The Bedouin Cricket Club

Kent. The garden of England. The Weald, hops, oast houses, fields of ripening corn. A place of churches as old as faith itself and of fortifications to make men shake their heads in shock and awe.

A perfect summer’s day: bumble bees humming lazily among the canary yellow ragwort and blood red poppies and a sky so blue it could make someone of a sensitive disposition weep with the sheer joy of being alive.

But beware ye who enter here.

Beneath that calm beauty, Kent hides an edge of steel. This is a county that fixes invaders with its basilisk gaze and sends them home to lick their wounds. If, that is, they are lucky.

Dutch, Spanish, Germans. They have all tried to bend Kent to their will. And all have failed.

The French could only gaze across the Channel from Boulogne and gnash their teeth in emasculated frustration before sneaking off home to indulge in escargots and bouillabaisse.

Still, if any such thoughts crossed a Bedouin mind as the team assembled at Leeds at Broomfield CC, they were well hidden. Unlike the spreading lime tree that stood impassive at mid-on, a tempting prospect for bats and batsmen alike.

The castle looked on knowingly as the toss took place and the Bedu wandered onto the field. The crickets chirruped, the larks climbed high and the Mufti found the siren call of England’s bulwark too much to resist.

Should he unleash his secret weapon, in the shape of the 80mph rockets of Blair Tickner, or should he first soften up the defences with something a little more conventional?

The Mufti chuckled at the intricacies of his own cunning and threw the ball to Rawson Snr and Hayes.

Like a duo of semi-obsolete Dorniers the pair struggled for pace and penetration, throttles straining as they attempted to break through.

The home side’s openers looked on impassively from behind their grilles; picking off any wayward deliveries and sending them racing to the boundary like a bullet from a soaring Spitfire.

Leeds and Broomfield raced to 74, when Rawson induced O’Connell to slash outside the off stump and edge one to wicket-keeper Petter.

The Mufti rummaged around the map room of his brain and rang the changes. Shirt flapping like the sails of an Armada straggler, Graham tried his luck up the hill while spinner Maby twirled from the other end.

It was the latter who ultimately found the breakthrough, using a well-disguised faster ball to secure three wickets.

Opener Aitken remained, though, finding gaps – and the outfield tree – with regularity. The Mufti re-arranged the pins in his mind-map and handed the ball to Rawson Jnr, who responded with flight, guile and a wicket.

The Bedouin chief observed proceedings from midwicket. He had a distinct feeling something was missing. Rawson bowled again. Swish. Miss. Thud of ball on gloves.

What was it?

He turned and trudged back to his position. Then he noticed a distant figure outlined against the silhouette of the castle. Of course. Tickner.

‘Should bring him on,’ he thought. Not to bowl pace, though. The Mufti giggled at his brilliance. The tall Australian should bowl… legspin. Nobody would be expecting that. The surprise would be complete.

And the ploy paid off. Aitken was finally bowled for 142, his last shot the swipe of a weary man, but not before the home side’s total had topped 250.

The Bedu regrouped over a nice cup of tea. A large total, but not an unassailable one. Bat properly would be the mantra.

And all began well. The wind dropped, the larks soared, the outfield shimmered. Dent and Knott defended the opening salvoes.

Blake, Brooke and Betjeman looked down from on high and smiled. Perhaps there would indeed be honey still for tea.

The Bedouin bowlers stretched out on the greensward and conversation wandered to the topic of a royal baby.

‘Albert would be a nice name,’ suggested Graham thoughtfully, chewing on a stem of grass.

But such moments are fleeting. Almost as quickly as it takes to type it Dent was gone – caught behind. Knott soon followed – the ball middled to short midwicket.

Burrows played a splendid cover drive and a cavalier cut shot and looked well set, but then lost one in the trees and was bowled by Mustill, who duly removed the Mufti and Petter in similar fashion.

The Bedouin were in tatters at 40-5. All debate on the merits of George, Louis or Harold were forgotten in a desperate panic to pad up.

Tickner and Hayes took the visitors to within sight of the final 20 overs but then the Australian ‘spinner’ gloved one behind.

Rawson Jnr struck a few well-placed blows before being caught at slip, then Maby and Graham succumbed.

With the last pair at the crease the Bedu were still 150 runs and 15 overs short of safety. Hayes and Rawson Snr duly put together the visitors’ best partnership of the day, but they could not hold back the tide for long, Rawson finally edging one to slip as the shadows lengthened and the Bedouin flag flapped impotently from its pole.

Kent had seen off another invader.

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