The Bedouin Cricket Club

50 years ago a group of men set off from London to perform the most famous heist in British History. Last Sunday, 11 Bedu converged on the same bit of Buckinghamshire with the same intention.

The Great Train Robbers’ target was the high value parcel carriage of the Travelling Post Office train coming down from Glasgow. Ours was the Jesters, a blameless cricket side who had bowled us out for 93 in the same fixture last year. The scene was Ascott Park, former seat of that other band of looters, the Rothschilds. The Bedu felt encouraged by the omens.

We had brought in extra muscle for the job, in the shape of Nick Brunner and Blair Ticknell. And a young leg spinner, Uzair Afridi Amjaid, for safe-cracking.

In the half-light of Euston station, Brunner and Blair were remarkably similar. Tall, with strong features. Handsome, if scruffy. Both with stoops and tatty maroon sweaters. But as the train moved north through Mornington Crescent, daylight revealed the harsh damage that an extra ten years in the game had done to Brunner. His moustache drooped. Bags bulged beneath his eyes. His cheeks were slack. Hot-rock burns dotted his jumper.

“Is there a bar at this place?” asked Brunner.

On arrival, things quickly unravelled. We lost the toss, were asked to bat. Gillham, down to open, was late. But Bedu are a resourceful people. And it was with a look of satisfaction that Brunner approached his team-mates with an idea:

“The groundsman will go to an off-license and get us beers” he beamed.

Harrison, quelling images of the new ball tearing at his delicate flesh, agreed to open with Phelan, and made a comfortable start. For the Jesters, Bridcut bowled like a drunken letch, cheerfully mixing harmless passes with wicked, in-swinging propositions. Murphy, from the pavilion end, played the long-suffering partner. His deliveries nagged and wobbled at the Bedouin.

Harrison crashed one of his trademark ‘threes’ through off, but fell soon after, bowled by Bridcut. Phelan fell to the same man and Phil Knott joined Nick Brunner to rebuild.

Brunner got in behind his first ball. Tucked his second to leg to get off the mark. And it wasn’t long before he was thinking of The Creator. Batting does this to him. The chequered green tablecloth of the outfield. The subtleties of light in the leaves above. The way he worked a single or timed one past the field. All of these seemed to him connected, the work of the same skilful hand. He stood at the non-strikers end, and closed his eyes, a smile growing on his face as he thought of how fitting it was that such beauty in nature had been united with his own sublime talent. And as his reverie grew, like Marvel, he felt his spirit soar and leave his body, and move among the branches, feeling every flutter of wind and light:
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide: 
There like a bird it sits and sings, 
Then whets and combs its silver wings; 
And, till prepared for longer flight, 
Waves in its plumes the various light.

He opened his eyes to see an animated Phil Knott two thirds of the way down the wicket towards him. Instinctively Brunner made what he was later to describe as the right decision. He called No in his most authorative voice. As his eyes gently closed to withdraw once more into happiness, he caught glimpse of Knott slipping, and bails coming off at the far end.

Adnan Mohamed had replaced Bridcut now, looking more like Art Malik than ever. He held-court from the paddock end. He claimed Brunner, for 29, well caught at slip by Louis Harris, who had spent the day doing pilates in preparation.

In front of the pavilion, Sandy was showing his new bat round.

“That’s awesome” said his team mates.
“it’s gonna fly” they cood.

He took to the field with their good wishes in his ear.

“that bat’s shit” said his teammates once he was out of earshot.
“It just feels heavy because the pick up is so bad”.

Oblivious, Sandy played a beautiful straight drive for four and a beautiful straight defensive for bowled. Saj Zaib went in.

Saj is a wonderful attacking batsman, but with Gillham, he took responsibility, reigned himself in, and the pair took us to lunch. But the beauty of the scene got to those two too, and both were back not long after lunch.

Blair Tickner has been inoculated to beauty by living with Simon Rawson. He made the biggest contribution to our score but we were all out for 162. It didn’t feel like enough.

Blair didn’t care. After the innings change he ran in and hurled himself at the Jester’s openers. Swing, bounce, pace, seam. But the Jesters left handed openers held firm. Andrew Short got behind everything on the stumps, and missed everything wide of them. Chris Smith worked well off his hip and played one high-class straight drive.

“Sometimes you just need to bowl a long-hop” Harrison was to snipe later.

At the other end, Sean Graham was up, looking like a mid-stage Tony Curtis. Open shirt, high collar, coke and booze taking their toll round the eyes, but not yet the full 'drawn-on eyebrows and incontinency pads'. He sashayed five tidy overs.

Venerable Judge Hayes asked his usual questions with the ball, but this day got no answers to his liking. It was two contributions in the field that did the trick. First Phil Knott took a brilliant diving catch in the deep to dismiss Smith for 65. Then Balfour and Hayes combined to have Short caught at mid on.

We were through. Uzair, our safe-cracking leg spinner, had two right handers to bowl at. So far he had shown maturity and composure, bowling accurately and with patience. Now he attacked, getting the ball to skid, or turn and bounce. The team rallied around him, diving, leaping, cajoling. All except Mufti Harrison. He had hurt his back. Or knee. Atleast somthing was apparently wrong. He pointed and waved and mumbled something, as he left the field. He sat with the Jesters for the rest of the game.

Doward fell to another brilliant catch by Knott, this time in the Gully off Balfour’s bowling. And Uzair forced Harris into a false stroke to be caught at short cover. But as Harrison had surmised, we didn’t have enough. The bravery of Jesters openers at the start of their innings had swung it for their team. Jesters won by 6 wickets.

Chris Smith was awarded Jesters man of the match for his 65. He was clapped loudest by Harrison.
Uzair Amjaid was awarded Bedouin man of the match for his 3-47.

Both teams and the umpires made for the Grove Lock tavern, where they congratulated or commiserated each other on the quality of their play. Slowly the crowd thinned from the pub garden, until it was just the Bedu left. And there, they watched the sun set over the west coast mainline, the very stretch - between Sears Crossing and Bridego Bridge - where the Great Train Robbery took place 50 years ago. And as a train rattled past them, they resolved to make their next heist a big one.

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