I suppose it was inevitable, after arranging my wedding in a cricket-playing country, that a match would be on the cards at some stage. After all, seven of the guests were paid-up Cavaliers, and once the likes of Kerry, Terry and Bob had been persuaded it was a good idea told they were playing we actually had a full eleven.
I wasn’t expecting The Gambia Cricket Association to field their national team against us, despite my vain attempts to convince their president that we were just a ‘friendly, social team’, but it was a real privilege to spend my first afternoon as a married man playing against them.
It was our first and probably possibly only experience of international cricket, played at the Medical Research Centre in Fajara. The pitch itself was some moth-eaten matting rolled over a strip of tarmac, and the setting was astonishing. Vultures and flycatchers watched from their perches atop boabab and acacia trees, and the Cavaliers lost the toss and were put in to bat.
The first over was a stern examination. The opening bowler was tall, quick and got good and inconsistent bounce off the matting. It took him two balls to work out I could just about keep out his full deliveries, and one more to note that I’d never seen a ball bounce much above the waist before. His fourth ball was short and banged in hard; fortunately I picked the length and fell to the floor just in time to save my face from being smashed in. I somehow managed to get off the strike next ball, and was so relieved to be at the other end for the next over that I chipped a slow delivery straight back to the bowler and was out caught-and-bowled.
I like to think the bowlers calmed down a little after that. My role in the team is very much ‘convince the opposition that we’re rubbish’, and in that sense I’d performed impeccably.
Chip was next man in and posed photogenically in ‘watching it fly to the boundary’ postures before missing a straight one that sent his middle stump cartwheeling across the scrub.
Juice-presser Alex, on his debut, looked impressive but was out shortly afterwards, though he did have the rare distinction of being one of the few Cavaliers to hit the ball hard enough to be caught. When Si was bowled shortly after a painful full-on collision with a Gambian bowler, the Cavaliers were 16-4 after four overs and in desperate need of a partnership.
Fortunately, James and Bob Fulford were next in, and proved able ship-steadiers. The umpires had little tolerance of wide deliveries, and if we got through all our overs without getting another run off the bat we’ve have been able to tear up the scorecard and just say we got a respectable 80. We needed limpets, and we got ’em. Of the two, James was the more exuberant – all his runs coming in one glorious on-drive, the Cavaliers’ only boundary – but it was Bob that would hang around longest. After James was out, Ed ‘The Wall’ Barrow became the first Cavalier to fall to ‘commentator’s curse’, and then Terry sauntered to the crease.
Bob and Terry were terrific to watch, Bob with his permagrin and Terry with his enormous moustache that gave the impression that independence had never come to The Gambia. Bob even, on occasion, looked like he actually knew what he was doing, far more than the rest of us. Terry, at the other end, leaned languidly on his bat and only called runs when it appeared there was no other option. Between them, the score rolled onwards and upwards, and for a while it looked as if the constant stream of wides might just take us over the fifty mark.
Then Bob, finally exhausted after what must have felt like several hours in the middle, tripped outside his crease and, seemingly mortally wounded, was stumped by about three feet. It was perhaps the most heroic four I’ve ever seen. He was only upstaged by Terry, still twiddling his moustache as he battled on to a noble and unbeaten five. We had been bowled out for 48, almost half those runs coming in wides.
Tea consisted of sausage rolls, pasties and cans of pop – no, really – delivered in little tin foil containers. The Gambians were really going to town on the hospitality front. The generosity ended when we walked back out onto the pitch, however, as the opening batsmen set about our attack with gusto. James didn’t bowl too badly, but in retrospect it was a mistake to give the new ball to new boy Alex, who went for 16 in his first over (incidentally, Alex was invited to train with the Gambian team after the match, and hopes to represent the national side in the near future. Good luck to him.) Not that it would’ve made much difference: James became the Cavaliers’ first-ever international wicket taker with a plumb lbw shout, and Andy responded to a shout of ‘top of middle’ by hitting the top of leg, but we were never in the game and The Gambia made their total easily.
We continued playing for a while after, to give everyone a chance to bowl and for the Gambians to have a little slogging practice. The field was brought in to give everyone a chance of a wicket, and man-of-the-match Terry responded with a wicket. The final cameo was yet to come, though, as a young batsman tried to contemptuously slog Bryan out of the park and was clean bowled with the final ball of the day. An extraordinary finish to a match we were all honoured to play in.
Scorecard to follow, hopefully.