The Bedouin Cricket Club

Late August in Surrey and a cricket ground flanked by a line of poplars and a grove of oaks, in the distance the downs glimmering under a sun-spattered sky.

The Bedu arrived to discover a place transformed from sopping to damp by the heroic efforts of the men of Leigh (pronounced Lye) CC.
As any cricketer knows, this is the time when the realisation dawns that the season will not last forever; that Summer is slipping away and, try as he might, he cannot prevent her packing her bags and heading off into the sunset.
Autumn, whispering seductively of mists and mellow fruitfulness, is sneaking craftily into view. And who is that at her elbow? Ah yes, her ugly wing-woman Winter; bearing a mug of Lemsip and a snow-shovel.
The druids of the Old Religion knew all about this kind of thing. The weeks immediately before the Autumn Equinox, they believed, were ones when light became dark and dark became light, when the Earth could wobble infinitesimally on its axis and when strange and unexpected events could come to pass.
And the bearded holy men of former times would have looked on approvingly as Mufti Phelan removed his shoes to inspect the pitch, his hobbit-like feet questioning the damp earth in search of a sign.
He closed his eyes in reverence and nodded. The message from the ancient Earth Goddess was clear.
‘We should bowl first,’ he said with conviction.
The Bedu, a mixture of grizzled veterans and fresh-faced youths, nodded in sage approval and retreated to the changing rooms to don their ceremonial whites.
Within minutes Phelan appeared in the doorway.
‘We’re batting,’ he said. ‘Lost the toss.’
A sacrifice was clearly required to appease the deities. Phelan, in the manner of an ancient Celtic chieftain, volunteered himself and a stranger from a far-off land – John Evans of Birmingham, via Mumbai – to shoulder the burden.
The Bedu scattered around the boundary to observe, but the sound that met their ears was not one of stumps being flattened but of balls being thumped to the boundary. All seemed to be going well as the visitors hastened to 45, when Evans was bowled for a rapid-fire 36.
Holly hit a couple of breezy boundaries and then, third-time unlucky, middled one to mid-wicket and departed.
Dent arrived at the crease looking as though he had a date with a wicker man, a coven of goats and a deranged Christopher Lee. But he was soon into his stride and he and the Mufti calmly saw the visitors to 141 from 29 overs.
On the Boundary the Bedu muttered in surprise. A platform? Wickets in hand? The opportunity to mount an assault in the last 10? Whatever next; would time begin to run backwards?
The batsmen conferred in mid-wicket and concocted a cunning tactical plan. Dent duly smacked the next ball to mid on.
Vijendran walked briskly to the crease at No5.
Petter, in at seven, observed from a deckchair, ale in hands, shorts on legs.
‘Shouldn’t you be padded up?’ asked Gillham.
‘Nah – Bobby will be out there for ages,’ came the confident riposte.
Three balls later Bobby was back, undone by late oustwing.
Despite this unexpected hiccup, the Bedouin found the acceleration they wanted, finishing on 210-6, with Mufti Harrison, Petter and Gillham all chipping in and Phelan anchoring the innings impressively with a well-crafted 68.
The Bedu formed a circle and partook of an excellent tea, while a pack of excited terriers tore across the square to provide half-time entertainment.
And so it was the turn of Leigh to bat. Chandler and Hayes opened the bowling, beating the bat and creating chances. But with the exception of one edge behind, nothing went to hand. After 10 overs Holly succeeded Chandler, but the home side kept up the momentum.
With 16 overs gone, the score stood at 94-1 and Leigh were in the ascendancy.
Casting long shadows, the Bedu elders convened at mid-wicket.
‘Only got four bowlers,’ muttered Phelan, ‘one of the rest of you will have to have a go.’
And he threw the ball to Harrison.
Nobody who was there is likely to forget the events of the next half hour or so; possibly, of course, because Harrison is unlikely to let them.
A few gentle looseners were followed by a wide-ish, short-ish long-hop. The batsman’s eyes lit up, but the ball bounced a fraction more than he expected and instead of whizzing past the fielders, it looped up to point.

Had the Earth lurched on its axis? Had the druids been right all along? Perhaps they had. The next over Maby’s flighted off-spinners had two more Leigh batsmen caught in the covers in a similar way. Then, in a matter of minutes, Harrison had dispatched another three.
There was frantic activity in the pavilion and bemused expressions among the fielders.
A couple of overs later, Harrison bagged his fifth. Then he secured a run-out before a Petter stumping gave Maby his third victim. And that, in almost indecent haste, was that, the home side still 67 runs short.
The hero of the hour led the Bedu from the field. The sun slipped lower behind the poplars, a chorus of blackbird song split the evening air and a heron flapped lazily over the wide expanses past long off.
Autumn was coming, but not yet. Not yet.

August 25th 2013: v Leigh CC,Bunce Common, Leigh, Surrey
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