The theme over the copious English breakfasts during the Beamers’ tour of Somerset was to attribute cricketing definitions to the names of local villages. Some are so obvious that one wonders why they have not already entered the English language: Clatworthy, for example, barely needs explanation as a poor spell of bowling from the batsman’s perspective. For the bowler, it proves to be Elworthy. Ashbrittle, we decide, is a middle order prone to collapse while Taunton is, of course, the Aussie habit of sledging.
But we are proudest of Minehead, a bowler prone to explode at a dropped catch or simply at the injustices of a game which sees a succession of snicked fours look good in the scorebook. We have had a few of those in the team over the years and if they return, grown out of their youthful rage, they will become a Dunster, the name of the place where we are staying.
As a non-cricketing aside, it is a picturesque village that is being destroyed by traffic compounded by the short-sightedness of some of the shopkeepers who oppose any attempt to take out the ugly car parking in the main street or to traffic calm the speeding cars and lorries that destroy the bucolic idyll. In France or Italy, cafes would have been laid out on the main street and pedestrians allowed to establish their dominance. But, instead, as the kindly retailer who sold me my tourist baubles said, Dunster is sadly dying.
Back to the cricket. This is a true Oldie tour for which I ought to have requested sponsorship from the editor. At 53, I am one of the younger older ones – there is Barrie, a niggling and effective swing bowler topping the list at 63, captain Ralph a three behind and a third sexagenarian, Alan joined us for the first two games. Add in a trio of others in their fifties.
Our opponents sometimes sport the odd 50 year old, but most of the men are in their thirties. The boys, of whom there are many, vary from the feared 16 year old fast bowlers to little 11 year olds having their first taste of grown up cricket and who we cruelly try to avoid getting out because that keeps the run rate down. Ah, the canniness of old age. You can almost see the opposing captains size up this load of old crocks and decide to give their main bowlers a rest and put their top batsmen, the first team regulars, down the order so as not to embarrass their visitors who have come all the way from London to play cricket.
But this time they are wrong to underestimate us. Sure, in the ten years that we have being coming down here, there have been no shortage of defeats grasped from the jaws of victory when the no 7 and 8 suddenly show their true colours and stroke their way to an easy 100 partnership almost before we have noticed.. Last year, indeed, we lost all our games except those against our main hosts, Crowcombe, who fielded a mix of fellow oldies and youths too callow to control their urges to hit sixes.
Fortunately, this year we have a couple of excellent young players including one, Jack, who is a class above anyone else in these matches. His effortless shots to the boundary are delivered at such a rate that only the scorer notices when he reaches his fifty.
But it is our oldies who outperform themselves. In the first game at Mark, Satish, not a youngster, compiles an excellent century as the attack flags in the nineties heat allowing us to reach well over 200 in our 40 overs. In reply, we pick up a bunch of quick wickets and our cause is helped by one of those youngsters occupying the crease to no avail. But then in comes the number 8 who plays across the line to every ball but to great effect. The sixes start sailing over square leg and our total suddenly seems indefensible. Then a ball from our captain, Ralph, is despatched in my direction on the boundary at square leg. It is heading into the next field but I jump up and parry the ball which loops gently into the convenient curve where my shoulder meets my chest and I grasp it left handed. It was quite simply the best catch of my life even though afterwards there is some controversy over whether I stepped over the line while celebrating. But that is only pub discussion and we duly won by 17 runs.
And we keep on winning, with the oldies playing out of their skins. In the next match, a 20 over thrash, we dismiss a team of youngsters in the weepingly beautiful Winsford, deep in Exmoor, for 56 and at Brompton Ralph, another over 50, Charlie, cover drives his way to his top score for the club, 87 in another match winning performance. At Ashbrittle it is the youngsters, Jack and Andy who compile most of the runs with rapid fifties but out sexagenarian bowlers, Barrie and Ralph, keep the run flow down to protect our 35 over total of 195 as well as picking up wickets. Another over 50, Peter, hammers down his allocation of seven overs for just 14 runs. Again the number eight, with massive sixes, threatens to take it away from us but is halted by three run outs, the last from my throw behind the stumps to the bowler’s end ignoring Peter’s injunction of ‘don’t do anything silly’. Four wins in four days becomes five with an easy win in another 20 over thrash against our friends from Crowcombe.
The sixth, against Bagborough sees Ralph almost win the game single-handedly. He boosts our score to 224 coming in number six with an amazing 22 in six balls, then takes four wickets including two catches off his own bowling which would have decapitated him had his hands not intervened. With vital catches again being held, it is soon six out of six.
It is only our hosts, Crowcombe, who defeat us in the last game. They have strengthened their squad with returning youngsters from university who this year only hit the bad balls for six, a total of 11 in the innings. One boy hits the biggest six I have ever seen in my playing career, a drive over long on that should have reached the rainbow which suddenly appeared, ominously, as they clattered our bowling. The lad, inexplicably nicknamed Daisy, once hit a ton in 40 balls and although Ralph soon bowls him, others keep on hitting. Their score of 221 is too much for us as we crumble through a mixture of tiredness and the guile of another over 50, Julian, an occasional leg spinner who takes four wickets, double his best ever tally.
As for my personal pursuit of a maiden century, I get kind of close again. Against Bagborough on a ground with a slope that converts ones into fours and a flat artificial track. My fellow opener, Martin, and I , put on 100 in 20 overs and I reach 50 a couple of overs later. But the fielders have sussed my legside bias and the fours dry up. After six games in six days, my stamina wanes and I play a tired shot across the line, leaving me on 68, a solid innings but I needed a Clatworthy bowler to help me along to three figures. ‘You’ll have to get fitter’ says James, 30 year old coaching partner, rather unsympathetically. Still, it is my second big fifty of the season and I still have over a year until my self imposed deadline of my 55th birthday. Perhaps Bagborough next year?