The Bedouin Cricket Club

Grove Park, Yoxford, Suffolk
View the ground
In ancient times, tea was not known outside China. In The Story of Tea, Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani tells us that,

“Rumours of tea’s existence had reached the wise and the unwise of other countries, and each tried to find out what it was in accordance with what he wanted or what he thought it should be.

The King of Inja sent an embassy to China, and they were given tea by the Chinese Emperor. But, since they saw that the peasants drank it too, they concluded that it was not fit for their royal master: and, furthermore, that the Chinese Emperor was trying to deceive them, passing off some other substance for the celestial drink.

The greatest philosopher of Anja collected all the information he could about tea, and concluded that it must be a substance which existed but rarely, and was of another order than anything then known. For was it not referred to as being a herb, a water, green, black, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet?
In the territory of Mazhab, a small bag of tea was carried in procession before the people as they went on their religious observances. Nobody thought of tasting it: indeed, nobody knew how. All were convinced that the tea itself had a magical quality.”

But cricketers know what tea is. And what it is for.

August Bank Holiday was billed as “Glastonbury with Cricket”. The Bedouin Summer Party, and a Cricket match vs XI Gentlemen of Suffolk. From Leiston and Leeds they came. Bungay and Bangalore. Halesworth and Helsinki. Men who would play cricket. Women who would wear hats. A coven of witches from North London. And rain that would feature through most of the day, dripping from cap-peaks and filling the rabbit holes on the outfield.

Tents were pitched around the Grove Park ground in Yoxford. A wicket cut and rolled. 22 men gathered in flannels. Some fitting. Greg Ford gleamed in classic crème cabling, like Nigel Havers in Chariots of Fire. Ben King squeaked in his 1994 nylon, like the Pilsbury Doughboy*.

Rob Harrison, the son of a Cratfield Publican, was skipper for The Gentleman of Suffolk. On winning the toss he called for Yoxford’s Ben Vincent and Manuwattu’s Shane Murphy to open the batting. Vincent, rain dripping from his superman curl, worked the ball off the back foot. Murphy, angelic features a light in the gloom, was compact, and accumulated. For the Bedouin, Jake Sharland got surprising bounce and Damien Holliday swung it like a 1950s big band. In the Pavillion, Pia served Pimms. Everyone pretended it wasn’t raining.

A bowling change, and Ben King asked some questions with his left armers, nearly catching one of Vincent’s replies. But his restrictive trousers betrayed him, changing the trajectory of his leap.

The Suffolk openers had had the better of a hard fought first exchange, when both departed with the score on 110. Elliot Sherrington came out to bat, and timed an off-drive as sweet as one of the three banoffee-pie cocktails he has for breakfast everyday. Then he slapped a Russell Garside full toss into the top of the giant pine-tree on the boundary edge. Leander Vanderbilj hit a six into the Boundary Oak. Bedouins were in trouble.
The rain was coming down hard. Players struggled to suspend their disbelief. Off the field, the witches huddled in an orange Vango tent. Lawrie went to the pub.

Then Frannie and Jane arrived, and everything got better.

Red lipstick. Wholesome blonde curls. Dark eyes. Sleeves rolled up on their knitted cardigans, carrying Union-Jack bunting and silverware. They looked like Home Front pin-ups. Son Sam was on hand too, dapper in his burgundy sleeveless sweater, like Wallace from the Ardman animations.

Together, they transformed the inside of the Pavillion into a palace of afternoon tea. Floral cloths and silver tea strainers were the parks and gardens of the cream-cake cityscape before us. Every-where were gilt edged plates full of profiteroles or scones. Plump cakes sat on stands. Golden tea warmed silver pots. The spirit of the blitz. The opulence of the Ritz.

Jane said - Here's a bell you can ring, when you want us to bring more tea.

Everyone felt better.

The clouds rolled away, and the Bedouin who retook the field were revitalised. Nick Keegan leapt bravely to take a catch. As he fell, he spilled, recaught and dropped the ball four times more, twisting, rotating, stretching, using both hands, a foot and his left ear. He finished in a knot on the grass, like a drunken solo twister player. But it was the rallying moment the Bedouin required.

Andy Rogers bowled some wobbly nonsense that befuddled the Men of Suffolk. Then Russell Garside quickly removed Sherrington and the classical left hander Kevin Poulton. Rob Harrison cut a brief dash, then declared the innings.

200 to get.

Opening for Bedouins, Santosh Partil didn’t rate Sherrington’s bowling much. He was good enough to strike fours down the ground, through mid-wicket and square on the off side. Ian Price got hit over cow-corner and into the corn-field. Santosh’s partner Sam Lincoln followed him in the charge.

So rapid was their run scoring, that when they departed with the score on 110, Russell, umpiring, felt the game needed further evening up. He immediately retired Damien Holliday LBW.

Sharland and Rupert Lancaster took the score to 150, then strange things started to happen.

The tea ladies had left. On the boundary, the witches were waving brightly coloured cloth and shrieking.

On the field Sam Butler coaxed a gimme catch from Sharland. The clouds drew in once more. Dan Kennedy, a cricket newbie, suddenly found the dark conviction to remove Lancaster. Shaun Williams, powered by the coven’s nefarious chanting, turned from thoughtful camper to destructive Golem.

Clutching the ball like a rioter holds a brick, Williams went through the Bedouin middle order. Vanderbijl was his accomplice, stumping any Bedouin foolish enough to leave the crease.

Thirty to get, one wicket left, Russell Garside joined Joe Phelan at the crease. The wind whipped up. Brown leaves attacked their ankles. The witches wailed.

The Story of Tea ends when a man of knowledge settles the mystery by saying:

'He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not. Instead of talking about the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea-drinkers. Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.'

This was to be Garside’s approach.

“I am one who wins matches” he said.“Or loses them”. Phelan grinned. Then grimaced.

The wind dropped. The witches stopped. Lawrie put down her pint. Pia her trashy novel. Faye lowered her camera. Abs her panama. Jane and Rowena paused their talk. Claire and Roger their walk.

Garside swung, connected, and Bedouins had won their first game of the season.