Larksong and lute-strings! We have a game of cricket! They've opened a window in Upper Largo and let the sun out. Tirra-lirra, by the river, sang Sir Lancelot. In Falkland, where the fireflies flit, disbelief shades into deep joy. From lip to hungry ear, the rumour spreads. The game, the game, the game's afoot! (Which is, when you pause to ponder it, a strange aberration from a national poet. If the game's afoot, what's ahead? But that's my theme ...)
There's something about the setting for a cricket-match at Largo that reminds me of the North Cornwall ground at Bude. So much so that I always expect to look down a cliff to the sea from the fence beyond the pavilion. (Pavilion is, I was thinking, a bit of an overstatement, until I consulted the OED, and discovered that a pavilion is 'the fimbriated extremity of a Fallopian tube'. That's something to think about: Don Bradman emerging from the extremity of a Fallopian tube to strike 334 in a day at Headingley: or the Mystics, on a rainy day at Gargunnock, packed together within spitting distance of a clutch of ovaries.) On a windy day in Bude, the spume from the Atlantic blows into mid-off's face or clings to the back of fine-leg's neck. There was absolutely nothing like that at Largo, so I've now decided that it's unlike Bude, and that this paragraph is entirely irrelevant. (I would have said 'supererogatory', but that's more than is asked for.)
Although the day was dry and sunny, the accumulated moisture of a sodden Scottish summer impelled the game onto the artificial wicket, which, like a girl I once met on a Sunday-School outing, bounced a lot more at one end than the other. The scorebook doesn't record who won the toss, but Chris Cook was our captain, and I know from experience that that usually means his team bats first. And so it was. Borley and the skipper's son opened the innings, and Seath, suffering like Kevin from ginger hair and a hangover, bowled the first over. Adi, it should be said, started at a disadvantage. He'd been disconcerted when two wandering Bedouins, whose religion forbids them to cover their legs, arrived in Falkland claiming to be his parents and that his natal name was Adi el-Bourlay (which evidently means 'Allah's backstop'). It can be disorientating to go to bed with the authority of the Home Counties behind you and wake up to discover you're the outcome of a one-night stand in an oasis. Under the circumstances, it's hardly surprising that the first ball of the match was Adi's last: he did well to last that long, in fact. To begin with, progress against Seath and Robinson was slow. Graham Sharland, having been struck about his person by the first ball he faced, twice fell asleep at the non-striker's end (once in the third and once in the fifth over), and spent the last hour of his innings in what looked, from the boundary, like a west-country slumber (dreaming all the time of Plymouth Hoe). The Largo wicket-keeper tells me that, when he was eventually fourth out, caught behind for 23 with the total on 121, Graham whispered to him, "was it good for you too, darling", and promised to bring him a cup of tea in bed. Meanwhile Matt Cook had died a hero's death in the perspiring Seath's penultimate over, and Windy had opted to play a bunker shot from the middle of the fairway, with the predictable effect that his bat was plugged and the ball was jugged - by Seath again. (A 'seath', incidentally, is the inside leg of a jabberwock, but how was Windy to know that?)
Windy's double bogey brought our skipper to the wicket, and the rest of the innings - barring an incident with a fez involving Clem Hitchcock (and, perhaps, the Bedouins) and another with a helmet involving Adam Thomas - belonged to him. It wouldn't be true to say that all the bowling came alike to him - after all, Duncan, the Largo captain, completed 8 overs for a miserly 19 - but two thirds of the remaining runs were his, and he completed his second mystical century with a single off the last ball of the innings. It's a matter of note that, out of a total of 364 runs recorded in this match, three Cooks scored 166, which may explain why their television programmes are so popular.
Tea at Largo is taken in the church hall, which reminds me of another Sunday School outing that I'm not going to tell you about ('les beaux jours, quand on était jeune'), and anyway I didn't know you could do that with cherries. The houses at the church end are lined up like queuing communicants, and the cricketers troop back past them with the white-clad innocence of choirboys. The whole thing has a faintly sacerdotal air, so that, wearing the umpire's cassock, I was half-inclined to deliver a sermon (something I once did in my nonage, to a congregation of seven - which was one more than their combined tooth-count - in a Methodist chapel in an Essex hamlet improbably called Fingringhoe. It's my secret suspicion that Sir Henry Newbolt got it wrong, and what that lecherous old pirate Sir Francis Drake was dreaming of all the time was 'fingering ho!', not Plymouth Hoe. Fantasy works feverishly at the libido of a sailor who's incarcerated for a year and a half in a wooden tub with a load of able semen)
Since we ended up the winners of this game, we should come clean: Largo was holding in reserve - for the final of the Scottish Villages Cup the following week-end - the cream of its cricketing talent. Most of it anyway - though a formidable adversary called Walker opened the innings with a menacing flourish. It was our good fortune that he quickly did something unspeakable to a concealed muscle, and his freedom of movement was consequently hampered. It was the misfortune of those of us standing to windward of him that the injury caused him to drop his trousers, thereby exposing an item of underwear that beggared belief. The ratio of material to vacancy was in the region of 1 to 7. "I'm superstitious", Walker confided to me, "I always bat in them". I kept to myself the opinion that 'in' was not the most appropriate preposition available, choosing, rather, to reflect on the perils of perpetual flatulence and on the gratifying oxymoron implicit in Walker's need of a runner.
Of the 151 runs that came from the Largo bats, 137 were scored by a combination of Walker, Robinson, Duncan and Cook; or, to make the same point in an anti-clockwise direction, the other seven managed 14 between them. The defining moments, though, were catches. Check the statistics, and you'll find that, in 38 matches prior to this tour, Kevin Barron had caught five men out. He caught three in this one, the first (diving forward!) dismissed the dangerous Walker off Jim Thomson's bowling, the second was caught and bowled, and the third gave Ali el-Bourlay the first of his two compensatory wickets. There were important catches from Matt Cook and Jim Thomson, too, but the fine flower of them all was Adam Thomas's. There he was, chewing a twist of tobacco while idling on the boundary, when he was approached simultaneously, from the side by Jo Sharland with her band of sproglets, and from in front by a ball toweringly smitten by Hobday. Suffice it to say that his response earned him a Royal Life-Saving Medal and an invitation to join the Russian State Circus. On the rare occasions when he's awake, Adam can be quite nimble. The figures will tell you that we won by 27 runs, but there were spells when it looked likely to be closer than that. Each side used eight bowlers, eighteen people batted, seven held catches, the sun shone, the Sharland girls and Fraser Chave delivered Largo from a wild succession of pirate invasions, George W. Bush was miles away. What more can a touring team ask for?
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