Bolton Coopers (138/6) bt Edgworth CC Tavs (97/5), 04/08/16

The British love a brave defeat. We revel in them.

From the Charge of the Light Brigade to Dunkirk, from Jemini’s nul points at Eurovision ’03 to Mark Butcher’s glorious 173* amidst England’s 4–1 defeat in the 2001 Ashes.

If failure came as bottled vodka, after last night’s efforts the Edgworth Tavs would be Frank Gallagher, stumbling mindlessly around the Chatsworth Estate asking anyone nearby for a “pint and a couple of Es, Kev.”

Yes, that bad.

It’s been a while since our last win. A narrow loss to Teachers sandwiched between two abandoned washouts, and as the players arrived at the ground yesterday evening the hosts were hunting a victory.

Rain all morning, all week even, and Dan behind the bar sounded like a gloomy Monty Don. “Water table’s high,” he warned.

Indeed it was, witness standing rainwater on one artificial strip, a deep-ish puddle in the covers and a wholly unplayable area by the pavilion at deep midwicket.

Still, easily solved. Pull the rope in a bit and get on with it.

Bolton Coopers are a decent lot, handy with bat and ball, competitive without being arseholes and, to paraphrase Father Ted, a “great bunch o’ lads.”

We tussle with Coopers on a fairly regular basis, winning some and losing some. It’s proper sport.

Both sides depleted by absence — school summer holidays, innit — though Mick had landed back from Majorca and came straight into the starting XI, sporting a tan so consistent and lustrous that Coopers could have been excused for wondering who on our team had called in David Dickinson as a ringer.

Misbah-ul-Waddi and shiny balls

Waddi won the toss and, perhaps inspired by Misbah-ul-Haq’s surprise call at Edgbaston the day before, chose to field first.

That decision took balls, and balls were to remain a feature of the game as out of nowhere someone produced a box of brand new cherries, two bright yellow and two bright pink in colour. All the better for seeing at dusk, so the logic went. An excellent idea, though the source of some controversy later in the fixture.

In the same box, incidentally, came four plastic bails which lit up when struck. Very IPL. In the Indian Premier League, teams have names like the Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders and Rising Pune Supergiants. If we carry on in this vein, Tavs will need to adopt a moniker. Edgworth Taverners Trailblazers? Tavs Tornados? Tosspot Taverners? Answers on a postcard.

Toby donned the keeping gloves, Waddi making no attempt to hide the fact that he’d placed him behind the stumps to prevent him from bowling.

Out squelched the rest of the Tavs, some partaking of typically undemanding stretches while others hurried to finish off last-minute cigarettes.

So wet it was in places that it brought to mind that photo of divers Alicia Lloyd and Amanda Elzer playing cricket underwater in an Australian aquarium ahead of the 2015 ICC World Cup. Jason, at deep cover, almost needed flippers.

A. Cooper and Barker faced the opening salvos from the Tavs bowlers, with Mick handing the hard yellow ball first to Jason then to Brian to get things under way. Bogg in particular bowled nicely, wicket to wicket, and soon enough it became clear that the recent inclement weather had played havoc with the surface. Balls skidded low then leapt off a length having pitched in essentially the same place. A nightmare for openers.

Barker was soon back in the hutch, a Jason delivery too quick, through the gate and clattering into the stumps. A look of grim satisfaction from the bowler, like a man who’s just won an unnecessarily bloody battle with the council over a parking ticket.

Brian soon delivered with a peach of a delivery of his own, and both Coopers openers were back in the hutch for a combined 17.

Deathly death bowling

And the wickets at the top of the visitor’s batting order continued to tumble. Smallwood was reprieved after missing a straightforward run-out opportunity when Jarvis skied a tweak from Alan and Jason took a solid steepler at mid on.

Then a run-out effort was successful, though in mildly bizarre fashion. Eccles, at the non-strikers end, set off for a quick single but was sent back by his partner. He turned, but the ball was already back in the hands of bowler Alan. However, for some inexplicable reason to ponytailed one believed the batsman had already made his ground. It took a panicked intervention from Smallwood for the man to realise he still had to knock the bails off. Comedy, but thankfully not tragicomedy.

Matt slipped during his run-up and, fearing rupturing his hernia still further, elected a shorter route to the popping crease. Good thing too, a very tidy spell yielding a decent Mammut Kershaw catch. The Tavs felt on top, with Coopers top five all out for a combined total of just 35 and the visitors with only 75 or so on the board by the 12th over. How wrong we were.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment when the innings turned. Mammut’s two overs cost just four, Waddi’s just 11. But the final four bowlers leaked runs like a sieve, Steve later admitting to not having found perfect rhythm. Possibly something to do with his not having turned his arm over in anger for a quarter of a century?

For the first time Coopers were cutting loose. Boundaries flowed as Tavs spirits sank, with both Craig and J. Cooper able to retire on 30 and 32 respectively. Will and Smallwood bowled the final four overs at the death, and particularly the latter struggled against the left-hander. Yes, a couple of catches went to ground but 15 off the final over of their innings was a killer, leaving the Tavs trudging off the pitch while Coopers had a spring in their step.

Mick, perhaps still dreaming of sun and sangria on the beach at Port de Soller, observed gloomily that their total of 138 was about 28 too much. Glum faces in the dressing room seemed to agree.

Nevertheless, no-one can say that the Tavs don’t enter into run-chases without a certain optimism, native though it may be.

Jason, who had opened the bowling with such aplomb, opened the batting alongside Mark. Mammut has been in great form this year, while Jason’s new bat seems to have the middle he’s so long desired. He watched the ball dutifully before beginning to unload, biffing it into the off-side and running the singles.

Kershaw did likewise, including one quintessentially Mammut cuff for four past deep square leg. But it was heavy going, every full-blooded connection finding a fielder and forcing the openers to rack up the singles. It was a muggy, muddy effort, like playing cricket in conditions a cross between the Amazonian rainforest at the Somme.

Jason eventually perished, cutting the ball delightfully to a cock-a-hoop third slip, who celebrated as though he’d put £200 on Portugal to win the Euros. What a way to die.

Moss-covered run rate

Toby in now, wearing a black skin-tight top more leotard than cricket shirt. Put that outfit on any other Tav and our physiques would not thank us. The man can play a cover drive unlike any other, high elbow and elegant follow through and… yes, picked out the man again at long on or long off. Toby compiled a classy 16, bar the odd waft, all but two of which came in elegant singles. Then he too departed, caught trying to hurry things along.

And hurrying they needed, the run rate climbing above nine an over at the halfway stage. Majorca Mick, tinted shades and determined expression, seemed to see the red ball Coopers had elected to use well enough. It was just making a solid connection that seemed lacking. Again, an innings compiled entirely of singles, barring a late cut for four.

Mammut at the other end hustling, bustling, cuffing and scampering, sweat congealing on his chest like a soggy tuna sandwich left out in the sun. A vital 24, a mighty heave-ho, a ball high in the darkening sky and a good Coopers catch at midwicket. The skipper departed, sickeningly short of his 25. Still, his pint of Hobgoblin was exceedingly well earned.

Fearing out run rate was so slow moss was started to form on it, the Tavs sent out the replacement pink ball to compensate for the gloom. It succeeded in being seen better by umpires, batsmen, fielders and spectators alike — we all got a great view as it swung through the air and clean bowled a startled Mick. Back in the hutch, the recently-returned holidaymaker insisted the pink ball had been a mistake, but to be honest by that point the battle was all but lost.

Waddi chipped in with a stout seven before a suicidal call for a run with Alan saw him dismissed, well out of his crease. Alan biffed nicely but his stumps were uprooted by one that skidded and kept low. Smallwood contributed a three and Brian a two. 40+ runs needed off the final over. Coopers, kindly, got on with it and put us out of our misery.

“That’s about the worst defeat I’ve ever been involved in,” muttered Brian was we trudged off, stopping only to shake hands with understandably jubilant Coopers players.

Don’t be too down in the mouth, Brian. The British love a defeat, remember. People will be painting pictures and writing ballads about this for years to come. Probably.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

And on the Edgworth field of play,

Tavs couldn’t even muster a hundred.*

(*With apologies to Tennyson)


Highlight of the match: Mark’s frugal bowling and belligerent batting. He led from the front. Pity there was no-one following behind him.

Lowlight: Our death bowling. It killed us, not them.


Best bowling (everyone gets two overs): Jason’s one wicket for eight, Matt the same.

Best batting (must retire on 25): Mammut 24, Majorca Mick 16.

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