another wicket and Reg was at the crease.  Odd for an injury he thought.  On the inside of the elbow, and red like it was inflamed.

Lowerthong were never going to get the required runs.  Everyone had a bat.  After a drink or two, the players drifted in ones and twos from the clubhouse.  Tom caught up with Dick in the car park, ‘Can I have a word?’

‘Sure, what’s on your mind?’ asked Dick.

‘Thing is, I’m already doing a piece for “The Courier” on Cain.  Done some digging.  Weren’t you connected with him?

‘Mm . . .  slightly.’

‘My sources say he’s worried, something from the past that might come out.’

Dick unlocked his car door, ‘Really . . .  don’t think I can help,’ Dick dumped his kit on the back seat, got in and switched on the engine, ‘Sorry Tom.’  He closed the door and drove off.  I am not going to get involved, he thought.  Won’t change anything.  What happened, happened.

He sat in the car on the drive when he got home.  Do you ever really get to know your fellow players, he wondered?  He knew the basics about Bert and Phil, their passion for cricket, their only expression to carry on playing as long as they could, ignoring the messages that time must be giving, but they are making a stand, a statement, drawing some sort of line in the sand.  This is us, and bollocks to the lot of you.  Can’t go on forever of course.  And Reg, committee man and good egg.  He belonged to a different world.  Sunday

How much do you know about your fellow players?  Sunday teams emerge from a clutch of the interested once they are over the hill, once they can no longer make the second team.  Perhaps where cricket hasn’t been played before, perhaps partly as a nursery for younger players.  Lowerthong were a bit of all those, but mostly they came from a generation of good school players who wanted to carry on.  People who were comfortable together, had children at the same time and reproduced a cycle of wealthy accidents of birth.  The skipper, Reg and Cain were in that cycle.  Dick was not.   teams came from the tired and old and the young that had yet to get going, or where cricket wasn’t that popular.  But it also came from the recurrent cycle of wealthy accidents of birth.  They were at school together, had their children together, enjoyed spending time and playing cricket together.  Reg and Cain were in the cycle.  Dick wasn’t.  And Tom, unknown, hack and an addict, wanting something from him, not a cricketer really, not in the cycle, just a man with an expensive habit who was in the dirty business of exposure.  A man who  could give Dick a way back, back to right some wrongs, fight the good fight, make a stand, draw a line in the sand.

The easy confidence of the skipper in leadership, the huffing and puffing of Bert and Phil, Reg’s quiet probing and support.

The way people play their sport, it tells you all you need to know, more than having a history, a CV.  There was always something dodgy about Tom.Do some backfill on how Tom plays, poor attitude etc.

What was he going to do, he was static, no not even that, static needs energy to stay put, he was drifting, no direction, certainly no stand or line in the sand.  He could tell or he could not rock the boat.



On the day of the cup game Dick tried to get Amy and her sister organised.

‘What do we want to go to cricket for?’

Dick explained, ‘Its a special match.  The rest of the team will be there, with their families.  Bar’ll be open.’

Lowerthong is one of the prettiest grounds in the West Riding cricket league: a horizon of Pennine hills, shady riverside trees, drystone walls and a large bank of green comfortable grass.  When they arrived Melthwaite were batting, 4 down for 150 with 15 overs to go before tea.  Dick, Amy and her sister sat on the bank.

‘Anyone fancy a burger?’  Dick wandered over to the BBQ where he’d spotted Reg nursing a glass half full of ale.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Nicely.  Phil’s had a spell off a shortened run.  Only went for two an over.  No wickets though.’

Dick put his hands in his pockets, ‘Bit risky with his back.’

‘Both sides have players in the town team over at York, so they’re a bit short,’ he took a sip of his beer, ‘Phil said he was fine.  Bert’s on for Melthwaite as well.  Coming in at nine.’

Dick said he’d see Reg later and went back to Amy and her sister.

‘Who’s winning?’

‘Melthwaite have got two hundred and thirty, but Townbridge have to bat yet.’

‘You mean there’s more.  They’ve just come off.  Haven’t they finished?’

‘Its the tea interval, that’s all.’

Dick sighed.  Amy never has understood cricket.  Where had he gone wrong?  He began to hum “Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day”.  Strange sitting here, not being able to hear what the players are saying.  He turned his eyes toward Lowerthong church tower, standing proud of the foliage behind the clubhouse.  The clock showed five past five as Townbridge started their innings.

The family next to them turned on the radio.

‘Here is the news and weather.’

Amy overheard the poor forecast, ‘Dick we haven’t brought anything in case it rains.’

‘Chris Cain is supposed to be coming,’ said Dick.

‘Really.  The hot shot who’s been in the headlines, that Cain?’

Dick nodded.

‘Will you see him?’

‘Doubt it.’

‘Here is the six o’clock news.’  Dick checked the scoreboard; 101 for 4.

Mm  . . .  they’re cracking on a bit he thought.  He overheard Amy and her sister talking about Cain.  Made quite a name for himself.  Pity about the recent business.  Dick recognised the contrast in himself.  He’d drifted along, accepted what life had given him.  Now, after fifteen years, was something coming back to bite him on the bum?  Gary Cooper’s ill face appeared in front of him.  Marshal Kane had an hour and ten minutes until the shoot-out.  Dick shivered; brilliant.  What a film.  Gary never backed down from anything.  The billboards said it all, “The story of a man who was too proud to run.”

How was going to react to Cain?

‘News and sport now at six thirty.’  Dick shook his head and returned to the present.  How they doing now.  153 for 5.  They might just get them.  Bert hasn’t had a bowl yet.

Amy stood up, ‘Its quarter to seven, Dick.  Sky’s looking grim, we’re off.  Try not to be too long.’

Many others had had the same idea and the grass bank was emptying.  Tree branches began to billow and rustle as the wind got up.  Clouds gathered,  high over Lowerthong, but darker and lower on the horizon.  Then only the Melthwaite and Townbridge stalwarts were left, gathered in front of the clubhouse, no longer in shirt sleeves.  The coals on the bare BBQ glowed and grey ash flew untidily.  Dick joined Reg, who was talking with Tom and the skipper on the edge of the small crowd.

‘Hi skip, Tom.  Close game.’

‘Yes.’

Townbridge needed thirty off the last four overs with three batsmen left.  On the other side Melthwaite were running out of bowlers.

‘Bert’ll have come on, Reg.  Has Cain arrived?’

‘Aye.  Come to think of it, Phil might have to bat.  What a finish.  He’s been delayed.’

Six-fifty on the scoreboard clock.  Another over, another wicket, six nearer the total.

Bert had two overs to bowl.  Eight runs off the first.

Six-fifty five.  A wicket in the thirty-ninth over and another eight runs.

Seven to win, the last man in, Phil, facing the final over from Bert.  The first drops of rain splashed onto the flags in front of the anxious clubhouse.

Bert paused at the start of his run and adjusted his left sock.  Seven strides and the ball shaved Phil’s pads.  Groans of encouragement from Townbridge.  The next was a yorker that Phil blocked.  More groans.  The keeper picked up and threw the ball back to Bert.  He turned and walked back to his mark as Lowerthong church bells began their seven o’clock ritual.  Phil waited.  Seven strides, right arm aloft, a small grunt of effort and the ball’d gone.  Phil stepped outside off stump and watched the ball carefully, first pitching half way and then rising toward his bat, up and ready.  As the clock fell silent, he pulled mightily to leg and the ball smacked into the keeper’s gloves.

Melthwaite shouted for joy. Townbridge cringed.  And then, deathly quiet apart from the pitter patter of steadily falling rain.  Bert lay face down across the crease at the bowler’s end and Phil, on his knees, keeled over and came to rest on his arched back, pale and agonised.

They’ve killed each other, thought Dick.

Then it was all activity, and sirens and ambulances.  Lightening arced across the low black clouds, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder.  The wind whipped into the trees and the rain poured.

Further thunderclaps and there was Cain.  Someone who looked like Cain.  Well tailored, manicured and coiffured, but a gaunt shadow.

They shook hands and Cain nodded, ‘Dick.  Hoped I see you.’

Dick had expected to be tight lipped and closed off.  To prevent his uselessness from showing and dim the sense of failure that was illuminated in Cain’s success.  But he simply felt uneasy and confused as he gazed at Cain’s wasted face and dark eyes.  Gary Cooper’s black and white image appeared. Reg, Tom and the others introduced themselves.

Dick turned to the dark and deserted rain soaked pitch.  The umpires had forgotten a couple of stumps, picked out now in a long shaft of light shining from the clubhouse.

Cain stood next to him.

‘You look ill,’ said Dick.

‘Yes, its been tough.  Now I know what you must have been through.  I haven’t done anything you know.  You’re looking well, the family man, steady away’

‘Just successful that’s all.’

Cain smiled, ‘Thought I didn’t support you I guess, back then?  Richard Pell, next in line, onward and upward.  Look where it gets you. You were floundering’

‘We both know I wasn’t suitable.  I’d reached as far as I was going.  reached the limits of what you could manage, too much happening in every bit of your life Didn’t see the way I’d react that’s all.  Took life, everything too seriously.  I know now it was for the best.’

‘No hard feelings at all, hard to believe.’

‘A small corner, yes.’

‘Enough to talk to a man with a heroin problem.’

‘You know about him.’

‘Been dogging me for six months.  Didn’t quite spot he’d catch up with me here though.  Think he must be after you.  Me being here is a bonus.  Once you’ve got somewhere and have vertigo and falling into the abyss, there’s plenty of slimy creepy crawly things come out from under stones.  I can beat this thing, but not with your knowledge of what went on.



Time is a strange thing, things alter, things move on, not in a positive action oriented sense, like a journey between a and b, but a journey nevertheless, a journey inside somehow.  Freud had a rationalisation for it.  Dick always thought that was an excuse.  Personality was fixed anyway so how could you do anything about anything.  But telling stories to yourself, making sense in small bite pieces, not trying to do too much, let it all make sense in time.  Cain genuinely didn’t bother him as a person, last night had cured that, he was a broken man, a fellow travellor, but  . . .   What was he going to do?



Dick lost touch with Sunday cricket after that and it was two years before he revisited the shoot-out scene.  He wandered over to Gabrielle, faithful scorer, and peeped at the scorebook over her shoulder.

‘Fancy that, Cross and Hammond are playing.’

‘Dick!  Hello.  Long time.  Take a good look.’

Well is that Bert?  Red-faced, huffing and puffing up to the crease, and  Phil, scratching around, trying to bat?  Hang on they can’t be, they’re only lads.  The penny dropped.

‘Grandsons.’

‘Correct.  Now look again.’

Dick couldn’t see anything.  Then the tallish umpire behind the stumps took off his cap and scratched his bald head.  Dick quickly checked the man standing at square leg – silver hair and rather squat.

He waited with Gabrielle for the tea interval.

‘Its a thing dreams are made of, Bert.’

‘Aye.  The lad’s got promise.  They don’t have the same commitment we had though.  Moping on street corners, drinking in pubs.  Standards are not what they were.  Still that’s how it is these days, Dick.  I’ve had to adjust, can’t stay in the past you know.  How’ve you been?  We’ve missed your steady opening knocks.’

Did you get any more wickets, Phil?’

‘Nay lad,’ his hairless head cracked into two, ‘but I dropped my five hundredth catch.’

3962

Shootout 1

Shoot-out at Lowerthong.

Amy gave Dick a peck on the cheek and wished him luck.  He looked ill prepared.  Shirt hanging loosely out the waist band of his trousers, cricket bag  bursting and his bat at an untidy angle against the car boot.  In a rush and late again.  Most of them were.  He wouldn’t be the last to arrive.  Sunday afternoon cricket.  He couldn’t not do it, but . . . .



Two middle-aged men, dressed in check shirts, ten gallon hats and rough leather trousers, stood facing each other, twenty two yards apart.  One was tall and bald, the other squat and silver haired.  Neither was smiling as right hands hovered over six guns.

‘I’m going first,’ said Phil.

‘No, you’re not, you’re the bad guy.’

‘Who said?  Anyway the bad guy goes first.’

‘You always get to go first, and you’re downwind.’  Bert pointed at his gun, ‘Do you know we haven’t got the right kit?  These aren’t Colt 45’s. Strictly speaking, we should have Colt 45’s.  Its shocking.  Yesterday, I was nearly fobbed off with an eight gallon hat.  The standard of gun fighting is dropping every year.’

Phil nodded, ‘Aye, I know.  I’ve kept up my times though.  Still got the quickest draw since Billy was a kid.  You remember Billy Iredale from the old days?  Fastest gun in the valley, ‘till I came along.’

‘Dick . . . Dick, are you playing today?’ shouted the captain from mid off, ‘or shall we get one of theirs to keep wicket?’

Dick shook his head and his recurring daydream faded, ‘Sorry skip, miles away.’  Two aging gunslingers, slugging it out on a B movie cowboy set, too old and too proud to back down.

Crouching ten feet behind the wicket, Dick turned his attention instead to Phil Cross, the opening bowler.  Even in his fifties, Phil used a long run.  The first ball zipped down the leg side for four before Dick could get a glove on it.

‘I’ll send you an appointment for the optician, Dick.’

‘Sorry, Phil.’

Bert Hammond bowled the second over off seven strides, several short of his prime.  Dick didn’t fare any better when the third ball kept low.

‘Have you got a bad back lad?’

‘Sorry, Bert.’

‘We don’t want extras to be their top score do we Dick?’

‘No Bert.’

Phil and Bert were proud men with respectable careers behind them in the West Yorkshire leagues.  Their breath was short and their muscles ached and they still ran in as if every ball could take a wicket.  When Bert was on, a wise umpire had cotton wool in his left ear.  Phil’s manners were more muted, more a supplication to a higher being as the ball passed the outside edge yet again.

Fielders were bottom of the pile in Phil and Bert’s scheme of things, to be tolerated as long as they took catches and picked the ball up cleanly.  So it wasn’t long before the Hammond roar when Tom put down a skier off the third ball of Bert’s second over, ‘Whatever are you doing Miller?  You dozy wassock, you should’ve swallowed that.’

Tom, a recent recruit to the local evening paper, and a Brummie with an accent to match, had yet to appreciate West Yorkshire’s small talk.  If he’d a tail it would have been between his legs as he walked back to extra cover.

Next over, Reg Harvey let one through his legs.

‘Bend your back you idle sod.  You are close enough to the ground,’ shouted Phil, ‘and spend less time admiring your Grecian 2000.’

Reg retrieved the ball from the boundary, tweaked his moustache and, winking at Tom, yelled toward Phil, ‘Stop pitching half volleys outside off stump then.’

Supposedly a friendly game of Sunday cricket down at Lowerthong, it had all the important ingredients:  a dry sunny day, a decent forecast, a picturesque cricket ground and an opposing side bristling with slow cowards.  The Wanderers were over from Barnston, cricket’s bottomless pit.  Their captain had won the toss and elected to bat.  Lowerthong’s skipper would’ve fielded first anyway as neither Phil nor Bert could raise a gallop just after tea.

Towards the end of his spell, Phil got a long hop to lift a touch.  The batsman dollied it to point off a top edge.  Bert looked heavenwards in disbelief, ‘Well I never, did you see that?  If it’d been any shorter it’d’ve hit ‘is big toe.’

Bert then bowled their star man.  Phil was stood at short third man, hands on hips, ‘He was blind. Someone had to get him.’

There are occasions when, in a what can otherwise be a lonely game, the players meet for a chat.  The taking of a wicket is one of these moments and Phil and Bert thrived on them. The rest of the side were more than happy to collaborate in the hope that a spot of mid-wicket bonding might mollify Phil and Bert’s outrage.  Otherwise, since the batsmen had their own problems, like seeing the ball, the only people to share in Phil and Bert’s intimacies were Dick and the umpires.  As the umpires had heard it all before, it was left to Dick to listen.

Phil’s first ball of his sixth over was pulled toward the square leg boundary, sending Bert on a seventy yard dash.  Having returned the ball, Bert doubled over, coughing and wheezing like Doc Holiday.  Phil was the first to comment, ‘Get the twelfth man on, skip, he’s knackered.’

Bert slowly walked back to first slip and propped his arms on his knees.  ‘I’m getting too old for this Dick.  Palpitations.’

Minutes later, Phil stopped suddenly as he ran in to complete the over and clutched his lumbar region.  Bert was quick to console him, ‘Come in off your shorter run, in fact just come in, your time is up.’

Dick tried to be more diplomatic, ‘OK, Phil?’

‘No Dick, I’m lying on the floor for a rest,’ replied Phil.

At the tea interval, surrounded by sandwiches, buns and mugs of sweet hot grey fluid, Phil improved enough to open the scorebook at the previous season’s game, ‘I got 5 for 32 against these last year.  We buried ‘em.  I took my two thousandth wicket that day.’

When Tom Miller’s eyes widened, Bert took over, ‘He’s always kept his stats, even when we were kids.  Bit of a nerd.  You did bowl well though, I remember it now.  I missed out.  It was the pitch, suited your leg cutter.  Too soft on top for me, and the ball was out of shape.  In my day the balls were always hard and true.  Its shocking.  Standards are dropping everywhere you look . . . ’

The skipper clutched Dick’s shoulder, ‘Dick, get your pads on.  Nobody’s volunteered to open, so you’re coming in with me.

‘Yes, skip.’

‘Phil six, Bert come in at five.’

‘Righto, skip,’ said Phil, ‘stroll round the boundary, Bert?  Don’t get out too soon Dick.’

‘No Phil,’ Dick strode toward the changing rooms.  Too bad if I said no for once, he thought.  Never opened at school or since really, until now.    Taking advantage of his good nature.  There’s plenty of other things he could be doing.

Dick did his ten overs, saw off their quicks and dutifully became Barnston’s first wicket.  A small contribution to half decent stand.  His school sports master had described him as a steady bat.  Lowerthong’s Sunday cricketers were less complimentary.

‘Batted Dick,’ said Reg lounging outside the clubhouse.  It was the polite thing to say in friendly cricket, or hard luck if you’d played like a lemon.  Dick wasn’t inclined to take such comments seriously.

‘Come on Dick, no need to be grumpy.’

‘You sound just like my wife, Reg.’



Family commitments prevented Dick from playing the week after.  Why Amy’s sister had to arrange a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon was a mystery to him.  There were compensations though – he caught a re-run of “High Noon” while everyone was changing.  For once he forgave the hour his daughter spent in the bathroom, and the delays that followed Amy’s insistence on doing fifteen jobs simultaneously – another of life’s mysteries.  Gary Cooper, aging and frail, but such courage.  I couldn’t do it thought Dick.  The brave pointless act.  Make a stand.  Maybe once upon a time.  It was only a film.  Could be real though.  A vague disquiet grew somewhere below his chest.  Might he have been different?

Amy swept in, ‘Come on Dick, snap out of it, we’re all ready.  Get the car.’



Strange, thought Dick as he arrived at the ground the following Sunday.  Usually players arrived late or at least the last minute, and changed alone.  Yet here they all were, sat together in the dressing room.  The mood was as grey and flaky as a sightscreen in need of a new coat of whitewash.

‘What’s up lads?  Ambrose and Walsh playing for them then?’

‘We haven’t a full team, Dick,’ said Tom, ‘you won’t’ve heard.  Phil and Bert aren’t so good.’  He raised his left arm, showing a substantial bulge at the elbow, ‘and I can’t do much.  Trapped it in a door.’

The skipper broke up the party, ’Right lads, we’re fielding.  Dick, would you care to put the gloves on?  Nobody else wants to.’

Dick tucked his trousers into his socks and found the keeper’s pads.  Just a doormat, he thought, and we’ve no chance, eight men at best.

Portly Reg, former officer and gentleman, followed Dick onto the field,  ‘Do I detect a smidgeon of mutiny?’

Dick drew in a big breath and took a long look at the pitch, ‘What’s the score then, Reg?’

Reg shied a practice ball for Dick to catch, ‘Rain stopped play at Headingley . . . ,’ He received a withering glance, ‘Oh, you mean Bert and Phil.  Not sure.  Last game, Bert broke down with chest pain, running round the boundary.  Said he had a bit of angina and not to worry.  I ran him straight home, but he wouldn’t call out the emergency doctor, stubborn I suppose.  I phoned him in the week and he was still waiting to see his own doctor.’

‘What about Phil?’

‘His back’s gone.  Still in bed apparently, can’t move,’ Reg paused, about to stroll to midwicket.  He half turned, ‘we’ve the Melbridge Cup in a couple of weeks.’

‘So we have,’ said Dick, adopting the position behind the stumps.

Forty overs and two hundred runs later, a despondent understrength Lowerthong Sunday side queued for tea in the small clubhouse.

‘What’s the Melbridge Cup?’ asked Tom.

‘Its the annual fixture between Melthwaite and Townbridge,’ said Reg, ‘we’re hosting it this year as part of our hundredth anniversary celebrations.’ As he was reputed to consider it bad form to be interrupted when in full flow, he was allowed to carry on at some length, ‘ a long-standing ritual . . .  going back hundreds of years . . . part of the late summer fertility festival . . .  chance for local boys to prove themselves  . . .  rite of passage . . .  being selected was highest honour . . . ‘

Dick and the regulars had listened to this many times.  For years, the fixture had been the site of legendary battles between Phil and Bert and, played on a local feast day it had traditionally drawn large crowds.

Then Reg suddenly recaptured the team’s attention, ‘Aye, and Chris Cain is in town.’

Dick felt as though he’d walked into a door.  Just the sound of the name was sufficient to bring up images of, how long ago?  Must have been fifteen years.  And now he was coming back.  Under a bit of a cloud.  The tabloids were at it again.

‘Sorry.  Chris Cain?’ Tom’s question brought Dick back to the present.

‘He used to play for us occasionally,’ Reg gave a short account of Cain’s rise from relative local obscurity to a big London achiever, still in touch with his roots, particularly Melthwaite cricket, ‘he was a protégé of Bert’s.  I’m surprised you’ve not heard of him.’

‘Heard of him sure,’ Tom sat forward and folded his arms, ‘I can’t see what it has to do with us.’

Reg sighed and shrugged his shoulders, ‘I invited him to the game and he said yes.  Committee OK’d it.’

Everyone went quiet and looked at Reg as he studied the table cloth.  Then they all had something to say.  Personalities like Cain tended to produce divided opinions.  Many said Reg had done well; it would be great for the centenary to have some sort of a celebrity.  Others simply resented tainted success.  A mild fuss but they were all curious.

Reg sat up and buttoned up his shirt, ‘It’ll be low key, no advertising.  Maybe one reporter from the local paper.  Maybe a scoop for you, Tom.’

‘I was just thinking that.  I’ll talk to my editor,’ said Tom, his chair scraping along the floor as he stood.  Then they were all returning plates and mugs to the tea ladies and heading for the changing rooms.

The start to Lowerthong’s innings did little to raise morale.  Dick, Reg and the skipper were all out for single figures.  The middle order then began to resist and grind out some sort of a total.  The skipper sat and watched with the scorer.  Dick and Reg toured the boundary.

‘Bit of a stunner, that,’ said Dick.

‘Apparently . . .  ‘

‘I was at college with Cain’s brother,’ said Dick, ‘Visited him a couple of times, so I knew him a bit before I came here.  Part of the reason for moving.  The area.’

Reg stopped to catch up with play, ‘Good shot . . .   innocent until proved guilty you know.’

‘What? . . . oh Cain . . .  yes, absolutely.’

Another wicket fell. ‘I’ll get padded up,’ said Reg.

Dick was left alone to ponder the news.  He and Cain had been acquainted, no more, except for the one incident when they became brief intimates.  Cain left on an upward trajectory.  Dick remained, shattered.  A long time to rebuild.  Naive and trusting some said.  Working too hard and not seen it coming.  Those who had not known true misery were fortunate.  The dogged guilt, the cheerlessness, others’ embarrassment.  A little of the joy returns.  Not the enthusiasm or the confidence.  Amy said it could have been worse.  It was the worst Dick had ever been.

When he called in the toilet, Tom was changing his elbow dressing.  ‘Here let me help,’ said Dick.

‘Its OK,’ Tom swivelled away and roughly tied the bandage.

Back in the changing room, Dick sat on one of the rough wooden benches and watched the game through the long window.  There’d been another wicket and Reg was at the crease.  Odd for an injury he thought.  On the inside of the elbow, and very red like it was inflamed.

Lowerthong were never going to get the required runs.  As it turned out it wasn’t a total disgrace and everyone had a bat.  After a drink or two, the players drifted in ones and twos from the clubhouse.  Tom caught up with Dick in the car park, ‘Can I have a word?’

‘Sure, what’s on your mind?’ asked Dick.

‘Thing is, I’m already doing a piece for “The Courier” on Cain.  Done some digging.  Weren’t you connected with him?

‘Mm . . .  slightly.  Nothing that can be helpful.’

‘My sources say he’s worried.  Something from the past that could effect his current situation.’

Dick unlocked his car door, ‘Not me,’ Dick dumped his kit on the back seat, got in and switched on the engine, ‘Sorry Tom.’  He closed the door and drove off.  I am not going to get involved, he thought.  This won’t change anything.  What happened, happened.



On the day of the game Dick tried to get Amy and her sister organised.  ‘What do we want to go to cricket for?’

Dick explained, ‘Its a special match.  The rest of the team will be there, with their families.  Bar’ll be open.’

Lowerthong is one of the prettiest grounds in the West Riding cricket league: a horizon of Pennine hills, shady riverside trees, drystone walls and a large bank of green comfortable grass.  When they arrived Melthwaite were batting, 4 down for 150 with 15 overs to go before tea.  Dick, Amy and her sister sat on the bank.

‘Anyone fancy a burger?’  Dick wandered over to the BBQ where he’d spotted Reg nursing a glass half full of ale.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Nicely.  Phil’s had a spell off a shortened run.  Only went for two an over.  No wickets though.’

Dick put his hands in his pockets, ‘Bit risky with his back.’

‘Both sides have players in the town team over at York, so they’re a bit short,’ he took a sip of his beer, ‘Phil said he was fine.  Bert’s on for Melthwaite as well.  Coming in at nine.’

Dick said he’d see Reg later and went back to Amy and her sister.

‘Who’s winning?’

‘Melthwaite have got two hundred and thirty, but Townbridge have to bat yet.’

‘You mean there’s more.  They’ve just come off.  Haven’t they finished?’

‘Its the tea interval, that’s all.’

Dick sighed.  Amy never has understood cricket.  Where had he gone wrong?  He began to hum “Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day”.  Strange sitting here, not being able to hear what the players are saying.  He turned his eyes toward Lowerthong church tower, standing proud of the foliage behind the clubhouse.  The clock showed five past five as Townbridge started their innings.

The family next to them turned on the radio.

‘Here is the news and weather.’

Amy overheard the poor forecast, ‘Dick we haven’t brought anything in case it rains.’

‘Chris Cain is supposed to be coming,’ said Dick.

‘Really.  The hot shot who’s been in the headlines, that Cain?’

Dick nodded.

‘Will you see him?’

‘Doubt it.’

‘Here is the six o’clock news.’  Dick checked the scoreboard; 101 for 4.

Mm  . . .  they’re cracking on a bit he thought.  He overheard Amy and her sister talking about Cain.  Made quite a name for himself.  Pity about the recent business.  Dick recognised the contrast in himself.  He’d drifted along, accepted what life had given him.  Now, after fifteen years, was something coming back to bite him on the bum?  Gary Cooper’s ill face appeared in front of him.  Marshal Kane had an hour and ten minutes until the shoot-out.  Dick shivered; brilliant.  What a film.  Gary never backed down from anything.  The billboards said it all, “The story of a man who was too proud to run.”

‘News and sport now at six thirty.’  Dick shook his head and returned to the present.  How they doing now.  153 for 5.  They might just get them.  Bert hasn’t had a bowl yet.

Amy stood up, ‘Its quarter to seven, Dick.  Sky’s looking grim, we’re off.  Try not to be too long.’

Many others had had the same idea and the grass bank was emptying.  Tree branches began to billow and rustle as the wind got up.  Clouds gathered,  high over Lowerthong, but darker and lower on the horizon.  Then only the Melthwaite and Townbridge stalwarts were left, gathered in front of the clubhouse, no longer in shirt sleeves.  The coals on the bare BBQ glowed and grey ash flew untidily.  Dick joined Reg, who was talking with Tom and the skipper on the edge of the small crowd.

‘Hi skip, Tom.  Close game.’

‘Yes.’

Townbridge needed thirty off the last four overs with three batsmen left.  On the other side Melthwaite were running out of bowlers.

‘Bert’ll have come on, Reg.  Has Cain arrived?’

‘Aye.  Come to think of it, Phil might have to bat.  What a finish.  He’s been delayed.’

Six-fifty on the scoreboard clock.  Another over, another wicket, six nearer the total.

Bert had two overs to bowl.  Eight runs off the first.

Six-fifty five.  A wicket in the thirty-ninth over and another eight runs.

Seven to win, the last man in, Phil, facing the final over from Bert.  The first drops of rain splashed onto the flags in front of the anxious clubhouse.

Bert paused at the start of his run and adjusted his left sock.  Seven strides and the ball shaved Phil’s pads.  Groans of encouragement from Townbridge.  The next was a yorker that Phil blocked.  More groans.  The keeper picked up and threw the ball back to Bert.  He turned and walked back to his mark as Lowerthong church bells began their seven o’clock ritual.  Phil waited.  Seven strides, right arm aloft, a small grunt of effort and the ball’d gone.  Phil stepped outside off stump and watched the ball carefully, first pitching half way and then rising toward his bat, up and ready.  As the clock fell silent, he pulled mightily to leg and the ball smacked into the keeper’s gloves.

Melthwaite shouted for joy. Townbridge cringed.  And then, deathly quiet apart from the pitter patter of steadily falling rain.  Bert lay face down across the crease at the bowler’s end and Phil, on his knees, keeled over and came to rest on his arched back, pale and agonised.

They’ve killed each other, thought Dick.

Then it was all activity, and sirens and ambulances.  Lightening arced across the low black clouds, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder.  The wind whipped into the trees and the rain poured.

Further thunderclaps and there was Cain.  Rather, it was someone who looked like Cain.  Well tailored, manicured and coiffured, but a gaunt shadow.

They shook hands and Cain nodded, ‘Dick.  Hoped I see you.’

Dick had expected to be tight lipped and closed off, to protect his uselessness from being exposed, to dim the sense of failure that was illuminated in Cain’s success.  But he simply felt uneasy and confused as he gazed at Gary Cooper’s wasted face and dark eyes.  Reg, Tom and the others introduced themselves.

Dick turned to the dark and deserted rain soaked pitch.  The umpires had forgotten two stumps, oddly picked out in a long shaft of clubhouse light.

Cain stood next to him, ‘Yes, its been tough.  Now I know what you must have been through.’

This was certainly not going according to plan.  Did he know something from Cain’s past?  In that instant, Dick saw the compromised addict, sent on a nonsense job,



Dick lost touch with Sunday cricket after that and it was two years before he revisited the shoot-out scene.  He wandered over to Gabrielle, faithful scorer, and peeped at the scorebook over her shoulder.

‘Fancy that, Cross and Hammond are playing.’

‘Dick!  Hello.  Long time.  Take a good look.’

Well is that Bert?  Red-faced, huffing and puffing up to the crease, and  Phil, scratching around, trying to bat?  Hang on they can’t be, they’re only lads.  The penny dropped.

‘Grandsons.’

‘Correct.  Now look again.’

Dick couldn’t see anything.  Then the tallish umpire behind the stumps took off his cap and scratched his bald head.  Dick quickly checked the man standing at square leg – silver hair and rather squat.

He waited with Gabrielle for the tea interval.

‘Its a thing dreams are made of, Bert.’

‘Aye.  The lad’s got promise.  They don’t have the same commitment we had though.  Moping on street corners, drinking in pubs.  Standards are not what they were.  Still that’s how it is these days, Dick.  I’ve had to adjust, can’t stay in the past you know.  How’ve you been?  We’ve missed your steady opening knocks.’

Did you get any more wickets, Phil?’

‘Nay lad,’ his hairless head cracked into two, ‘but I dropped my five hundredth catch.’

3962

How much do you know about your fellow players?  Sunday teams emerge from a clutch of the interested once they are over the hill, once they can no longer make the second team.  Perhaps where cricket hasn’t been played before, perhaps partly as a nursery for younger players.  Lowerthong were a bit of all those, but mostly they came from a generation of good school players who wanted to carry on.  People who were comfortable together, had children at the same time and reproduced a cycle of wealthy accidents of birth.  The skipper, Reg and Cain were in that cycle.  Dick was not.

Remains of the day

Last week, the boy and I enjoyed a short holiday in Whitby, a seaside town of some merit.  The harbour is picturesque and the ascent to the abbey, up steep steps, is rewarded by splendid views back across the town.  The boy tolerated these small excursions in anticipation of the more mundane enjoyment to be found amongst the numerous amusement arcades and cafes.  After three days, the holiday over, I decided to take a somewhat circuitous return route to the West Riding in order to revisit the scene of former glories.  My professional life had included a brief period of medical practice in a North Yorkshire market town, easily reached from the small village where we had a modest residence.  In this rural backwater I had the pleasure of turning out at cricket, for a team based at Lord Thorpe’s estate, and it is to here, today, the last Sunday in September, that I have made my pilgrimage, having dropped the boy at a local park.

The ‘Church’ was ever the place to discover news of local events, a traditional hostelry of basic comfort and cuisine, and of fine ale, brewed three miles hence within the lower reaches of Uredale.  It was less than a delight therefore, when, as I entered, I failed to recognise these salient ingredients.  No more the ‘tap’ with its hearty, if somewhat rustic humour.  Gone the uneven stone slabs, bare walls and rickety chairs.  Instead, a shiny dining room of ample proportion, replete with reverentially quiet guests, seemingly well disposed to their luncheon.

A polite inquiry of the landlord was not totally successful.

‘I’ve got fixture list, but they don’t drink in here any more.  Let’s see.  Aye, they’re at home.’

On sunnier days, young men collected here at the roadside, to enjoy a well earned restorative, as most would have laboured on the land throughout the morning.  The opposition would then arrive and off we would go to Lord Thorpe’s estate, down a dusty private track which led to the single storey green and white prefabricated club-house.  Several cars would have been encountered on this short journey:  family members embarking on shopping trips to Harrogate; staff coming and going in the discharge of their duties.  The day of my return, however, the entrance and access were ominously deserted, so I retraced my steps, my goal unattained.

I drove along the poplar lined road out of the village and took the Welldale road in an attempt to locate the official entrance to Lord Thorpe’s gardens, North Yorkshire’s most popular and exotic.  After parking, I noticed a rather inconspicuous sign nailed to a tree, “Cricketers keep to the end and take the path to the left through the wood”.   I dutifully obeyed, wondering at the need for instruction on this rather simple matter, and the rather inefficient manner with which the information was conveyed.

My efforts were handsomely repaid as I eventually found myself at the rear of the club-house and heard the murmur of conversation amongst the batsmen awaiting their turn at the crease, punctuated by the metallic clink of the updated score.   Disappointment followed as I was unable to recognise any of whom I came to assume must be the visiting side.  This was confirmed without any further elaboration, by the scorer,

‘Lord Thorpe’s team are fielding.’

As it has always been my habit to stroll gently around the boundary, I did so on this occasion, alone, anticipating with dismay a different prospect to the one I fondly remembered.  It was with great relish that, after a meticulous review of the landcape, I discerned little or nothing had changed.  A circular wooden fence, still in need of repair in various places, enclosed the grass arena, green and sloping in the outfield, level, brown and freshly cut out on the square.  Beyond the fence the ground fell toward a pool, home to a small flock of swans, before it gradually rose again to tennis courts, a flagpole upon which flew the union jack, a gravel drive and finally the big house, approximately a quarter of a mile away.

At last someone I thought I recognised happened to take up a position at fine leg, some ten yards or so from where I had undertaken my survey.

‘Alright Dr. Ambler?’

‘Yes I am.  Is it young Arthur?’

‘Aye.  Few years older now.  I remember giving you out LBW and you never forgave me.  Not umpired since.’

‘You would have been thirteen or fourteen.  How has the team advanced since those heady days?’

‘It went off for a while.  John the skipper moved to Scotland, most of the older end retired, so we scratched around for players.  Had to join the leagues to survive, but doing well now.  Promotion last two seasons.’

Ah, the leagues, so things had indeed changed.  Back then on matchdays, the atmosphere had been that of a garden party as cricket clubs from Durham to Leeds vied to send their social sides to this haven of country house cricket.  The cow pasture next to the club-house was habitually crowded with cars and people: veterans, youths, current players, wives, girlfriends and parents, all dining al fresco.  It was a bubble of fun and high jinks, and far more colourful than this grey game of league existence.

‘How is his lordship?’

‘Don’t see him much now.  A bit doddery on his legs.’

I suspected that Lord Thorpe was not a league man.

‘Well lovely to see you, Arthur.’

‘And you, Dr. Ambler.’

As I continued my circumnavigation, I looked back over what I perceived now to be golden years of cricket here at Lord Thorpe’s, and one particular fixture stood out, which oddly, was one of our few away matches.  It took place annually against Sir Rodney Peel’s eleven and entailed a pleasing expedition to the top of Uredale along minor roads, a distance of twenty miles.  There was intense rivalry between the two peers and it was rumoured that they wagered not inconsiderable amounts of money on the outcome, and as his lordship was on the board of Yorkshire CCC. it came as no surprise to find the county’s then current all-rounder or opening bat in our midst as we embarked.

One year was especially memorable for the bizarre reason that the match nearly did not take place.  Lord Thorpe was something at The Home Office, and had a good deal to do with “The Irish Question”, so at times of national emergency he would find himself more restricted than would have been his ideal.

‘Damned Irish are at it again, Ambler.  Not sure whether we can get up to Fellfoot Manor this year.’

Whilst we had been asked to keep our diaries free, those of us who collected for a drink on the Friday night prior to the intended day of the Fellfoot game were still in doubt as to whether it would go ahead, a tactic no doubt intended to confuse the Irish battle plan, and it was with considerable interest that we mustered at ‘The Church’ the morning after, wondering what our line-up might be.  We were not disappointed, apart from Blackie, our redoubtable slow left arm off-spinner, who had to make way for Jim Lincoln, recently returned-to-form Yorkshire number three batsman and swing bowler.

Skipper made the introductions, ‘Jim’s our guest today, let’s give him a good time.’

Several handshakes and backslaps followed and it was of no consequence that he would be on a substantial retainer.

‘And there’s one to come.  Here he is.  Major Carlisle from Bray Garrison.  I’ve got him down as a batter, so he’ll be opening with you, Dr. Ambler.  I’ve also got him down to travel with you, is that OK?

‘Indeed it is.  This way Major, its a pleasure to make your acquaintance.’

‘Thankyou, Dr. Ambler.’

I escorted the major across the village green to my car, a somewhat well-used Morris with soft brown leather seats.  Bray Garrison, situated in a large space just north of Uredale, contained a considerable number of soldiers and their families, which, when supplemented by the wide scope of its military activity made a significant impact on the local culture and economy.

Whilst Major Carlisle was the latest of a long series or army cricketers to play for Lord Thorpe and therefore not unexpected, I was nevertheless curious as to his selection at this particular moment.  As we turned left at Welldale to start our journey alongside the river Ure, I ventured to inquire with which army speciality he was involved, ‘May I ask to which unit you are attached, Major.’

‘Yes, you may, Dr. Ambler.  My current assignment is at the hospital.’

‘Ah, a medic then?’

‘Not exactly.  More a research post.’

‘Which particular field?’

‘Post-traumatic stress.’

‘So its psychiatry then?

‘To be precise, my primary qualifications are in psychology.’

‘Ah.  I myself am a physician.  Which university did you attend?’

‘Bradfield.’

‘A redbrick man.  I was at “The London” with Sir Sydney Smythe.’

‘The Queen’s physician,’

‘Only one of his many achievements.  He’s better known in the profession for his moral leadership, a quite superb model for us all to emulate.’

‘How long were you with him?’

‘Oh, a few years.  I don’t recall exactly.’

‘Where did you go after then?’

‘Here and there, junior posts, a modest research project, you know.  Is it your usual habit to create a psychological profile on new acquaintances?’

‘Sorry, Dr. Ambler, an occupational hazard.’

An enthiastic request to the umpire as to whether the ball had carried through to the wicket keeper off an outstretched glove brought me abruptly back to the present.  It was so beautiful here, a place for reflection away from one’s normal obligations.  As a member of the medical profession, I have often toiled in my mind on the vexing issue of vocation, that sense of calling, that pursuit of a purpose over and above mere personal ambition.  It is an unselfish duty, a devotion of one’s life to promoting the well-being of others less fortunate, carrying as it does, a heavy burden of  responsibility.  At all times one must adopt the bearing and posture of the professional, remote and reliable, suitably attired and benignly accommodating to the foibles that so bedevil the many who seek advice.  It is not a superficial veneer, something to be worn when the occasion arises, a handy tool designed for a particular task, like donning gloves on an inclement winter morning.  Nor is it acquired through the long hours of listening to lectures on anatomy, physiology, medicine and surgery, useful though they all undoubtedly are.  One is born with the need to serve and having entered into an apprenticeship within a reputable teaching hospital, one learns to adopt the appropriate demeanour as demonstrated by the master.  Sir Sydney’s approach and behaviour were ever impeccable, even during the most arduous of times.  I recall on one occasion having the necessity to request a visit of him well outside his usual routine of ward rounds and clinics.  My patient, suffering from a complaint of a cardiac nature, had taken a turn for the worse and I feared she might fare very badly indeed.  Sir Sydney was most accomodating, responding to my summons after dinner, immaculately dressed in a three piece suit and bow-tie,

‘Ambler, my dear boy, the woman has sustained a myocardial infarction and has only a short time yet to live.  Kindly let her last few hours be made comfortable with adequate doses of opiates.  Your assessment of the situation was no more than adequate, and I trust, on the basis of what, if anything, you retain from tonight, that you will manage a similar situation more appropriately in the future.’

One might have heard this as a rebuke, but I preferred to see it as an example of what, in the fullness of time, I might myself achieve, and I’m proud to think that this may have come about in no small way.  I imagine my father, a timber merchant’s clerk and a man not dissimilar to Sir Sydney in many ways, would have taken pleasure in my modest success, had he been alive.  He was gifted in mental arithmetic and took inordinate pains, in his role of bookkeeper, to maintain tidyness and accuracy, something that also extended to his personal appearance.  Like Sir Sydney, he expected certain standards, and had great difficulty disguising his disappointment when I was less than accomplished, particularly when matriculation became somewhat overdue.  Indeed, it was the absence of his reproach that led me to assume that by completing the examiner’s requirements satisfactorily and subsequently procuring the necessary funds to attend medical school, that I had caused him to feel some measure of contentment.

Even from an early age, I recall being endowed with modest coordination, enabling me to excel on the sports field with relative ease.  As one would be unwise to spend the whole of one’s time on one’s vocation, I have tried to maintain a sporting interest, albeit fleetingly during certain times of my career.  My father often alluded to the, in his view, excess number of hours I devoted to both cricket and rugby football.  He was always insistent that no worthwhile long term occupation could materialise from the pursuit of any form of sport, the only economically sensible way forward being entry into one of the professions following a necessary and lengthy application to academic study.

It took me almost no time at all, once I had qualified, to understand that rugby football was incompatible with pressures of hospital life, and contrary to Sir Sydney’s demands of his junior staff.  Cricket, on the other hand, was altogether more flexible and one could at least attend and watch, maybe of a pleasant Summer evening, even if one couldn’t play.  In addition, membership of a suitably located and acceptably hospitable cricket club was the very essence of professionalism, a right and proper place to meet with colleagues, conscious of their status and vocation.  Sir Sydney himself was a member at The MCC, though he confined his invitations to Lord’s Cricket Ground to his close peers within the medical fraternity.

Fellfoot CC. lies some way from Sir Rodney Peel’s house, midway between it and the local village of Ewesgill which provided a number of its players, in the curve of the river where it starts its long journey down to The Ouse at York.  The local elevations of Blacktop Moor and High Mount create a natural bowl, within which the cricket field sits at the valley’s very bottom, and as such is often flooded during winter’s rainy months.  A grey black wooden hut, with porch, serves as the pavilion, sanitary enough to dispense afternoon tea, but in need of some renovation.  It was here, around midday, that Major Carlisle and I arrived all those years ago.  We’d discussed a little of this and that to no great depth and I did not discover anything further about his research, but the conversation was an agreeable enough compliment to the journey.

The skipper won the toss and elected to bat, following which Major Carlise and I padded up and walked out to the middle.  We were to bat for ten or so overs, take the edge off their bowling attack whilst endeavouring to score at least three an over, and then we were to accelerate the scoring rate or one of us was to get out to allow Jim Lincoln to the crease.  In the event, Major Carlisle was dismissed, clean bowled, in the second over, playing around a straight ball which simply required a straight bat.  His address and composure at the wicket looked sound enough, but the shot selection at the time of his dismissal was, I fear, a little wayward.  This facilitated the arrival of our star man, much anticipated I fancy by the team, if not by the handful of spectators sat on the pavilion porch who had somehow learned of the fixture despite the security precautions.

Lincoln played within himself and still scored at a run a ball, and I began to wonder whether His Lordship had too strong a hand for Sir Rodney.  I shared this observation with Lincoln at a mid-wicket conference between overs, ‘Nay, Dr. Ambler, we can’t afford to get cocky just yet.  You won’t know this, but you see yon fellow at deep square leg?  Well that’s Ronny McBride.’

‘The Derbyshire left hander?’

‘Aye, and their keeper’s a minor county player with Durham.  So keep your hat on.’

It was to be a batmen’s afternoon.  Pity the major had got out so cheaply.  Play was then temporarily curtailed by the arrival of a helicopter which took some five minutes to negotiate a landing down at deep third man, close to the river.  Lord Thorpe subsequently emerged from the cockpit below the whirling rotors, to be met by Major Carlisle and Sir Rodney.  Soon after the helicopter’s departure, I was fortunate enought to glance to leg and enjoy the small accolade that greeted my fifty.  Sadly, concentration at the crease has never been my strongest cricketing asset, particularly at the attainment of a relatively rare milestone and it was with a shake of the head that Lincoln witnessed my predictable LBW three balls later.  I was happy on the one hand, having been personally proficient, whilst concerned on the other that Lincoln would have sufficient partners for the team to amass an adequately competitive score.

My fellow cricketers applauded as they stood waiting for my return to the pavilion, and sitting with cold drink, having taken off my pads, I was joined by Lord Thorpe and Major Carlisle.

‘Ah, Ambler, there you are.  Jolly good show.  Haven’t lost the knack.  Particularly strong around leg stump.  Jolly good.  We’ve got the beating of these, eh, what do you think, old man?’

‘Indeed, my lord.  Thankyou.  I suggest we have an even chance.’

‘I say, Ambler, did I hear you were originally from the West Riding?  Are you one of the Stoneley Amblers, the shipping people?’

‘No, my lord.  My father was in the timber business.’

‘Oh, really.  Just thought I’d ask.  Having lunch with one of the blighters tomorrow.  Must be off now and spike Rodney’s guns.’

‘Very good, my lord.’

Major Carlisle offered his hand, ‘Yes, well batted, Dr. Ambler.  I’m ashamed to say I offered no support.  Far cry from Lords, isn’t it?  The lads have been telling me how you used to be a regular up there.’

‘Well yes.

So this, you will now understand, is how I came to play for Lord Thorpe on his country estate, a most congenial of ways for a medical practitioner to unwind after long days and weeks attending with patients.

‘I must say, Dr. Ambler, you’re always dressed up to the nines.’

‘I’m not sure what you mean.’

‘The three-piece suit and the bow tie.  Even in summer.  Must be sweltering.’

‘I can assure you that I am not in the least discomforted.  Quite the opposite.  I choose my outfits purely for their ease of wear.’

meets lord thorpe at the end ]what tehe devel arae you doein ghere ambler, gerof off home an d enhjoy yousreftd

why do you play cricket – to keep fit