Far from the MCC

~ Est. in 1998 ~

 

 

 

 

“Misremembered Days”

(by Antony Mann – 2008)

 

 

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“Part I – Beginnings”

 

I wasn’t there at the beginning, which by all accounts took place on December 31st 1997 at Jude The Obscure, in those days a Jericho pub run by Noel Reilly. Jude The Obscure remains a Jericho pub, but the landlord is no longer Noel who, some say, made the establishment too successful for his own good, and consequently had his contract terminated by the brewery. Noel was an Irishman who took delight in the arts, and during his tenure at The Jude, short films, plays, book launches and musical events were the norm. The Catweazle Folk Club made its home there for a short while before being kicked out because all the heads wouldn’t buy beer, man. I still remember sitting cross-legged on the floor watching cute barefoot canal boat chicks with smudged cheeks and marijuana eyes telling stories about the moon from the moon’s point of view.

 

 

 

Early days, outside the pub. A blurred Noel Reilly front row second from left.

 

 

It was this rarefied hothouse atmosphere, this Little Bohemia, which saw the idea of a cricket team emerge on New Year’s Eve of 1997. Credit for the founding of the club must go to Eddie Lester, an old friend of Noel from the latter’s days as landlord of The Beehive in Swindon. Noel at once backed the plan with hard cash for the purchase of bats and pads and gloves, some of which still remain at the bottom of the original kit bag, an archaeologist’s dream. And, unlike so many wishful ideas conceived of on a boozy night when everything seems possible and the practicalities are yet to be faced in the cold light of day, the team actually came into being. From the start, Eddie was the driving force, optimistic and determined, in harmony with the whimsical patronage of Noel. Where cricket had not dwelt before, cricket now would.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part II – 1998”

 

Records for the first season of Jude The Obscure CC are understandably sketchy and incomplete, for who could have known then that now, records would be of any use at all? Few were kept, and of those that were, many have now been sadly lost. Of those that were kept and not lost, many are inaccurate, and of those that were kept, not lost, and accurate, most make depressing reading.

 

The word went out, and players were gathered from here and there, i.e. the pub, or places people went to after the pub had closed. It is known that the first captain of Jude the Obscure CC was Eddie Lester, or possibly Fred Townsend. Of players available for selection in 2008, only Antony Mann (4 games in 1998) and Matt Bullock (5 games) remained from that first season. A document entitled Jude The Obscure Cricket Team 1999 Pre-Season Newsletter does exist, and refers back to 1998 on several occasions. It seems likely that The Jude won no more than two of the eight games in their first year: a 7-wicket victory against South Oxford Social Club (a team which no longer exists) at Cuttleslowe Lower Ground (a venue which no longer exists) in which Simon Brandon scored 86 (a then-record which no longer stands); and a comfortable win against The Beehive in Swindon (L. Davie 67, F. Townsend 5-24, S. Pollard 2-17). There were losses against Oxford Nondescripts, The Team With No Name, The Beehive at home, and Research Machines, whoever they were.

 

It was Simon Brandon who in 1998 topped the batting averages with 42.00 from 5 matches. He also took 6 wickets at 17.67 and justifiably won Player of the Year. Simon was a young sporty guy, always welcome because he brought along his girlfriend. She was a hot chick who wore mirror sunglasses, whom God had created specifically for sitting in the sun watching cricket, and other things best left to your imagination. Where are they now, those two, Simon and the sunglasses chick? Where?

 

Eddie Lester’s highest score in 1998 was 33 not out. He was a correct-looking batsman but had a weakness for playing across the line which would plague him in later years. He bowled looping spin with a slow-motion slingshot action, and looked a bit liked Lasith Malinga running through jelly. In those days, in fact always really, up until the year he left, Eddie was the heart and soul of the team, a tall gangly specimen with a shock of tousled blonde hair who exuded an almost otherwordly enthusiasm and optimism. Sometimes that faith in human nature and the weather was borne out, sometimes it wasn’t. But the sun was always shining for Ed.

 

 

 

The Jude’s first skipper, Eddie Lester.

 

 

Howard Jones was The Jude’s first real quick bowler, and he took a wicket with his first delivery for the team. He also batted with an aggressive, natural style which sometimes saw him go early, but more often took him into the 50s and beyond, though he never managed to score a century. His temperament meant that his mind wasn’t always on the game, but Howard was a founding member who had a massive impact on the side. He’s someone who is missed to this day.

 

In 1998, James Blann scored 46 runs at 6.57 and took 4 catches, but is best remembered for the time meningeal fluid leaked out of his nose as he dived for a catch. Meningeal fluid is the stuff which is in your head where your brain is. It’s white, like runny snot. I can’t remember now why it leaked out of his nose, but I do remember we all stood round watching and went, Oh, really? Is that meningeal fluid? Well how about that, huh? Naturally James shrugged it off and kept on playing, like we all would have.

 

Antony Mann joined the team late in the season after Eddie turned up at a party in Walton Well Road, looking for players for the next day’s game. Because he was an Aussie, everybody thought he would be a shit hot ringer, and was just being modest when he said he was crap, but the truth was he hadn’t played cricket since he was 12. He was determined not to be crap forever, though, and went through the entire season not out, earning the nickname ‘Blocker’. Which is me. Matt Bullock joined around the same time Ant Mann did, and was destined to stay the distance as well. The wry and phlegmatic Brummie became the team’s default wicket keeper, then over the years the Chairman, chief statistician and primary Voice of Reason, which is often useful among The Mad.  

 

 

 

Noel Reilly (centre) is escorted by his nieces to another den of inequity.

 

 

Other Jude players that year included the affable Martin Hurley, a left-hander who batted like he was in the middle of a game of hurling, which was kind of a weird coincidence when you looked at his surname, but not so weird when you remembered he was Irish; and Chris Legg, a rough diamond who managed The Jude itself. He knew how to hit a ball and in those days was a batting mainstay. He also bowled fast, quite often at your head. Then there were John Moore and Richard Blann, who with James Blann and Simon Brandon made up the team’s quartet of young dudes. Sam Pollard, with his thin, hunched frame and wiry dark hair, who ran the second-hand bookshop on Walton Road when it first opened. Noel Reilly himself, habitually bent over even when not at the crease, played two games. Other people. A guy called Kevin.

 

As for how it was in 1998, I don’t remember much, apart from how it felt. It seemed as though there was now a fabric to the summer, newly woven, a fabric which hadn’t been there before, as yet stretchy and flimsy and liable to blow about in the wind unless held down by a big rock, but a fabric nonetheless. But the question remained. Would that – could that – fabric be made into an item of clothing, a shirt, perhaps? Would that shirt be a cricket shirt, by any chance? Was that metaphor really necessary?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part III – 1999”

 

The Jude The Obscure Cricket Team 1999 Pre-Season Newsletter is necessarily full of bad jokes, but also talks in some detail about a Committee Meeting held in March of 1999 in which it was mooted that elections for committee positions should conceivably be held, although, what’s the rush? The possibility of running a Saturday League team along with the Sunday side, in the manner of a proper cricket club, was also raised. This is an idea often mooted by Sunday pub teams, usually about once every two or three years, but it is rarely acted upon. The transition from casual to ‘proper’ team is fraught with difficulties. League teams need to provide a ground, train up their own umpires, have insurance, answer to pernickety and unreasonable local committees, and worst of all, turn up for games. Sunday teams just need to be able to drink a lot.

 

In addition, even though every Sunday player harbours a secret desire to test themselves against Saturday opposition, every Sunday player also knows that league teams are overflowing with ridiculous prima donnas who take themselves and the game much too seriously. Sometimes these Saturday guys turn out for their Sunday teams. You can tell who they are by the way they screech in pathetic indignation whenever a decision goes against them.      

 

Even in those early times, members of The Jude’s ‘ghost’ committee were fully aware of the need to maintain an authentic Sunday ethos and to preserve the individual’s right, while playing sport, not to be a sportsman. It is this philosophy of Sundayism which has underpinned the development of Jude The Obscure CC in all its incarnations, and helped to forge the spirit of the side, creating a small bastion of competitive fun in a world of barbarism and malaria.

 

The Jude of 1999 was comprised entirely of Sundayists, and there was little to distinguish them from the intake of 1998, although of course some faces were new, and other players had got so pissed off with the message Eddie left on their phones after they failed to turn up for the mid-week game against St Clare’s, they left in a huff.

 

Of Simon Brandon, there was no sign. Nor did his girlfriend appear to be anywhere about, nor her sunglasses. Where had they gone? This is a rhetorical question and doesn’t require an answer. The small, tight group of young dudes – James and Richard Blann, James Moore and John Moore – played only six games between them in the whole season and were never heard from again (see above, phone call, pissed off etc).

 

But much of the core of the 1998 side remained, notably Howard Jones, Chris Legg, Eddie Lester, Antony Mann, Matt Bullock, Martin Hurley and Fred Townsend. Fred was a big Londoner with an easy manner who had soon married local girl Tash and headed off to Swindon. In the meantime, he played a couple of seasons for The Jude, his career cut short by an irreparable rift with Noel Reilly which saw him banned from the pub and thus the team. Fred thought of himself as something of a batsman, but never scored any runs, and in the field was most often to be found at mid-off with his thumbs hoiking his cricket trousers up past his waist. There were new recruits as well. Alongside Clare Norris and Mike Thorburn, 1999 also saw the debut of James Hoskins, and father-and-son combo Tony and Ben Mander.

 

 

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Ben (left) and Tony Mander (suit) join the ranks of Jude The Obscure.

 

 

The Jude played thirteen games in 1999 under the continuing captaincy of Eddie Lester, winning four, drawing two and losing seven. The good teams made up of experienced players, such as Isis and The Team With No Name, usually beat The Jude easily, whereas against the poorer sides such as Weymouth’s The Quayside Occasionals, comprising local clowns and pissheads dragged at short notice from the pub or gutter, The Jude had more of a chance. The Jude’s sole proper victory in 1999 came against The Marlborough at Cuttleslowe Upper Ground, the first of many encounters between the two sides in the seasons to follow.

 

One thing Sunday teams need is someone to play against, and the best kind of opposition is that which comes back year after year, allowing rivalries and even friendships to develop. Sunday teams in the same area often end up trading players as one team dissolves and another springs up to fill the void. The average lifespan of a Sunday cricket team is 8.2 years, although of course some go on for much longer than that. Any Sunday team which can’t make it to 5 years just isn’t trying, though conversely, any Sunday side which makes it past 25, or which boasts celebrities amongst its ranks, is showing off.

 

Despite a fine 102 out of 166-8 from Mike Reeves, The Marlborough went down by 4 wickets thanks to a colourful 68 from Lee Davie, one of several important Davie innings for The Jude over the years. This was not the last The Jude would see of Mikes Reeves, a left-handed batsman and bowler with an unusually large head, though not elephantine or freak-show size by any stretch. As for Davie, he was an aggressive batsman, fine fielder, handy left-arm bowler and sharp wicketkeeper. More importantly, he was also a renowned local quiz night specialist. Some years later, sadly, he was to suffer a horrific plastering injury that would see a Stanley knife all but sever his head from his body at the neck. Or maybe that was just a bad cut on the finger.

 

 

 

Lee Davie sporting his new winter wardrobe.

 

 

Victory against Marcham, reaching their total of 85 with 5 wickets to spare despite playing with only nine men, was achieved primarily through Stanton St John Willows ringer Simon Dickens in one of his only two ever appearances for The Jude. Called up at three minute’s notice to fill in for the bastards who promised they’d play but didn’t show, Dickens took 6-23 opening the bowling on an uneven pitch and then scored 13, hitting the winning runs back over the bowler’s head while stand-in skipper Ant Mann remained as usual nought not out watching from the other end.

 

At that time Simon Dickens was manager of the Threshers on Walton Street, and in 1996 had sold me the booze for my wedding. Funny how, years later, well, three years, we would together play such an important role in a victory for The Jude, well, funny how he did anyway. Like most players, I usually overestimate the importance of my contribution to any game. For instance, if I make a stop or two in the covers, take 1-23 and make 2 with the bat coming in at number eight, I still fancy I might be up for Man of the Match for my all-round brilliance and am surprised when some half-century scoring clod gets the award instead.

 

It’s also a well-known fact that from a bowler’s point of view cricket is a batsman’s game, though no amount of whingeing about it will make a batsman give a damn. Bowlers win matches, are generally good-looking and intelligent, kind to animals, and the sort of people you’d want to have with you in the trenches. Batsmen on the other hand are usually overrated, are a bit thick and tend to be distracted easily by bright shiny objects. Being a bowler myself, I know what I’m talking about.

 

The best batsman in the world can walk out to the crease and get bowled first ball, but no-one will blame him, because he ‘got a good one’. Hmm, bad luck, that was unplayable. Nothing you can do when you get a good one like that. Sympathy rains down on the unfortunate batsman from all sides, just because he got a decent delivery. Meanwhile, the bowler can send down a torrent of fantastic stuff, the best he has ever bowled, but continually miss the edge and the stumps by millimetres, or if he does catch an edge, have it dropped in the slips (usually made up of batsmen). But nobody remembers that. They look in the wickets column and all they see is the big fat zero. Oddly, though, everybody would rather bat than bowl, especially in Sunday cricket. Batting’s just more fun, and all you need is a quick 25 to get Man of the Match, whereas a bowler needs at least five wickets against top-class opposition, and even then there’s no guarantee.

 

The Jude might well have beaten The Team With No Name at Horspath that season after scoring only 71 all out (Lee Davie 34), if not for a torrential downpour which ended the contest with the visitors in tatters on 8-4. Howard Jones’ spell of bowling that day was the most venomous that any Sundayist had witnessed. Howard was an often sensitive soul, and Fred Townsend at mid-on, his pants as usual hitched up to his chest, spent the time between deliveries goading him and telling him that the opposition had been insulting him. Consequently, Howard took 3-3 against a strong top order, in doing so showing the kind of form which saw him deservedly win 1999’s Player of the Year trophy. His overall bowling average of 18 wickets at 13.94 (best of 5-9) was second only to Simon Dicken’s 9 wickets at 9.44. Jones also topped the batting averages with 242 runs at 26.89 and a top score of 53.

 

1999 saw The Jude’s first Tour, to Weymouth, organized through Eddie Lester’s connections with Nigel Sawyer, another old friend of Noel Reilly from the Beehive’s honeyed days. Nigel has since come north to live in Oxford, so track him down and buy him a lemonade. The tour was the usual mix of fruitlessly chatting up chicks, successfully passing out on various floors, and playing cricket at Bridehead in Little Bredy in the private grounds of local landowner Sir Richard Williams. Indeed, “stepping onto the field of play, the Jude team might have imagined that Mother Nature herself had reserved this moment for them to wonder at and savour, that the splendours of an enchanted English summer were encapsulated in this one day. The whole vale seemed to ring with the echoes of past summers, just as their being there today would echo into the future; just as their voices echoed now from the surrounding hillsides.” In other words, a non-paying crowd of buzzards, sheep and cows saw The Jude win handily against the Occasionals.

 

Apart from all that bucolic farmer-boy stuff, the highlight of the tour was the entire team spending three hours on a pebble-strewn beach throwing rocks of various sizes at a plastic football until, with the sun setting, the ball had at last been forced down the sand and into the water. Jeez, it makes you wonder – because I really do remember that afternoon being a lot of fun.

 

 

 

The Jude on tour in 1999. Eddie Lester is middle row second from right holding a bat. Chris Legg front middle.

 

 

Chris Legg’s top score for Jude The Obscure CC in 1999 was 49. He was second in the averages with 162 runs at 20.25, and took 13 wickets at 19.31. Eddie Lester was third in the batting averages with 152 runs at 19.00 and a top score of 32 not out. His best bowling figures were 3-11. This season, in only six of his eleven innings did Ant Mann finish not out, with a high score of 31. Matt Bullock played in all 13 games in 1999, scoring 67 runs at 7.44. In Martin Hurley’s last full season for The Jude his top score was 20. Fred Townsend managed 5 games, 12 runs and 1 wicket before he was banned from the pub by Noel for that ‘incident’. I can’t even remember now what it was all about. In fact, to be honest, nobody ever told me. Bastards.

 

Mike Thorburn registered a series of drunken ducks before getting his act together and scoring 51 pissed runs at a slaughtered 6.38. Mike liked a drink, especially when he was conscious, and was also a useful half-tanked length bowler with a knack for taking wickets while boozed up – 5 in 1999 at 14.80. Clare Norris stood out from the rest of team because she was an Oxford Blue who could actually play cricket. She was also a woman, and down the years the only woman who could play cricket to play cricket for Jude or Mad. Her only problem was getting the ball off the square, which meant that despite her correct play, she wasn’t good for that many runs. In that sense, and with the long hair and all, she was a bit like Jake Hotson in a skirt. Not that I’ve ever seen Jake Hotson in a skirt, and to be frank, it’s not high on my list of things to look at.

 

Ben Mander played his cricket in a rough and ready way, almost like a rugby player. He had the rugged good looks which many cricketers aspire to when they first start playing, and the ability to drink 26 beers on the night before any given game, then turn up having had no sleep still drunk and yet even then a decent bloke, but he tended to hold his bat rigidly at the crease, and when he did hit it, it was with no backswing at all. His bowling was head-down spin, Windmill Variety No. 3, unpredictable, and thus often potent. His father Tony, a noted gynaecologist, was a steady batsman who always played his best when asked to fill in for the opposition. Then, playing against his own team, he was transformed from a calm blocker into a violent stroke-maker and sledger. 

 

After hanging about on the Cuttleslowe boundary watching The Jude play for most of an afternoon, James Hoskins was finally invited onto the field and as it transpired, into the team. In his 10 games in 1999 he scored 15 runs at 2.14 and took 3 wickets at 26.00. The friendly James – or J-Mo – soon became one of The Jude’s core players. Competitive, naturally open and friendly, almost at times as optimistic as Eddie Lester, James was the player most likely to approach the complete stranger sitting on the pier and ask him what type of fish he was trying to catch. As with many Jude players, he started out knowing not much about cricket, but over the years developed the skills which made him a dangerous bowler and a key part of the attack. Possessed of an admirable resilience, James has had to deal at various times with a horrendous dancing injury, the strange spontaneous combustion of his car, a bunch of weirdos living in his house, some burst pipes in his bathroom, and being continually reminded of his misfortunes by sentences such as this, but every time, he has come up smiling. 

 

 

 

James Hoskins. Once he started playing, he just couldn’t stop.

 

 

If there was a Club Reunion for the 1999 Jude side, then would Jess Ball turn up? Would American Mike O’Leary make an appearance, still batting like it was baseball and unable to straighten his arm to bowl thanks to years of pitching? Would anyone recognise Phil Holt or Gus da Cenha or Robert Phillips? Would that sunglasses chick be there, even though she didn’t play and was only ever around in 1998? Can someone stop me asking all these questions?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part IV – 2000”

 

By all accounts the Year 2000 was the turn of the millennium, and a momentous time to be alive. There was suddenly a big ‘2’ where a tiny ‘1’ had used to be. Except for the ones who committed mass suicide, millennium cultists everywhere were disappointed that the world hadn’t been destroyed in an inferno, though secretly relieved that they were still alive and could now find something else whacky to believe in. There were parties, there were fireworks, there was an expectation of things to come. Then, after the Y2K Bug turned out to be a global con organized by IT consultants, everyone became bitter and disillusioned and began to hate life just as much as they had before. All the hope in everyone’s hearts faded, just because of those IT guys, who would never again earn a hundred quid per hour for sitting round doing nothing, but what did that matter when most of them could now afford to retire? Anyhow, Y2K was a big let-down and nobody gave a damn about it in the final wash-up. The world wouldn’t be properly changing until the 11th of September the following year.

 

Chris Legg, manager of The Jude, played only one game for the team in 2000 before marrying his girlfriend and moving up north to manage a sports store. Of course, we were sad to see Chris go. Because it meant that his nurse fiancée was going too. We all wanted that nurse, we wanted her bad, there was something about her, something hot, something nursy. We wished we knew what she looked like in uniform, we wondered if she ever wore it off duty. We wanted to get injured or beaten up, go to A&E, see if she was there. But Chris got her, and we could never figure that out. Was he sick? Did he need looking after? Was that it? Martin Hurley was only around for a single game too. He went off to work in Germany before moving back to Ireland.

 

Howard Jones, Mike Thorburn, Eddie Lester, James Hoskins, Matt Bullock, Clare Norris, Antony Mann – the spine of the team remained constant, but there were new players as well, some who would hang around, others who made but fleeting appearances. Tony Mander and his son Ben played almost 30 games between them in 2000, and young quick Greg Le Tocq from Jericho, who was not as quick as he thought he was, played 12 in his only season for the team. Future captain Leo Phillips – concert violinist, conductor, and son of the painter Tom Phillips – made his debut, as did Adrian Fisher, whose own side, The Team With No Name, had lately become The Name With No Team.

 

 

 

Local baker Ade Fisher (in blue, second from left) on a break from his pie making.

 

 

Jake Hotson’s first game for The Jude was against Stokenchurch at the Cowley Marsh minefield-cum-rabbit warren, in the preliminary round of the Bernard Tollett Cup. Ant Mann was skipper that evening, and as usual had been scrabbling around for days trying to get an XI together. In desperation he rang his friend Simon Image, who had never played cricket before in his life. To punish Mann for interrupting his drinking session, he put him onto Jake. A portent of things to come, Jake turned up late, wearing black jeans and Doc Martins, and spent the whole game staring at the sky trying to find Mandelbrot Sets in the clouds. Fractal, man, fractal. “Hmm,” said Stokenchurch on the way to their 120-run victory, “We had no idea. We could have put out our second team. Or the thirds. Or fourths.” Now, eight years on, Jake has cemented his place in the team’s history, developing into a useful batsman, skippering on several notable occasions, and taking on the role of the gavel-wielding Judge at team fines sessions.

 

 

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Not how it started for Jake.

 

 

Winning the quiz down at The Jude one night, local melancholic and poet Andrew Morley joined the team as his prize, and went on to play 8 games that season, in a melancholic and poetic way. 2000 saw Lorcan Kennan’s only 5 games for the team, with 4 from Paul Drake, 3 from Nick Watney, and 6 from Paul Grant, who was Ed’s neighbour in Bladon, and who copped my knee in his head one game while we were both going for the same catch. At least I caught it, though. I still remember the batsman – Mick Harrow from Nomads, who top-edged it to fine leg. Eight years after that catch, just last weekend in fact, down at their ground in Duntiston Abbots, I was having a chat with Mick while I umpired at square leg. Eight years.

 

There are people who die trying to take catches. They run into a team mate at twenty miles per hour, who is also running. That’s forty miles per hour of impact. It can get nasty. On this occasion Paul didn’t die, though he didn’t last long in the team. He met a girl who didn’t think cricket was much fun, for her, anyway. And whilst it is true that all wives and girlfriends, without exception, don’t think cricket is fun, and really do not understand why their better halves have such a passion for such a ridiculous game, there are some who tolerate the strange obsession, and some who don’t. Paul’s girlfriend didn’t, though maybe as well Paul wasn’t as obsessed as we thought he ought to be.

 

 

 

Andrew Morley (centre) doing what he does best.

 

 

Richard Hadfield played twice for The Jude in 2000, I don’t remember now the connection which brought him into the side. He scored 72 against OUP at Jordan Hill on debut, a record which stands to this day. He was the co-author of a novelty book which was big that year, The Cheeky Guide to Oxford. Richard went off to have children, but a tiny flame lingered in his heart, never extinguished, ever burning, a desire gnawing away at him, and six years later, in 2006, he came back to the side, walked out to bat, and scored a duck.    

 

All in all, 30 players turned out for side that year, many for only one game, but it didn’t make any difference who played – season 2000 was one of several Jude nadirs which had begun with the team’s foundation in 1998. All teams have their peaks and troughs, but The Jude were no idiots. They had the foresight to get all their troughs out of the way in one go. 2000 was particularly troughy. Of 17 games, The Jude won only 4, and once again, these victories were mainly against weaker, scratch teams drawn from irregulars. Once again the friendly natives of Weymouth were awoken from their pastoral idyll, stirred from their haystack slumbers or called in from pleasant afternoons pipe-smoking and a-fishing on The Wey. The Jude beat them twice, easily. There was another win, too, against The Old Tom, but that hardly counted either.

 

There were many low points. All out 65 against The Baldons. All out 45 against The Marlborough (a recovery from 14-5). All out 50 in the game against Stokenchurch, during which five wickets fell with the score on 19.. All out 34 against The Isis, after being 11-6. And then – the usual insult – they brought their rubbish bowlers on, the guys who only ever got a bowl when the game was so far won that it didn’t matter. But The Jude were so crap, that’s all they deserved, the guys could only bowl full tosses and half-trackers at six miles an hour. The guys who sometimes hit the pitch between the wides. Every team has them, or if they don’t, then they should. They’re an important part of Sunday cricket. They make it what it is, a game for everyone, and everyone for a game.

 

 

 

No caption required.

 

 

There were half decent performances against Lions Club and OUP – the latter of which was to become an annual fixture – but the only ‘proper’ win of the season came against The Beehive. This was only the second Jude game played at Pembroke College Sports Ground, down Whitehouse Lane, past the pikey van and loitering motorbike thieves, then over the railway footbridge. By now The Jude had a committee, with Matt Bullock as the no-nonsense Chairman, Eddie Lester the earnest, idealistic, Captain and Secretary, and Ant Mann as the honest but lackadaisical Treasurer, for whom the phrase ‘close enough is good enough’ had been invented, especially as it related to accounts. The previous year, playing Isis at Queen’s College, we had envied the greenness of their ground and the clubhouse and bar. We had wondered how to get one of our own, a better one, with even more grass, taller trees, faster flowing perimeter streams, and better-looking college girls playing on the adjoining tennis courts. As chance would have it, Pembroke and their groundsman Kev were up for grabs. Voila! Kev, Pembroke, The Jude, it was a three-way marriage made in heaven, and completely legal.

 

In retrospect, it was important to find a permanent home. The Jude was not a village team, so didn’t have a green to play on, and the Oxford council grounds were already in the process of being neglected and decommissioned. Cuttleslowe Upper and Lower soon became just Cuttleslowe Upper, the Cowley Marsh was always a dump, and the Horspath nets were just a memory. On top of which, it was a rare treat when a groundsman actually turned up to open the change rooms. Hey, not that cricket’s very big in England, so it was no wonder really that the local council should have zero interest in fostering the game.

 

The Beehive fixture was a turning point of sorts. In these days The Jude were easy-beats, and it was always an embarrassment to lose against them. Sure, they could take the odd game here and there if Lee Davie turned up and played well, or if someone incited Howard Jones to bowl like a man possessed, but this was the first time they had won a true contest on their own merits, and a sign of the gradual improvement to come. Set up nicely by a 73 from none other than Jones, The Jude defended 163-5 against a strong Beehive side riddled with Antipodeans and desperate to win, or rather, not to lose. But from 127-2, the ’Hive collapsed in the pouring rain to all out 149 with 2 balls to spare, and for a change it was entirely due to The Jude’s bowling and catching. In fact, this was the year in which The Jude’s began to have a bowling attack, although the batting remained wretched for some time to come.

 

 

clubhistorymise

 

Pembroke, our Theatre of Dreams.

 

 

Antony Mann was Player of the Year in 2000. Thought he bowled stiffly like some kind of automaton, like he was on a cliff edge and afraid to look down, his left-arm in-swingers had suddenly started to work, and he took 21 wickets at 12.90, with a best of 4-7 against The Old Tom. He also scored 155 runs at 14.10 with a top of 39. Greg Le Tocq bagged 18 wickets at 13.39, and Ed Lester 17 with his looping spin. Howard Jones played only 7 games, but topped the batting averages with 221 runs at 44.30. He hit the team’s highest individual score (that 73 against The Beehive at Pembroke) and also took 10 wickets, including a best of 5-9. At his best, he was good, moving the ball both ways at speed and hard to play.

 

James Hoskins had settled in nicely with his slow right-armers, taking 10 wickets in 7 matches at 19.00. Mike Thorburn once again went through the year in an alcoholic haze, slurring and stumbling his way to 115 runs at 16.43 and 9 wickets at 22.77. Though handicapped somewhat by his love of the amber nectar, Mike was a sound length bowler who just about always broke partnerships – he very rarely went a game without bagging a scalp. In 2000 Andrew Morley took a wicket and had an economy rate of 4.57 runs per over. Ben Mander took 4 wickets, but also bashed 64 runs at 4.92. Matt Bullock scored 65 runs at 4.65, but made a remarkable 14 catches and 8 stumpings behind the wicket. Clare Norris scored 18 runs in her 10 games, she was still finding it hard to get the ball off the square, while Jake Hotson scored 24 in 9 at an average of 3.43, ditto: ball, hard to get off square. Leo Phillips actually looked like a batsman, which confused everybody for a while, especially his own team mates. He played in 8 games, making 177 runs at 19.50. In his first year, Tony Mander was 4th in the batting averages, very hard to dismiss, scoring at 19.33.

 

Come to think of it, I remember it well, this year. I remember Noel Reilly playing against The Beehive at Swindon, being stretchered off after scoring 3 because 66 yards was all he could manage on his two spindly legs. I remember the European Cup on the telly in the pubs, England bowing out on penalties as usual. The way The Rose & Crown brought a Cambridge Blue to play for them, and how it felt watching a proper cricketer, how it felt bowling to him, trying not to get tonked all over the ground. How pissed off we were because they’d brought the guy in the first place. Trying to keep out Haider, the Stokenchurch first team quick, on Cowley Marsh. Watching everyone else trying to keep him out, one after the other, as those five wickets fell with the score on 19. The new millennium, the idea hanging in the air, a new start for everyone, another thousand years just begun, and anything was possible. The Jude’s first year at Pembroke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part V – 2001”

 

Anything was possible, but certain things weren’t very likely. The Jude winning a game of cricket being one of them. Having said that for the sake of taking a cheap shot, it’s fair to say that 2001 was much better for the team than the previous year. There was only one pathetic collapse to rival the usual debacles, when The Jude showed up to play with just 9 against The Nomads at Liddington. They batted like rubbish to be all out 42. There were only 13 games in 2001. There was no tour. The Jude lost 9 and won 4, but except for the game against The Marsh Harrier, where Adie Fisher captained a bunch of drunkards in Doc Martins to a heavy defeat, the wins were good ones, and many of the losses could have gone either way.

 

Featuring in that Nomads game, the first of the season, were two players who had never before worn the Jude colours (white with a white trim, white shoes, generally white). Steve Dobner was an Essex boy, a friend of James Hoskins who had never really played much cricket, but who was possessed of that strange kind of natural athleticism which made it look like he had. Pretty soon he was among the runs and wickets. In many ways, he was an archetypal bowler. A genial and friendly guy in the normal course, as soon as he grabbed the ball, something began to bubble under, be it frustration at not hitting the length, or a desire to kill the batsman at the other end. Thornton Smith was a different kettle of monkeys – well-read, laid back, with a sharp mind and an eye for the non sequitur. As a cricketer, he was more of a golfer, but supremely effective in his crosswise batting style, which always brought quick runs if he could stay at the crease.

 

 

 

Thornton Smith holding a trusty squirrel basher.

 

 

2001 saw the departure of Clare Norris, who married boyfriend Julian and prioritized herself into moving to Australia with a growing family. Mike Thorburn played only one game for The Jude in 2001 before shaving his head for charity and moving up to Manchester with his girlfriend. Publicans all over Oxford mourned his leaving as beer profits across the county plummeted, while the local Sarcastic Comment Quota dipped noticeably as well. As for Greg Le Tocq, he left Oxford quickly to study at Nottingham, though not as quickly as he thought he did.

 

Otherwise, things had a settled feel to them, with Howard Jones, Adie Fisher, Ant Mann, Matt Bullock, the Manders (including cousin James), Jamo Hoskins and Jake Hotson still making up the core of the side. Paul Drake was another of the Mander clan, by marriage, who played sporadically. Ed Lester was still around, but relinquished the captaincy in favour of Leo Phillips. Leo was a good skipper and a decent bat, but problems with gout among other things meant that he was around for only 7 out of the 13 games, and it was to be his last year for The Jude before he sold up and moved to the Far East, settling eventually in Thailand.

 

After the pathetic loss to the Nomads, The Jude regrouped in time to lose against Marlborough House at Corpus Christi. This was the Golden Age of the long-running rivalry with the Marlborough boys which went on for at least three or four years. In this Age of Goldenness, the teams were evenly matched, and there was niggle, even sledging, and sometimes camaraderie and mutual respect. The return match at the Warneford Hospital ground was Lee Davie’s game, and his half century from a mere 21 deliveries is a Jude record unlikely to be beaten any time soon. With Howard Jones contributing a characteristically aerial 63, The Jude easily defended 213-4, still their fifth highest score of all time.  

 

The first game of 2001 played at Pembroke was against a new opponent, the Bodleian Library, and The Jude chalked up another win, by 12 runs, with Adie Fisher scoring 41 and taking 4-18 with his deceptive two-paced multi-trajectory pie. The next game saw yet more newcomers at Pembroke, but things didn’t turn out quite so well. Queen’s College old boys Lemmings were entertained by a pitiful 6 Judesters, with an embarrassed Mann skippering the motley crew. It might even have been 7, but James Mander decided to get a haircut instead of fronting up as promised. Thanks for letting us know, James. Hope the cut worked out well for you. Neater and tidier, was it? But the Lemmings weren’t dicks about it at all, and even lent The Jude John Greany. His 70 wasn’t enough to stave off defeat, but the Lemmings were too nice to feel sorry for us, which can’t be said about all those other bastard teams who kicked us when we were down.

 

 

 

Maybe Ben Mander should have gone for that haircut instead.

 

 

The 13-run loss against the South Oxford Social Club at Horspath was notable for two things: Lee Davie reaching 97 not out after being dropped five times – all of them straight forward chances – and Steve Dobner, playing for South Oxford, diving full-length into the dust on the last ball of the game to cut off the boundary which would have given Lee The Jude’s first ever century. Well done to Steve, who filled in for South Oxford at the last minute and was rewarded with batting last and not facing a ball, not getting a bowl, and fielding in the deep all day. Showing the kind of dedication which would endear him to everyone except girlfriend Kim, Steve had driven all the way from Stevenage to Oxford only to end up as twelfth man, so had leapt at the chance to play some cricket. But subbing for the opposition is always a lottery. On the one hand, the skipper is glad that he has an extra player to make up the numbers, but on the other, he doesn’t have a clue who you are and if you can play. And when he asks you if you bat or bowl, you’re most likely to say something like, Yeah, a bit of both, but I’m not very good. At which point you disappear from his game plan completely and end up at fine leg for the duration.    

 

The season’s decider against The Marlborough was at Pembroke. It started with niggle, followed by mutual respect, after which came bewilderment as people began to realize that Jake Hotson had turned up to the game with somebody else’s arm, and was using it to bowl. 5-28 was the return, with 4 clean bowled, as a useful Marlborough batting line-up fell for a lowly 120. During this game, the redoubtable Dan Edwards fell lbw to Ant Mann for 5, though no doubt this decision was a complete injustice as Edwards had put in a big stride and the ball was most likely either hitting outside the line or sliding down leg. In those days, Edwards was a true journeyman, often trawling round the grounds of a Sunday with his kit bag over his shoulder, his cries of ‘Anyone need a player?’ echoing across the fields. With his broad-rimmed head sitting under his broad-rimmed hat, Edwards was a diligent foe hard to dislodge, a lover of banter, the forward defensive and the back cut. 

 

But this was Hotson’s hour, and during the innings break, he held the ball aloft in the style of Glenn McGrath, and there was much premature gloating as a team photo was taken. Some say it made The Marlborough angry, others that The Jude batted like crap. Whatever the case, a hard-fought 88-3 soon turned to a parlous 98-8, and Ed Lester was last man out, run out for 24 with the score on 106, 14 runs short of victory.

 

 

 

Jake when he could bowl, holding the ball aloft. Eddie Lester with Ruth on the left. Adie Fisher padded up.

Tony and Ben Mander front row right.

 

 

The last game of the year was The Jude’s finest, a 36-run win against the strong Nomads at picturesque Cuttleslowe, the best of the council grounds. The damage was done by Ant Mann’s career high 58, and Howard Jones, who made a characteristically aerial 57. It was a note of triumph on which to end the season, though there was scant triumphalism. The Jude were still Sundayists at heart, mostly pissed on the sidelines and reading the newspaper. Occasionally a player would look up from his warm beer and sleazy tabloid to realize that a wicket had fallen and it was time to saunter out to flay the bowling for a handy 6 or 9, but mostly, not.

 

Despite playing in only five games – or perhaps because of it – Lee Davie was Player of the Year in 2001. He averaged 77 with the bat, and took 8 wickets at 12.50. Howard Jones had another good season, recording The Jude’s highest run aggregate of 298 at 37.25, and taking 10 wickets. Adrian Fisher made an impact in his first full year with the team, with 161 runs at 23.14, and a selection of fine pastries and sausage rolls for a return of 9 wickets at a niggardly 11.67. As for Jake Hotson, the proof that he could once actually bowl before the yips began to eat away at his scattered psyche lies in his bowling figures. He sent down 19 overs for 7 wickets, at an average of 10.85, with an economy rate of 4.00. That was second only to Ant Mann, who took 17 wickets at 9.88, conceding just 2.60 runs per over.

 

 

 

Ant Mann – the personification of smug.

 

 

Leo Phillips’ top score as skipper was 44 not out, while keeper Matt Bullock scored 99 runs with a high of 28. Tony Mander’s highest score was 34. James Hoskins took 4 wickets and scored 40 runs at 8.00. Thornton Smith’s first 6 games for The Jude saw him score 16 runs at 5.33 and take 3 wickets with his skiddy medium pacers.

 

It couldn’t be said that The Jude were resurgent in 2001, because they had never been surgent in the first place. But they were hanging in there as an entity, more or less, and that flimsy fabric which had been blowing about a few years back was still fluttering gamely in the breeze, though there was perhaps the need for a few more heavy rocks to weigh it down and stop a strong gust picking up the whole fucker and blowing it to pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part VI – 2002”

 

With Leo Phillips fleeing the country at the start of the season, an unhappy Matt Bullock took over the captaincy of the side. Not that Matt was a poor choice, he was just the least reluctant of the various candidates who hid under the table when the question was raised. Too slow in sliding out of his chair and disappearing from sight, Matt was left to clasp disconsolately what for another year at least would be the poisoned chalice.

 

Among other things, the new captain oversaw a new name for the team, as Jude the Obscure became Far From The Madding Crowd CC. Landlord of The Jude Noel Reilly, the team’s patron, mentor and guru when he wasn’t busy falling down pissed as a newt, had lost his job, and the team had moved their base to Noel’s new concern in Friar’s Entry, another pub by Thomas Hardy. Smack bang in the middle of town, it was actually pretty close to the madding crowd, but the madding crowd didn’t seem to know much about it, because it was most times empty.

 

In 2002, apart from losing Leo Phillips to the Far East, Adie Fisher was absent due to family reasons. Howard Jones all but retired, while Lee Davie played 2 games and vanished, though not literally. He was still around, just not within sight. Leo was strictly a batsman, but the other three were all of them useful all-rounders, and the void was hard to fill, even more so as no new players appeared to fill it. This explains why, out of a potential 121 places (11 games) during the season, only 108 were taken. The Mad were often short, and often beaten.

 

Many of the regulars remained. Ben and Tony Mander, Ed Lester, James Hoskins, Matt Bullock, Antony Mann and Jake Hotson were there for just about every game, as were Thornton Smith and Steve Dobner.

 

 

 

Steve Dobner (right) gets a massage off his ‘gal shortly before his next 12 rounder.

 

 

In 2002 The Mad lost 9 of those 11 games, and it’s no accident that one of their two victories, a convincing win against The Marlborough at Boar’s Hill early in the season, was by a side which featured the soon-to-be-missed Jones, Davie and Fisher. They scored 99 runs between them, and took 5 wickets – and yet, were somewhat overshadowed in the eyes of some by the heroics of James Hoskins, who belted his highest ever score of 35 in a partnership of 111 with Davie, for a long time a Mad record for all wickets, and still a record for the 4th.

 

Losses to The Bodleian and Nomads were followed by a humiliating thrashing against Lemmings, a game during which Dylan Jones made his debut. Jamo’s lodger, Dylan was a Welsh rabbit with the bat, but could bowl handily at times and often took wickets. Jones must have been less than thrilled to be playing his first game for The Mad as the Queens’ College boys racked up a savage 276 from just 35 overs and won the game by 196. Another mauling, again from The Bodleian, preceded a brutal pasting by the OUP. Thank God, then, for The Marsh Harrier, who were even worse than The Mad even when The Mad were worse than everyone else. They turned up at Pembroke to match The Mad’s own depleted side in numbers at least, but The Mad were victorious as The Marsh dried up in the sun. A win is a win, I guess, but sometimes it’s more like just standing in the heat of the afternoon waiting to go to the pub. Adie Fisher was The Marsh captain that day, and he suffered from Saturday night’s promises, broken on the Sunday as all the pissed guys who had said they would play decided they couldn’t be bothered and left him hanging out to dry. Adie: You’ll definitely be there tomorrow, won’t you? Because if you won’t, then tell me now, because I need to know for sure, otherwise we won’t have a full team. Pissed Guy Lying On Floor In Pool Of Own Urine: Oh yeah, man, yeah, I won’t let you down.   

 

The following game, a typical grudge match again The Marlborough at Pembroke, summed up The Mad’s deplorable season. Bowling first and skittling The Marlborough for 77 (Dylan Jones 4-17) made The Mad feel good for roughly half an hour. There followed a lengthy period of feeling bad, as The Mad tumbled to all out 51. A violent 33 from Thornton Smith was not enough to get The Mad home. No surprise really, when the side’s second highest score was Ben Mander’s 4. There were four 0s, and four 1s, and a useful 3 from Steve Dobner.

 

The 2002 tour was largely a washout, as the team drove into drizzly Cornwall and registered a loss against a Callington side which didn’t really want to be there. The Mad went ten-pin bowling, went to the Eden Project, then went home.

 

Best of the batsmen who played regularly in 2002 were Thornton Smith and Ben Mander, but their averages of 14.00 and 13.50 respectively tells the story in itself. Nobody except Lee Davie scored over 50 during the entire season, with Matt Bullock’s 39 the next highest mark. Ben Mander had the top aggregate – 108.

 

In a bad year for just about everything, Ant Mann was Player of Season again for his 9 outfield catches and 14 wickets at 10.57. Ben Mander took 9 wickets at 21.33, Steve Dobner 8 at 23.63. James Hoskins bagged 7, with Ed Lester and Jake Hotson both taking 5. Thornton Smith took 4 at 14.50, and five catches.

 

 

 

Poring over a poor 2002 – a deflated MAD.

 

 

2002 had seen a new name for The Mad, and a new skipper, but whatever hopes of success had been cherished at the start of the year had quickly evaporated into a losing mentality as the team realized they were no longer good enough to compete against even the mediocre teams they were facing. They had brought the idea of a nadir to a new low, and there wasn’t much room left for going down. They had scraped the bottom of the barrel, taken the bottom off, climbed down under the barrel, and were now digging into the ground. Traditional foes were getting sick of The Mad and the easy victory they always provided. Even The Marlborough, themselves in decline as their home pub began to ooze and flake with that decrepit, post-nuclear holocaust style of décor so enjoyed by hard drinkers and blind people – even The Marlborough were secretly treating The Mad with disdain and scoffing at their plight in an excess of gloating and schadenfreude which The Mad themselves could only dream about being in a position to do. If the team couldn’t find new players, and fast, then there was a very real danger it would fold, in an utterly tragic and dramatic way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part VII – 2003”

 

They say that it’s always darkest before the dawn, and while that is obviously a load of rubbish – it’s usually darkest at about three in the morning – in this case, they were right. New players were needed, and new players were found. 2003 marks the first year of a modern Mad, with aspirations beyond scoring a single then getting out, and the new blood that flowed into the side back then remains to this day.

 

The Mad didn’t lose any regular players in 2003, but they did gain six. Thornton Smith, Antony Mann, Ben and Tony Mander, Steve Dobner, Jake Hotson, James Hoskins, Matt Bullock, Dylan Jones and Ed Lester were all still playing. Joining the ranks were Ian Howarth, Martin Westmoreland, brothers Nick and Steve Hebbes, John Harris, and Graham Bridges. Nobody yet knew it, but a gradual process of change had begun. The smiling ‘aw shucks’ losers of the last few years, apologetic and polite, would in time give way to a harder, more competitive Mad, which on occasion would push against the confines of Sundayism and wish for more.

 

 

 

John Harris holds the record for best bowling figures, though it was against The Marlborough.

 

 

A clash of cultures was inevitable, as the die-hard Sundayists, entrenched in what they saw as ‘their team’, muttered to no-one in particular about ‘a fair go for everyone’, while some of the newer players began to speak of ‘putting out the best side, especially in important games.’ This is a common dilemma which underlines just how difficult decision-making in Sunday cricket can be – far tougher than league or grade, or even first class or Test cricket. In Test cricket, while there may be arguments as to who the best players are, the aim is always to select the best, whereas in Sunday cricket, there are other, more subtle considerations. Such as, when and how often should the crap players get a game? Should the crap players be selected when it is their turn, or should they only be allowed to play against crap opposition? Should players new to the team get the same number of games as more established players, or should they be regarded with utter disdain and left waiting months or sometimes years before they are allowed into the starting XI? Does a solid team player who serves on the committee/writes reports/comes to nets/does the umpiring and scoring/generally gets stuck in get rewarded with more fixtures than the slacker who couldn’t give a toss and just pitches up half pissed expecting to open the batting and bowling while keeping wicket at the same time? Being on the committee myself, I think the answer is pretty clear. Certainly it’s true to say that if everyone worked as hard for the side as everyone else, then there’d be no opportunity for the control freaks to be in charge.

 

Things were further complicated for The Mad, though, because the idea of a best team was an alien concept – previously, there never had been a best team to put out. Often, there never had been a team. In truth it took a while for everyone to get to know one another, and to realize that they were all just as neurotic and insecure about their place in the scheme of things as everyone else. Some people just showed it more.

 

Whatever faint nostalgia there may remain for the days of that quirky bohemian loserdom which so often characterized The Jude, there is little doubt that the side would not have survived more than another season of it. 2003 saw the start of better days, though sometimes they still seemed a long way off.

 

 

 

Chairman Matt Bullock (right) grew weary of soulless beatings and resigned as skipper after 2002.

 

 

In contrast to the usual method of electing the committee – through consensual non-election of whoever was willing to take the job – the 2002 AGM saw a real and actual contest for the position of team captain. Chairman Matt Bullock hung up his coin in utter relief and vowed never to captain any sporting side anywhere ever in the world again, and in a controversial move, James Hoskins went head to head with Ed Lester for the post. In a vote for the future, Barrack Obama style, Hoskins won the ballot and became The Mad’s fourth official skipper. Lester, Phillips and Bullock had all served before him. How would Hoskins’s tenure work out?

 

Things started well for the new skipper, with a good win against a decent Bodleian side at Jesus College. It was an unusual looking Mad scorecard that day – Martin Westmoreland 38, Nick Hebbes 28, John Harris 21. Steve Hebbes took 2-8, while Steve Dobner, growing into his role as an all-rounder who would often vow to never bowl for The Mad again, picked up 3-8 and scored 17 not out as The Bodleian crumbled to all out 55.

 

Westmoreland, a friendly northerner who had left the rugby league, mills and coal mines of his youth for a better life down south, was like many batsmen at this level in that he had just the one scoring shot – in his case, a lofted smash towards cow. The off-side has always been for wimps and arty types, and Martin – soon to be dubbed ‘Moo’ – knew that better than most. His bowling, though sometimes wayward, swung late, sliding away from the right-hander, and bagged him a fair share of the wickets. Nick Hebbes was also a right-hander, a solid opener whose only real weakness was playing across the line to the straight one. Nick, though, was often called on to steady a sinking ship. He also bowled effectively into the corridor with a loping run-up, his left elbow appearing to flap in the breeze. His brother Steve, shorter yet with generally the same shaped head, was a deceptively clever right-arm spin bowler and at time useful batsman in a pinch. Hebbes Jnr brought a kind of quirky good-naturedness to the side, and it was shame that he played only the two seasons. John Harris batted with an understated elegance which looked often as though it might have brought him more runs. He bowled slow and often confusing spin and took great catches in the outfield.    

 

The Mad lost to The Marlborough at Cowley Marshes, all out 82 on the mole colony which passed for the cricket pitch there. Watching Dan Edwards bowl for The Marlborough that day reminded me of the kaleidoscope I got for Christmas when I was eight. The hypnotic spinning, the distracting patterns, it was all there in Edwards’ gyrating arms. Whereas many bowlers attempt to hide the ball as they run in simply by concealing it, Edwards was more overt in his deception, opting instead to hide it in the flurry of his whirlpool action, producing it always at the unexpected moment, like a conjuror taking a coin from behind your ear. Genius or madman, it was his 4-19 that made the difference, cunningly exploiting the rutted wicket clearly prepared by the groundsman with some kind of giant gouging tool, then stampeded by a herd of wildebeest before being scarified with a harvester. The depth of Oxford Council’s indifference to cricket in general could be seen by their attitude to the footballers who used the Cowley Marsh pitch as a playing field during the summer months. Frankly, they didn’t give a toss, and as soon as they could be bothered to realize that there was a problem, they solved it in the way councils usually do, by ignoring it and letting things slide. Eventually the unplayable pitch was finally decommissioned and given over to studs.     

 

 

 

Cowley Marshes as we’ll always remember them.

 

 

The game against South Oxford Social Club, also at Cowley, saw yet another Mad debut. Cornishman Ian Howarth, originally from Oldham, had turned up at the ground by mistake thinking it was a pub. An old friend of Thornton Smith, Ian was a destructive and provocative batsman who, despite saving his culture for the canvas – he was a painter and musician in his spare time – over the years scored hundreds of runs for The Mad. My favourite memory of Ian will always be the look on his face after I bowled him with a slower ball while playing for The Bodleian, as he tried to launch me out of the ground. Yet against South Oxford that day, The Mad went down by 47, in the process finding a batsman who could score runs while still pissed from the previous night. Howarth soon became an important cog in the Mad machine, and was instrumental in setting up the first Mad website, which has established an international presence for the team and is probably the best of its kind in the world.

 

In Wootton & Bladon, The Mad found a ready-made rivalry, with the sometimes abrasive but ever competitive Steve Poole turning out to be The Mad’s nemesis at Horspath, where his disdainful and insouciant 57 took the game out of reach. But the return match at Wootton was a different species of aardvark. Batting first on the slow and undulating village pitch, Ian Howarth swung at anything in the arc, and in Thornton Smith found a willing accomplice in the carnage. Howarth (89) and Smith (58) put on 133 undefeated for the fifth wicket on the way to 202-4. The provocation and gamesmanship was mutual, with Howarth and Poole doing their best to rub each other up the wrong way, though it was Howarth that day rubbing noses in it. It got so bad Tony Mander umpiring stepped in and threatened to dock the Wootton boys 5 runs for the verbals. The Mad won by 45. It was the start of something special, especially with Pooley.

 

 

 

Ian Howarth with a drink to match his ego in Somerset in 2003.

 

 

In July The Mad lost by 52 runs to The Bodleian at Pembroke, with Nick Millea scoring 78 out of the Bod’s 165. It was a good day too for the Bod’s Andy Mackinnon, who destroyed the Mad middle order, taking 4-11 in 3 overs of apparently awkward pie. Eddie Lester was one of the victims, given out lbw for nought by Ant Mann, playing across the line to a straight sausage role that would have hit just above the shoelaces. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell with Sunday umpiring – is it fair or isn’t it? The fact that you have to umpire while your own team bats can make for colourful debates in the pub later, especially in relation to the lbw law, which is properly known on average by 22 percent of any given Sunday side. Lbw decisions are given roughly in order of seniority, so that a respected batsman who will have a tantrum if given has a one in three chance of actually being given to a plum shout, while a lesser player who will just shrug and wander off the field has a three in four chance, four in five if the ball is pitching outside leg, which is of course not out under the law, but how on earth is everybody supposed to remember complicated details like that? There are exceptions to this rule, namely, if the respected batsman is also a dick and generally despised, i.e. not respected at all, then his chance of dismissal rises to almost one hundred percent per appeal, no matter where the ball pitched.      

 

Eddie had been having trouble with his batting, playing across the line to straight balls which either bowled him or trapped him in front. He was fine in the nets, keeping a straight bat and playing through the line, flaying the bowling to all parts, but as soon as he walked to the crease, something clicked inside him and he played a duff shot which brought his downfall. He hadn’t scored a run in weeks. He was desperate. This was his big chance. So Mann gave him out first ball. It was a fair decision, but nonetheless, not fair.

 

In 2003 The Mad toured West Somerset and staying at The Dunkery Beacon, a huge bed and breakfast place perfectly suited to large groups of the semi-coherent. I didn’t go on that tour, so I don’t know much about it, though I did hear the fascinating stories that people brought back with them, the outrageous tales of falling down in the gutter and of wearing lampshades on each other’s heads. I can’t remember now who won the tennis tournament, or who ate the most pickled fennels with their hands tied behind their back at three in the morning, and for that I am eternally grateful. There was also some cricket on the tour, three games, and three losses – to Minehead, Timberscombe and Stogumber. Incidentally, Stogumber is rhymed with ‘number’.

 

 

 

The Dunkery Beacon hotel – home to the FFTMCC for three consecutive tours to Somerset.

 

 

The Mad played four games against The Marlborough that year, winning two and losing two to keep the old-standing rivalry on an even keel. There was not much sign of Mike Reeves, but Dan Edwards was ever present, The Marlborough’s key performer thanks to his obdurate batting, his spellbinding bowling style, and his indefatigable wide-brimmed head. The last game of the season was against them, and turned out to be Ian Howarth’s greatest near-triumph. His 97 out of 200-8 equalled the team’s highest individual score record set by Lee Davie several years previously, and it’s just a shame that he holed out with only three runs to go. There was still no Mad player who had registered a century, though Howarth now looked the most likely if he could just control himself and not act like such a twit.                      

 

In his first season as skipper, out of 20 matches, James Hoskins steered The Mad to 7 wins, a massive improvement on 2002. A glance down the averages for 2003 reveals that six of the first seven batting places were taken by players new to The Mad. Premier batsman, and Player of the Year was Ian Howarth, who averaged 40.69 with the bat while accumulating 529 runs. In his bowling style he seemed often like the reincarnation of Chris Legg, interspersing as he did his out-of-control beamers with occasionally volatile medium pace. He took 8 wickets with a best of 4-17. Thornton Smith stepped up a gear to hit 349 runs at 21.33 with his flat-bat baseball style, relying as he did on a good eye and picking the length. Newcomers Martin Westmoreland, Nick Hebbes, John Harris and Steve Hebbes filled the next four places, averaging between 12 and 19. Westmoreland’s highest score was 66.

 

Pick of the bowlers was Ant Mann, who took 27 wickets at 10.52, an aggregate wicket tally yet to be bettered. Stephen Hebbes bagged an impressive 19 at 17.37 with his fast and skiddy spin, while Steve Dobner and James Hoskins took 15 and 13 respectively at around 22. It was useful attack now – Dylan Jones (12) and Ben Mander (11) were also among the wickets, while Howarth, Hebbes the Elder and Martin Westmoreland could also be relied on to pick up key scalps. John Harris took 4 wickets at 17.00 in his three games. Westmoreland was also a revelation in the field, taking 12 often spectacular catches and affecting a run out.

 

 

 

Steve Hebbes pictured at Pembroke.

 

 

Graeme Bridges didn’t have a great year with the bat, but he was always an asset to the side, and it’s a shame he didn’t play for The Mad much longer. He had the thin build of a distance runner, so it’s handy that he ran distance races. Maybe he just preferred running to cricket. And one thing you don’t get a lot of in cricket, Sunday cricket especially, is running. 

 

In many ways this was a new Mad, playing harder, winning more, with players who wanted more to win more and harder, and not afraid to take on the opposition where it sometimes counted more than on the field – in the mind, or in the case of Steve Dobner, the car park. But glimpses of the old Jude could still be seen in the team’s general good humour and willingness not to be a bunch of dicks. Sundayism wasn’t dead, it would just have to find a new way to exist as the times changed around it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part VIII – 2004”

 

As it always did, the team overwintered, with most people going their separate ways, returning to hang out with their families or whatever else it was that players did in the off season. The fact is, for some of the side, cricket was just about all they had in common, and the team spirit which carried them through the summer months didn’t have the impetus to make it through the winter as well. There was one social occasion, however, which brought a few people out of the woodwork. Ant Mann’s book of short fiction, Milo & I, was published in late 2003 and launched at Far From the Madding Crowd. A remarkable volume containing the Dagger-winning Taking Care of Frank and the innovative Shopping, it appeared to universal acclaim and went on to sell thirty-six copies. The book launch was a convivial affair which, as with all good literary events, ended in violence. Re-enacting some classic scenes from Marx Brothers movies, Ian Howarth (Harpo) pushed Steve Dobner (Chico) off his chair, Dobner retaliating was thrown out of the pub, and Thornton Smith (Groucho) broke his wrist trying to smack Howarth in the face. James Hoskins playing Zeppo saw the whole thing and remained unscathed, while the rest of the idiots, when the booze wore off the next day, all had a date with an A&E nurse. 

 

But despite the undoubted success of the book launch, there were questions being raised about where the team should drink. Far From The Madding Crowd was inconveniently right in the middle of town, and it lacked atmosphere. In addition, The Mad’s spiritual guide and totemic figure Noel Reilly was no longer the landlord.

 

With this in mind, a crack team of researchers spent much of the off-season visiting as many pubs in Oxford as they could, rating them on convenience to Pembroke, beer, atmosphere, landlord friendliness, and the chance of being beaten senseless by skinheads. Then, a committee meeting was held in a neutral venue, the Harcourt Arms in Jericho. Deliberations went on long into the night. The Folly Bridge Inn on the Abingdon Road was the clear winner. It was close to the ground, it had a beer garden, the landlord was all right and would give the team a huge wodge of cash to come drink there. But something wasn’t right. Was it the skinheads? There were some there, and they looked kind of mean and nasty. What if they wanted to join the team, were refused, then killed everyone with broken off pool cues? For the sake of saving everyone’s lives, it was decided that the team would drink at the Madding Crowd for one more year.

 

 

 

Martin sporting an early nickname.

 

 

2003 had been good, but in 2004, it got better. The Mad won 9 and lost 11. From time to time there were still the abject collapses, but by and large they were a thing of the past. As far as the team went, no new regulars were required to swell the ranks. Dylan Jones was already cutting back his involvement, and played in only 5 games. There was no sign of Ben Mander, but his father Tony was there for 10. Andrew Morley returned from the abyss to play in 7, and Adrian Fisher was back for the full season.

 

Ed Lester played in only 5 games, but it turned out that his mind was on other things. The Founding Father of The Jude was already planning to emigrate to New Zealand with his wife Ruth, and his involvement in the side lessened as the year went on. Ed was the driving force behind The Jude’s early development, building the team from scratch. Without him, there would have been no Jude or Mad at all. Apart from this legacy, Ed had also coined the phrase not at this level, to describe his thoughts on the application of the lbw law in the arena of Sunday cricket. The thinking behind the not at this level philosophy is straightforward: Sunday cricket umpiring is so uniformly bad, with most players not even knowing the laws, that no lbw decisions should be given at all, as they are bound to be based on misconceptions, bias, or cheating. To be fair, the not at this level school has many adherents, but the idea does fall down in the practical application, as demonstrated by the Dave Shorten Example. Mad bowler Dave Shorten used to play in a Sunday type team which banned lbws, for precisely the reasons set out in the not at this level philosophy, but all that happened was batsmen stood directly in front of the stumps, making it impossible to bowl them as well. Thus, while admirable in its intent, the not at this level concept is just not practical, at any level. Even so, it is common even today to hear the phrase ring out, accompanied by the throwing of bats and sundry cricket gear as a player stalks off, definitely not out, but given anyway by some klutz with a trigger finger who doesn’t know the rules. Or maybe, who does.

 

Fluctuating fortunes were on show in the first game of the season, as The Mad met old foes The Marlborough at the breezy Cuttleslowe Park. The Marlborough had been decimated by departures. Mike Cox had gone, there was no sign of Edwards or Reeves. It was a motley crew of jeans wearers and the like who showed up to be skittled for 47 chasing The Mad’s 196. The Marlborough were headed where The Mad had almost gone, towards oblivion and dissolution. Jake Hotson and Ian Howarth opened the batting for The Mad, putting on 65 for the first wicket. Of which Hotson scored 4. Steve Hebbes remained 30 not out. Of The Marlborough’s ten wickets, seven were ducks. Only the loquacious Mark Shelley held out, defiant, unbeaten on 20 at the end.

 

 

 

The loquacious Mr. Shelley pictured at Cutteslowe.

 

 

There was another sign of the times the following week as The Mad recorded their first ever win against OUP, a team which had always beaten them easily in the past. The omens had been good – Ian Howarth and skipper James Hoskins had spent the night pissed in Howarth’s back yard, waking at dawn after half an hour’s sleep covered in dew and with the cat’s tongue up their ear. So it was no wonder that Howarth slapped a quick-fire 52 to put The Mad on course. This time the opening partnership was 73. Jake Hotson scored 6. For a time, OUP were on course to reel in the runs, but seemed to lose heart as the wickets fell, and all of a sudden, it occurred to The Mad that they could win this game. It all ended with a whimper, and a 44 run victory. Nick Hebbes took 4-17.

 

The Mad played a new opponent, University Offices, at Cuttleslowe Park. This was the team’s first look at Andrew Darley, who took 3-26 with his probing right-arm cutters and backed up with 19 runs. But when Ant Mann took wickets with his 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th deliveries, The Offices were reeling at 4-3. It looked all over. It wasn’t. Abbas could bat as well as bowl. Despite gutsy late breakthroughs from Hoskins, The Offices edged a close game by two wickets, with Abbas remaining on 108 not out in spite of Steve Dobner’s efforts from behind the stumps to sledge him into making an error.

 

The return saw The Mad win a nail-biter at Cowley Marshes. A rain break saw The Offices recover from 85-8 to all out 135, as Latif and Chris Heron took the bowling on. Only a brilliant 1-handed catch by John Harris on the boundary kept The Mad in the game, which they somehow closed out by a single wicket with a ball to spare. A fretful Nick Hebbes (21) hit the winning runs as Martin Westmoreland watched from the other end on 31, plagued by a back spasm but still standing. Eight of the nine Mad wickets to fall were clean bowled. It was sweet revenge for The Mad, and the start of yet another rivalry, of which one can never have too many.

 

The Mad then beat The Marlborough by 3 wickets at Pembroke, chasing down a measly 70 thanks to Graham Bridges, who stood firm on 16 not out. Adrian Fisher was chief destroyer for The Mad, with a career-best 5-15, comprising some well-cooked flans and the obligatory sausage roll or three. Fisher was fast becoming the Guru of Pie, to whom all pie chuckers must defer. He invariably took wickets with his subtle changes in flight, pace and pastry.

 

 

 

Nick Hebbes with the hat nobody coveted.

 

 

An obligatory loss to R T Harris came next, with Ditta Yousaf the chief destroyer for the electricians; though he may not be too thrilled with the memory of being stranded on 99 not out as the last ball was bowled. The Mad could reply with only 104. Apart from Lemmings, R T Harris were always The Mad’s toughest opponents, and it would be a while before The Mad would even believe they could beat them.

 

The Dunkery Beacon in Somerset once again hosted The Mad on tour, and this time I was there. I had a fabulous time, falling down in the gutter and wearing lampshades on my head. I still remember with great fondness the Combined No-Hands Fennel Eating Contest and Tennis Tournament. Minehead were the first Mad victims, despite posting 170. James Hoskins took 4-34, while Ant Mann had the ludicrous figures of 8-4-4-2, conceding just 4 runs in 8 overs and taking 2 wickets with the last two balls of his spell. 170 seemed a reasonable total, but The Mad knocked it off for just two wickets against a weak attack. Steve Dobner’s 77 not out once again demonstrated the fact that he could actually bat – when he believed he could. Timberscombe were next, losing by 74 as Ian Howarth hit 53 and Mann bagged his only ever 5 for, snaring a pseudo hat trick in the process, if you counted the previous game. Stogumber, though, proved a hurdle too far, and overtook The Mad’s 154-3 with some ease. After hitting Penny for a six, Thornton Smith managed to keep his head, though the bowler seemed keen to take it off. A 62 run win against Watchet made it three out of four, with Mike Clarke making 61 and Nick Hebbes hitting a half century, and himself in the head with his bat.

 

Back in Oxford, the season rolled over into a post-tour hangover. Wootton & Bladon took The Mad apart at Pembroke, and a desultory, strangely boring game at Dorchester ended in a 5-wicket defeat. This was Dan Edwards’ debut game for The Mad, and he top-scored with 18. The Marlborough stalwart had finally had enough of his team’s inexorable slide towards the abyss and had decided to bring his hat and his bat across town. Generally, there seemed to be seemed to be some antipathy towards the Mad boys at Dorchester, though it had nothing to do with Ian Howarth walking out to the crease with a sticker reading Fuck You, You Fuckin’ Fuck! on his bat. Thornton Smith spent the afternoon grazing the outfield in search of magic mushrooms.

 

 

 

Fill in the missing letters

 

 

Coming off two losses, there was a lot to play for back at Wootton in August, and The Mad would not be denied. Dropped twice by Steve Hebbes subbing in the outfield and four more times by the Wootton boys, Ian Howarth powered his way to 95 out of 150 as the wickets fell all around him. Only Adie Fisher with 13 joined him in double figures, so close once again to being triple. Riding on the back of Ingram’s 55, Wootton seemed to be cruising in reply, but two brilliant catches by Westmoreland and Howarth in the outfield turned the game. Adie Fisher baked up a special, destroying the middle order with 3-26, while two run outs brought The Mad within reach. One wicket to get, and in the second last over Ant Mann had Bill Dale plumb lbw, but sadly, not as this level. “You’ll have to bowl him,” snarled The Mad’s nemesis Steve Poole umpiring, a knowing grin on his face. So two balls later, Mann did, middle peg, and the game was won by three.

 

Another easy win against The Marlborough, and the season was all but over. Only one fixture remained, against The Baldons, a team The Mad had played some years before. It was an ugly sort of a game, with The Baldons skipper being given out but standing his ground and whining until his wicket was reinstated. He went on to score an ‘unbeaten’ hundred, and thus win the game, but by that stage, the result seemed irrelevant.

 

Player of the Season in 2004 was Ant Mann, who took the crown for the third time and thus was allowed to keep the coveted Jules Madde trophy in perpetuity. He took a thrilling 27 wickets at an awesome 10.85, with an economy rate of 2.50, as well as making an incredible 12 catches, and batting at a fantastic 14.44. Ian Howarth was the key batsman again, accumulating a staggering 709 runs at a ridiculously high 39.39 including five half centuries. The next highest scorer was Steve Dobner, with a massive 366 at a brilliant 22.88. He also took an astonishing 12 wickets at a pathetic 21.25.

 

 

 

Bullock and Hebbes – amazingly brilliant all-rounders.

 

 

Nick Hebbes averaged 26.78 with the bat and took 17 wickets at 19.41, with a best of 4-17; Martin Westmoreland made 221 runs at 18.42 and took 11 wickets; Adrian Fisher bowled in only 4 matches but took 11 wickets at 13.36, including his game-winning 5-15 against The Marlborough. He batted in 13 games, for 110 runs. James Hoskins took 18 wickets at 22.78, as well as taking 8 catches and effecting 2 run outs. John Harris and Thornton Smith also contributed with both bat and ball, though Smith was not able to reach the heights of the previous year. His top score in 2004 was 27 not out, with an average of 8.09. Distressingly, Jake Hotson had the yips and could no longer bowl on the strip, but had reinvented himself as an immovable batsman who could hold up an end for just about as long as he wanted. Matt Bullock scored 90 runs at 12.85 and made 8 dismissals behind the stumps.

 

2004 saw The Mad raise their game a level, pitting themselves against stronger teams and acquitting themselves well. But not only did they play better. As self-belief grew, the positive effects of successful participation in a team sport bled over into other areas of their lives. They drank more, took more drugs, had fewer breakdowns, slept with more women, got married more, had more children, and cracked better jokes. Under the benign leadership of James Hoskins, life was good. If this was a movie, then things would start to go horribly wrong. But the truth is, things were only getting better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part IX – 2005”

 

In 2005 The Mad finally cut their ties with the Reillys, and with Far From The Madding Crowd, at which point they could at last drop the third ‘c’ from their name. No longer would they be known by the pedants as Far From The M.C.C.C. Now, to the relief of all, Far From The M.C.C. was their name, and would remain so, never mind which pub they might next call their home. But for now, The Mad had no fixed abode, and so, for this year at least, they became The No-Mad. 

 

This season The Mad gained two new wicketkeeper-batsmen – Gary Littlechild, who played 3 games, and Geoff Carter, who played 4. Gary was the brother-in-law of Essex boy Steve Dobner, and eager to play up to his stereotype. The Barrow Boys added a volatility to the ranks of the normally placid Mad, a cutting edge in-your-faceness which hardly ever overstepped the boundaries, and was always completely justified when it did. Geoff was a refugee from Saturday cricket. He was looking for a team that wasn’t full of prima donna league dicks who all thought they just bloody great and who didn’t shout at each other when they made even the smallest mistake, and so naturally settled on The Mad. Some years previously Geoff had intentionally broken his elbow in an attempt to be able to bowl like Muralitharan, but sadly the experiment hadn’t worked – his elbow was screwed, literally, but he still couldn’t bowl for toffee.

 

The addition of Gary and Geoff brought the team’s tally of keepers to eight, including Matt Bullock, Ian Howarth, Steve Dobner, Adie Fisher, Thornton Smith and Lee Davie. The side was blessed also with eleven opening batsmen – Gary Littlechild, Dan Edwards, Ian Howarth, Nick Hebbes, Antony Mann, Martin Westmoreland, Steve Dobner, Tony Mander, Jake Hotson, Mike Clarke, James Hoskins, Geoff Carter and Lee Davie. They were somewhat lacking, though, in opening bowlers, having only Antony Mann, Ian Howarth, Nick Hebbes, Martin Westmoreland, Steve Dobner and Lee Davie.

 

Ed Lester was gone to the other side of the world, and Adie Fisher was gone, for a season at least, to the other side of the country. The Manders, Ben and Tony, were slowly dropping out of the side. Steve Hebbes had gone north to Newcastle. But with his measured batting and his sharp fielding, Dan Edwards just about made up for these five players on his own. Flake of plaster by flake of plaster, the Marlborough Arms was slowly sinking into the ground, and their team was going with it. Dan had jumped ship, and The Mad had been quick to rescue him from drowning.

 

 

 

Dan Edwards (left), proving his worth on tour. Matt Bullock looks on.

 

 

Edwards proved his worth at once, at Cholsey. After Mann (4-10) and Westmoreland (3-23) had taken the wickets, and Ian Howarth had taken out James Gilbert with a quick delivery that reared off a length and broke the Cholsey captain’s nose, Edwards and Lee Davie led The Mad to a 9 wicket win, scoring an unbeaten 85 between them on the volatile pitch. A demolition of The Marlborough followed, though mercifully Edwards wasn’t on hand to see his old team suffer in its death throes. The Mad belted 244-2 from 35 overs, including a record 171 for the first wicket. Steve Dobner hit 77, while Ian Howarth made 99 before launching himself at a pie from Lal and getting himself stumped by a yard. Once again that elusive century had wriggled out of Howarth’s grasp at the last possible moment. How we laughed. How he didn’t. The Marlborough were all out for 120 in 29 overs.

 

Not even Mike Reeves could save The Marlborough from their next defeat. John Harris was bowling, and the records were tumbling. His five and half over spell yielded just 5 runs. Oh, and there were the 7 wickets he took as well. The scorebook reads 5.3-2-5-7 no matter how many times you rub your eyes in amazement. The Marlborough were dismissed for just 24 with a scorecard which read 3,4,0,0,0,0,0,3,5,4,0 and 9 extras. This was the end of the great rivalry, and finally – and sadly – the end of The Marlborough. This would be their last season before dissolution. The Mad reversed their batting order, and lost 4 wickets en route to victory. Notable for her duck was Vicki Stone, Ian Howarth’s future bride-to-be, a woman with a sharp and sarcastic hairstyle, and a deep and abiding indifference to cricket in all its forms.

 

 

 

Vicki Stone is targetted by ginger haired youngsters throwing cricket balls.

 

 

The Mad still couldn’t beat Lemmings, though, and lost twice to The Offices. Despite 87 from Ditta Yousaf, The Bodleian lost by 51 at Pembroke, then a patchy Wootton & Bladon succumbed as well. The tour followed, the last to West Somerset and The Dunkery Beacon with its picturesque views and overcooked eggs. If those tours had a ghost, a psychic imprint caught in time for all to see and shudder at, it would no doubt be Jake Hotson, lying awake at four in the morning talking to the wall, his hand bandaged where the dangerous kettle had leapt upon him and attacked him with its scaldingness. Or would it be his alter-ego, Jake Hotson-Pike, drunken captain of the team which beat Stogumber even as darkness was falling, a true Englishman and Hero?

 

Another loss to R T Harris at Pembroke brought everyone back to earth, with Ditta Yousaf once again punishing The Mad for no apparent reason other than that he liked to. His 83 not out gave him an average against The Mad so ridiculously high that I’m not going to tell you what it was. There was another easy win against The Marlborough, the last game The Mad would ever play against them before they were consigned to the graveyard of dismantled cricket sides, and then Cholsey came to Pembroke and got some revenge, scoring a massive 239 and winning by 54. It was something of a Mad specialty, giving opposing players their first century or five wicket haul, and that day was no exception as Cholsey’s Jackson hit a chancy 105.

 

 

 

Touring can be really interesting. Ant Mann and Ian Howarth.

 

 

The last game of the year was played on Cholsey’s home ground against a touring Dutch team, Rood en Wit. It was a grand occasion, entertaining the Dutch boys, but a few generous bowling changes from Mad skipper James Hoskins allowed them to recover from 74-7 to 148, 35 too many for The Mad as they faced 5 overs of Rood en Wit’s shock-haired hang-time quick Prenen. It was helmets all round as Edwards and John Harris picked at the bowling, but to no avail. The Mad collapsed to all out 113.

 

Out of 16 games in 2005, The Mad won 7 and lost 8 with 1 game washed out and drawn. Dan Edwards was Player of the Year in his debut season. He was the batting mainstay, scoring 371 runs at 46.38 and taking 9 wickets at 14.67. By his standards, it was a so-so year for Ian Howarth. In 12 innings he scored 302 at 30.20, but that included the ill-fated 99 against The Marlborough. Maybe he hadn’t been drinking enough on Saturday nights. He took 10 wickets as well, at 26.30.

 

Everyone who has played Sunday cricket ever in the history of the game is an all-rounder, and that applied to The Mad no less than anybody else. All-rounders Nick Hebbes, Martin Westmoreland, John Harris, Steve Dobner all scored runs and took wickets, with Harris especially shining thanks to his 7-5 against The Marlborough. All-rounder Ant Mann took 19 wickets, all-rounder James Hoskins 16. Triple all-rounder Matt Bullock kept wicket and had a top score of 35, and had also begun to bowl during matches the irritating spin which he dished out during net sessions. At nets, the slow looping pies usually hit the crossbar and bounced back. But there was no crossbar during a proper game of cricket, and so Matt’s egg rolls and mince pies had ample time to hang in the air for what seemed an eternity, this giving any decent batsman far too much time to think about exactly where he was going to hit the ball. Result: a wicket for Mr Bullock.

 

 

 

Freddie holding the 2005 urn.

 

 

Of course, in 2005 there was more cricket going on than just The Mad’s Sunday variety. For some reason the English side chose a year while I was in the country to get their crap together and win the Ashes for the first time in about a hundred years. I spent many hours of horror and disgust watching the matches on TV that summer. Even now hearing the name ‘Gary Pratt’ makes me break out in a cold sweat, and thinking about Duncan Fletcher makes me feel ill – though of course I’m not alone in that. Fair play to the Poms. Their batsmen were the usual inconsistent rabbits, but they had four great bowlers that year – the pace quartet of Flintoff, Hoggard, Harmison and Jones. It’ll be interesting to see how that quartet develops over the years, see if they can take it on to the next level and consolidate England’s position as the 93rd ranked Test playing nation in the world.

 

Okay, so I felt bad when the Ashes finally went north after eight series Down Under, but I felt good for my team mates, even the cocks who rubbed my face in it. The better side won the greatest Test series ever played, and maybe that’s all you can hope for. Bastards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Part X – 2006”

 

In 2006, The Mad found a new home, at The Magdalen Arms on the Iffley Road. A big barn of a pub, with bugger all atmosphere, crap beer, and three hundred televisions all showing football, it was at least reasonably close to Pembroke, and had a beer garden that sometimes wasn’t filled with alcoholics and drug dealers. The Maggie was great if you wanted to be rambled at by some old timer who’d left his brain in a bottle, or guffawed at by proto-skinheads with the sense of humour of carrots. The team also found a new skipper, as the long-serving (and long-suffering) James Hoskins stepped aside for Ian Howarth. It was always Howarth’s destiny to captain The Mad. For one thing, he was often the side’s premier batsman, and that’s who the captain often is. For another, he was a complete pisshead who usually woke up in a pool of someone else’s vomit. And lastly, he actually wanted the job. 

 

This season, Ben and Tony Mander slipped out of the Mad side completely, but there were some new regulars on the playing rota. Gary Littlechild played in 10 games. The aggressive wicket-keeper batsman was actually too good for Sunday cricket, in a reverse not at this level kind of way. Specifically he was too quick with his stumpings for the sleepy Sundayite umpires who oversaw these games, often half a yard behind the pace. And he knew how to let them know it. Seeking the quiet life, Nick Hebbes had moved from Oxford to the distant village of Cholsey, but instead of jumping ship, he stayed with The Mad and brought his new neighbour Steve Parkinson along to play as well. Parkinson was also aggressive in his own way, a volatile quick who bowled brilliantly in 2006 but without much luck. Without much luck. It’s difficult when you’re without much luck. With any luck, luck evens itself up over a period of time, but sometimes, you remain without much luck for your entire career. And that’s just bad luck. Even as lately as his first game for The Mad in 2008, against Nomads at Duntisbourne Abbots, Parkinson bowled without much luck. He had two or three catches dropped in the outfield, had a couple of plumb lbws turned down, and caught the edge half a dozen times only to see the ball land safe. But then, if it had gone to hand, it most likely would have been dropped. And as soon as Parkinson’s spell finished, some other guy came on, bowled a rank half tracker, and took a wicket with it.   

 

 

 

2006 visit to Cholsey….

Back l to r: Jake Hotson, Geoff Carter, James Hoskins, Matt Bullock, Nick Hebbes, Thornton Smith, Steve Dobner

Front r to l: Ian Howarth, Gary Littlechild, Martin Westmoreland.

 

 

With their untimely demise, another Marlborough stalwart, Mike Reeves, had joined Dan Edwards on the Mad side of the fence. Reeves, who had so often plagued The Mad in the past. Reeves, whom The Mad had given his first ever century back when they were The Jude. Reeves, whom Ant Mann had usually bowled for about 6. Not only did Reeves bowl left-handed, he batted that way as well. He also had an unusually large head, which sometimes made it a problem when buying hats.

 

Richard Hadfield, who had played two games for The Jude back in 2000, turned out again for The Mad in 2006, played just the one game, and scored the famous comeback zero. His mate Dave Shorten, a useful right arm bowler, played in 3 games. Though some people wanted to call Dave Lego because he was a builder, others thought he should be referred to as Hangtime because of the lengthy period he spent in the air just before he released the ball. It was a tricky one to call, but after several hours of discussion, after a close vote it was decided that Lego should be officially called Hangtime. Andy Cavanagh was last of the new regulars, a young guy who was destined to play only one season for The Mad. For a while he lived in a purple house, but had soon become another of the multitude who at one time or another lived under the roof of James Hoskins.

 

 

 

Mr Cavanagh substituting as a Judas fielder at Mansfield Road.

 

 

The first game of 2006, away against new opponents Wootton & Boars Hill, was a triumph for Dan Edwards, and vindication for Steve Dobner of his decision never to bowl for The Mad again for the ninth time. With just about the last ball of the innings, Edwards’s assiduously compiled knock finally tipped over the century mark, to 103 not out. At last, a Mad player had broken the fabled three-figure barrier! This was the landmark of which many had heard, but few had ever thought possible. It was a shame that the first Mad century had to come from a ex-Marlborough player, and of course everybody hated him for that, but nonetheless it was a great personal moment for the batsman, and a collective triumph for the team. Making his debut for The Mad during this game was the other Marlborough refugee, Mike Reeves, who sadly didn’t get a bat as the team posted 191 for 5. Wootton made a good start in reply, reaching 72 without loss, but no-one had reckoned on Dobner, whose refusal to bowl resulted in personal best figures of 4-9, a MOTM performance on any other day. The Mad won it by 51.

 

A loss against Cholsey was followed by another loss, against R T Harris at Holton, then two more losses. The first, against University Offices at Mansfield Road, was a bit of a joke, as the Office’s first-class standard ringer Roycroft showed everyone what cricket at this level was really all about. Watching a proper batsman at close hand against a bunch of weekend pie chuckers was something of an education, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. The Offices won by 7 wickets.

 

Next came Milton, or the Great Milton Debacle as it came to be known, by me at any rate. It was The Mad’s first game against Milton, and what a game it was. After losing Jake Hotson early, Ian Howarth and Steve Parkinson dealt admirably with some sharp bowling and the vagaries of the pitch. At drinks, they had taken the score on to 99-1, and the Milton boys were looking worried. Unfortunately, at this point, I had a quiet word with the lads, encouraging them to stay focused and keep it going at the same rate. Naturally I blame myself entirely for what followed, the most impressive collapse in Mad history. Which is saying something. Howarth went first for 47. 99-2. Next it was Westmoreland, bowled for a duck. 99-3. Parkinson followed directly, not adding to his 37. 99-4. Matt Bullock lasted long enough to add 3 runs. 102-5. Andy Cavanagh didn’t. 102-6. Mike Reeves, in his first bat for The Mad, lasted 2 runs before he was run out. 104-7. Adie Small got none. 104-8. Thornton Smith was next. 108-9. Last of all, James Hoskins was bowled around his legs for the 4th duck of innings. 108 all out. Bowling with their heads already down, a cowed and embarrassed Mad were no match for Milton’s Wilby. His 73 not out nicely complemented his 4-4 from 6 overs. He had a good game. The Mad didn’t.

 

 

 

Probably it was Steve Parkinson’s fault.

 

 

Coming off four losses in succession, confidence was at an all-time low going into the game against Hanney, who had a strong league set-up full of league prima donnas to call on. But something clicked in the Mad psyche. Something strange, something new. Something clicked inside Martin Westmoreland as well. The plague of demons he had been fighting over the past weeks, the foul, dark voices of negativity which had been eating away at his confidence, that day they fled in fear before his blade. He shrugged them off one and all to blaze a new high score for The Mad, 106 not out, eclipsing Edwards’ recent triumph. Apparently centuries really are like buses. You wait ages for one, and then a bunch of them come along at once. With Westmoreland and Ian Howarth (88) recording a brutal partnership of 155, The Mad slogged a record 280-5 in 40 overs. Mike Reeves, ex-Marlborough, was not called on to bat, but it was nonetheless a great end to the losing streak. Hanney were never going to get them, and they imploded to all out 135 in just 26 overs.

 

Lemmings won the next game, at Pembroke, but that was the only interruption to what had soon become a Mad winning streak. Victories against University Offices, Tackley, Wootton & Bladon, The Bodleian and OUP, and suddenly The Mad were thinking they were pretty cool. Perhaps too cool. An unforeseen sense of cockiness and condescension began to filter through the ranks, and it was soon noted by opposition teams, who didn’t much like what they saw. The Mad were acting like a bunch of big-note league cricket tossers. Was this the end of Sundayism? Was the old Jude ethos about to disappear forever into an ugly, all-consuming self-regard?

 

The Offices were destroyed at Pembroke, as Westmoreland baffled the world by scoring his second century of the season, 109 not out. Mike Reeves was not required to bat, but nonetheless it was an at times ugly game with mid-pitch confrontations threatening to spill off the ground, down the path, over the stream and across the railway footbridge into the car park. Tackley didn’t much enjoy their Pembroke loss, nor the superior attitude of their opponents. Once unbeatable, OUP were cast aside as Gary Littlechild hit 73 and Dave Shorten broke their batting with a superb debut spell, taking 3-16. Mike Reeves didn’t bat against either The Bodleian or Wootton & Bladon, but both games were won with ease.

 

 

 

Martin Westmoreland on his way to back to back centuries at Pembroke.

 

 

Thankfully, The Mad saw sense and realized they had to get a handle on things before the team attitude deteriorated into the puffed up high and mighty tosserdom which characterizes so many league sides and their prima donna ‘stars’ yes we all know who you are. After a concerted bout of introspection and a review of the aims and ethos of the side, a mission statement was issued by the team hierarchy which reinforced the Sundayist philosophy and expressed the hope that Sundayism and a competitive outlook could exist together in harmony, with neither one nor the other holding sway. The results were immediate, as The Mad lost comprehensively to the visiting Nomads, by 96 runs. Despite 7 not out from Mike Reeves, The Mad could reach only 124 in reply to the visitor’s 220-7. Gary Littlechild top scored for The Mad with 47, and also took out his skipper Howarth (0 retired hurt) with a lovely on-drive into the upper arm. Naturally Howarth, who was probably half pissed, was completely to blame for the incident. Later, as his arm lump swelled up to the size of an egg, several chickens from nearby allotments flew over and tried to hatch it.

 

But The Mad finished the season with two more emphatic victories. Hanney were well beaten away as the procession of centuries continued: it was Gary Littlechild who this time turned record breaker, hitting 117 not out from 242-6. Ian Howarth distinguished himself by being dropped eight times in outfield. He was almost grateful to go when finally bowled by Tarry when on 49. Mike Reeves did not bat.

 

 

 

Made in Essex: Gary Littlechild and Steve Dobner looking for someone to punch senseless.

James Hoskins and Richard Hadfield in the background.

 

 

Cholsey lost at Pembroke by 4 wickets in a close tussle, and suddenly the season was over. Out of 15 played, The Mad had won 9 games and lost just 6, a new record, and the first time the team had made it over the 50% mark.

 

In his first season for The Mad, Mike Reeves excelled with the ball, taking 14 wickets in 8 games at 13.64. There were other excellent bowling performances in 2006. Steve Dobner took 15 wickets at 12.13, Ian Howarth 11 at 13.09. James Hoskins bagged 11 wickets, and Antony Mann 16, although at the inflated average of 17.94. Possibly the best of the bowlers, however, was Steve Parkinson. Though bowling without much luck, taking just 7 wickets, he was instrumental in providing great starts for The Mad when they were in the field, and his economy rate was a meagre 2.58.

 

Former Marlborough man Dan Edwards opened the batting for The Mad, and for the second time in succession was a worthy Player of the Year. He averaged 55 with a top score of 103 not out, but also topped the bowling averages with 11 wickets at a miserly 10.00. Gary Littlechild had a great year as well, averaging 53.00 with the bat and making 11 dismissals behind the stumps, including an impressive 5 stumpings. With Ian Howarth averaging 45.38, and twice-centurion Martin Westmoreland 40.30, it was a bumper time for runs. Nick Hebbes scored 148 at 16.44, and Matt Bullock had a top score of 31.

 

For some reason Mike Reeves was allowed to bat only twice all year, and likewise, James Hoskins went through much of the season padded up hoping wickets would fall, which they very rarely did. Hoskins put his pads on in early May and then didn’t take them off again, just in case someone got out and he was called upon. He wore them in the shower, then to bed on a Saturday night, then to the ground on Sunday. When he did at last get a bat, in August, he was out for a duck.

 

It was that kind of year, a batsman’s year, with high scores on flat pitches and a stupidly high number of centuries where before there had been none.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Begin  |  98  |  99  |  00  |  01  |  02  |  03  |  04  |  05  |  06  |  07

 

 

 

 

 

“Part XI – 2007”

 

In 2007, The Mad picked up where they had left off. The return of long-lost Adie Fisher strengthened the ranks, and new boys Dave Shorten and Richard Hadfield played fifteen games between them. Mike Clarke was also around. After untold years spent living and working in the Orient making huts out of bamboo, growing rice, eating sweet and sour pork and making cheap toys for English children, he had a summer to spare before his restless spirit took him elsewhere. Adie Small also became a regular member of the side. Adie, a friend of Dan Edwards, celebrated every wicket he took like he had just won the Ashes for England, but fortunately for him he took wickets more frequently. Otherwise, like, he would have taken only one in twenty years. Geddit? Only Andy Cavanagh was missing. His short stay at the club had ended, and no longer would his ridiculous lbws appeals be heard from square leg.

 

In keeping with recent Mad history, 2007 was yet another bumper year, as skipper Ian Howarth led the team to an 11-6 record, the best so far. Sadly it was also a record year for rain, and matches against teams such as Lemmings, Milton and Nomads were called off. There were floods all over the country. Oxford was particularly badly hit. Try though he might, not even the versatile Kev could prepare a strip at Pembroke when it was underwater. Unfortunately, Mike Reeves’ living room was submerged as well, as the local stream burst its banks and flooded the Botley Road. If you’re thinking of making an offer, Mike’s house is now worth thirty-four quid.

 

 

 

Pembroke submerged.

 

 

A 2 wicket win against Hanney was followed by a close 4-run loss against Wootton & Boars Hill, during which Reevesie needed a six off the last ball, but could manage only a single. The ex-Marlborough stalwart who had left his old team to sink like a bunch of rotting corpses, Reeves was blissfully ignorant of the fact that in a distant land a butterfly was flapping its wings, about to cause the weather system which several weeks later would turn his home into a swimming pool ... as he took 4-29.

 

Cholsey succumbed next, being found out on their own hoof-trodden pitch thanks to 4-31 from Steve Parkinson – with some luck for a change – and a 48 from John Harris which was probably worth 96. An easy ten-wicket win against Wootton & Bladon (Hoskins 3-20, Shorten 3-18, Dobner 3 wickets from long-hops) gave way to an even easier ten-wicket thumping of The Bodleian at Stratfield Brake.

 

Which brings us to Milton. Ha ha ha ha Milton. Eager to avenge the astonishing collapse of the previous year and prove to the Milton lads that they weren’t a bunch of idiots, The Mad lost in ridiculous fashion and proved to the Milton lads that they were a bunch of idiots. Though dismissing Milton for 127 (with 4 catches from Mike Reeves), The Mad somehow cocked up the reply and ended up all out 95. Who knows? Maybe it had something to do with skipper Ian Howarth reversing the batting order and bringing himself in at number 11, where he was stranded on 0 not out when the last wicket fell. Maybe it was Dan Edwards, who wandered out of his crease for no apparent reason when on 23 and was promptly stumped. Maybe it was thanks to Ant Mann, who fell over trying to block the ball and was bowled for a stupid 1. Still at least we gave spinner Critchley his first ever 5 wicket haul. Milton were mirthful.

 

R T Harris were next, and batted first on the green Holton wicket where runs were always hard to come by. The RTH boys went for it against the spinners, but hadn’t reckoned with James Hoskins. The wily occasional hat-wearer came up trumps, using the pace of the wicket to take 4-24. Chasing just 118, The Mad made fitful progress, but at 76-3, it was still well within their sights. Then, the brittle middle order faltered once more. By the time Hoskins had been bowled for 2, the score was 108-9, and registered RTH pie man Bradley had his fourth wicket – naturally, his best ever haul. Number eleven Ant Mann strolled out to meet Nick Hebbes, and a plan was hatched, in Mann’s mind at least – block the bastard, just like he used to do in the old days when he was called Blocker not for no reason. Block the bastard, and let Hebbes use his batsmanly prowess to get the runs. Three balls from the end, and several blocks later, Man of the Match Hebbes hit two through the off side and the game was won. It had gone right down to the wire, but at last, R T Harris had been beaten. Ding dong, the witch was dead, etc etc. And The Mad could take heart – for once, they had collapsed but then somehow held it together at the end.

 

 

 

Yours truly at the soulless home of R. T. Harris (Holton).

 

 

Wins against The Bodleian and a weakened University Offices gave way to another easy victory against OUP (how times had changed), though R T Harris got their revenge at Pembroke notwithstanding a bunch of last-minute sixes from Dave Shorten directly onto the tennis courts. Fortunately no-one was playing at the time.

 

Then it was Wootton & Boars Hill who beat The Mad, by 5 wickets at Pembroke, despite – at long bloody last – a century from Mad skipper Ian Howarth. It had taken long enough, but finally it had arrived, just like people had thought it never would. After 2006’s welter of run feasts, the skipper’s 112 was the only Mad hundred of the year. It was also the only Mad century to date in a losing cause.

 

The 2007 tour was held in Eastbourne. The famous seaside resort with its rock-strewn shoreline and decrepit mini-golf golf courses offered The Mad a chilling look into their futures. The days when it would be them with the bent backs and walking sticks hobbling grouchily along the strand were not that far off, although closer for some than for others. But the team was not here to ruminate on the all-too-rapid approach of old age, infirmity and the cold eternal embrace of death. No, there was cricket to play.

 

Sidley C.C. were the most welcoming of hosts for the first game, going so far as to cut their touring Aussie pro from the team and open the toilet block so that Ian Howarth had somewhere to spend the afternoon, as he purged himself of the after-effects of scoffing the previous evening’s  gourmet kebab of festering dog meat and slimy bug-infested lettuce. With Steve Parkinson captaining while Howarth sat with arse perched over porcelain, The Mad bowlers made the most of the sloping Sidley pitch. Parkinson himself had rarely bowled better, taking two important wickets in a sharp spell that yielded only 7 runs. James Hoskins took 3-14 from his 7 overs. Chasing 151, first Jake Hotson (12) then Geoff Carter (27) helped steer Nick Hebbes to a timely half century, while Martin Westmoreland finished things off with a brutal 44 not out.

 

Gloomy Eastbourne skies then forced an unscheduled rest day, but there was still the chance of a game against the Worthing Chippendales before the side made their way back home. Warm too was the welcome here, but little did The Mad know it would soon enough be getting hot. Baumann (54 not out ) held the Chippendales together as the wickets fell around him, with Ant Mann bagging a brace from five overs while conceded only five runs – thanks in part to a brilliant catch from Matt Bullock in the slips, destined to become the Champagne Moment of the Year.

 

 

 

The Red Arrows came on tour with us to Eastbourne.

 

 

Martin Westmoreland, though, was suffering from the yips, that strange bowlers’ ailment which causes them to stop at the moment of delivery and let loose a pie, usually at the batsman’s head. But that didn’t cut it with stand-in skipper Jake Hotson, who demanded as high level of commitment from his side as he expected from himself. Maybe because he himself had had the yips for years now, and needed someone innocent and defenceless to needlessly punish, he made Westmoreland bowl three torturous overs of wayward dross, despite the pleas to let him stop from the bowler himself.

 

Hotson staked a further claim to be known as the hard man of captaincy when The Mad went out to bat. The Chippendales’ total of 136 was a modest one, but their skipper Avinou was kind enough to let slip that they had a young South African quick in their side who was good enough and fast enough to have trialled recently at Sussex. “No problem,” said Hotson. “In that case I’ll reverse the batting order.” Three overs of 80 mph carnage later and The Mad were 19-5. The good-natured future Protea Stackher finished with 4-5 from 5 overs, with four of those runs having come off the edge of Hoskins’s bat. A little later, skipper Hotson relented in his harsh outlook and allowed himself to be cleaned bowled by an 11-year old. The Mad may have lost by 30, but in the end, thanks to the generosity of Sidley CC, they did get the chance to face a genuinely quick bowler and begin to appreciate what real cricket would have been about if they hadn’t ended up as a bunch of Sunday hackers.

 

It was a good tour, well organized by James Hoskins, who also laid on displays of aerial wizardry by the Red Arrows, and some fantastic fireworks from the end of the pier. Special mention must go to Dan Edwards, who drove down on the Sunday, failed to locate the team, and drove back again after taking his dog for a walk on the beach.

 

 

 

Dan never did find the guys playing hit-about in the park….

 

 

The season was coming to an end, the rain had cleared, and there were three games left to play. Two of them would be at Pembroke, and they would be the last for The Mad on that ground, which had been their home away from home since 2000. Pembroke College had decided to reclaim their cricket pitch and use it instead as a sunbaking strip for rich Japanese tourists. It was sad news, signalling the end of a long and fruitful era for Jude and Mad.

 

Cholsey came to play, and lost a game they probably should have won. After dismissing The Mad for 164, with Ian Howarth scoring 66 and Mike Reeves 30, the visitors had the game well under wraps, cruising at 92-2. But then the pie men struck. Dan Edwards, mixing up his flans and quiches with some deliveries of genuine guile, took the key wickets of Nash, Sargeant and Damirchi. From the other end, Adie Fisher was unstoppable. His Pie Master’s master class yielded another three wickets, and The Mad won it by 16.

 

Tetsworth, champions of the Oxford Cricket Association’s 1st Division, then brought half their first team for a nice relaxed Sunday game. Their bowlers knew the score and didn’t try too hard – and so The Mad made it to 165-8, with Mann (32) and Howarth (44) combining in a rare opening partnership to break the Pembroke first wicket record. This was Howarth in his usual good form, but these were rare runs for Mann, who really had been batting like a dick. Still, when you’re shoved way down the order to number eleven the whole time, what do you expect? One of the differences between batting and bowling is that it’s no trouble for a very good bowler to take some pace off and tone it down a little for weaker opposition, and as long as there isn’t any hint of condescension, it isn’t a problem. Batting isn’t like that. It’s obvious to everyone in about three seconds how good a batsman is, and nobody likes to be played down to. So, unfortunately for The Mad, the Tetsworth batsmen played their natural game. It was all over pretty fast. Wright hit 122 from about 50 balls before Adie Fisher had him stumped with a jam tart, and there weren’t that many other runs to get. Tetsworth skipper Hylam Shallow, a former 1st class player who was averaging over 100 in the OCA, came in late to hit two boundaries from two balls, and that was it. Game over. The second Mad record to fall was buffet-related, with Matt Bullock conceding 38 runs from two overs of marshmallows and meringues.

 

 

 

The aforementioned Hylam Shallow showing T. P. W. Smith where the bails are.

 

 

The last game of 2007 saw The Mad welcomed by Astons CC, who played on a pretty-as-a-picture village ground overlooked by the country house of British tennis ace Tim Henman. It was a final victory for The Mad, sparked by a spell of bowling from Ant Mann that yielded the unlikely figures of 8-6-2-3. He finished with 4-9 from 10. The moment he leapt gazelle-like in the field, rolling back the years to take the one-handed catch to dismiss Gibson for 17, MOTM was as good as his. Though of course it wasn’t as good as his diving catch to dismiss Gary Cooper against The Bodleian at Pembroke in 2002. Confining Astons to 122 from 40 overs, The Mad won by 4 wickets.

 

In a season of success, there were many who were successful. Six Mad batsmen – Edwards, Parkinson, Hebbes, Reeves, Westmoreland and Fisher – averaged in the 20s. In a return to form, Thornton Smith was among the runs again with an average of 19.57. Not massive, but every side needs the players who will regularly score in the 20s, 30s and 40s, to stay with the ones who go on to get the big scores. In 2007, there were two such for The Mad – Gary Littlechild, who averaged 42.83 with a top score of 94 not out, and Ian Howarth, who made 540 runs at 54.00. Howarth was a deserved Player of the Season for the second time.

 

Dave Shorten reached his peak against R T Harris with his colourful 29. John Harris averaged only 13, but made that crucial 48 against Cholsey. Richard Hadfield made a 35 against OUP, though Steve Dobner had an off year with the bat, with a high of 24 not out and an average under 10. He was better with the ball, taking 12 wickets at 16.42 with a best of 3-29. Jake Hotson had the ability to hold up an end for as long the crowd could stay awake. He scored 49 runs with a best of 13.

 

Ant Mann topped the wicket tally with 18, and bowled with an overall economy rate of 2.47, his best ever, but John Harris topped the averages, taking 10 wickets in just 27 overs at 12.00 – a strike rate of 16.2 compared to Mann’s 29.3. Apart from when he had the yips, Martin Westmoreland also had a good season with the ball, taking 11 wickets at 12.55 with his sliding away swingers. The luckless Steve Parkinson took 11 wickets at 13.00 in only 7 games, while Dave Shorten started with a flourish but faded towards the end, bagging 11 at 15.27. James Hoskins was occasionally devastating, taking 13 wickets at 21.23. Nick Hebbes, Matt Bullock, Mike Reeves (9 at 15.78), Dan Edwards and Adie Small all took wickets. Even beamer expert Ian Howarth took 7. In fact there were 14 Mad bowlers in 2007 who took 5 wickets or more, by far a record, and yet more evidence, if any was needed, that everyone in the world is an all-rounder. Thornton Smith pitched in to take 3. Mike Clarke pitched out, taking 1, at an average of 54.00, though he did score 61 runs with the bat. A special mention to Adie Fisher, who played in just 4 games, but took 7 often key wickets at his usual stingy average of 9.43.

 

Of the 193 wicket keepers used by the team, Gary Littlechild was most consistent, taking 3 catches and making 4 stumpings with the orange gloves on.

 

 

 

Last game at Pembroke….

Going in an S shape from top right to bottom left: The Judge, Blocker, Crash, Moo with Mini-moo, Spam, Warnie, J-Mo,

Woodboy, Titanick, Flash, Billy Liar and Mr Small

 

 

2007 saw The Mad’s 10th year come to an end, and with it came the losing of Pembroke. In 2008 the team plays at a new home ground, Kidlington’s Stratfield Brake, for the first time in seven years. Who knows what changes this will bring, but it’s hoped that whatever happens, the side will stay together and build on what has gone before. Whatever it was to whoever it was who was there at the time.

 

And, as one of two players – the other being Matt Bullock – who has been on hand to see it all, I can honestly say I’ve seen it all – the wins, the losses, the tantrums and the tears, and the moments of unbridled exaltation, that feeling you can only get when it comes off the bat just right, when it sticks in the outstretched hand and stays there as you tumble to the ground, when it flies between bat and pad and knocks middle stump out of the ground. Nothing gives you this feeling except sport, getting it right, be it in a stadium in front of 100,000 shouting fans, or else on a quiet poplar-ringed pitch on a Sunday afternoon in front of three people and a panting dog. And that feeling means nothing without your team mates, there beside you to feel it with you.

 

Boys, it’s been a privilege.

 

 

‘Blocker’