Rhodri should have known better. The Badgers are nothing if not late.
It was, therefore, inevitable that their continued cultural development would be curtailed. Having eventually been released from the gravitational pull of Swansea at around 10.30 am en route to Shrewsbury a fully laden minibus headed vaguely in the right direction to commence the Badgers Cricket Club 2018 tour.
The shortened itinerary allowed for a single diversion at the southern end of Offa’s Dyke. The small hamlet of Cwmvoy just outside Abergavenny boasts a stone built church dating back to the 7th century. Dedicated to St Alex or St Martin, time and subsidence have so twisted the structure that it resembles a ship tossed on a stormy sea rather than a solid building on a hillside in rural Wales. As with the Badgers not all is what you see.
There have been over time many Badgers possessed of super powers and Simon Jones is certainly not an exception. Popeye has his spinach, The Incredible Hulk his gamma radiation and Simon has Wye Valley 1985. The picture below of the doorway to the leaning bell tower illustrates how he sees the world quite differently from other mortals and an interpretation of this image was the foundation of the Freud family fortune. For Simon, as with other super heroes there is a price to pay as he has to endure, for eternity, alternating periods of hyperactivity and extreme torpor.
Lunch was taken in a sunny pub car park in Hay on Wye – still hours to go.
Eventually the minibus arrived at David and Nancy’s fine country house in Cound where our indefatigable hosts immediately produced beer and nibbles for the dazed rabble to consume in their habitual frenzy. The ‘campers’ unloaded their gear in the lower field although some essential pieces of equipment were curiously abandoned under the seats of the bus. They then joined their colleagues for the short trip to the Meadow Inn and food. The accommodation besides the backdrop of four enormous cooling towers belonging to a decommissioned power station, the cosy low ceilinged bedrooms, the flies, the blocked drains, the sticky table tops, the landlord who had obviously missed the meeting with Alex Polizzi, the half bar water pressure, the speckled grout and strange new world wine list, was first class. Hearts went out to those deprived ‘campers’ who had to find protection from the disturbance of twinkling stars and summer zephyrs in the Spartan comfort of Cound Hall.
Saturday morning broke fine and sunny and after a full breakfast which in some cases consisted of four or five courses the pariah brigade headed in to Ironbridge. It was a pleasant walk along the riverbank to view Thomas Telford’s iconic structure but as certain powers began to wane a restorative visit to the Malthouse was required. As Simon was nearing peak fitness Rhodri arrived in the minibus just in time to make a late start to the main business of the day.
Two 20/20 games had been arranged by our host who was the only member of both opposition teams. Ironically, the Cound Hall Cricket Club who were first up were still waiting for some players to arrive and so it was agreed that they should bat first. The Badgers opening attack with Iago and Tony getting things under way was pretty miserly with Iago only conceding 1 run from his two overs with Tony being a tad more generous. However, with the score standing at 25 for no wicket hopes of an early breakthrough were diminishing fast. However, Simon is not the only one with special powers, Dave, our ice cool skipper, whispered ‘shazam’ and unleashed his pensioner. John dismissed both openers, one caught by Phil who has become Mr reliable under the high ball and the other stumped smartly by the skipper deputising with the gloves. A stumping is a rare dismissal in Badgers cricket but shown here to be quite possible. For good measure John dismissed the new batsman almost immediately helped by a straight forward catch by Iago and Cound were 33 for 3. Simon, entering a period of hyperactivity took the next wicket with a good straight ball. Continuing his Xavier like control the skipper now made the counter intuitive decision to bring on Dave Bratley and promptly pulled off another stumping. Bratters finished on 2 wickets for 6 runs. The chairman kept up his usual contribution by bowling a middle order batsman who took a liberty too many. Alex, Phil and Ridler all helped to restrict the opposition to a gettable total. Gareth also bowled. Despite some late hitting by the Cound lower order the Badgers were quite happy to have held them to 98 for 7.
Rhodri replaced John for the run chase and opened the innings with Phil. Despite Rhodri using Iago as a runner from the outset things progressed serenely with few alarms. The outfield was difficult to penetrate and many good hits were restricted to singles. Phil was first to go trying to hit over the top and was caught for 10. Iago worn down by his running duties followed in the same manner. Rhodri retired on the agreed landmark of 25runs which brought together Alyn and Gareth. Characteristically some real momentum was introduced as the pair added a rapid 30 runs together. However, almost inexplicably the required run rate could not be maintained despite the late attempts of Alex and Tony as the innings rather faded away finishing short at 91 for 4. What had appeared at first to be a leisurely stroll to victory had dissolved into a leisurely stroll to defeat.
Naturally, refreshments were abundant in the interval between games as our hosts stream of generosity continued unabated. Burgers and beers revived any flagging spirits as the second match got under way against a colourfully named Jimmy Davs team. Again the Badgers took to the field. This time the batting side looked far more threatening despite an early run out. Tony Bidder was one of the first to feel their muscle but managed to bowl the opener nonetheless. The early onslaught saw a stand of just short of fifty in rapid time until the introduction of Alyn Ridler and an unexpected breakthrough. The number three batsman had been retired for 28 when Ridler immediately trapped his replacement LBW and followed up by having another caught by Phil with a third caught and bowled as mayhem threatened. Dave Bratley chipped in with another. A late order thrash yielded plenty of runs as Peter, Simon, Alex and Phil did their best to stem the flow. Rhodri, suffering from his earlier exertions with the bat came in off his shortened run of one pace. He managed to outfox a batsman on the verge of having to retire and claimed the final wicket to fall. The opposition innings closed on 141 for 7. Peter was the only Badger not to bat having protected his significant batting average by hiding from the skipper or umpiring. Gareth also bowled.
The Badgers were a little despondent given the daunting target and a ground despite its slope which gripped the ball in the lush outfield. A rapid start was required. Super Jones was now fully primed and strode to the wicket unperturbed. He battered the opposition bowlers from the first ball and retired on 29 in no time at all finishing with a straight six. The platform had been laid and Dave Bratley too was retired, although the bishop’s crook was rather ungenerously employed when he had reached 23. Dave Smith meanwhile carried on in his usual untroubled way and scored rapidly on his way to an unbeaten 27 without ever looking to be in a hurry. He was briefly joined by Tony Bidder who became the first and only batsman to be out, caught for 5. Dave was then joined by John who had earlier discovered exhaustion as a way of manipulating his average. However, Dave marshalled the run rate so efficiently that new ways had to be found. Gareth joined John in the middle in the penultimate over with only 9 runs required. John managed to hit two allowing Gareth to face the final over. In belligerent mood Gareth reached the target with four balls to spare. However, a new target was now posted being the aggregate of the two opposition innings. This too was surpassed with Gareth hitting two consecutive boundaries. Incredibly, the Badgers had reached 151 for 1 and won the day.
Great joy and celebration. Warm beer and cider were relished and songs hung in the heavy warm evening air. As the sun settled on the horizon and Ian Sullivan crossed the finishing line in the Swansea half marathon the contented players trooped across the upper field back to the magnificent Hall and an evening to savour.
Glasses were raised to absent friends and Gareth did his best to lead and control Alex in the traditional post match singing. The Badgers were helped in this by an enthusiastic reception and a number of impromptu performances by others. Even Max the dog gave his rendition of Silent Night.
Needless to say the buffet supper for some 40 people was magnificent yet further testament to the boundless generosity of David and Nancy. As the evening came to an end in a fitting finale Tony Bidder gave us a rendition of Eli Jenkin’s Prayer, an earlier work by Dylan written before Subterranean Homesick Blues.
Simon, his work done, retreated to his dormant state, Alyn at his creative best captured the treasured moments and the chairman quietly noted themes for his next speech.
Underhill Park, Mumbles, Swansea
CAPTAIN - Dave Smith 07941 255846
VICE CAPTAIN - Simon Jones 07590 677504
Guildhall Pitches - 3.30-4.30pm - 635411