The Bedouin Cricket Club

As Lawrence knew, organising Bedouin is a taxing business.

Since spring they had been promised something special if only they would be good. And so for the first weekend of the school holidays, they were tumbled on to their Magic Carpet and swept down to Warnford for a game versus The Hampshire Hogs.

Warnford was immaculate. Chequered outfield, ordered fence. To the south, a stone wall with patchwork of tree crowns beyond. To the north, Warnford’s iconic pavilion of brick and glass, enhanced by the raising of the Bedouin Flag above. Rolling country East and West. But not all was so idyllic.
- “Goodness ‘taker, what happened to you?” asked Joe.

The Undertaker, never a bucolic figure, had added a black eye and cuts to his ghostly face.
-“Fight with some kids. Holloway Road. On bikes”.

He drew on his cigarette, revealing cuts on his hand and bruises on his arms.

Sean wore a black leather jacket and smelt of Red Stripe and Shepherd’s Bush. Mufti Rob was on edge. He fussed about a lack of boundaries this season.
- “You can bat me high today skip. Everyone else has had plenty of cricket”.

The toss was won. And despite the wet, green wicket the Bedu were unanimous that they would bat.

Up at Lord’s, Sehwag was missing from India's line up. But the Bedu would be blessed with two openers spooned from the same pot of butter chicken as the whisky and coke drinking genius. Elliot Sherrington took strike. Unusually for a Bedouin, Elliot is always cheerful. Batting in a floppy hat, he played as well as all hoped he would. He tucked in with delicious timing, his mouth watering like he was sitting down to boti kebab at Nawab’s, Viru’s favorite Delhi eatery.

At the other end was Arpit Bhagava. Delhi born, gleaming in white and upright like a Calcutta traffic cop. He cut late and leant forward to drive cleanly, dispatching boundaries with the authority and conviction of a public servant issuing traffic penalties in the world’s largest democracy.

In the middle the sun was shining, on the benches, rain clouds gathered. Sean ran through his punk-sex manifesto. Tim wrinkled his nose. Rob rehearsed punchy drives a bit too close to the windows. The 'taker practised elbows a bit too close to Joe's head.

In contrast to the Bedu, the Hogs are well brought up. As unlikely to bowl short or wide as to drop an ‘H’ or a ‘T’. Hogs skipper Burridge made a double bowling change. Gabb came bustling down the hill and made one leave Arpit. Evans diving low to hold the edge. Coming up the hill, Roe’s left arm seamers upset Elliot's timing, and he was caught in the covers. Batting would never look as easy again.

Jake and Joe played theirselves in. This took rather longer for Joe than it did for young Jake. Joe had faced 32 balls without scoring (helpfully Rob was counting from the boundary and letting him know) before heaving at Johnson, whose sweater sported a wellington boot. Umpire Graham sent him on his way.

Time for Lunch. Even this can be an occasion for more
Bedouin dissent, but such is the splendor of the Hogs spread, and so generous the cheese board, all hoped for no such incidents.

- “I’ve always wanted to come here,” said Umpire Bob, admiring the paintings on the wall.
- “Mmmm” said Elliot, between potatoes.
Rob looked on coldly, curling a lip.

Continuing, Jake was batting responsibly and building a score, but wickets were falling at the other end. Rob went out to bat at number 6.
- "At least one place too low” he announced as he crossed the rope.

Tall, with a stoop, he played a few pleasing strokes, using his feet to counter the slowness of the pitch. Umpire Bob gave him lbw.

Where some feel impotence, Rob's response to any wrong is to seek revenge. This is as true on the cricket field as on the terraces of his beloved Stevenage Borough Football Club, where he is known as “Agro”.

On being given out, the following happened very quickly: his left hand pointed towards his bat; he paused a beat, then set off towards the umpire, accelerating and turning side on as he did so with his bat beginning an extravagant, waist high back-swing; Jake, the non-striker, took half a step as if to intercept him and Rob swung his bat under his arm and spun towards the pavilion.

He re-crossed the rope and announced that he had “hit it”. His teeth were bared. His breathing fast.
- “Who’s got a light?” he demanded as he headed for the groundsman's shed in search of fuel.

He was cut off by Steve and Matt and eventually distracted by a Sean Graham monologue on Motorhead's 2009 performance at the Hammersmith Apollo.
-"The place was full of Brummies".

On the pitch, the Bedu were in a tumble. Jake fell for 69, a victim of another Gabb leg-cutter. 170 and Sean was at the crease. His batting could never be described as ‘over coached’. Yet, true to the method-actor he is, Sean revealed a full range of cricketing strokes. With Alf dabbing gracefully, the pair of them put on a quick 20, before Sean was out for a new top score of 1. The Bedu were all out for 191, spirits lifted due to the last partnership.
- “Great knock Alfy. Good stuff” Joe beamed.
- “Don’t bloody patronize me” he gruffed. Running a cricket side is a thankless task.

In the huddle Joe pleaded with the Bedu to at least look interested in the field. Steve came charging down the hill. The Undertaker ghosted up it. Elliot and Alf threw themselves around in the covers. Steve took a return catch. Tim, replacing the ‘taker, had Burridge lbw. Only Rob seemed distracted.

Tea. Sean was talking about Tony Wilson. Alf was chipper. He always is when he’s not talking to Joe. Jake was relaxed. Matt reluctantly recounted the tale from earlier in the week, of when his dad had replaced Matt's porridge oats with rat poison. Elliot was having more cake. Rob was in the kitchen asking for sugar.
- “More, give me all you've got".

The Undertaker sat at the end furthest from the window, lips pursed, and feet on the table. Steve offered him a scone.
- “Well, you did take him off after he bowled a maiden,” Alf explained to the skipper.

Rob got up and approached umpire Bob. The Bedu flinched. Tim dropped his cup on to its saucer. Elliot stopped chewing. But for once the publican's son was smiling. Albeit a strange, toothy smile.
- “What a place for cricket hey Bob. Did you come from far?”
- “I drove down from Twickenham”
- “Drive alright? What did you come in? Is that your Passat outside?"

The Bedu attention switched to Elliot. Tim was coaxing him into a fourth piece of chocolate cake.

Back out, it was Tim and Matt’s spin versus the shot making of Whitman and Cranley. A ball went up, Skipper Joe steadied himself…
- “Oh Fuck” said Sean as he saw who was under it. The same Sean the skipper had driven 100 miles that morning to get to the game.

The Taker was brought back. Took a wicket, and was taken off again.
- “I used to think you were alright,” he said.

The fielding was largely good. Jake made a slip catch look easy. But something was up with Rob. There was a mix up between the batsmen. Rob was ready. He swooped, aimed and threw full strength and wide of the stumps. Umpire Bob just slalomed his hips out of the way in time. Overthrows.
- “Next time” said Alf, cheerily. Rob didn't look at him.
- “Yeh, next time”. He was breathing hard, and his teeth were bared.

The game was on. Hogs started to push the running and it was one of those sessions where the ball seemed to follow a fielder, in this case the Undertaker. Except it didn’t so much follow him, as go where he wasn’t. Two or three times every over he would have to set off up the hill to the furthest, steepest corner of Warnford's ground, while his team mates cheered him and the Hogs ran four.

Wickets fell, mostly to Tim. Gabb came in and counter attacked. A run out, again neat work by Tim. Hogs had one wicket left and were 20 short. Rob had an idea.
- “I should bowl skip, from Tim’s end”.

He indicated the end where Bob was umpiring, and practiced a round arm Malinga action, with a clenched fist coming through at head height. He showed his teeth. Instead Joe brought himself on from the top end.
- “Oh Fuck” said Sean.

Seven balls later (Joe had bowled a wide), Hogs had one wicket left and were four short of a win. Tim had the ball in his hand. Gabb was on strike. At mid off The Undertaker was surrounded by smoke. No necromancy this time, but a Marlboro Red. Joe tried to think of a teammate he could blame for defeat.

Gabb took a single. Steve looked at Joe pitifully. Alf contemptuously.

Then Tim, bless him, found some magic. The ball took a half edge, hit Clows’ toe and Arpit clung on to the rebound. The Bedouin had won by two runs.
Above: The vista over the southern wall at Warnford, reminiscent of the Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.

Below: The Bedouin flag above Warnford's pavilion.
Above: Arpit gleamed like a Calcutta traffic cop.
Below: Mufti Joe looked out of sorts.
Above: Tim, Jake and Alf give Umpire Bob a protective escort to his car.
Below: TIm Dutton with his medal as Bedouin Man of the Match. Gabb was Man of the Match for the Hoggs.