Report by Daniel Mortlock:Cotswolds leg
"Familiar enough to feel like coming home every year, but always different enough to be exciting."
That was Scarlet Streeter's take on the tour experience, which seemed particularly appropriate this year: being FAS's ruby anniversary there was an inevitable focus on things past and familiar; but it was also decidedly different from the 39 previous editions, being the first full tour under the shadow of Covid. Even though it has always been standard on tour to wake up to the sound of a middle-aged man dry-retching, it had previously always been down to a dodgy curry or too much beer, whereas this year it was mainly due to the passage of test swab across tonsil. Unpleasant as our daily testing regime was, it was a policy that was vindicated when a dreaded second red line appeared: only a few close contacts had to head home; and there were no additional cases. Aside from that one moment of "squeaky bum time" (again, something that used to be a regular morning occurrence during past Pamdemics), it was a remarkably normal tour.
This could be seen as yet one more demonstration of FAS's defining "can do" attitude. Indeed, in some sense this is the founding principle of the club: Baz believed that young players could take part in - and benefit from - adult cricket, and the subsequent four decades have proved him right again and again. A perfect example from this year was when Tommy Dare was faced with the challenge of bowling on a full-length pitch for the first time . . . and promptly took his maiden FAS wicket - and he would have had two in two but for a recent change in the "no ball" law. Pleasingly, Tommy's father and brother were on field with him to share the moment - although there were often even more Dares (and Halls/Houlders and Kittows) on field together: on the first day of tour the Bibury team comprised of just three families; while at the same time five Dares were in the side taking on the Bunnies at Blockley.
We won both those matches to start a perfect 5-0 run that lasted through 'til Tuesday evening. But then we made two mistakes: we tried to field three teams in one day (for the first time since 1995); and we switched to twenty/20s. The result was an evening of humiliation as broken tourists limped around the big outfields at Stanton and Bourton Vale to minimal effect - even two consecutive days of cricket is too much these days, apparently. We then compounded that mistake on the final day, somehow converting a leisuirely afternoon fixture against the Marines into two separate games: a twenty/20 and a fifteen/15 (The Ninety?). We of course lost both, whereas we had the sort of team that would have more than held its own in the originally-planned longer format. Still, 5-4 for the week was okay: the 5 put FAS once again in the black; and the 4 proved very effective at inducing "old man at the bar" chuntering about how we're much better at "proper cricket".
To be fair, we did play some genuinely proper cricket, from Chris Barras's classical ton against Bibury, to Jamie Dare's 75+ mph new-ball spells - and lots of athletic outfielding by the younger brigade. All perhaps somewhat familiar, although the standout player was very much of the new: Tom Cooper ended his first FAS tour as a contender for all the on-field awards: he topped the run-scoring with 193 runs at, er, 193.00; he took 3/14 against Shipton to finish tour with 4 wickets at 9.25; he kept wicket tidily on a tricky Temple Grafton pitch; and, when not keeping, he ran tirelessly around the outfield. All this was enough that Tom was promoted from newbie to captain in just his third FAS match . . . although this might have been a bridge too far if it was he who agreed to the Marines' request for a pair of short matches (arguably the single worst captaincy decision in club history, as it's the only one ever to have resulted in the loss of two matches). Still, no matter as far as the awards went - we don't even have a captaincy award these days - and Tom had the all-rounder award wrapped up: quite remarkably, nobody else scored 20+ runs and took more than one wicket on the whole tour. The bowling award was similarly uncontroversial, Aaron Houlder's 8 wickets coming at an average of just 8.17 (and his 8 maidens matching all the other bowlers put together). Tommy Dare couldn't complete with this haul, but his maiden scalp was sufficient for him to be named the most-improved young player for the second year in a row. Chris Barras edged the batting being the only centurion of the tour - to say nothing of being the grumpiest and, at 56, possibly the oldest ever for FAS - but he was narrowly beaten by Toby Reynolds for the 'keeping award. The fielding award went to Nick Porter who, aside from being the most prominent totty on tour, ran, stopped and caught in a way to make many "real" cricketers green with envy. Faruk Kara was named as character of the tour for his meticulously curated showreel of archival FAS photos, which made it possible to see our past selves through rose- (or at perhaps ruby-) tinted glasses.
Lots of these past photos were of dinners with 30+ people squeezed into the conservatory, but those were the days before some fussy-eater in Wuhan decided to have their fruitbat done medium-rare. This year was an almost exclusively outdoors affair, with the notable exception of the first evening when steady rain and the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy drove everyone inside. Even though the excitement of England's early goal (witnessed in the main room two minutes earlier than it was in the library - most of the rest of the first half was spent synchronising the two broadcasts) eventually floundered on the somehow inevitable penalty shoot-out, the football was soon forgotten, and by the time of the Ruby Anniversary dinner just a few days later it all felt a lifetime ago. The centrepiece was a strikingly emotional speech by Tom Hall (who's been on every tour from 1992 to the present, 29 in all) that expanded Scarlet's quote into a classic three-act structure. First there was the tour's foundations which, as described above, could be read as an example of inclusion before it was a thing. There followed a sadly lengthy interlude to rememder legends past, Winston having this year joined Roger, Baz and Geoff in the great pavilion in the sky. Finally, Tom finished with a look ahead to the future of a club that changed its name from Fathers And Sons to Fathers And Sprogs, and how that might evolve in the future - quite plausible that the "F" might one day stand for something broader as well, or even that we go down the initials-only route of GZK or UCL. There were, as always, the heart-felt thank yous to the Dares, in particular Cliff, who'd laboured for several days before the tour to turn the Mill from a building site to a festival site, complete with marquees (sadly not of the Pakistani variety) and al fresco seating for thirty-odd. As we sat out the evening in this idyll, the last light of the day glinting off the tastefully restrained FAS blazers, it really did feel like cricket had come home.
Not to be outdone by Cliff's heroic efforts in July, Joss decided that he too would upend his home, Slip Mill, for an invasion of hard-drinking cricketers, albeit only for an intensive weekend. There was certainly plenty of drinking, with Brewmeister Rob Harvey's custom ales and flagons of ruby port book-ending the two evenings; but these were so successful that the actual cricket almost felt like an impediment to sitting around on the expansive patio talking nonsense. (This is what the Historic England staff seemed to have been doing when writing their description of Slip Mill, which asserts that it has "hipped roof with stacks to left and to right" and "hipped ranges to rear" along with "segmentally-headed casements" and the "remains of decahedral wheel and wheel-pit only machinery", all of which could just as easily be copy from an Ann Summers catalogue.)
When we did play cricket we did so . . . poorly: on the Saturday we were smashed all over the park by the few Grannies who managed to turn up; and on the Sunday we were carted about by our own, who ruthlessly exploited field settings that were low on both numbers (as we only had 18 people available for two sides) and mobility (as we were all either hungover or injured - or both). The solution for the latter is clearly for Joss to insinuate himself with his local club, who should then be able to host the still-functioning half of the FAS tourists, leaving the rest of us to tuck into the cider and listen to TMS.
Still, we did at least get some cricket to finish our summer, something the national side was deprived of when the fifth Test against India was either cancelled (as India argue) or forfeited (as England claim). Any fantasies of watching the game with one (or more) of Rob's ales in hand were thus dashed, although that did perhaps pave the way for one of the more surprising group bonding exercises in FAS history: watching the US Open women's singles final. Social distancing was steadily decreased to zero (but not negative, one hopes) as more and more people squeezed into Slip Mill's surprisingly bijoy TV room to watch Emma Raducanu complete what, cliche-avoidance be damned, can only be desrcibed as a fairytale run to the title. This even inspired a bit of tennis on the Sunday morning, which nicely demontrated the degree to which ball sports skills are transferrable: minimally, it would seem. So it's a case of sticking to cricket, which we'll hopefully be able to do during twin tours next summer.