THE SIXTH ANNUAL CRICKET MATCH BETWEEN THE SHERLOCK HOLMES SOCIETY AND THE P.G.WODEHOUSE SOCIETY
While the Society constantly seeks new venues for meetings in London, there remains one constant: the return of the Sherlock Holmes Society cricket team, on a June weekend, to the peaceful ground at West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire – there to do battle once again (in the most gentlemanly of ways, it goes without saying) with the ‘Gold Bats’ of the followers of the writings of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.
Sunday the 25th of June was the date for this year’s fixture, a warm day with high cloud, mugginess and midges. Peter Horrocks returned to his rightful role as Captain – having missed last year’s game – with a vision: victory at all counts (and, he implied, by any means!). The balance of power over the previous five matches lay definitely with the Wodehousians, with two victories to our one and very much the better of the two draws. It may be recalled that last year, the son of the present writer faced everything that could be thrown (sorry, bowled!) at him in the final over to rescue the Society from a dismal defeat. Strange how…but I am getting ahead of myself!
As is now the tradition, we contrived to lose the toss – or at least ensured that the Golds batted first. But there were two new traditions established…neither of which really worked. The first was an official exhortation from our President: Freda Howlett had penned these words: ‘I should like to wish our Holmesian team the very best of good fortune at today’s match. Bearing in mind that Holmes could have floored Jeeves so easily, this is how I hope you will deal, with all good sportsmanship, with the Wodehouseian Gold Bats today. Good luck!’. The second was the offer to all team members by Peter Horrocks of a thimble-full of excellent malt whisky at the outset.
The game was to be overseen by our regular umpires – journalist, Australian and gentleman (curious juxtaposition, those last three words!) Murray Hedgcock and the Chairman and Remembrancer (he who has done the most research, Murray tells me) of the Wodehouse Society, Norman Murphy.
We took the first Gold Bat wicket when they had scored but 10 runs. By lunch, their total was some 135 or the loss of …er, that one wicket. Our bowling had been carted all over the place. Two of their splendid batsmen retired in gentlemanly fashion when they had each scored their half-centuries. There had been chances, true, but in all cases very difficult ones on which to cling. The Holmesians’ youngest member, 12 ½-year-old Ben Levinson (son of wicket-keeper Andrew) was unlucky when, coming on to bowl from the Dashwood House end, he struck the stumps with his very first ball – the sighter!
Lunch was, as always, a splendid affair: picnics all over the place, mini-barbecues sizzling away, soporific conversation wafting on the breeze as lightly as the sound of bottles being uncorked. I swear there were twice as many in the crowd as in 2005 – including one marvellous couple of middle-aged women from Marlow who had nothing to do with either Society, but had heard the match being previewed on ‘Test Match Special’ on BBC Radio 4 a few weeks previously and had made a date!
Retaking the field of play, matters only got worse. We had managed to take only one more wicket before the Gold Bats kindly and sensibly declared their innings at 192-2.
In our heart of hearts, we probably did not dream the impossible dream, but certainly embarked on the fighting of the fight. And lo: 6 maiden overs on the trot and two wickets down. 0-2, in scoring parlance. As in previous years, our opening batsmen failed quite to deliver, and it was thanks to Henry Edmonson and Fairbrother that we began to achieve a score or something resembling…well…a score! But there was a regular fall of wickets and, as per usual, it became apparent that last year’s scenario was rapidly re-writing itself: no chance of victory, so stubborn defence by the lower orders if possible against the clock (close of play at 6 pm) to get a draw.
Reader: we did it! And it was our two youngest players, James Utechin and Ben Levinson, who pulled it off. The present writer departed with 20 minutes to go, leaving the doughty last-wicket pair to do what they could. The Gold Bats played hard, but absolutely fairly. James was dropped in the gully in the penultimate over, then – exactly as he had done last year – saw off the last over (one other dropped catch) with every single fielder virtually within touching distance. Our final score? 71-9. Andrew had every right to be fantastically proud of his son, who, with only a few minutes to survive, was facing steepling balls coming down towards his smallish frame (many around the field remembered, of course, the Conan Doyle tale ‘The Story of Spedegue’s Dropper’ – check for yourselves!).
During the tea-interval, we were glad to receive as a visitor the writer Andrew Lycett (who can also bat and keep wicket…note for the future) who is halfway through writing a major new biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and, we hope, will deliver next year’s Richard Lancelyn Green Memorial Lecture. At the close of play (pause for blushes), the present writer was, ridiculously, deemed ‘The Sherlockian’ of the Match and was presented with a quite splendid association item – which came from the family of the Gold Bats’ captain, Bob Miller: a copy of the first edition of Ron De Waal’s World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, inscribed by the author to that famous Holmesian, D. Martin Dakin.
Another fine day – another missed opportunity. We’ll try and do better in ’07!
Photographs courtesy of Bob Ellis