The 2023 Coronation

Cotswolds leg

Report by Daniel Mortlock:

Until it actually took place, The Cotswolds leg of the 2023 FAS Coronation threatened to be a cricket-free zone: it started with vacillation about dates, for which we eventually settled on July 9-12; just a month out from tour we had only one confirmed external fixture; and, even once the schedule was sorted, the weather forecast was for solid rain for the whole week. There were attempts to get around this by exploiting the fact that it was generally possible to scour the BBC, the Met Office, Accuweather, etc., to find one which predicted an hour or two of sun between the showers, and most conversations with opposition organisers included the implausibly optimistic claim that a local "micro-climate" would save the day. But a quick look out of the window each morning was enough to confirm the damp grey truth.

And yet somehow we actually managed to play more fixtures than were scheduled - the internal game on the Sunday was split into two mini-matches - and in the end less than 20 overs of play was lost, with only Tuesday's games against Grouty's Champs Invitational XI and new opposition Eynsham left unfinished. The three completed external fixtures were comfortable victories against Temple Grafton and the Marines and our first ever loss to Bibury. That said, the repeated threat of rain did force us to adopt shorter formats: the longest team innings of the whole tour was just 30 overs; and we spent a total of just 116.5 overs in the field in the five external games. (By way of comparison, FAS managed almost half of this, 62.2 overs, in a single day against Chipping Norton back in 1989; and in 1992 we kept the poor Hereford Chameleons in the field for 68 overs before declaring - perhaps unsurprisingly they stopped playing us soon after that.)

An upside of this fairly cricket-light tour might have been a reduced load on the tourists, but if anything the previously scattered comments about physical ailments had became something of a mantra this year. We did at least manage to avoid the local chlamydia outbreak implicit in the multiple warning notices up at the Blockley pavilion, but otherwise there was lots of discussion of "yoga retreats" and "sports massage sessions" - and prior to play at Temple Grafton most of the FAS players were scattered around the ground, each doing their own bespoke stretching routine - it was like some sort of prostrate warm-up for the Ministry of Silly Walks. Cliff and Joss at least brought legitimacy to their claims following major surgery - hopefully both will be able to play more next year - whereas James Houlder's evidence base seemed to be simply turning 40, something which was so long in the past for most tourists that they can barely even remember it happening. Probably most ludicrous of all was 22-year-old Jamie Dare's repeated claim, fresh from several seasons bowling for Oxford University's first team, that "my body is broken". For the record, Jamie sent down 120 deliveries on this year's four-day tour, exactly the same number Cliff sent down in 1984 . . . in the space of three hours when he bowled unchanged from one end against Longborough.

This again comes back to the fact that we didn't actually get that much cricket this year, meaning that the the opportunities for individual performances were similarly limited: only one batter scored more than 100 runs (in total - there were no centuries on tour, something which hadn't happened on a full tour since 2016); only one bowler took more than 6 wickets; and only one fielder/keeper completed more than 3 dismissals. This did at least make the most of the awards easier to decide than usual, as most players didn't really get more than one chance to shine. In what were almost uniformly difficult batting conditions Adam Slater (90 runs at 30.00) and James Houlder (98 runs at 49.00) both did well to score half-centuries, but the clear winner of the batting award was first-time tourist Jason Simon (135 at 67.50), whose innings of 65* against the Marines was universally agreed to have been the difference between the two sides. The effective short-list for the all-rounder award was just that, with only three players having made 50+ runs and taken 4+ wickets: Slats again (with 4 wickets 15.25 to go with his runs); Daniel Mortlock (56 runs undismissed and 6 wickets at 12.17); and Tom Reynolds (52 runs at 26.00 and 7 wickets at 13.86). But of these only Tom scored at more than a run per ball - perhaps just the sort of testosterone-fuelled approach that might be expected given the presence of his potentially impressible girlfriend, Evie (who presumably found her four days on tour more like two weeks on Mars). The wicket-keeping award also headed to Chez Reynolds, following Nigel's classy but somewhat reluctant glovesmanship. While any of the other three tour 'keepers (Jason, DK, Jamie H) could reasonably have won - Jason's work behind the sticks in the Marines game was probably the most impressive performance in purely cricketing terms - Nigel separated himself from the field with his approach to "Cliff management": when Cliff, skippering against Eynsham, demanded Nigel stand up to Joe his response was a defiant "I'll decide where I stand" . . . after which he immediately put on his helmet and, completely of his own volition and in no way influenced by Cliff, headed up to the stumps. Dave Kittow had distracted from his own 'keeping by taking one of the all-time great tour catches, a one-handed grab following a full-length dive to intercept a well hit cover drive at Temple Grafton, that was sufficient to blow away all competition for the fielding award. Not to be outdone by the Reynoldices, the Kittow family also doubled up, as Ben won the award for most-improved young player: no question about the "most-improved" part, as in the last year Ben's bowling has come on in leaps and bounds (quite significant in his case), as highlighted by a McGrath-like delivery that hit the top Jamie Houlder's off-stump in the internal game; although there could have been some debate about the "young", something that it seems we have no choice but to interpret in broad terms these days given the minimal numbers of school-aged tourists. It might perhaps be simplest on future tours to allow players to self-identify as being eligible in this category, perhaps finally opening the award up postumously to Geoff.

The final playing award, for best bowler, needs a paragraph of its own, being the most hotly-contested award this year - or perhaps any year - with the lead in the bowling averages swapping at least once a day for the duration of the tour:

In the end five bowlers finished with 5+ wickets at less than 15:00: Jamie Dare (6 wickets at 10.50); Harry Houlder (12 wickets at 11.25); Daniel Mortlock (6 wickets at 12.17); Tom Reynolds (7 wickets at 13.71); and Joe White (5 wickets at 14.20). While any of these would have been worth winners of the bowling award, it was difficult to deny that Harry had been the stand-out performer, with almost twice as many wickets as anyone else. Still, it was important to at least try to maintain what is now almost FAS's origin myth: the increasingly anomalous absence of the bowling award from Harry's otherwise bulging trophy cabinet. To go the full Zaltzman on this (in case the above wasn't enough), the numbers make for pretty absurd reading: since first touring in 2002, Harry has the taken the second most wickets (119, just behind Joe on 134); he's been joint or sole top wicket taker on tour four times previously; he's taken the only FAS hat-trick and 4 of the 8 FAS five-fors in that time, including the only 6+ wicket haul (the rarely mentioned 7/70 against Temple Grafton in 2003); and the other four players with 50+ wickets since 2002 have all won the bowling award at least once. Fortunately, statistics can't tell the full story, and so rather than just following the numbers, the awards committee decided to omit any wicket coming from i) a rank long-hop, ii) a high full toss, or iii) a vicious in-swinger to a 12-year-old girl playing her first game of senior cricket. These restrictions hit Harry's numbers hard; but, even with these adjustments applied, he still came out on top, so there really was no choice but to finally give him the best bowler award: the Coronation had finally lived up to its name.

The character of the tour was the result of an even more dominant performance, highlighted by some meticulous pre-tour planning. It was in a Breaking Bad-style chemical laboratory in Cambridge where Rob Harvey first conceived of his devilish ale-themed version of Russian roulette, based on four beers eventually named in honour of fallen tour legends Baz, Geoff, Winston and Nick. Three of these were of the Brewmeister's usual high quality, rich in flavour with a good mouth-feel and which, post consumption and internal processing, left the body in the traditional manner. The fourth varietal (strongly rumoured to be the Baz-juice) had what might be termed an "alternative exit strategy" that was considerably more efficient, typically emerging via a more, er, direct route, apparently entirely unprocessed, in so far as it was unchanged in both colour and consistency. Once on-site Rob also contributed to what sounds like an extraordinary civil engineering project as he and Hal Dare apparently spent six hours erecting the FAS bunting at Mill Dene. Rob then followed this up on field by deploying his uniquely consultative approach to umpiring: by the end of the tour batters were used to being asked if, say, they'd hit the ball on what would otherwise have been a leg bye; although it was still a surprise when in the final game Rob rescinded one run out decision on the grounds that "the batsman said he was in". Rob's eventful tour continued back at Mill Dene where he made his a foray into organised crime, arranging for his number plates to be used during a luxury car theft from the mega-fancy party pad that now overlooks the mill pond. The only way to top this would have been for the major crimes squad to have arrested Rob as he was accepting the character of the tour award at the end-of-tour dinner - but, sadly, there were no parking spaces left.

The dinner was once again an absolute highlight, with Pete Watkins back (after only being available for the penultimate evening last year) and a Pink Floyd style lightshow thanks to Cliff's new RMC-themed wood burner/smoker. Of course thanks to Cliff and Joss - and the ever-increasing support crew - for making this all possible.

Kent leg

Report by Daniel Mortlock:

With the Kent leg of the FAS cycle now in its fourth year, most of us have gotten used to nervously checking the long-range weather forecasts from the start of September, a tradition that continued in 2023, albeit with fears not of rain but of sun. And, sure enough, we did swelter both on the pitch - the Saturday of the Grannies game was the hottest UK September day on record - and off, highlighted by the sweat-drenched tennis marathon in the humidity of the Sunday morning. On the flip side, it was al fresco dining throughout, with Joss's bacon baps in the mornings followed in the evenings with with delicious catering that came with a garnish of appropriately Coronation-themed royal gossip. (Who'd have thought that Prince Andrew really is a complete bell-end?)

In purely cricketing terms we almost perfectly reversed 2022's results with a pair of coincidences that might induce the Daily Star headline "Boffins baffled!": having beaten the Grannies with five balls remaining last year, we lost to them with five balls remaining this year; and having lost to Gills Green by 12 runs last year, we beat them by 12 runs this year. (Probably Saturn rising with Mars ascendant.) The stand-out individual efforts were the innings of Jamie Scott (89 against the Grannies) and Tom Hall (81 against Gills Green), comfortably the two biggest scores of the Coronation, perhaps reflecting easier batting conditions than on the Cotswolds leg; and the all-round performance of Charlie Prifti, who returned to FAS action with combined figures of 19 runs undismissed, a catch and 5 wickets at 14.00 across the two games. Most importantly, Charlie's efforts with the ball were sufficient to revive the now severely over-stretched bowling averages sub-plot alive:

Previously on The Great FASish Bowl-Off: After four tightly-contested days in the Cotswolds in July it all came down to the final over of the final game of tour: Harry Houlder seemed secure on 12 wickets at 11.25, but Jamie Dare took two wickets in two balls to beat him with 6 wickets at the marginally better average of 10.50. Following the surprise announcement of two more days of competition in Kent, Harry has elected not to compete, citing unreasonably small grounds and the poor quality of the FAS outfielding. The heavy scoring by the Grannies suggests this was a good call: the bowlers who'd done so well back in July all saw their tour figures blow out - and Jamie lost his lead in the tour averages off the first ball of his second over. Things went better for the bowlers at Gills Green, particularly Harry's replacement, Charlie Prifti, who took 3 wickets to add to his 2 at Newenden. With three deliveries left in his spell had 5 wickets at 13.00: one more would see Harry's lead snatched away once again . . . but it wasn't to be, and so the 2023 bowling award and averages were united in perpetuity.

If that's a bit too much cricket then no need to worry because, as per tradition, there was a secondary sport to provide evening entertainment: in 2021 it was Emma Raducanu's US Open triumph; last year it was the strange England vs. South Africa Test at The Oval, delayed and then played (nonsensically) "in tribute" to the Queen; and this year we had the start of the Rugby Union World Cup. The opening ceremony in the Stade de France was certainly a spectacle, albeit not a good one - the whole debacle was perhaps best summed up by the sight of a grown man pretending to be a rooster by holding his hand out above his head as its comb. In terms of the actual rugby there was both an England win and an All Blacks loss, with the latter seeming to be a greater source of joy for some reason. And there was even entertainment for the few tourists who weren't enthralled by the sight of two lines of 20-stone behemoths watching as a ball was kicked back and forth over their heads: Rosie Dare had been digging around on genealogy websites and had made the fantastic discovery that one of Baz's ancestors apparently went by the name Billy Biscuit, perhaps the type specimen of what has since evolved into the FAS tour nickname.

So thanks once again for JRSD and the Vixen for letting us invade their home.