The 2005 Mardi Gras

Report by Daniel Mortlock:

The 2005 FAS Mardi Gras was held between July 10 and July 16 and comprised eight fixtures, of which two were won, three were drawn (albeit with FAS in the ascendancy), two were lost, and one was cancelled. The cancellation meant that the tour ended with an internal double-wicket competition - a reasonably relaxing end to a hard week, although it seemed most of us were pretty disappointed not to have one final match. It would also have been nice to end with a win to tip the ledger in FAS's favour, especially given how close we were to converting those draws into wins: just three more wickets and six more runs would have given us a five-two record for the tour.

Such frustrations aside, the Mardi Gras (not that there was any sign of the promised cross-dressing) was another fabulous success, for which the lion's share of the credit must, of course, go to Dares Baz, Cliff and Joss. For making her house - indeed her home and horticultural masterpiece - an open one, danke schon, merci beaucoup and molto grazie to Wendy Dare. She and Baz also combined to prepare the perfect fry-ups to help us shift out of first gear each morning, provide us with a fridgeful of beer (a resource which Henry Hall tested to its limit, his mess card having some 53 marks in the lager column by week's end) and even give us "free to air" luddites access to Sky Sports (but not the code to unlock the porn channels). Finally, just to add icing to this already rich cake, the weather was unremittingly perfect the whole time - and whilst it seems unlikely that Baz could take credit for that, it's maybe worth a quick nod in his direction just in case. Not that the tour was all about over-indulging in the summer sun; we also managed to play pretty decent cricket, with plenty of personal highlights.

Cricket is, of course, a batsman's game, and this was more true than ever this tour as the slow, dry tracks contrasted with the hot and bumpy outfields, a fact reflected in the averages. Five players averaged over fifty and twelve half-centuries were scored in the seven matches . . . but the number for which the tour will be remembered is not 50 but 99. Jamie Houlder (deserved winner of both the batting award with 243 runs at 81.00 and best wicket-keeper) seemed to have secured Mardi Gras immortality with his 99 against Temple Grafton, only to be implausibly trumped when Jamie Scott managed to score 99 against both Stanton and, a day later, The Bunnies, contriving to be caught on the boundary line in both cases. Joss and Cliff Dare both managed consecutive half-centuries as well, but maybe the most remarkable achievement of all was that of the beanie-clad FAS first-timer Pip Dickinson: aside from being a run-away winner as character of the tour, he also managed to bat seven times (scoring a creditable 118 runs at 29.50), despite playing only six matches.

On the bowling front it was a case of "same old same old": the only players to take more than three wickets were, to the surprise of no-one, Cliff Dare (5 wickets at 19.40), Harry Houlder (7 wickets 31.86) and Joe White (10 wickets at 22.90). Joe won the bowling award for the fifth year in a row, but maybe the best spell was Morris Barlett's 3/13 against Ebrington which saw not only the dismissal of three batsmen but the peppering of several others, to which Morris's only reaction was, allegedly, a low growl.

Not that it was all one-way: Cliff Dare (the all-rounder of the tour) came away from his innings against Naunton plenty bruised and battered . . . and also a little wiser when, having advanced down the pitch to discuss some subtle point of etiquette with the bowler, he was run out by second slip. That lapse nothwithstanding, Cliff was a deserving winner of a prize he's won several times before and, by scoring 87 and taking 3/19 against the Adastrians, he produced one of the two great all-round performances of the week. The other was Jamie Scott's against Stanton: aside from smashing 99, he took 1/16 from 8 tight overs, pouched a sharp catch, and completed a superb run out with a bullet-like return from the cover boundary.

Our fielding was pretty good for most of the week - strong arms, reliable hands and even some ground speed were often in evidence. Such was the general high standard that about ten players got votes for the fielding award and the eventual winner, Mike Sheil, received just four of the twenty-odd votes cast. In such a close competition one can only guess at what ends up tipping the scales one way or t'other - one possibility in this case is that it was his audacious attempt to run out Harry Houlder for backing up too far on the final day's double-wicket competition.

Mike's victory, if close, was at least unambiguous, which cannot be said of the award for most improved young player. That the winner, Stefan Harvey, was both young and much-improved was in no doubt; the confusion lay in whether there was anyone else eligible. Pip Dickinson couldn't sensibly be considered "most improved" on his first tour; and the previous usual suspects in this department (Henry Hall, James Houlder, et al.) have long-since left their teenage years, leaving Harry Houlder as the only other candidate. Maybe the answer is to wait for the third-generation Dares to start having an impact; otherwise it seems Stefan will have a chance to match Joe White's Borg-esque five-year winning streak.

We shall see, presumably, next year on the Silver Jubilee FAS Cricket Tour. This promises to be something really special, with Mill Dene expected to be brimming with faces from throughout the quarter of a century that has passed since Baz first introduced his sons to the game of cricket.