Report by James Houlder:
"Always bat first at Bibury."
When Emperor Hirohito visited Bibury on his European tour of 1921, he famously commented on two things: the breathtaking beauty of the village itself; and the importance of batting first at the local cricket club. Whilst the former observation is plain for all to see, the latter realisation only came with the benefit of hindsight, after his 1921 Touring XI collapsed to 92 all out in response to The Gloucestershire Aristocrats XI's imposing 284/4, in what some historians have described as "the defining humiliation of Hirohito's reign, moreso than his country's unconditional acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration of 1945".
With Hirohito's folly still front of mind after a full century, and the aphorism of Spanish philosopher George Santayana ringing loud in the ears - "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - it is perhaps no surprise that a full nine of the FAS playing XI failed to arrive at the ground before the scheduled start time, thus engineering a scenario where batting first was the only option. If only Hirohito's retinue had opted for a more casual approach to timekeeping on that fateful summer's day in 1921, perhaps the heavenly sovereign would be more rightly remembered for his dashing middle order strokeplay than for the tactical missteps that history records.
When our full XI did eventually arrive, the teamsheet represented what our own heavenly sovereign Baz Dare must have had in his mind's eye when he established FAS forty years ago: a team stacked with relatives across only three families, with six Halls/Houlders, and three Kittows and two Barrases - and over 550 caps between them all, a true testament to the original vision of the club (timekeeping aside).
And so, under the tepid Bibury sun at approximately 13.43 on Sunday 11th July 2021, Chris Barras and Dave Kittow walked out to open the batting for FAS; after 308 days of heady anticipation, the 2021 Ruby Anniversary Tour was underway.
Our 30 over innings proceeded largely without incident: Chris Barras carried his bat to bludgeon an exciting 111 not out, including bringing up his hundred with a 6 in the penultimate over, reading the tennis ball bounce expertly and punishing anything wayward. DK supported ably with 30, and Henry Hall, fresh from his winter "A" tour to Australia and South Africa with the England Lions, finally realised on all the promise he's threatened for the past 25 years and staked an early claim for the Best Batsman award with a masterful 9 not out, proving that all form is temporary if you wait long enough. After our allotted 30 overs, we finished on an extremely competitive 213/3.
If you look at the scorecard of our bowling performance, very little is given away as to the true nature of the events that transpired later that afternoon. Sure, even the most uneducated observer would very quickly realise that 15 year old Aaron Houlder's figures of 4/16 are better than anything his father Fraser has ever achieved in his 53 games for the club (4/19 back in 1995). A more astute eye might also note captain Harry Houlder failing to dismiss his non-cricket playing girlfriend Rosie, despite spending several weeks working through his variations with Shane Warne and analysing hours of video footage of her strengths and weaknesses. What one cannot deduce, however, are the experiences of Dave Kittow that afternoon.
There may come a time in a man's life when he is forced to confront the stark fragility of his own mortality. For some, it may come through the violence and hatred of war, for others it may come through the limitless wrath of mother nature, and the indiscriminate damage she inflicts. For DK, it came whilst keeping wicket at Bibury on a Sunday afternoon in early July. Over after over, ball after ball, wide after wide, half volley after half volley, popping, spitting, biting. Chest. Thigh. Arm. Neck. Throat. Ear. The repeated slap of hard leather on soft flesh. Blood. So much blood. Still DK pressed on with his work without complaint, recording a remarkable 0 byes, despite the best efforts of our bowling attack, who notched up a frankly hilarious 49 extras out of a total of 108. Ultimately, our total of 213 very quickly appeared completely unassailable, a comfortable victory was achieved, and spirits were high as rolled back into Blockley that evening, looking forward to a pint of Rob Harvey's finest, and what the next few days might bring . . .
Report by Daniel Mortlock:
The Bunnies might breed like rabbits, but somehow that hasn't been translating into playing numbers of late - perhaps all their time is taken up "breeding"? - and so the first problem we had today was how to balance the teams. In the end we allowed some of their number to bat twice, thus ensuring most of us could play for FAS as selected.
This unusual baseball-style approach didn't seem likely to be relevant initially: after Zoe Dare (1/22) got a wicket in her first over Twits and Siebs took the score to a solid 59/1 in the 16th over. This was actually worth more than it seeemd: the Blockley outfield has been rather neglected, and resembled a country meadow - perhaps a natural home for bunnies, but not for the Bunnies, whose classical shots along the ground seldom got full value, as the ball crossed the boundary just six times in their whole ininings. More problematic was that their middle-order completely collapsed, as Daniel Mortlock (3/12) and Joss Dare (2/14) had a great time from the Not Joe White end. The highlight of the sequence was when one new batsman started his innings by pulling away due to a mumbled soliloquy (or was it a monologue?) from Stoney umpiring at square-leg, subsequently announced that Daniel's bowling was "the sort of pace I can handle", and then was out to him next ball. That meant the return of one of the the openers, and hence Zoe was brought back on to see if she could get him out a second time. While he at least avoided that indignity, remaining not out, the team total of 91/7 seemed unlikely to be challenging.
Sure enough, our chase proceeded pretty smoothly: the sci-fi opening pair of HAL (17) and the newly-christened J2D2 (6) took the shine off the new ball; then Reynoldses Toby (20) and Nigel (27*) finished the job with support from a most unfortunate Joss (17*) who kept hitting beautiful straight drives that were either freakishly stopped by the bowler at full stretch or so straight as to hit the other set of stumps, thus sending the Zing bails flying (if not flashing, their batteries having gone flat over the winter).
Dramatic it was not, but with the first few drops of rain falling it was perhaps just as well that we were able to finish things off in the 22nd over. Aside from preventing any weather-based escape, it also meant we could get back to the Dene in plenty of time to load ourselves up with beer and curry for the Euro 2020 final . . . about which no more need be said.