The Rioteers’ post-Bickers/Stafford era (spoken of quietly as the Revie/ Bremner of the club) has started with 2 close finishes – how would the club, sporting 4 Hilliers (but not the usual ones), 2 debutants and 3 teenagers fare at the Cradle of Cricket against such storied opposition as Hambledon CC ?
Founded in 1750, the same year Hogarth (in his pre-roundabout period) etched Gin Lane. George II (the one before Nigel Hawthorne, and two before Hugh Laurie in Blackadder 3) was on the throne (the last foreign born monarch and last to lead an army into battle). Voltaire had yet to write Candide (1758), although historians of smut will confirm that Fanny Hill (that year’s Shades of Grey) was doing the rounds. Thomas Lord had yet to be born (in Yorkshire, to a disgraced Jacobite) and the arriviste Marylebone CC not yet founded (1787). Cook (James, not Alistair) had yet to join the Navy, let alone sail the Pacific and ‘discover’ Australia. The Ashes wouldn’t begin for another 130 years and the French Revolution was 39 years in the future. Beethoven (b 1770) hadn’t started his Unfinished Symphony, although Handel (cut the Wiki look ups, we get the picture – Ed).
Vice-captain Bertie won the toss, sending openers Martin White (guesting from the Crows and making his second Rioteers debut) and Jim to face motoric, Hendricks-like nag from one end and Hoggard-esque swing (and hair) from the other. Early going was challenging (to watch) with the bowlers on top. Martin W (9) fell alliteratively to a lovely lifting delivery which left him off a length. From 21/1, Hillier, M changed the tempo, lit up the electronic scoreboard and took the innings to 105/2 – when Jim (33) offered up one chance too many – then 124/3 – when Charlie (7) was castled by more extravagant swing. Marty then pulled a hamstring and retired out (75), leaving Sudip (9) and Roberto (28) to befuddle the opposition with their tip and run partnership, before Bertie (32*) lost 3 balls in a characteristically quick-fire cameo (of 3 sixes and 2 fours). Thus, with skipper Campbell and Hilliers J and W still padded up, the ‘Dons (sic) had been set 212 to win in 40 overs.
Tea was functional, except for Martin W’s leftovers and some shared jam tarts.
Two Lewises opened for Hambledon. Lulled into taking on Bertie in the first over, only one was left by the end of it (6/1). The hosts’ progress was then relatively orderly in the evening sunshine, before Martin W took a stunning return catch to rival Campbell’s at St Mary Bourne (about which James is still finding adequate words for his much-anticipated match report). Wilf, channelling John Hall’s canny control, then struck with two crucial wickets. With Sam’s strong arm and willing running sweeping up one boundary, James’s solid glovework and hamstrung Hillier coming off no paces, with 15 overs left the game was still anyone’s.
The tense silence was broken only by Hambledon’s Wally ‘The Voice’ Grout doppelganger and the Hillier brothers listing famous Martins between balls. (Bormann, Luther and Heidegger, anyone ?) As the weather closed in, so too did LeClerq (jnr) on a maiden century. Campbell applied the brakes, bringing himself and Bertie back on. In light rain, a couple of half chances were created, but spilled. And for the second successive week, the game went to the last over, with 3 runs required.
After 2 dots, Captain Kevin slashed one straight to opposite number Campbell. This was the game in microcosm – skipper to skipper, mano a mano. ? Kevin groaned, the crowd coo-ed, Campbell had it, then didn’t. Roberto cursed colourfully, but as another dot ball it still left 3 from 3. A quick single. 2 from 2. Then, the coup de grace – a sliced two and Hambledon had it. Close, but no cigar for the Rioteers, who may not be winning games, but are winning friends and wearing smiles.
Huge thanks to Hambledon for a wonderful game, played in the right way. And a big shout out to the club for their commitment to inclusive, developmental cricket. Many institutions are weighed down by their history. Hambledon celebrate theirs, wonderfully.
Next up, Rioteers visit Hursley Park (founded 1785 …)