Tuesday, 24 July 2012


view of Newcastle (glasses off)

Saturday, September 16

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain – but what slow panic
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands’ palms
Misery swelters.

Nothing better summed up the scene of desolation in our dressing room the previous week – when rain extinguished the flame of our ambition and nudged us from the top two for the first time in 6 matches – than the opening lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Mental Cases’, a lyrical and moving portrayal of the psychological ravages of conflict. Of course, the utterly broken figures depicted in the foregoing lines were young soldiers thrust into the horrors of the First World War, not cricketers. Even so, we too shared the same sense of something having been subtracted from our souls, something inside us being damaged irrevocably…

The bald facts were that Ashcombe Park now led us by 4 points having trailed by 37 points just three games ago. Worse: whilst we were preparing to finish the campaign against a decent Newcastle side who, until a calamitous run of five consecutive defeats, had featured strongly in the promotion race, Ashcombe were making the trip over the Moorlands to play a Buxton side already guaranteed the wooden spoon. We desperately needed a large black cloud to perch above the old spa town and not move until evening. Clutching at straws of optimism, I reckoned that, of all places in the league, Buxton was most likely to be caught in isolated weather, a fact not lost on our ever-wishful weatherman, Drew. Looking up into the bright blue sky sporadically dotted with tall, fluffy banks of white cloud (cumulo-nimbus?), he pointed at a “curve” he’d spotted, informed me that it was a weather front, and that said curve was going to empty itself over Derbyshire at the same time as completely by-passing the Potteries. 

rain on the way to Buxton...?

No sooner had we finished scrutinizing the sky than we found ourselves in a traffic jam in Trent Vale, caused – somewhat ironically given Drew’s employer – by “routine maintenance work” being carried out by British Telecom. All this carry-on meant that we didn’t arrive at the ground until 12.55 pm, by which time the umpires were on their way out and our opponents were posing for a team photograph. Not ideal. I noticed that their wicket-keeper was padded up so ingeniously deduced that we were batting first, presumably because we had lost the toss. It transpired that we had actually won the toss and Addo had elected to bat because we only had seven men at the ground 15 minutes before the start. Considering how much was on the line, this was, well, amateurish.

With our last-minute arrival, I had no chance of padding up in time so Addo opened with Hawk and I was slotted in at number 4. Obviously, I hadn’t had the opportunity to take a look at the track, but didn’t think that moment would be long in coming when Addo spooned a cut shot straight to point to record his first duck of the season. I was, however, wrong about getting in early. I sat patiently waiting to bat, and waited, and waited, waiting for around two hours as Hawk and Harv added 140 for the second wicket. Waiting to bat is a quite bizarre experience for an opener and I didn’t quite know how to pass the time – thank goodness for Addo reading me the kinkier passages from a magazine article on the sexual fetishes of modern lesbians.

girls who like girls

Out in the middle Harv was playing superbly. In my opinion, this was his best knock for Moddershall – certainly this season, if not ever. On a slow, variable track that appeared extremely difficult to bat on, he was in total control and made a very good bowler (Pete Ridgway) look decidedly ordinary. The most impressive aspect of his innings was his timing – never an easy thing to get right on a pudding – immaculate to the point of holding an almost complete monopoly on the shots of the day, with three or four sweetly cover-driven boundaries. He was dismissed with the score at 146 in the 36th over having made 72 from 107 balls and finally I walked out to bat under instruction to score quick runs.

Well, it wasn’t the easiest pitch on which to go out and start blazing, and I only managed a single before getting myself into a tangle as I came down the track at Chris Ridgway and scooped a near-yorker to mid-wicket where Wood held the catch one-handed. Hawky also fell in the same over having scored 75 from the 116 deliveries he faced. It was his fourth half-century in the league this season (all of which have been made away from home) and contained an intriguing blend of the impetuous and the imperious. Back on the ground where, as a supremely gifted 19-year-old professional, he had helped Newcastle to back-to-back titles in the mid 1980s, he mistimed the very first ball he received, nearly offering an easy chance to the bowler, but gradually settled into his game and struck 7 fours and 4 sixes in his stay.

sun sets (on our season) at N&HH CC
Andy’s departure was quickly followed by the dismissals of Mauler, Drew, Coke and Smudge, to complete a collapse of seven wickets for just twenty-six runs, all taken by Chris Ridgway’s left-arm spin: Mauler and Cokey both fell to useful boundary catches; Smudger mistimed one to mid-wicket; Drew gloved an attempted sweep straight to the ‘keeper. Finally, Iain Carr, who was only able to bat after retrieving his cricket socks from the roof of the clubhouse, was caught and bowled by Kessell, and Addo decided to call it a day at 189 for 9 from 49.5 overs, leaving ourselves plenty of time to win the game. 

As most of our team dashed off to McDonald’s for Big Macs, fries, McThick-shakes etc, news filtered through that Ashcombe Park “looked likely to win” at Buxton. Ho-hum. Nevertheless, we had to concentrate on skittling a fairly weak Newcastle batting line-up on a pitch that was playing more tricks than Jeremy Beadle on April Fool’s Day, all the while praying that the report of the other game was scurrilous rumour or misinformation.

Our start was electrifying: Newcastle’s top five, all left-handers, were back in the hutch inside 24 overs with only 38 runs on the board, all five wickets taken by Iain Carr who was making the ball bounce almost vertically at least twice an over. This undoubtedly induced the panic-stricken shots played by both openers, Gollins and Elliot, who each chipped simple catches (to Wayne and Smudge) in to the off-side. Pete Ridgway was the third casualty, making a golden duck as he was brilliantly caught at short-gully by Drew. Graham Wood, who had scored 160 unbeaten runs in our previous two meetings this season, managed to survive the hat-trick ball but was soon taken care of by an unplayable delivery from Billy that he edged to Harv at third slip. Chaudry then succumbed in identical fashion to leave Newcastle up a certain creek without the requisite paddle.

Despite the brilliance of Billy’s bowling, it should be mentioned that the highlight of this collapse was a fine piece of slapstick fielding by Addo. Having chased after, and caught up with, a ball that had flown towards third man off the thick edge of Chaudry’s bat, he tried to steady himself to pick up the ball; however, as he did this his feet went from underneath him and, in the process of falling flat on his backside, he kicked the ball over the boundary for four. Wayne, with tongue firmly in cheek, shouted, “come on lads, let’s back the bowler”. It’s fair to say that Addo failed to see the humour in Wayne’s exhortation (and must have put a curse on him as it wasn’t long before Wayne’s comment was coming back to cause him even greater embarrassment…). 


Anyway, it was ten overs before we took the sixth wicket as Dave Brock and Adam Bunting stuck around and put together a stand that became more than just irritating. Brock was a good player in his day and it showed as he hit two big sixes on his way to 24, Newcastle’s top score, before his resistance was ended by an unlucky inside edge off Billy that cannoned onto the stumps. Bunting’s batting was less accomplished. His borderline psychotic method of survival was pretty much to leap about three yards down the track and chest the ball away, and it worked for a good while until he snicked Billy to first slip where Mauler clung on to the chance despite the distraction of my twitching gloves. At 68 for 7, the question was not whether or not we would win, but whether Iain could take all 10 wickets, à la Nick Newman at Bramshall in 1988.

The answer arrived before another run could be scored. Shaun Brian – whose first few overs had been so erratic that I had to take a few stray deliveries with full-length dives (inducing mild hysteria in Mauler who seemed shocked at my hitherto secret athleticism) – was allowed one more over by a lenient skipper, who told him to “just bowl as fast as you can”. Shaun duly followed the instructions; however, unfortunately for both Iain and Dave Holmes, the batsman, his first ball was right on target and uprooted the leg-stump, a demise soon followed by Kessel’s. With his concentration clearly disturbed by our slip fielders asking him for the afternoon’s football scores (How did Stoke do? What about Man Utd? Did Yeboah score for Leeds? What was the crowd at Mansfield? etc), he gloved another vicious delivery from Iain straight to Harv, now at fourth slip, to leave Newcastle hanging on at 68 for 9.

"age shall not wither them": Ridgway Jr and Snr, c 2012, with Graeme Wood

Chris Ridgway, Newcastle’s number 11, was applauded all the way to the wicket by our team. This might seem an odd thing to do for a bowler that had just taken 7 for 29 against us, but it was a fitting mark of respect for an amiable and popular cricketer playing in his last game before retirement. Not one to stand on ceremony or miss an opportunity for a gag, I told Chris that we would be clapping him back off in a couple of minutes. But that was not the case, as he combined with Marcus Nalter to construct the best partnership of the innings.

Nalter had obviously decided to throw the bat at anything and everything, and he rode his extraordinary luck to good effect. This assault threatened to ruin Iain’s figures (which were 8 for 24 at the start of the stand) and Wayne could be heard shouting, not for the first time, “come on lads, let’s back the bowler. He’s after nine”. Of course, those words were bound to lead to tragedy, and from the very next ball Nalter slapped one straight at Wayne and – you’ve guessed it – he floored a regulation catch. However, this was not to prove too costly. Nalter soon used up his nine lives and sent a skier swirling down Seth’s throat at third man to give Iain his ninth wicket and terminate both Newcastle’s innings and our season.

not that Muhammad Ali...

Iain shared the ovation with Chris Ridgway, having taken a personal best haul of 9 for 44 from 21.1 overs to finish with 15 for 87 from the last two games. It was also the best ever performance by a Moddershall first team bowler in the NSSCL, and the seventh-best analysis ever in Division 1, Section B. It would have been the performance of the day on almost any other Saturday, yet was upstaged by the efforts of Sneyd professional Muhammad Ali who cracked a record-breaking 190 against Burslem. “Couldn’t have happened against a nicer team,” remarked Mauler.

Just after we had left the field it was confirmed that Ashcombe Park had beaten Buxton, bowling them out for 58 and knocking off the runs for the loss of three wickets. Obviously Drew’s ‘curve’ had got lost on the way over Blackshaw Moor. We were left to rue last week’s rain, to contemplate another assault on promotion next year, and to get as drunk as is humanly possible. And so, with the shampoo that had been especially bought to foam up Addo’s copious Barnet, Harv, Hawk and Drew had a fight in the showers after Lovejoy had decided to soap-dodge.

Blackshaw Moor

We supped a polite trio of pints at Newcastle before heading back to Moddershall’s end-of- season disco and barbecue. As you might expect, the mood was a touch subdued but that was soon altered after a few more beers had been guzzled and a few charcoal-coated sausages munched. As we danced the night away, the DJ was wise enough not to play ‘Road to Nowhere’ by Talking Heads.

Rumours circulated that Stafford might be demoted from Section A due to the condition of their square, which had been reported five times during the season. If they were to be forcibly relegated, then, logically, we would replace them in the top section. This would appear unlikely though, as their ground was considered fit enough for Section A in the first place and, from my experience, people in authority will do anything but admit to having made a mistake.

dodgy square?

There was also talk of there being no promotion next year because of a restructuration of the league. I cannot imagine for a moment that there’s any truth in this. However, if it is the case, then I suspect that the removal of an incentive to win will mean that there are a lot of sides out there that are going to get the same treatment that we’ve had over the past two seasons: namely, bowling 60 overs at us regardless of how many runs we have scored!! I wouldn’t be surprised if the league record was broken.

Anyway, as the night drew to a close, we all felt it had been a strange old season. We had won more matches than we had ever done before; we collected more points than we had ever done before; yet still this wasn’t enough to earn promotion. We cannot really complain and should not look to apportion any blame. We all played well on occasions and badly on others. We now have all winter to grieve, by which time we should come back refreshed and determined not to allow three hours of rain to ruin our better efforts. All we need – aside from One Good Over – is to stay true to the motto of Moddershall Cricket Club and seize the day.

Carpe Diem. 


MODDERSHALL 189 for 9 dec. (49.2 overs)
A Hawkins 75, R Harvey 72, C Ridgway 7-29
I Carr 9-44

NEWCASTLE & HH 5 points

POST SCRIPT: The following year, Moddershall won Section B (breaking the league record for a team total on the final day) and were promoted to the top flight. In 1997, we became the first newly-promoted team to win Section A, a feat repeated in 2002 by Norton-in-Hales. 


  1. Anthony Lovatt30 July 2012 at 19:50


    One of the most enthralling reads I've had recently on the Net.

    Is that it or do you have a few more postings up your sleeve?
    Would love to know how much club pros get paid!
    List of your top batsmen,bowlers,etc?
    Best/worst grounds
    Sounds a bit trainspotterish I know,but I think you should put it in for posterity's sake.

  2. Cheers. More postings planned, yes, but not necessarily what you've suggested. There's always some cricket stuff on my more general cricket blog, here: http://reversesweeper.blogspot.co.uk/

  3. Great stuff, as always Mr Oliver. I have thoroughly enjoyed the read and it's been strange, after all of those years at Boon Hill, to have found myself in Moddershall's dressing room! A great read and lovely to
    have some old adversaries remembered. Let me know if any more are due. Ju

    1. Thanks. Yep, some more stuff to go up here in time.