Cooking with Gas

Mystics versus Lanhydrock at Lanhydrock House, 13th August 2004

"The weather", said Annie that morning, "was a lot better yesterday than it is today". (She talks like Reading Primer Book Two now that Fraser's six.) And there weren't many of us at Tor View who expected the Lanhydrock game to happen. The Cornish sky was replicating Gerard Manley Hopkins: 'O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air .... Flake-doves sent floating out at a farmyard scare'. If Thursday was a wash-out, Friday the Thirteenth surely hadn't a chance.

How wrong can you be? This game was a cracker. 467 runs in 76 overs: 16 people batted (6 Mystics, 10 for Lanhydrock): 16 people bowled (6 Mystics, 10 for Lanhydrock): and it all went, as they say, down to the wire. [An idiom that originates from the bravado of Squadron-Leader Brian Fortescue-Hick, himself a teasing slow-left-arm bowler and deplorable second slip, who made 53 attempts to escape from Nazi camps by scaling the perimeter fence. Whenever he was missing from breakfast, they knew he'd 'gone down to the wire'.]

This is the kind of game that demands a serious write-up. Something after the manner of Michael Melford's reports on club and schools matches for the Daily Telegraph during the 1950s and 1960s. (He glossed my 50 runs against Downside in 1955 with the phrase 'at least half of them richly deserved' - which is only one of the reasons why I don't read the Telegraph.) According to his Wisden obituary (2000), Melford was 'the epitome of Telegraph man: conservative, understated, occasionally wry' (you can say that again!). More interesting to the world at large, perhaps, is that his mother was an actress and his godmother Lillie Langtry. Since Langtry was one of the more persistent of Edward VII's mistresses, Melford could claim a bed-link with royalty. [My favourite story of royal misbehaviour is of the exclamation overheard on a cruise by a fellow-passenger passing the window of Edward's cabin: "stop calling me Your Majesty, and shove the pillow under your arse!".]

Where was I? Ah yes, Melford on Lanhydrock v Mystics and Magicians.

It was by chance that I happened on this game. I'd just parked the Land Rover in the grounds of Lanhydrock House - the Melfords are Lanivet folk, and Lanhydrock is a staging post in my annual rummage among ancestral bones - when I caught a glimpse of white-clad figures over a low wall. 'The run-stealers flicker to and fro', said I [well, he would! he was always quoting!], my curiosity whetted. Even so, I might have turned away had I not found myself face to face with an old, white-bearded man improbably engaged in throwing sticks for a border collie: an ancient Coleridgean mariner he was, the kind who 'stoppeth one of three', and I was fated to be the one he stopped. It was from him that I learned that the game, reduced by adverse weather to a 38-over contest, would begin at 3 o'clock, that Lanhydrock would be taking first knock, and that the orange and yellow caps belonged to a nomadic team called the Misfits and Magicians [never trust the Telegraph!].

It all began quite sedately, with Sam Cook bubble and strifing it from the Ashgrove end, and Jim Myton, smooth as melodramatic malice, firing thunderbolts out of the conifer shade at the Standing Stone end, but Lanhydrock's steady progress was halted at 17, when Myton burst through Gill's defence and then immediately induced a snick from Hollyoak junior. Nor was it long before the burly left-hander Sturtridge contrived to run out the anguished Ashton. 32 for 3, and the diminutive Carter (carrying his father's venison [ERRATUM 'benison'] from the pavilion) strode out - a David to combat an army of Goliaths. He has the style, this Carter - a glint of Graveney and a hint of Hutton. The timing's there. If the strength were there, too, Chris Squire would never have held on to that sharp chance at mid-wicket. 75 for 4 close to the mid-point of the innings.

There is nothing that more gratifies the Daily Telegraph than British sportsmanship. If Adolf Hitler had played cricket, there would have been no need for Israel. This was a game played in the true spirit. Thus it was that Derek Matravers, captain of the touring team, had been quick to replace the menacing Myton with the tauntingly innocuous Cliff Rush (a nominal impetus behind the suicidal stampede of lemmings), whose floaters proved to be young Carter's downfall. It was not so with Hollyoak père, a left-hander carved out of Cornish granite. With this new partner, Sturtridge was transformed. A partnership of 69 was terminated only by his unforced retirement; but it was Hollyoak's brutal blade that threatened annihilation. Rush was dispatched for 23 off a single over, Graham Sharland for 48 off four. Even the towering Christopher Cook conceded runs at more than six an over. Had Hollyoak not followed Sturtridge into voluntary retirement, a total of 300 was within range. As it was, Sparrow and Cavendish sustained the charge until the brink of the tea interval, and even the ebullient supporters of the visiting team were decked in 'the sere, the yellow leaf' as they sipped 'the cup that cheers, but not inebriates'. 234 in 38 overs is, by any reckoning, a formidable target.

Beer and lager were being dispensed by a pirate in shorts from behind a makeshift bar in the Lanhydrock pavilion, and it was there that I was button-holed by the loquacious Brian Read. Now in active service as Lanhydrock's groundsman, Read spearheaded the Cornish attack through the 1960s. In 1967 he was eighth in the Minor Counties bowling averages, with a season's record of 161.1 overs, 49 maidens, 363 runs and 28 wickets (average 12.96). For those interested in cricket trivia, that put him five places higher than 'Bumble' Lloyd, one place above the genial umpire, Roy Palmer, and one place below Brian Lobb, who, during his full-time career with Somerset (1955-58), was the most ungainly fast bowler I have ever seen. (Watching Matthew Hoggard trudge back to the start of his run-up, I can glimpse Lobb in my mind's eye, a man whose run was for all the world like Hoggard's walk.) Brian Read, I observed, has an unusual trick of starting a sentence where he is and ending it where you are. A conversation with him is like a waltz, but what talks you could have with him about bygone Cornish cricket - of W.J.Lawry behind the stumps, of Roger Hosen, who chose to make his international mark in rugby rather than cricket, perhaps of Alex Machin (whom this touring team shamefully ran out at St. Austell).

By the time the tea interval was over - such was the spirit in which this game was played - Sparrow had invisibly transmogrified into Brian Read's son. 'Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true!' It was this diminutive teenager, fresh from yet another century break at snooker, who came on first change to put a stop to the flow of buns [ERRATUM 'runs']. Borley had completed his thousand for the tourists when the preternaturally accurate Read teased him into underhitting his favourite lofted drive. Martin 'Beanpole' Sharland's stay at the wicket was brief, and the stock of remaining overs was diminishing alarmingly when Cook joined the elegant Duncan Chave in a partnership that nurtured the seed of drama ('If we should fail'). Inexorably rose the score: imperturbably Cavendish changed the bowling. Should the tourists emulate Lanhydrock by retiring the run-scorers? 'No!', came the frenzied cry from the boundary, but Chave - a latter-day Barkis - was willin'. Having lunged ineffectively at a leg-side drifter from Hollyoak père, he had time to write his will before Harris had recovered the ball and shied it at the stumps, but elected to perish. The alternative to getting out, he explained on his perspiring return to the pavilion, was death. But his loss was of Shakespearean proportions: 'a perilous gash, a very limb lopped off'. 179 for 3 with little more than six overs remaining. I took a sip of beer and missed Myton's innings. 179 for 4: 55 required off 6 overs. This is the stuff of which epic cricket matches are made.

Cook is a tall man, and there is a legend (pace Gordon Pirie and David Bedford) that tall men lack stamina. Not so Christopher Cook. He confided to me, after the game, that he'd completed three rounds of golf that morning, and that he planned to jog back with his cricket gear to the team's lodgings that night, completing another acrylic en route. It may be argued that Cavendish's generous determination to give everyone a bowl was a godsend to the tourists, but such an argument is readily countered. What is certain is that the manual rapidity with which Graham 'Tarzan' Sharland and his Jayne maintained the scoreboard sufficed to keep all the spectators on tenterhooks. And the unvarnished truth is that 15 runs were needed from the last over and that Cavendish shrewdly entrusted it to young Carter. The bounce that day was low, and Carter was lower. Not without strife, Cook contrived two fours, and there was a wide - legitimately called by Borley. But there were two dot balls as well, and still six needed when Carter low-slung what would, without the wide, have been the final ball. Just how Cook found the leverage to launch it for six to cow corner is a mystery, and must remain so. Perhaps a tie would have been a fairer result, but what a game of cricket!

Peter Thomson

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