I was lured into playing the Rob Foot memorial game against Alton at Bentworth CC on the basis of decidedly misleading advertising. But I was pleased that I was. It was a beautiful day that marked the end of summer (as Great Tew had so often in the past) at a lovely ground against pleasant opposition. Good memories of a warm September day, red kites circling overhead and a great selection of Wendy’s home-made jams will help get us through the six months of gloom ahead. (Many thanks JP).
It was disappointing to find on arrival that Gemma Porter had injured her back, no doubt out of the sympathy to the various Mandarins old enough to be her grandfather who were carrying similar injuries. But it was great to have James Porter out of retirement as cover for the more crocked members of the team. The first competition was to work out who was the most crocked Mandarin and would enjoy the match from under the trees while James ran around. David Williams won narrowly (“Saturday hockey injury”).
If you check back on the group WhatsApp you will see that that normally most straight and decent of Mandarins, Jonathan Porter shamelessly plugged the fixture on the basis that we would encounter nothing like the league playing Holland brothers who wreaked such havoc at Elstead, rather just the much more gentle mature players that make up the Alton 4th XI. That initially looked to be true. The openers were decent players but of Mandarin vintage. JP expertly permed his 9 bowlers and wickets fell periodically with the exception of the youthful number 4 who was clearly not a 4th XI player. He scored an excellent 49 and made a slightly dodgy pitch look easy as Alton accelerated. Mandarin sledging proved ineffective: after he performed a perfect reverse sweep he was challenged to try a ramp which also then went flying towards the boundary. Mandarin bowling was decent with JP taking 2 for 11 and Paul 2 for 12. Chris Baker’s variations ,including one outstanding googly yielded 3 for 27. And the catching was even better: two excellent takes by Healey at cow-corner and two snatches close in by James Porter. But best of all was Dan nonchalantly taking a catch at mid-on despite the every energetic Rakesh calling and jumping right in front of him (clearly overestimating his height and/or high jump skills). The Alton total of 142 off the allocated 35 overs felt about 10-20 too much given the pitch.
Chris Baker and Harry went out to open and made an excellent start. Another young “definitely not a 4th XI player” was bowling at considerable speed appearing at times to be targeting the Baker head (“he’s probably never bowled at someone not wearing a helmet before” was Jon’s excuse). Chris channeled his inner David Steel and stood firm for 13. Harry batted as well as he had bowled for 34. But the Alton change bowling was tight and we fell steadily behind the rate. Chris Healey and a crocked Jonathan (who had kept wicked exceptionally well despite being unable to move more than a yard in any direction) realised they had to take on the weaker bowlers before the openers returned but couldn’t quite get enough balls away (though one exquisite drive from Jonathan that beat long-off will stick in the memory). The openers duly returned and 18 was required off the last over. Only now did the captain put himself on for an over of very gentle spin (to that point his approach had been more that of a man captaining a crucial league match rather than a gentle Sunday game). A few lusty blows left us 8 short on 134 for 7 and Jonathan now genuinely crippled.
So a near perfect way to end a fantastic shortened season. It was the first time I had been able to attend a Rob Foot match and it was great to remember Rob with Wendy and Mike. Rob started playing for the Mandarins at a time in the 90s when the house style could sometimes be rather Treasury cautious with a draw at any cost mentality. That was not Rob’s way on the pitch or in the pub. His fast bowling and big hitting helped change the team’s ethos for the better. He was great fun and we benefited so much from having him among us. Sadly it wasn’t for nearly long enough.