1976-1996 MY MOST MEMORABLE MATCHES
I started my playing and drinking career with Brentwood in 1976 and eventually gave up the unequal struggle of the former at the end of 1996. I reckon I took part in something in excess of 500 matches in that time, so to pick out one of them as being more memorable than the rest is well nigh impossible - the more so since those 500-plus games probably also involved the consumption of some 4000 pints of assorted memory-numbing ale.
Through the mists of alcohol I can, though, remember certain highlights down the years, not least of all my first game for the Club (in the Saturday 2nds) when I accumulated 35 at home to Dartford before being run out by Alan Eyres, who was then Club Secretary and was later elevated to President. I was a bit miffed at the time (and still am, when I think about it). I never ran a team mate out - well, not an important one, anyway.
That marked the start of something of a love/hate relationship between Alan and me, which is possibly not the strongest of foundations on which to build an opening partnership. He never really understood my sense of humour, I don't think. Certainly he gave me the ultimate in baleful looks later in my debut season when he somehow managed to hold on to a screamer at first slip and I brought him down to earth by suggesting that he was supposed to exclaim "How's that?" not "What's that?"
Alan was one of those chaps who could tell you his batting average to the 2nd decimal point at any time in the season. The opening game of the following season, Dartford again - away this time - saw him and I get us off to a "solid" start (26 in the first hour) before it started to rain. Off we went and Alan looked at the sky and announced that at least the 16 not out would give his average a little early-season boost. Blow me down it promptly stopped raining and we trooped out again. Alan was facing: the first ball after the resumption bowled him, whereupon the heavens immediately opened and we went off again, this time for good! His face was as black as the sky!
We didn't often get to play at Dartford. Mid-April seldom produces cricket weather. Indeed a couple of years later we actually played through snow for a while, until our skipper, the late lamented George Smith, noticed that there was a steady stream of fielders going off for "treatment" - i.e. to cuddle the hot water tank in the showers - and he never actually had more than nine on the pitch at any one time.
Dear old George took captaincy very seriously in an attritional sort of way. On one occasion one of his team mates, Alan Nugent, who compared to George in much the same way as chalk compares to cheese, was moved to take the tea pot out to the middle at about ten-past-five as a tacit suggestion to George (who was umpiring at the time) that it was about time we declared.
My final visit to Dartford was in the twilight of my career when that visionary amongst thinking cricketers, Trevor Coote, spotted the latent bowling potential that lurked within me. I thought he left it a bit late to put me on, actually. Dartford were 128-1 chasing 133. Nonetheless I didn't think it was really necessary for the batsman to hit my loosener for six. He could have had a look at it first. I would never have attempted anything so rash. Positively obscene way to bat in my opinion.
Trevor learnt a lot of the dual arts of captaincy and man management from his mentor Alan Nugent. Nuge was the original non-playing captain in that he batted no.11 and didn't bowl. He used to bowl until chucking was outlawed. Indeed who will forget his performance at South Weald one Sunday - the epitome of the friendly Sunday fixture - when with the opposition needing four to win and their star batsman on strike with 99 to his name, Nuge took the ball and promptly and with unerring accuracy slung it way down the legside for four match-winning wides! How we ever kept any of our Sunday fixtures during his reign heaven alone knows. Trev ("Wimpy" to his intimates) has never quite reached those heights, but he does quite a good line in sledging, when his powers of speech are not being inhibited by cheese and onion crisps or his asthma inhaler. "Oh God, out to deep cow" (or 'calf corner' if he didn't want the fielder so deep) and "Moooo-ve round a bit" are his ways of casting doubts in the batsman's mind as to how straight he is playing. He has even been heard to squeak "Bowl him a piano and see if he can play that" once or twice, but I think he realises that he can't emulate the master's timing on that one.
If Nuge was essentially a non-playing captain it was because he spent most of his time umpiring when we were batting. In fact he got such a malicious glee from this position of autocracy that he did it long after he had hung up his whites. He was captain/umpire when I achieved my maiden ton at Eton Manor. Mick Wright and I put on 219 unbroken for the first wicket and Nuge declared from the bowler's end as soon as I reached three figures. John Davey was due to bat at 3 and had sat with his pads on since play began, itching to inflict himself on the hapless opposition. This was partly because he was convinced that he could get a shed load of runs on the Manor's shirt front and partly to get away from his wife who was making one of her rare guest appearances at a cricket match and who John detested at that point in his life. When the declaration came it dawned on John that that was it - his game was effectively over. Bugger that, he thought, and whilst the rest of us were enjoying our tea (and his), he was spotted all by himself in the middle batting against an imaginary attack and an invisible ball - complete with umpire's signals when he despatched another offering to (or over) the boundary. He even bought a jug later to celebrate what he insisted was his 50. Years later, Ben Cocklin repeated the pantomime, but within two minutes he had stormed off the pitch and slung his bat in the direction of the changing room having, he said, been given out caught behind when he hadn't touched it by this imaginary umpire. Poor Ben: one more brain cell and he could have been half as bright as his brother.
A few seasons after the Eton Manor episode, JD had the far more satisfying experience (for him) of helping me post 230-odd, also unbroken, for the first wicket against Holmesdale. It's fair to say that he enjoyed that one more than Eton Manor, although he still insisted on signalling his own boundaries, to the irritation of both Bernard Potter (the official umpire) and the opposition in general. Our performance that day, coming immediately after our previous visit to that postage-stamp ground when Steve Hawke had blasted a century in what seemed little over ten minutes, took Holmesdale beyond their collective breaking point, and on our next visit they took the unheard of decision to bat first and stayed out there until they had amassed some 280 just before night fell. I think we had about 30 overs back and we still nearly got them. Not the greatest atmosphere in their bar afterwards, as I recall.
Dear reader, I'm getting into the swing of this now, and like some of my better innings it could go on for some time yet. I haven't even started reminiscing about the likes of Alan Waddington, Bill Bateman, Geoff Burnell, Bernard Potter, Peter Laurie, Mike Eastman, Dave Shand and countless others whose attitudes and antics were frequently, shall we say,...........different. If you would like another enthralling expose - tell our Web-meister.
El Presidente May 2001