Money Programme vs. Aldenham – 20th July
I’m still slightly at a loss to explain how this match - which appeared to have all the components of a classic - managed to peter out into such a tepid draw.
It was all there: The phoenix-like Money Programme batting line-up; an incredible and at times brutal century from the Skip (batting at number nine of all places); a seven-wicket haul from a chippy teenager with braces; the dour rear-guard and comedy dismissal of a humourless batsman bedecked in St. George’s Crosses; some even more comedy catching; even a man dressed as a pirate. And yet…
Usually at Aldenham it’s all about winning the toss – which Darren duly did – but, controversially, he chose to bat. A sound logic given a previous capitulation chasing on this ground, but one that looked decidedly shaky after their spotty youth crashed through our top order with some fine swing bowling.
We were reduced to 61-7 with the duck hat passing forlornly from Tim to Graham and brief resistance from Gordo (who smashed a six over extra cover before perishing next ball) and Sailish proving flashes in the pan.
Darren came in at nine muttering something about “always getting a bat no matter where I put myself” and the rebuilding started slowly with Tom. They saw off the opener who had been on a hat-trick twice and was cockily harbouring ambitions of taking all ten wickets. The fifty partnership came up during an hour of gritty tide-turning before Tom lost sight of a straight full toss and Peter became the third recipient of the duck hat.
By this stage we had recovered to 118-9 and were reasonably satisfied – but Skip wasn’t finished. Chris Balch wasn’t about to chuck it all away either, and played a superb anchor role as Darren bludgeoned the hapless Aldenham attack to all parts. Six sixes swept him to 99 in the blink of an eye, and the partnership was worth over 70. Enter the opening bowlers and Chris had an entire over to negotiate with Skip at the non-striker’s end. He did this with consummate ease, but Darren had no idea what he was on and nearly came a cropper before the vital run came.
There was still time for him to run Chris out which rather reduced the intensity of his partner’s applause on the walk back to the pavilion, but his heroics had lifted us to 199 all out which was more than competitive.
Too competitive, actually.
Tim took his elder brother’s approach to getting out cheaply by bowling superbly. He got a wicket in his first over (Tom’s 100th wicket-keeper catch) and beat the bat time and again as we struggled to dislodge the stubborn bandana’d pirate, despite encouragement from the close fielders to “shiver his timbers” or “knock the parrot off his shoulder”.
We got him eventually though, and midway through the innings Aldenham had slumped to 40-5 with Darren taken two steepling catches off successive balls from Goochie. Unfortunately, this led to a predictable “backs against the wall” job by the guy who looked like he might have been BNP (due to the English flags) and his mate who took a spectacular 38 balls to get off the mark.
Chris Balch eventually snared the former thanks to a hilarious mis-timed pull which popped apologetically up to the wicket-keeper (couldn’t happen to a nicer gut, we thought as he trudged away), and we had a sniff with four wickets needed off the last six overs. But two dropped dollies from Sailish and Dan put paid to any thoughts of victory. “What did I do wrong?” Sailish asked Darren sheepishly from under the Flounder hat – no doubt expecting some helpful coaching advice for next time. “You fuckin’ dropped it,” the Skip responded dryly.
A shame then, that such a sterling effort was rewarded only with a winning draw, but proof if any were needed that timed games are not exactly our forte…
Dave: Anger-ometer only ever reached “Mildly Irked”
Simon: 10K run in the morning – opened the batting just after lunch. All in a day’s work
Sailesh: Mild-mannered off the pitch – a veritable pest a silly mid-off
Gordon: Cut down in his prime
Tim: Golden with the bat; Golden with the ball
Graham: Get forward!
Dan: Missed catch unleashed potty mouth
Tom (W): Stopped the rot
Darren (C): On fire
Peter: Duck hat holder
Chris: Perfect foil
Toddington, July 27
Won by Seven Wickets
When the charming owner of Toddington Manor pottered over to check out the match on his cricket pitch, shocking pink trousers clashing merrily with the salmon-coloured walls of his beautiful home, he would have been struck by the quintessentially English scene.
The Money Programme team gathered on the pavilion steps went on a charm offensive as our host and his family idly shot the breeze about the history of the ground, and how lovely it was to see such an idyllic game played out on their land.
Hopefully the old man’s hearing is not what it was.
Some of the language out in the middle would have made a navvy blush, and the atmosphere, far from serene and gentlemanly, was a seething, spitting, vitriolic brouhaha, with tempers long since frayed and a bit of biffo looking increasingly likely.
Frankly, it made Dave’s hilarious boundary-marker abuse a few years back look like the work of a small child over-turning his tea-tray in a fit of pique.
While trying to avoid finger-pointing, it is fair to say the two skippers were not setting the best example.
Their captain fits the classic mould of your British, under-skilled leader. But while, for example, Mike Brearley was never very good at cricket, at least he had the charm and technical nous to draw respect and high-quality performances from his more gifted team-mates. This chap seemed happier goading and braying from the touchline – heckling our bowlers with a barrage of brainless abuse.
When he came out to bat, he was immediately struck on the buttock by Richard’s exocet from the boundary leading to a bellow of “Great Shot!” from Dan, and some sniffy protestations from the batsman. Johnny got involved, suggesting that sledging is a reciprocal thing: If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.
It’s a shame because he is clearly passionate about the game. One can imagine him as a boy thumbing through Wisden and dreaming of Ashes glory – an ambition cruelly thwarted by the lack of any discernable talent. In many ways it is a tragic tale of mediocrity and unfulfilled aspiration.
Darren saw it rather less romantically. An insult was thrown, the bait was taken, and the name Rinaldi has probably been aggressively erased from their Skipper’s Christmas card list.
Much had transpired before all of this to shift us from our usual sunny disposition into such combative mode.
Consigned to field first after losing the toss, a combination good bowling and crap fielding got them to 100-1 with the burly South African profiting from a drop by Tom at deep cover, which was enough to give Dave a migraine and bring Peter into play as 12th man – a duty he accepted with the eagerness of a young pup who always brings along his kit – just on the off-chance.
Tom was not the only Flounderer on display here though. No fewer than six Money Programme fielders wore the hat of shame – but the bowlers stuck well to the task with John getting the key wicket of the Saffer (caught well on the boundary by Richard) and Chris Balch returned tidy figures and a couple of wickets. Simon and Tim also impressed as the Mis-hits totalled 219-9.
But these were merely the incidental numbers. The major flashpoint occurred midway through the innings when their less talented and gracious South African clearly gloved one down the leg-side to Gordon off Skip’s bowling.
The noise was loud enough to send several dozing herons flapping from the lake in alarm, but incredibly neither batsman nor umpire acknowledged it. Gordon was riled enough to stride down the pitch with the murderous expression of a wronged wife brandishing a large rolling pin. Skip just muttered something about “cheating runts.” Except he didn’t use the word “runts”.
It got ugly. The umpire threatened to “walk off”. Dave helpfully reminded him that if anyone deserved to be walking off it was the batsman.
But he wasn’t going anywhere. Soon afterwards he clobbered Skip for six – no mean feat considering his eyes were closed and he had all the foot movement and grace of an inebriated hippo. More confrontation. Tim turned his attention to the square leg umpire and was enjoying a pleasant conversation about the vagaries of honourable cricketing conduct when he was hastily moved to mid-wicket.
Tea was a tense affair. The chances of a gracious reconciliation over egg sandwiches and Hula-Hoops were always going to be remote.
The Mis-hits strode out purposefully – hell-bent on crushing us. The captain consulted his Fisher-Price guide to fielding tactics and opted to open up with spin. A bold tactical move but one that backfired spectacularly as Goochie eyed up the short square-leg boundary and sent several sweetly-time blows over the top of it.
With Adam offering fine support we raced to 60 before he nicked a thin edge through to the keeper and simply walked off. I believe it’s called sportsmanship. Skip the umpire kept his hands in his pockets and smiled knowingly.
Johnny came out and it soon became clear that the Mis-hits were light in the bowling department. Indeed, as Simon breezed past fifty, our only worry was the gathering storm which threatened to cause an abandonment. Procrastination became the name of the game as bowlers dwardled to their marks and the captain faffed about with endless field changes.
It made not a jot of difference to Simon who accelerated to a sublime century as we hurriedly broke out the Blackberries to work out Duckworth-Lewis calculations. But the rain never came, and though Johnny (for a well-made fifty) and Simon perished in quick succession to the friendly Mis-hit with the curly hair, Tom and Richard knocked off the remaining runs without too many alarms.
The size of the victory perhaps took the edge off the tension, and when the players came off we were keen to concentrate on Simon’s terrific knock rather than fan the flames of controversy. With any luck we’ll be back at Toddington next year – opponents to be confirmed…
Simon: Epic innings
Adam: Far too honest
John: Back in form
Richard: Bounce, bounce
Darren (C): Diplomacy probably not on the Kiwi National Curriculum
Tim: Get your arm off that umpire
Gordon (W): Now who’s angry?
Dan: Safe hands
Chris B: Super spell
Dave: A headache for the batsmen