Unfortunately Darren was holed up in Shanghai airport, no doubt coming in off the long run as poor old Louise tried to fend off short-pitched lychees armed only with a rolled up copy of the Lonely Planet.
But the new management team had anticipated this yawning gap in our side, and cleverly recruited a new all-rounder named Gooch (thankfully the tried and tested cricketing moniker was not matched by a drooping moustache and bullish endorsement of hair-replacement therapies).
Tim was stand-in in skipper and impressed early by arriving on time, winning the toss, and getting changed straight away instead of sitting slouched over the scorebook in his flip-flops and wife-beater vest chuntering loudly about the crapness of the wicket and/or opposition.
We batted, and despite losing Roger early to their scary, middle-aged slinger (who looked uncannily like a ninja bank manager), made a confident start, with Simon (Gooch) and Johnnie starting to find their range.
Comparisons with Dan Dunlop were inevitable: The dreamy cover drives; the compact, watchful defence; the three successive lofted sixes over midwicket… er… well at least they’re both left-handed. The big fella himself missed most of the onslaught, arriving midway through the innings with Josh in tow, oblivious to this flagrant interloper stealing his thunder and, quite possibly, his opening berth.
Simon stayed involved even after departing for a cultured 83. He leapt up immediately to answer an SOS from Cranbourne who had a man down in the field, and ended up completing the rest of the innings playing for them, jogging from fine leg to third man. At first this looked like an epic gesture of goodwill and eagerness to impress his new team-mates – but on closer inspection, the pitch WAS next to an archery range and he HAD just run Johnnie out. John doesn’t like being run out. And he had access to cross-bows. Wise move, Goochie.
Richard and Gordon swept the score up towards 200 with a brisk partnership, before a mini-collapse saw the tail scrabbling for their pads. Troy had to go in gloveless for the last two balls and was promptly stumped after a sally down the wicket that was quite possibly the dictionary definition of “kamikaze”.
Our 223 looked reasonably imposing given the history of these games and the quality of our bowling attack, but we reckoned without their two openers. Their skipper whacked his first couple of balls for four, and his partner (evidently a man for whom pies are less a popular snack, and more a way of life) was equally brutal on anything over-pitched.
Their progress towards our total was not without alarm, but they were grateful for some pretty ordinary catching. John leapt like a salmon at cover-point as one of them lobbed up a dolly. Actually – bad analogy – a salmon would have caught it. And it doesn’t even have any hands.
This caused the one “Angry Dave” moment of the match as he slapped the turf in frustration. Aside from that, he was eerily polite despite going wicketless. Maybe it was the presence of his beloved on the touchline. Either that or he’s mellowing. I’m going with the beloved theory.
Tim may have been concentrating too hard on field placements as he managed to spill three chances, and by the time Gordon had broken the partnership with a fine diving catch off Richard, Cranbourne were well on the way.
The big chap had made seventy or eighty with ease off our pace attack, but he simply couldn’t handle Balch Senior who bamboozled him into an injudicious reverse sweep which found its way to Troy via Gordon’s head.
Chris, in tandem with Simon, were probably the pick of the bowlers, and Simon capped a memorable debut with a scintillating caught and bowled, but we were always twenty runs short and Cranbourne limped over the line with over to spare as the heavens opened.
So – a disappointing start. Tim may have contributed no runs, no wickets and three dropped catches to the cause, but he looked every inch a leader. Maybe he just needs to invest in some flip-flops…
Simon: On trial with Wimbledon. Might just scrape into our team pending a stern review
Roger: Money Pods? Money Pogs?? What on earth are you talking about, man?
John: “Bring me my bow, of burning gold…”
Richard: Appealing needs work
Gordon: Not scored a run on the offside since 1997
Mike: “PLEASE can I have a bowl??”
Tom: Pithy match reviews thus far only his contribution to the team
David: Polite and bearded. A bit like a geography teacher.
Troy: Gloveless wonder
Chris B: Steadfastly refuses to pad up until he’s actually in. Classic number 11 lethargy
Result – Lost by 4 Wickets
The first Money Programme game of the season tends to mean jumpers, brittle fingers and varying degrees of enthusiasm.
There’s the camp which is absolutely bang up for it, cricket bag choc-full of expensive new gear, body perfectly conditioned and absolutely bristling with confident anticipation (Darren) – and there is the second camp, filled with lardy, under-prepared layabouts who spend the Saturday night secretly praying for a postponement – at least until the temperature reaches double digits (everybody else).
Result - Won by 100+ runs
It’s always a bit of a lottery, the annual fixture with Fitzwilliam.
For starters, there’s the long trek up to Cambridge during which the clemency of the weather tends to take a nosedive (well it IS the furthest north we venture). Large foreboding spots of rain caused Tim to pop the hood up on his Audi, but it turned out to be just a precaution. Despite earlier fears of soggy wickets and wasted journeys, the track appeared to be a belter, and the showers failed to materialise.
All this and we had managed to cobble together eleven players with Richard jeopardising marital harmony to nip up the M11 at the last minute. AND we won the toss. Happy days.
The other unpredictable Fitzwilliam conundrum tends to be the quality of the opposition. A team peppered with Cambridge Blues one year, is often followed by fragile, floppy-haired academics the next. This one appeared to lean towards the latter, though our top order may not have agreed. Dan in particular was aghast to find himself walking in the first over, having popped a short ball from their burly, jovial opener straight to square leg where it was expertly pouched by the straggly student in the black jogging bottoms.
The bowler was unquestionably sharp, but that turned out to be the only vaguely straight ball of his wayward opening spell. Rugby League is his game, it turned out. They did possess a couple of talented players though, and when the other opener induced two nicks from Johnny and Peter in successive balls, we were looking decidedly wobbly at 18-3. But we needn’t have worried.
Peter’s first-baller gave him an opportunity to concentrate on his new paparazzi-style long-lens camera, and he will have captured plenty of textbook flourishes as his number three son carved the attack all around the ground. Roger was providing stoical support at the other end, but his progress towards fifty ended in agonising style as he was run out at the non-striker’s end following a lucky deflection by the bowler’s foot for an excellent 47.
This foundation allowed the new captain to come in and support his little brother’s quest for a maiden century. Tim started by being dropped off his first ball, but biffed himself into a bit of form at one end, while Richard marched on. Sixteen off one over took him to 91, and from there he glided effortlessly to three figures in ones and twos, providing an important lesson in patience to those of us who try to smash the casing off the cherry every ball once we get passed 20.
Evidently deciding 100 was a more appropriate place to start the fireworks, he spanked the hapless tracky-daks boy for four sixes in an over that cost 30 in total, causing his proud father to abandon his camera and dig out the record books in search of a more profitable Money Programme over.
Eventually he perished with three balls to go for a majestic 137 and, typically, he came off bemoaning his failure to topple his brother’s highest score record, rather than celebrating an epic knock. There is just no pleasing some people. Tim had contributed 37 to a partnership of 126, showing either an admirable captain’s restraint, or the power and timing of an asthmatic girl. You decide.
268-5 was, I’m told by the Oracle, the highest MP score for three years, but the enigmatic students have chased down similar scores in the past so we weren’t counting any chickens.
Actually, we were. And we were right to. They did have a useful opener who compiled a well-made 50, and the captain could also bat a bit, but the rest of them were no doubt more adept at working out pi to several thousand decimals than they were at negotiating Chris Balch’s notorious “slower ball”.
Let’s see: If v = the velocity of the delivery and lt = the loop multiplied by the trajectory, then the chances of a physics undergraduate in tennis shoes and an oversized helmet spanking it to the boundary will always be comfortably close to zero.
Chris, Peter and Dan ripped out the heart of the Fitzwilliam order, while Troy and Johnny’s wily medium pace was also noteworthy. And after the debacle of the first game this season, they were admirably backed up in the field with newcomer Nigel throwing himself about gamely despite injuring a buttock, and Tim taking three catches to prove his hands do not in fact resemble dead twigs smothered in butter.
A late finish and long journey home, but worth it for the 100+ run victory and the comical sight of the number 11 droog in the black trousers trotting out to the middle with a box strapped to the outside and no pads. Dan got him first ball and is now on a hat-trick. Horrorshow.
Dan: Three more wickets than runs this season
Roger: Just bowl it on his leg stump and he hasn’t got a hope
John: A bowler who bats a bit
Tim (C): A captain’s innings
Troy: Metronomic opening bowler and belligerent bat? TROY-fish anyone? Anyone? OH COME ON.
Tom (W): Pain in the neck
Graham: Vital catch
Chris B: Geek-baffler
Nigel: Pain in the arse (apparently)