Here it is – the much-anticipated annual ‘All Star’ game against Ash Village CC. I cannot give it a better introduction than that provided by our former Team Director, hence I quote from his WhatsApp message: ‘Being an ALL STAR is everything! The pinnacle of your Village Cricket career. For those who win their first cap today welcome to the exclusive club. Your lives will never be the same. Full hearts gentleman.’ This venue was also the scene of two of the lead contenders for last year’s Mug’s Mug award: Skip’s hitting of the tree (as immortalised in song) and my explosive tirade having been run out (as immortalised by all anecdotes since). With assurances that our behaviour this year will be less ‘effervescent’ and no turbo shandies in sight, we rock up to the very scenic Ash ground bathed in glorious sunshine. We win the toss and put them in to bat.
Our efforts begin in a reasonably promising fashion, with Walkie and Dory opening the bowling, both keen to ensure that they take wickets with at least one eye on the end-of-season awards. Dory makes the breakthrough in his third over (a wicket maiden), drawing an edge from their number 1 which Stumpy takes safely: 24-1. Not to be outdone, Walkie takes a wicket in his next over, dismissing their number 3 for a duck thanks to a good catch by Skip. It is at this point that things start to do downhill. Their third wicket partnership is worth 51 and, although Tom dismisses the other opener for only 26, their number 4 is enjoying an impressive first season for Ash. He proceeds to larrup us to all corners of the ground, cheered on from the sidelines by his young family. Skip cycles through our available options, but our attack is dominated by spinners of various types and the deck is simply not doing anything much at all. The batsman in form smites us for an impressive 136* and they finish on 236 for 3 in the time available.
Chasing this sort of total was always going to be a challenge after a draining afternoon in the field and with a side relatively light on big hitters. When Skip plops one up to a catcher in the field for a 5-ball duck and Jack snicks behind for a 7-ball 2, it is very much a question of damage limitation (and thanking our stars that we opted for a timed, rather than overs game). Rich (14 off 63 balls) and Stumpy (8 off 52) promptly set about denying their wicket to all comers. Rich goes in the 20th over and then Stumpy is forced off with a painful leg muscle strain in the 22nd over, to leave us on 42 for 4 in the 22nd over. We are then witness to some excellent batting from Candyman, who top scores (and sets his club-best innings) with 32 off 48 balls. He is complemented by Dartsy at the other end, who hits a steady, relatively risk-free 28 of 38. This partnership sees us through to the close of play, where we finish on 108 for 4.