It is not known what the great PG Wodehouse would have made of an outing on a sunny Sunday afternoon to the Inch, where the Carlton Fifteen-Elevens, who, to digress, take their name from the initials of their somewhat weighty formal title of the Mixed Development XI, ie MDXI ie 1511 in Roman numerals) enjoyed their latest sun-kissed outing against MDAFS (whose acronym unfortunately does not readily translate to Roman numerals). Had he chanced to cross the greensward, perhaps on his way home from doing his shopping at the adjacent Aldi, he would have seen much to admire and much stimulus for his writing. Indeed it would seem that in another life he must have already done so. His work seems riddled with inspiration from this sporting encounter.
Wodehouse came into mind yesterday and in a flurry of subclauses worthy of the master here is why. Robert Rowlands, the demon opening bowler for the Fifteen-Elevens on this occasion, thinking that, with his allotted 6 overs safely in the bag, he was due a bit of rest and relaxation while the so-called batters in the side went about their bemusing business, brought from his copious cricket bag a huge tome of the master’s works. His evident intention was to start, finish and inwardly digest every word during the Fifteen-Elevens’ innings. His skipper, who, to quote PGW, is a melancholy looking man with the appearance of one has searched for the leak in life’s gas-pipe with a lighted candle, had other thoughts and, while commending his literary taste, invited Robert to partake of an alternative stimulation of his grey matter in the form of scoring the proceedings. In further words of PGW, Robert felt like a man who chasing rainbows has had one of them suddenly turn and bite him in the leg. With an inward sigh he dutifully put the Woosters aside for another occasion and took up the pen.
The afternoon had started so well for Robert. Arriving at the Inch he found that the skipper had won the toss and decided to bowl first. The shiny ball was lobbed in his direction with the suggestion that he might like to open proceedings. He did so with gusto. Equal in gusto was debutant Theo Griffin who steamed in at the other end.
Much as they deserved a return for their efforts, fortune did not shine on them and it was a smart run out that drew first blood. Opposing skipper Pujari’s heroic call for a leg-bye was undone by James Stronach’s dash and throw on the turn which left him some yards short and, with, to quote PGW again, the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.
This was deemed enough excitement for the crowd for a while and proceedings entered a quiet phase as a young opener and his not so young partner could make little of some excellent line and length bowling supported by keen fielding. 8 overs had passed and a mere 18 on the board. Pushed to take a run after a passage of dot balls, the elder partner felt a twinge in his oft stretched hamstring and chose to depart for a calm seat in the shade under the elm tree.
Saskia and Tom Hathorn took up the bowling challenge with aplomb. Tom reeled off a couple of maidens. Saskia persuaded the young opener to edge onto his stump for her first senior wicket. Well done her! 24-2. Di Blood then also took her first wicket for the Fifteen-Elevens as the very young Bala forsook his excellent technique for once – as PGW would say I have a will of iron, but it can be switched off if the circumstances seem to demand it – and swung mightily only to be snaffled down the leg-side by James whose excellent anticipation put hims exactly in the right place. Quite a day for Di and James as we shall see further on.
Then the innings gained a bit of momentum as Naraswamy, donning a snazzy bit of headgear more Samuel L Jackson than Samuel Curran in style, set about the bowling with some determination. The skipper, who had replaced Tom, took the brunt of the assault but had the last laugh as Naraswamy holed out to a good high catch by Iain Hathorn. But his 41 had given MDAFS a big boost. John Beattie had taken a good catch in the skipper’s previous over and the skipper followed up by taking the middle stump of Sheikh to leave him 3-34. Robert and Theo came back but couldn’t persuade the fates to favour them.
The last wicket to fall went to Tom. Di’s thoughts may have been elsewhere as the innings wound to a conclusion – after all, as PGW says, Hell, it is well known, has no fury like a woman who wants her tea and can’t get it. But if she was musing about sandwiches and scones it did not show. She deftly pouched her first catch for the side. What a gal!
So at the end of 30 overs, MDAFS had posted a creditable 133-8 and Robert made his way to the boundary in keen anticipation of a literary break.
Hathorn per et fils strode confidently to the wicket. It seemed unnecessary for any other batters to pad up. Surely these two would knock off the runs. But, as PGW puts it, it is precisely these moments when we are feeling that ours is the world and everything that’s in it that Fate selects for sneaking up on us with the rock in the stocking. And the rock was in the stocking – Iain pushed a bit too hard and saw the progress to the ropes of his lofted cover drive interrupted by a pair of sure young hands. Tom and James steadied the ship for the next few overs. But that rock was still in the stocking. And it was Sheikh who was now wielded it with a vengeance. Coming on as first change, he had Tom, John and Theo back in the hutch in rapid succession as he put down a triple wicket maiden.
Even worse the skipper was now at the crease. There is no evidence that PGW had seen the skipper bat. However experts are beginning to believe that he must have done so, for in an early short story he describes Reginald Knight in words that could only have been inspired by the skipper – Reginald, mark you, whose normal batting style was a sort of cross between hop-scotch, diabolo, and a man with gout in one leg trying to dance the Salomé Dance. When a boy at school he once made nine not out in a house match, but after that he went all to pieces. His adult cricket career was on the one-match one-ball principle.
It is well known to many in the Carlton family that the skipper has a pathological aversion to facing junior spin bowlers. He has a similar aversion to left handed bowlers. It would seem that this news has travelled, at least as far as the HQ of MDAFS whose strategic preparations for this encounter were well laid for the skipper’s arrival at the crease. As far as the skipper was concerned, unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove. Up stepped young Bala, barely higher than the stumps. Left arm round, the umpire advised. The skipper’s heart sank. He managed to survive a couple of balls before attempting to put the young upstart back over his head. While he successfully cleared the bowler (which did not require much elevation) he had failed to reckon with the tallest player on the field who was lurking in the shadows behind him and who gratefully took the catch above his head. The skipper departed and the scoreboard at 38-4 looked decidedly unhealthy.
There was then an excellent partnership between Robert and James. Robert does not often get the chance to bat in junior cricket so he decided to make the most of the opportunity and smacked the ball to the boundary with great conviction. With James effective but not so aggressive at the other end, they pulled the score to a more respectable 91 before Robert lost his middle stump to Mulholland and returned from the fray with a hugely commendable 40 against his name. Mulholland then did for James in the next over – an excellent 33. It was left to Paul Bailey to manage the last overs: Helen popped one back to the bowler but Di hung on to score her first run. What a day for her – first wicket, first catch and first run! And still no tea!
MDAFS skipper Pujari brought himself on to bowl and did for both Di and Saskia with his pace. The Fifteen-Elevenses finished 115 Paul unbeaten on a sprightly 11..
Honours to MDAFS. Well done and thanks to them for a most enjoyable afternoon. Lots of good skills and learning on display.
As so often the Carlton juniors were let down by their seniors. A stronger foundation would have seen the excellence of Robert and James bring up the victory. PGW has just the words for the skipper to use as he comforted his disappointed team, One of the poets, whose name I cannot recall, has a passage, which I am unable at the moment to remember, in one of his works, which for the time being has slipped my mind.
So be it. The skipper returned home. Welcomed at the door and asked how it went, he nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?
But what a rare day. A game in which the youngsters of both teams had great opportunity to confirm that the future is bright. It is always a pleasure when the generations mix in the same team. The seniors in the Fifteen-Elevens may not have delivered this afternoon. They may think about the opportunity they missed but they will surely agree with PG Wodehouse when he wrote, ‘As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.’ The smiles on the junior faces at the end of the match told them that pleasure had been given.