And so it was that twelve good men began to descend upon the marina at Bradford on Avon, in the west of England. Veith, brother Nick, Davids Llewellyn and Carr, Hazza, Scotty, Pierre, Arun, Naveen and I loaded up the two vessels we were to call home for the next four days, with cricket paraphernalia, breakfast foods and plenty of beer. Only Jonty and Wembo were missing from the start, their flights having arrived in London earlier that day. Both planned to catch up with us along the towpath of the canal later on.
Canal boating is a leisurely affair, according to the brochures. Chugging, as you do, at no more than 3 mph. Stopping to refuel at the cleverly spread out pubs along the way, a lock, maybe a swing bridge? Catching up on foot is easy.
Loaded, briefed on all things canal boat/safety related and raring to go, we split in to two crews and headed downstream to wards Bath. No sooner had we discovered that 19m long canal boats are a bastard to steer than we were confronted by the only lock on our journey. A whopping 4M drop height.
The MCC crews did a sterling job of getting through this first obstacle (With the help of volunteer canal enthusiasts who man the lock for fun… A special breed.). On exiting the lock we were rewarded by a far more alluring sight. Our first Pub.
Hungry and exhausted from our first 20 minutes not the water the unanimous decision was made to pull over for refreshments. This was when it all started to go horribly wrong…
A 62ft canal boat weighs roughly 20 tonnes and in the hands of beginners, has a mind of its own. Think “Elephant” and “China shop”.
The lead boat, named “Sacha” managed to dock next to some handily placed white bollards. “Taras” crew were not so fortunate to find a clear place and instead attempted to moor a 19m long craft in to a 14m long space. 20 tonnes of iron is not the most flexible of items, no matter how optimistic you are. An angry barge dweller was quick to spot the approaching danger as Veith attempted the undoable! This later resulted in phone call and an insurance claim.
In the meantime the pub had emptied and a sea of cameras were recording our every calamity. Things were only becalmed when a hulking great Yorkshireman came over and offered his helping hand. “What the F*@% do you call that!. That’s not a F*@%ing knot!” Etc. He was well in to his 70’s and lived on the river. He knew exactly what he was doing and eventually we ended up with Tara being lashed to the side of Sacha and cheers the amused onlookers.
Settling in to our first pints, my phone rang. It was the company we had hired the boats from. Apparently they had a report that we had moored on to the white bollards that are reserved for canal boats waiting to go through the locks. We had to move. Instantly.
No problem. Tara’s crew untied the ropes and as I stood on the deck of Sacha, watching Captain Veith drift away I said “Why haven’t you started the engine?” “I don’t have the key.” Came the reply! It transpired that Hazza had the key and Hazza was off shopping the village! The cameras were back out in force and the Yorkshireman, vocal.
The first game was due to start at 11:00 hrs on Friday. Both crews had managed to get their vessels far enough down stream before the 8pm curfew, which signals “No more travel on the canal”. This to allow people to settle down for the evening and get a good nights sleep. There are lots of little bylaws relating to the waterways, much like the great game itself.
The morning was celebrated with breakfast aboard Tara, with Tara’s crew cooking up a storm of beans, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, you name it. Everyone chipped it and there were kettles whistling as the morning mist was burnt off by the sun to reveal a beautiful summers day.
Both boats chugged on for an hour and moored up outside the The George Inn. From here it was a yomp across fields, a railway line and the river Avon to our first venue, Bathford CC.
Bathford’s ground is on a sloping field. The pavilion is on the high ground and from there everything falls away with the furthest boundary some six meters lower that the top. Midway, the square is more level though somewhat less level than Lords, let’s say! The strip is side on to the pavilion and from the veranda you can see across the valley and over to the famed Solsbury Hill.
Bathford Skipper, Martin made a convincing argument for MCC batting first in what was a 45 over match. Things started well with openers Karthik and Scott ticking along until Scotty fell in the 7th over, caught for 5 with the score on 19.
At the start of the tour a small ceremony had seen everyone select their tour shirt by pulling it blind from a box. Each shirt had a nautical name on the back and it was a Hogwarts type “The shirt will choose you” scenario. Naveen had serendipitously pulled out “The Navvy”. Now batting, he was having no trouble navigating the ball until one got through to the stumps and he was back in the pavilion, bowled for 8. MCC 24/2.
Wembo had hardly played all year and when he had, was fast developing a knack of running himself out! He reversed his fortunes by immediately running out the hapless Karthik instead. Arun had looked to be adapting to English conditions well, but was thwarted by a direct hit from one of the oldest fielders in the Bathford side. We later found that Mr Moggridge was no slouch at skittles. Arun-“But not fast enough” gone for 18. MCC 33/3 after 10.1 overs.
Nick De La Rey was surely the man to right the ship? The ball was meeting his bat nicely, when on a run-a-ball 8 he was cleaned up. MCC 44/4 after 12.4
Wembo was finding his mojo and although Deverill should have been caught without scoring, he too was starting to make use of his lives. Bathford, seeing the possibility of bowling out their visitors all too cheaply, kindly took their foot off the pedal. But maybe too soon?
The score had rattled on to 133 when Deverill was caught behind on 40. Only Paul Scott (Officiating at square leg) had heard the knick and the opposition keeper was bemused when the batsman had headed for the pavilion having informed him “You should appeal for that!”
Wembridge followed not long afterwards, claiming a hamstring was preventing him improving on his 51 Not Out.
Dave Carr and Harit Khanna pushed the score along at a fair lick. Hazza played some of the most cultured drives of the day and Dave matching his rate with some lusty shots of his own. A cracking partnership that ended with Hazza’s poles no longer being able to support the bails, due to impact. Hazza gone for 18, MCC 189\6 after 42.2 overs.
Veith jogged out, smote a couple and jogged back, stumped on 5. Pierre walloped two boundaries and was adjudged LBW on 8 and Dave Llewelyn punched a four of his own before 45 overs were done and the MCC scored 218/8 Dave Carr on a much celebrated 27 Not Out and Dave Llewelyn happy to be 4 Not Out.
Lunch was a deluxe affair. There was no way we could eat everything. We were utterly spoilt.
We waddled out to field with he strong August sun still beating. A fair totall had been set and both barrels were blazing with Paul Scott using seniority to take the preferred end from Pierre, who charged in from the other.
The heat was certainly on as both bowlers took wickets early BCC 3/2 after three overs. The pair kept up the barrage for 13 overs, at the end of which Bathford had managed 47/3.
If the batsman had sighed in relief when the ball was finally prized from Pierre’s hand, it was short lived as The Navigator piled in with two wickets in two overs. Veith achieving the same tally off four overs from Scotty’s end. MCC were well on top BCC 68/7 after 19.
Dave Carr was enjoying himself with the ball too. Barely a run was taken from his three overs and he picked up the prize wicket of the opposition skipper.
Nick De La Rey Foxed the #8 in to missing one he needed to hit and it was all over when Dave Llewelyn chalked up the last wicket with his first and only ball! BCC all out for 74, MCC romped home by 144 runs!
What followed was an evening to remember. Bathford provided plenty of entertainment, holding court over the days events and various drinking fines being awarded. There was a BBQ followed by skittles (A traditional west country pub game much like ten-pin-bowling, but better). MCC were totally out-gunned at skittles, but provided entertainment of their own when Paul Scott got everyone involved in a game of role-play, which required several people sitting in chairs, pretending to be a WW2 Lancaster bomber while others flew in-between them, depicting mechasmit fighters. Eventually Arun Karthik, who was playing the role of “Engine Number Three” caught fire and was put out using two buckets of water. Neither of which he saw coming.
Boisterous and rousing singing followed the skittles and it was well in to Saturday before the last of us fell headlong in to our bunks.
Saturday morning went much the same way as the previous one. There is something very bonding about cooking up breakfast. Especially when you are cooking one meal on two different boats! Pots, pans and plates migrated along the tow path between the two. Everyone fed, washed and fettled, we were ready to chug to the gleaming city of Bath. The day was ours to do as we pleased.
Bath is one of the more gentrified cities in England. Every building is built from the same oolitic limestone, known as Bath Stone. Georgian grandeur, layered over the once Roman city where the famous thermal baths are still flowing. The ancient Britons had been using the springs for bathing, long before the Romans brought their architecture to glorify them. Bath is a place of legends and myth.
Some of the party chose to spend the day investigating the City to the full, others chose to return to the boats sooner and start the long chug back upstream and moore the boats near the ground for the game on Sunday. Everyone reconvened at The Crossed Guns Inn for dinner, where we were joined by my son, Oliver as Paul Scott and Nick De La Rey were having to leave early the next day.
While sitting outside the pub the neighbouring table became occupied by none other than the huge Yorkshireman and his crew, all of whom fell about laughing when they saw us. “We haven’t stopped talking about you lot!”
Our evenings were basically spent in a boozy miasma onboard the boats, with various games being played. The favourite of which was a set of cards which demanded rapid, lucid responses and generally resulted in a great deal of swearing!
I can’t tell you just how lucky we were with the weather. It was the one uncontrollable element that could have turned this tour in to a miserable few days, trapped inside two large cans. As it was, it was glorious. Sunday was the best of them.
The boats were moored up, just along from the pub which sits to one side of the Avoncliff Aqueduct. This can only be described in pictures.
Crossing the aqueduct you follow a path that leads you up the hill, through a field and then on to an ancient trade path, used for millennia. These paths are characterised by being between two hedgerows or banks. They were once the commercial trade routes of the country, before horse and cart. Though many have gone for good, some like this one still exist. The steep walk in the footsteps of the ancients ends atop the hill, where a break in the wall leads you out in to the open field that becomes Winsley Cricket Ground.
There are many pretty grounds in England. Bathampton had told us that there were over 90 grounds within a 50 mile radius of them. Every village has a church, a pub and a cricket pitch. If there were a beauty contest among those 90 grounds, Winsley would be a finalist.
The ground is on the gentle dome that is the crown of the hill. The views from the top are of the lush and rolling hills of Somerset and Wiltshire and the tranquil valley where our boats quietly bobbed. The facilities included a clubhouse and bar, a permanent net, one mobile net and a ten pitch square that had seen plenty of use that summer. We were greeted by their full time groundsman.
Winsley are the champions of their league and put out many sides including several youth sides and next year they will have a Womens team too. Bathampton had told us we were likely to get a good stuffing!
The Winsley skipper informed us that they were a mixed bag of all of their sides and not to worry. They were probably more of a bowling side than batting. MCC won the toss and batted.
Tours are a true test of manly resilience (Raised eyebrow. Sergeant majors voice). Not only do we fly out at inconvenient times to secure the best prices, but we then force ourselves to remain awake until the wee small hours, whilst consuming volumes of local intoxications, only to trudge to our games while recovering and then expect to play our A game on the day. We are geniuses!
Father Pike and his son Pike junior opened the bowling for Winsley. Jonty and Arun opened for MCC. It is possible that both batsmen were seeing both sets of Pike arms come over at any given delivery and two balls leaving the hand, only to merge in to one as it neared. Whatever the malady, scoring from the bat looked tricky!
Father and son may have had a good night also, as they were keeping MCC supplied with the some handy extras.
Jonty lost his head and was caught for three off Father Pike. Pike Jnr. then bowled Arun around his legs for 5. Arun, unsure how this could have happened? MCC 21/2
Wembo and Deverill (Snr) were back in rescue mode, but this time in a more classical mode. The pitch was truer than the most faithful dog and the outfield ran just as fast. Both batsmen were able to play through the line and be rewarded.
The appearance of Winsley Club Chairman Nail Dougal unnerved Deverill, who hates a loopy slow bowling. He eventually lost his cool with delusions of smoteing the ball to the canal and was handsomely caught by the chairmans son on the boundary. Gone again on 40.
Wembo, meanwhile was playing within himself while scoring at a fair lick, much as the surface allowed. Only the occurrence of the same injury that had cut him so short at Bathampton prevented him from passing beyond his 53. Retired hurt, again.
The Navvy punched his way to 31 before being bowled. Oli (Deverill Jnr.) didn’t trouble the scorers. Meanwhile, Pierre Du Plessis had romped to 41 (ignominiously plundering sixes from one of the two young ladies playing fro WCC) and Hazza continued his good form with the bat, also Not Out at the end on 18. MCC had made 219 from 40 overs.
Tea was another splendid spread and also a chance to catch up with the Test score. England were well behind at the start of the fifth day at Headingly. Bowled out for just 67 in their first innings, the match was over before it had barely started. A chap called Ben Stokes had made a painfully slow fifty and was still there when Jack Leach joined him, last man standing with 73 still needed. Game over.
Deverill Snr and The Navvy got things underway with the ball. Winsley’s opening bat, being the league top scorer as well as the chairmans son took no time in plundering the gentle pace of Deverill Snr. A risk-free straight drive back over his head and then a Kevin Pietersen-esq shot off one knee over midwicket, thank you very much!
Nav was hitting perfect lines and lengths, essential on such a good deck. Eventually both bowlers got in to their stride and both struck, removing the openers clean bowled.
That signalled the end of their spells and Deverill Jnr took over from Pops and Dave Carr from Naveen. Dave was on fire! He was getting good turn from the otherwise very honest surface. Four balls in and the stumps were clattered!
Oli (Who does not play as much as he should) got in to rhythm and was bowling beautifully when he was taken off after just three overs. He got his wicket, pouched by a proud Dad at short midwicket. “Time to come off, son.”
Not everyone had got to bat and MCC were well on top. It was time to get everyone a game. Veith joined Carr and the two bowled well in harness. Dave collected his second, caught Wembo at gully. Jonty came on for his maiden spell of the tour and pouched two in his 5 overs.
Veith bowled so well, but somehow a wicket eluded him. Dave Llewelyn was brought on in the hope that he might repeat his trick of a wicket with one ball, but instead it took a little longer. He trapped the Winsley skipper plumb LBW, having made a cultured 63. The final wicket also went to Dave Llewelyn, WCC lights out on 156 after 33 overs.
MCC had achieved that rarest of things, a clean sweep on tour! Dave Carr joint man of the series, along with the Not Out Wembo.
We sat outside and enjoyed the setting of the sun, celebrating Englands remarkable success in the Test. Wembo, Hazza, Jonty and Carr talking about almost anything else.
The ancient path served to keep us on the straight and narrow all the way back to the waiting boats, where another game of “swearing in tandem” followed the customary tour votes and summaries.
Pizzas were ordered and then delivered by none other than one of the young ladies we had been playing against a few hours earlier. Whether it is fact or legend that she enquired as to which pizza was for Pierre before handing them over, we will never know? All I can say is that mine was fine!
The tour ended as it had begun. Sacha and Tara made it back up the lock and in to the marina, unscathed. Both were piloted as if by professionals, so good had the crews become at steering them.
Much thanks should go out to all those involved in the tour. It was an unusual concept and required everybody to pull their weight on and off the boats. It was a unique experience and I thank you for making it happen in such good spirits.
The greater thanks needs to go out to both Bathampton and Winsley Cricket Clubs, who were so welcoming. We couldn’t have picked two finer clubs to visit.