April 1, 2013, around 11am BST (although Trades Descriptions might have something to say about that); I’m sat in the shade to escape the early-afternoon Cypriot sun, surfing the web, sipping a frappe, taking it easy for all you sinners, when, on Facebook, I see photos of folk at Barnfields in skiwear walking across a carpet of pristine snow. If this is an April Fool’s prank, it’s certainly an elaborate one (not to mention unclear as to who the victim is, unless it be Cricket herself). April. April! Thoughts turning to outdoor practice amidst the familiar grassy scents and that’s what you get.
All this climate-gloating set me to thinking about the coldest weather in which I can remember playing – at Moddershall or anywhere else – and, without having a column in my OCD-ish personal cricket archive (alongside score, mode of dismissal, boundaries dispatched with aplomb, number of cakes scoffed) that registered the ambient temperature, I’d have to plump for the season opener in April 2008.
By ‘eck, it were cold – so cold that our sub pro for the day, CC Lewis (yes, that one), deputising for Imran Tahir, bowled his entire thirty-over spell – never let it be said that I was a soft touch as skipper – in a chocolate brown beanie, recently acquired from Surrey CCC (no, not the gift shop) who had signed the 40-year-old all-rounder on a pay-as-you-play deal for T20 after an eight-year hiatus from professional cricket. Of course, Lewis – once described by Churchill as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” – had form when it came to wearing the appropriate headgear for the weather, so it was pleasing for Moddershall’s consortium of major investors to see the pro’s bonce nice and snug.
The marathon spell he sent down was more to do with the
Arctic (or was it Baltic) wind knifing through our layers of inadequate garb, and the fear of him seizing up, than any tactical masterplan. I’d imagined some standard formula: new ball burst, graze a while, bring back to mop up the tail / stop their score becoming unchaseable. However, Porthill Park subsided to 20-odd for four (I took a slip catch, itself a rarity, that almost shattered my frozen digits) and we – as in ‘I’; the Royal ‘we’, y’know, the editorial… – felt that a couple more quick wickets would wrap things up, so kept Lewis on in the hope that we could get inside and, um, wrap ourselves up. Because it was absolutely Baltic. Did I mention that? Heaven only knows how – or indeed if – Immy’s flipper would have come out…
When the fifth wicket failed to materialise – the Victory Charge becoming a Hang-On-In-There Shuffle, or Lurk – Lewis, L-Dog, the L-Unit, cut down his run, tempered his aggression (no white line fever here), and bowled accurately, very accurately, with that wonderfully graceful high action as unchanged as … well, as the bowling from the Road End. He kept going. And going. And going. Where did he get the energy?
The recovery stand, led by ‘Nogger’ Ellsmore, so often a thorn in our side, gave us, on a slow seamer, a stiff-ish chase of 156 in 50 overs. Lewis declined the ice bath we’d made him and, as he took what looked like an important phone call, I asked this man with a Test century on his resume (albeit in Madras, where the temperature is a couple of notches higher) to slide in at number five.
Now, while what goes on in the dressing-room of course stays in the dressing-room, he did mention – and I’m not entirely sure how the conversation got onto this – that one or two of the professionals we were due to face that summer were not only partial to the odd jazz cigarette, as I believe they’re called, but had also dabbled with the old Colombian marching powder. Indeed, he named a few names, which the aforementioned code of ethics, as well as libel laws and potential destitution, do not permit me to repeat, as he could well have been talking b******s. Entertaining, engaging, slightly frenetic b******s, but b******s all the same.
Anyway, on he yapped until deciding he had to go to his car for something, not yet having padded up – and why would you, with us 57 for 0? Well, perhaps because eight balls later we were 59 for 3 and he was burrowing through his kitbag like a demented jack russell (the terrier), looking for gloves, pads,
sweatbands thigh-pad, and in danger of being timed out. Still, stuff was found, flung, grabbed, velcroed, and taken into the icy Patagonia outside by this fretful yet essentially placid man, who then took guard, advanced the padding-up process a little, handled his first ball unconvincingly, fiddled with his box, his helmet, jabbed hectically at a defensive shot, completed the padding-up process, then slapped his third ball scattily to mid on – two runs for four wickets in eleven deliveries.
Amer Siddique and I steadied the ship, then, in gloom that Scyld Berry might be contractually obliged to describe as “Stygian”, edged us toward victory until, with 20 needed and the fielding side’s allusions to the receding light becoming hammier by the minute, one of the umpires, fresh back from the future, pulled out a light-meter (think French nobleman in swordfight with the musketeers suddenly unsheathing a light sabre) and hauled us off.
Not many in the crowd – and there were not many in the crowd – were particularly gruntled by this, it has to be said (incidentally, the visiting team’s match report – penned by the chief ham with a similarly Stalinist eye for detail – fails to mention that we were nigh-on certain victors had there been ten more minutes’ play…). Indeed, so vexed was the normally mild-mannered Hawkins (who’d been around for two seasons of relegation dogfights and clearly didn’t want another) that he came frothing on to the field to remonstrate with the umpires, asking how there could be consistency if not all umpires carried these gizmos.
As for Clairmonte Christopher Lewis, it’s fair to say the rest of the year didn’t pan out all that well for him. The call he received at tea was from Surrey’s coach, informing him they had an illness crisis and that he was required to play in the Friends Provident opener on the ‘morrow, a 50-over
derby at the Oval, so he hauled himself into his wagon and creaked off down 140 miles or so of motorway. Middlesex racked up 315 (163 of them to one AJ Strauss) and Cricinfo reported his contribution thus: “Although diving around in the field, Lewis looked rusty with the ball and was clobbered for 51 in his six overs, 45 of them by Strauss.” Rusty!! Stiff, certainly (perhaps scared stiff, existentially speaking, and not about the big-time cricket, but the snowy wastes beyond), but rusty…? London
Anyway, with him being a former international cricketer who’d represented our humble club, we honoured him accordingly: that is, we had a low-grade A4 inkjet print of his mugshot blu-tacked to the wall, unframed, so that anyone heading to the khazi would pass that slight, uneasy smile. Of course, a few short months after this high point (for us more than him, I imagine) came his spectacular fall from grace (later prompting one iconoclastic player to ferry out drinks from behind a lifesize Chris Lewis mask): in December 2008 he was arrested at Heathrow airport on account of the souvenirs he had brought back from St Lucia including, in addition to the conch shell, wood-carved barracuda and batik sarong, five pineapple tins full of liquid cocaine with a street value of £140,000.
This is the third installment of my column for Moddershall CC's monthly newsletter, 'Barnfields Buzz'.
BB01: The Grass Isn’t Always Greener… | On club loyalty
BB02: The King and I | Early forays in the press box and meeting IVA Richards