The day of the Carlton Positively 4th XI’s visit to near neighbours Watsonians 3 coincided with the 80th birthday of the great actor Sir Ian McKellen. Your correspondent recalls when McKellen first burst into the limelight in dazzling performances as Richard II and Edward II at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969. A few years later he starred with Judi Dench in a truly remarkable interpretation of Macbeth. Carlton’s prodigious younger cricketers will think that is all very well – if slightly beside the point of a match report – but they will hold McKellen in affection through his more recent portrayal of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films.
Gandalf walked in Middle-earth for approximately 2,019 years, un-aging and appearing as a grey bearded human of about 60 years old or so. Many is the Carlton junior who, in the quiet reaches of the night, has wondered whether the skipper of the Positively 4th XI might not also fit that description. Then they notice the skipper straining in the field and think it cannot be – he is surely much older than 2019. But they cannot be sure – this might simply be a wizardly deception to lure the batting orcs and elves into confusion. They will keep their eyes and ears skinned for clues.
The Positivelys duly assembled at Craiglockhart, with the Two Towers of the mansion looming out of the wooded hill behind and seeming to touch the low grey sky from which a gentle drizzle fell. The forecast was not encouraging. Leaning on his staff, the skipper spoke in resonant terms to his opposite number,
‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.’
The juniors ears perked up – surely these were Gandalf’s very own words to Frodo near the start of the Fellowship of the Ring.
The skippers took in the grey and wet conditions. ‘Well we probably won’t get very far – not even enough time for a shorter game – let’s just see what happens.’
The coin flashed in the air and Gandalf the skipper called correctly – the juniors’ sense of wonder increased as he made the third correct call this season – evidence of wizardry if ever there was. But there was no wizardry in his next utterance ‘We’ll have a bowl.’ For who would not wish to run about in the rain for the next 2 hours rather than sit in the dry of the pavilion?
As they trudged over the wet grass, a care worn senior asked the skipper why he opted to field, to hear the reply “It will be very good for you, and most amusing for me.”
A nearby junior’s eyes opened wide – these words were also familiar. Weren’t they what Gandalf said when……but his thoughts were put to one side as the Billy and Jaimie opened the bowling.
The skipper’s instructions to ‘Send these foul beasts into the abyss,’ might have seemed familiar to those who know their Rings, but were a bit strong and not quite in line with the Spirit of Cricket. But that is the state you get into after walking Middle Earth – or Craiglockhart for 2019 years. Jamie – 2-34 – got early rewards tempting successive batsmen to lob catches up to Martin at mid-on which he took with aplomb, despite having been dropped from the Famous Fives to bring the Positivelys’ adult quota to acceptable levels. Billy bowled good line and length but was unrewarded. Charlie replaced him and got into the act finding a soft spot on the pitch from which the ball shot onto the off stump – 53-3. Watsonians set about repairing the damage through Davies and skipper Bunker. With due care and attention they moved the scoreboard along as the rain continued. It was hardly fine cricketing weather but the rain was never quite strong enough to call a halt to proceedings. In the interests of protecting the innocent and the guilty from the wrath of the ESCA committee, your correspondent will not reveal whether any drinks were taken after 20 overs.
Davies and Bunker had got to 112 when Ben Stronach took what will be the first of his many senior wickets when Bunker skied a leading edge and Eric safely bagged. Two balls later Ben castled the incoming batter with one that kept low. Ben 2-22. Celebrating the wickets the skipper extolled the virtues of young bowlers, ‘You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you.’
This was too much – a junior retorted ‘But isn’t that what Gandalf says about Hobbits when he gets Frodo to leave the Shire……’ A look from the skipper silenced him.
Ben’s immaculate line and length was no surprise, but there was more to wonder at in his dazzling choice of nail varnish – a residue from a theatrical extravaganza during the week.
As the ball doubled in size in the wet, Gavin bowled a few tweakers, Billy Jamie and Cameron returned to finish their spells but no further wickets fell to the bowlers. Davies was run out for a redoubtable 57 through good work by Brian at square leg and Watsonians finished on 158-6.
As the teams left the Shire for the long journey for tea at Myreside, the prospects of completing the match seemed to lower. The rain seemed that bit more determined. But then it lightened a little and after a little hesitation Watsonians announced that notwithstanding the increasing slipperiness of the footholds, they were keen to bowl. The skipper set about his batting order
‘I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.’
The juniors stirred, ‘Isn’t that what Gandalf said when……’
They were silenced again by the skipper
‘I suppose you think that was terribly clever?”
They looked agog and whispered ‘Isn’t that what Gandalf said when……’
Eric and Gavin set about an opening partnership. Eric was proudly wearing his new Carlton shirt – having played for the last 2019 years in undefined and unbranded clothing. The team consoled him – presumably a rich relative had passed away leaving him the financial resource to indulge in this top of the range sporting gear.
Al Murray had now joined the thronging crowd to watch the opening partnership. He proudly displayed his bandaged hand and showed his x-ray to anyone with an interest. The skipper opined,
‘That wound will never fully heal. He will carry it the rest of his life.”
The juniors stirred again at the familiarity of the words. But they knew to keep their wisdom to themselves. It would do no good to reveal the skipper’s true identity now – it would imperil the hazardous journey to recover the ring.
Eric and Gavin were making good progress in difficult bowling and fielding conditions and had got to 91 before Gavin on 26 was bowled behind his legs by left-armer Martin – adding further evidence to Dad Al’s burgeoning submission to ESCA that left-armers should be confined to a league of their own (other than Billy and Ben, obviously).
Eric- 39 – went soon after, mistiming a drive when the ball stopped on him. At 97-2 there was still some way to go and Watsonians felt they were in with a shout. There was a series of loud appeals which were turned down much to their disappointment.
Team Kentish closed the door – Charlie playing an effective foil to Paul’s more belligerent approach. A flat six over cover proved the power of Paul’s hitting. Charlie was caught behind for 7 with the winning line in sight. Brian’s stay was short but a thing of beauty and left Martin to join Paul who brought up the win with a 6 back over the bowler’s head. Carlton win by 6 wickets and Paul 48*. Martin pointed out that he was undefeated during May and had been a not-out batsman on 3 successive victories. To further stirring for the juniors, the skipper acknowledged Martin’s talismanic properties
“It is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay.”
The juniors nodded to themselves. They knew.
A good victory and the Postivelys return safely with the ring firmly in their grasp.
As he left the Positivelys to their celebrations, the skipper said he looked forward to the match report with the Gandalfian words
“All good stories deserve embellishment.”
As if your correspondent would ever do anything other than record the unvarnished truth of the proceedings.
Congratulations to Watsonians on playing with such commitment and good humour on a damp afternoon.
PS Your correspondent mused that this was his first cricketing visit to Craiglockhart for many years. He had enjoyed frequent visits in those far off days as his team and Watsonians inhabited the same league. In those days, your correspondent’s team was composed of players in their 20s and 30s – with one outlier at 45 or so (who wasn’t your correspondent). Watsonians were all Watsonians and had a similar age distribution. In those matches your correspondent would have bowled anything up to 20 overs (a thrill to batters and bowlers alike) and batted middle order with style and panache [Oh come on – I am sorry I have been silent through all the rubbish above but this is too much ExEd]. Yesterday the Positively’s age distribution was vastly wider and binomial in shape. Their 6 junior members did all the bowling (in between wondering about the true identity of their skipper). Watsonians age distribution was not so extreme but they were similarly dependent on youngsters to bolster their 2 older players. Changed days.