Report by James Houlder:
The 2022 For Two saw a number of milestones amongst the players, including some of particular note, from Tom Hall's 100th cap, to Chris Barras' 50th stumping, to Tom Dare's first FAS run (and his first official "you're wandering!" bollocking from Cliff, a rite of passage for any young tourist), each day presented something significant to toast. A subtler milestone, though perhaps more impressive than any, was that 2022 also saw our 38th fixture vs. Temple Grafton CC.
The wider academic community has longed believed that the hamlet of Temple Grafton was founded in 1984 specifically to play cricket against FAS CC, and local legend states that on Monday July 16th 1984, at precisely 1.37pm, the likes of Milky, Kirky and the Benjamin brothers emerged fully formed from the surrounding woods, in full whites, and laden with freshly baked tiger loafs, local scones, clotted cream and moistest fruitcake seen this side of the Fosse Way, before winning the toss and scoring 158/3 in the first innings.
More recent research, however, suggests Temple Grafton's history is far
longer than this: there is a first reference as far back as 710,
as well as a full scorecard in the scorebook of William the Conquerer's
unbeaten 1086 season;
to the English, who held his powerful batting line-up and battery of
pace bowlers in awe, this scorebook became know as "the Domesday book",
in allusion to the Last Judgement, such
was the one-sidedness of the campaign.
Several hundred years later, William Shakespeare was also
said to have drunk in "hungry Grafton" on his way to a competitive
drinking competition in Bidford-on-Avon, and is
believed to have married Anne Hatheway in the local church.
(Local records show a surety of
So, then, to the present. On the hottest day of the year, with the sun burning down relentlessly, and with a squad of tourists in various states of injury/dehydration/fatigue/old age, captain James Houlder faced a toss of truly massive consequence. Mercifully, and using the full weight of his 23 years' FAS experience, his gamble on "heads" paid off, and he quickly elected to bat. Relief, however, soon turned to panic as Grafton's "quite sharp actually" opening bowlers reduced FAS to 9/2 inside the first 4 overs, including James Wyatt for a golden duck. Rufus Dennis and Tom Hall batted sensibly to steady the ship, until Ru had his infrastructure rearranged to leave FAS 42/3, and captain Houlder to bitterly reflect on the apparent karmic payback of his sadistic decision to ask hardline ginger Mike Harrop to open the batting in such aggressive sunshine, as he walked to the wicket and took guard.
Faced with a spicy wicket and some miserly bowling, Houlder and Hall set about pushing the innings on, with an intelligent combination of lazy singles, fortunate boundaries and generous extras, effortlessly turnings twos into ones before a scarcely believable "intercostal injury" led to Hall's downfall, departing for a well-made 28. After a brief flurry of wickets, Houlder was joined by Dilly de Silva, who immediately unfurled a range of dashing strokes that would have made his his father, Sri Lankan legend Aravinda (6,361 test runs at 42.97), proud. By this point, and like all great captains, Houlder's eye was very much on the bigger picture, and with de Silva now an apparent challenger for the 2022 Best Batsman award, Houlder completely deliberately called him through for a wholly impossible single, thus ending any hope de Silva might have had of being awarded the accolade. With one hand now on said trophy, and a declaration in sight, Houlder threw caution to the wind, picking off a succession of boundaries to take his score to 80* and haul FAS to a respectable declaration total of 182/6 in 43 overs.
With runs on the board and a pitch that was "doing a bit", FAS felt quietly confident as we tucked into a predictably fantastic tea (death, taxes, the teas at Temple Grafton). Grafton, however, had other ideas . . . with a couple of extremely competent guest batsman in the top three, and fuelled by the apparent realisation that they haven't actually beaten us for over 20 years, they chased down our now completely inadequate target of 182 inside 27 overs, chanceless but for the loss of 2 wickets. That is not to say the game was without moral victory, however; with 2 needed to win, and the opening batsman on 94*, he was very politely invited by Cliff to see if he could hit the required six over the umbrella field he had set, with seven men stationed from cow corner to deep extra. As it transpired, he could not, at which point the batsman was even more politely reminded of the direction to the pavilion. My memory of the Tuesday night is a little hazy, but I believe Cliff later told me that this field setting was called the "cumbrella", though he might have been talking about something else, I'm not sure.
Post-script: One of today's playing XI, Cliff, also played in the first fixture back in 1984. Looking at the scorecard, Temple Grafton's opening bowler took 5/11 from 15 overs as FAS held on for a draw at 83/8.
Sounds like a fun afternoon.
Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Following a pre-match meeting in The Anchor we headed up the road to find the Fladbury cricket ground shimmering in the intense afternoon afternoon sun, with some bonus humidity from the river added in for good measure. We were probably just one brief suggestion away from everyone returning to the pub, but a toss was, er, tossed, after which captain Sasha Barras had no hesitation in sending our generous hosts out into the field - they might at this point have regretted insisting on having a full 40 overs rather than the 35 we were all happy with.
Our innings was largely a study in disciplined and experienced cricket. After an early wicket Joe White (26 off 59 balls) and Toby Reynolds (64 off 61 balls) were circumspect initially, reaching a healthy but decidedly un Bazball score of 51/1 at the 15-over drinks break. Indeed, probably the only thing that was noteworthy during this period was the curious pre-delivery routine of Fladbury's new opening bowler, one Nigel Payne: often, but not always, he would steady himself in a something like a sprinter's pre-gun pose, offer up a few seconds of "jazz hands", and only then run into bowl. There was an initial fear that he was going to do this every ball - the game would have lasted until the as yet un-named 2023 tour if he had - but it was even more intriguing that such a ritual (think Nadal's pre-serve sequence of wipe, pull, scratch, etc. that is clearly a vital mental part of his game) was optional.
At any rate, once Payne (0/38) and the excellent Harris (1/17) had bowled out their allocation, things free up considerably. Suitably rehydrated, Joe and Toby initiated a steady acceleration that lasted for the rest of the innings. After they were dismissed Harry Houlder (56 off 54 balls) took over with good support from Sasha Barras (17 off 18 balls) and Luke Champion (15 off 23 balls), as exactly 100 runs were taken off the next 15 overs. We then got the final push over the top, as the previously unheralded batting combination of Tom Reynolds (19* off 15 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (11* off 8 balls with just the one jumper) found a way to get around the ridiculous vertical bounce of the slower bowlers to exploit the now flagging fielders with some well-run twos.
231 might have felt like a decent total, but we'd had similar scores chased here previously, and we recognised some of the same batsmen in Fladbury's line-up today. After a briefly even tussle between our fairly tight but unpenetrative opening bowlers, Harry convinced Sasha to set his beloved "flydbury slip" where Tom Reynolds promptly caught their most reliable batsman, Dave Prudden, off the bowling of Toby Reynolds (1/18). The only pity was that their dad Nigel, limping around the boundary, didn't manage to catch this Sons And Sons dismissal on video.
After that it was one way traffic as Sasha Barras (0/6), Harry Houlder (0/20) and Faruk Kara (0/12) all proved near-impossible to score off - or at least were made to appear impossible to score off. For, solid as our bowling was, the rhythm of the game was set completely by Fladbury's number 2, the aforementioned Payne, who seemed to have become afflicted by a particularly acute case of nominative determinism. It turns out his pre-delivery ritual while bowling was a mere curtain-raiser to the extraordinary behaviours he exhibited while our bowlers were running in. Space prohibits a full description, but some of the most extreme options included standing facing the bowler with his legs splayed like a frog, his bat dangling between them; standing two feet outside leg stump with the bat held up baseball-style, only to then walk across a la Chanderpaul; and, most extreme of all, scuttling 4-5 metres down the pitch as the bowler (Harry in this case) ran up, only to retreat in time to play the shot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Payne's eccentricities extended to the verbal too. After cutting an admittedly dreadful ball from Daniel to the boundary he came half-way down the pitch to announce "That's fucked your figures, hasn't it?" (the veracity of which depends on your view of a spell of 0/9 off 5 overs). Later, when Luke Champion (1/23) came on to bowl, Payne announced to his batting partner that "This guy's for the taking!" to which Grouty replied "That's the first sensible thing you've said all day mate!" At the start of the 34th over, with the score 116/3, by which stage he'd made 38 runs (from what must have been about 120 balls), Payne announced to his batting partner "I think I'd better get out and give someone else a chance" to which his partner replied "Or you could just try getting a single." But get out he did, bowled by Daniel in his second spell and rather un-fucking his figures to be an eventual 1/13.
After this the game sprang to life, with runs coming from Fladbury's number 5, J. Monaghan, and wickets from Felix Barras (3/26, two of which were stumpings by Dad) and Tom Reynolds (2/21, and now clear favourite for the bowling award). We took three wickets with the score on 138, meaning we had three balls to get the final two Fladbury wickets, but in the end we had to content ourselves with a solid 88-run victory.
After the game we broke the habit of a lifetime by driving past The Anchor (where some of the younger Fladbury players have apparently been barred) and on to the Chequers Inn - turns out we'd spent most of the last few decades having post-match drinks in a car park when we could have been in a glorious field looking over the Bredon Hill. Oh well, live and learn . . .