The men have asked me to say what a frightfully cracking catch that was that you took at Uplyme; and Miller apologises for what he said at the time. It was tactless and, in the event, premature of him to suggest the award of a posthumous medal.
You asked me to keep you posted on the outcome of the Plymtree match. Unusual place, Plymtree. Tucked away along the folds of the road-map by way of a left turn to nowhere. (Are you old enough to remember that fine Ealing comedy Passport to Plymtree?) Its main product isn't jam (that's Tiptree, which is in Essex - lucky for Shepherd that the taxi-driver spotted that one) but organic milk. It wasn't difficult to spot the organic cows in the field next to the cricket-ground, but I'm not farmer enough to see the difference at a glance. Miller tells me that you have to get up close to their organs. (By the way, sir, did you know that Miller's a Plymtree product, too? There's a photograph of him - before his nose - in a corner of the Blacksmith's Arms.)
It was, in a hot week, hot: and the spectators grouped themselves in a patch of shade below the slope that leads up to the pavilion. Shepherd had brought a new one in his taxi; a real cracker from Antigua (how does he do it with that shin-formation?), who was quickly absorbed in the merry give-and-take of child-minding and mystic banter. The captain for the day was that chap Matravers: you'd recognise him if you saw him - a territorial from Cambridge way, tends to lose things. He had the nous to capitulate to the local rules of 35 overs each, but he lost the toss and they put us in.
The story of our innings is mostly Wendon (not the bendy Wendon, the straight one). He scored 60 of his 87 in boundaries, mostly to leg off loose balls, but with a fair sprinkling of posh-side screamers. Barron wasn't with him long. He played his first ball from Granger as if hampered by the intervention of an extra leg and was bowled. There was then a stylish contribution from Officer Cadet James Dudbridge (you know his brother better, but this one doesn't fall over as often), and a polite one from Captain Matravers, who doffed his bat to a slow looper from young Tim Piper. Squire's resistance was then overcome by a straight one from Plymtree's best player, Maddocks. Shepherd was bowled one ball by Maddocks and out the other, which gave him plenty of time to explain the finer points of the game to Antiguan Julie. The first fine point he had to explain was Sam Cook. I'm not quite sure how old Sam is, but he hasn't grown as far as his head yet, and only one of his legs regularaly reaches the ground. That was the one that got struck by a dipping full toss, which led Sam to summon a runner. He'd already thumped a two and a four by then, but you don't need me to tell you, sir, that none of the Cooks likes running, and Sam obviously preferred to have James Dudbridge do the routine stuff for him. The last Sam Cook I remember was a slow left-armer who, along with Tom Goddard, used to take a heap of wickets for Gloucestershire in the 1940s and early 1950s. I'm not the only Pilot Officer who'd stake his pip on a glorious cricketing future for this half-pint version.
The 70-run partnership of the straighter Wendon and the youngest Cook was the backbone of our innings. It had its high point when Sam teased his runner by completing a single on his own account, and its termination when, after a moment's hesitation, he agreed to accept the indisputable fact that he was bowled. He left the wicket with the aggrieved air of one who has been mucked about by the grown-ups, thus instituting a mini-collapse. The immediate cause of this was Plymtree's Japanese-speaker (who sports the name of Corker - and that's quite enough to cope with without my making matters worse). Finding the same spot twice in three balls, he gloved first Wendon and then me to death. It was left to Matthew Cook and Quartermaster Jim Thomson to carry us through to a respectable score of 163 for 8 in our 35 overs.
The interlude that followed was a first for me: cricket tea in the village pub. I was hunched over a pint of the local scrumpy, fending off bendy Wendon Jr., when I spotted the pre-nose photo of Miller that I've already mentioned. I don't want to be accused of telling tales out of school, sir, but it has to be said that Miller's behaviour throughout the day was putting the good name of the RAF at risk. He spent our innings supping a jug of the local brew and issuing challenges to the new batsmen as they picked their way to the wicket. I did wonder whether to put him on a charge, but then I thought of you (how tolerant you are with Talia when she goes her two or three over the nine) and relented. The whirligig of time, after all, brings in her revenges, and I'll lay you three WAAFs to a NAAFI-girl he has one of his 'asthma attacks' tomorrow and can't make it to Newton Abbot for the South Devon match.
I'm not sure what Squire had imbibed at the Blacksmith's Arms, but he sprayed the ball around at the start of their innings like a tom-cat marking its territory. It took eleven balls to complete his first over, and the look of disbelief on Charlie Stubbins's face when Squire castled him was, in the circumstances, understandable. Young Dudbridge had already been rested by then, having made the mistake of taking two wickets in his second over, and Barron quickly declared his bottom unfit for play (Miller said they could tell that from the boundary before he even bowled his cheeky (sorry, sir, couldn't resist that one) over). But the score stood at 25 for 3, and things were looking good. Time, decided Matravers, for his secret weapon.
Well, sir, I don't know when you last saw Dan Shepherd bowl, but it's still an unnerving experience. In his new style, the one he's been developing in Vietnam, the aim is to propel the ball further upwards than forwards. The precise whereabouts of the stumps is not part of the calculation, and Dan was later fined for interfering with the radar at Exeter Airport. At the end of his disconcerting three-over spell the score had advanced to 68 for 3, and the hard-hitting Maddocks was relieved to see the back of him. It was the partnership between Maddocks and young Tim Piper that set up Plymtree's victory, but nothing detracted from Dan's finest moment - his l.b.w. appeal in Vietnamese, answered 'not out' in Japanese by umpire Corker.
Matthew Cook was our best bowler on the day, as on other days, but Maddocks was inexorable: 68 of his 92* came in boundaries, and to his credit he managed to keep out the straight one James Dudbridge delivered after completing a cartwheel in his run-up. The winning runs came with seven balls and four wickets in hand. What I would emphasise though, sir, is that, after two games against a club side that played without a whisper of grace, it was grand to be in Plymtree.
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