To Brill on the Hill, not actually in Oxfordshire, although it feels like it as you veer in and out of the east of the county once or twice on the approach from quite far up the M40, through fields of green, swarms of birds above, country lanes below and into a picturesque village full of perfect churchyards, cottages, pub gardens and a cricket ground at which, if the game can’t entertain you, the views certainly can. And if the game in question wasn’t exactly gripping, we at least veered in and out of contention in it once or twice.
It’s a beautiful spot for sure, a favourite of JRR Tolkien, who used it as inspiration for the Middle Earth village of Bree, lying just east of the Shire (do you see what he did there?). Tolkienologists (and/or Wikipedia) will tell you that Bree was one of the few places where Hobbits and men lived equally alongside each other. But, without wishing to compare my teammates to Hobbits (although we were a team stuffed full of wicketkeeper-batsmen), there have been a few times in recent years where we haven’t always lived equally with the men of Brill (do you see what I did there?). Yet, despite our battles being more one-sided than that at Helm’s Deep [yes, yes, we get the joke -ed], they are never less than friendly and accommodating hosts, with the added bonus of getting to play in front of a small crowd of village elders who gather in a clubhouse that is clearly the true centre of local life on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Being (theoretically) stuffed with batting, and with Gandalf Wilmot still somewhere on the M(ordor)25, we arranged to bat in a 40-over format. It was a good idea in theory at least, much like Tolkien probably thought his was too until he tried to read it. A good idea at least until Bilbo Baxter hit a short and wide one straight to point. And Gimli Williams did the same to an even shorter, even wider one. And Merry Hawkhead hit one not quite high enough to clear cover (good catches all three to be fair, from fielders who first impressions wouldn’t necessarily have had a lot of money on them to hold). Samwise Brand had looked good for his 10 but then got bewitched by desire facing their first change off-spinner, swiping across the line at a loopy one in a desperate attempt to Lord it over the Ring [that really will do now – ed]. 29-4, and not even a pitch or the weather to blame this week, became 41-8 as Pippin Tivey, Frodo McKeon, their dashing young accomplice Legolas Louis Davidson, and wise old Wilmot himself all returned to the pavilion (a full account of their wickets not being possible due to your correspondent having to hurriedly give up umpiring and pad up instead - suffice to say we were more writing our own terrible storyline than having an impossible script delivered to us).
At this stage it looked like our own son of Oxford archivist would be sharpening his pencil on an epic history of Mandarins collapses. But that failed to account for the real hero of the hour, our own Aragorn [please please stop now – ed] riding to our rescue in the form of matinee idol Sam Keayes, who put a succession of Brill bowlers to the sword with a dashing 44*. Fresh from a half marathon the day before, he showed few signs of fatigue as he first put on 20-odd with your correspondent, and then 56 with our Galadriel, the mysterious and mystical Peter Heather (is he even real?), making one of his ultra rare but always ultra valuable appearances. His long, flowing silver hair matched his long handled flowing shots, including one imperious six over mid-wicket. Together they dragged us to the edge of Rivendell/respectability, or at least something (120) we could bowl at for a few overs before tea was ready.
And what a tea it was, truly Tolkienesque. If indeed the Shire is meant to represent the best of English village life, then this did his vision proud, with more sandwiches and cakes than even two meals would be able to do justice to. Immediately before and after it we also bowled pretty well too, despite our lack of actual bowlers. The indefatigable Keayes hit the right notes from the first bar [on second thoughts, maybe stick to the Tolkien stuff – ed], while your correspondent made the most of a rare opportunity with the new ball, with a tight (by his standards) 8-3-26-3 [some might say both his bowling and his match reports could be tighter still -ed]. Galadriel Heather enchanted one out too; Bilbo Baxter (overcoming the adversity of a damaged right thumb) took a stunning reaction catch at short extra hard into the same hand; and then bowled well with it too for a two-fer (both given LBW by umpires perhaps just terrified of his ferocious, angry dwarf-style appeals) [this doesn’t even make sense any more, is he a hobbit or a dwarf for god’s sake?? – angry dwarf ed]. At 63-6 we were well set up for the next cliffhanging instalment.
But looming over the horizon was always the Sauron-like figure of Brill skipper-keeper-star batter Parke, our nemesis on many a visit to his land. His all-seeing eye knows every corner of this ground, and he quickly hit the ball to most of them, especially those where we didn’t have fielders stationed, taking particular vengeance on the always-willing Samwise Brand, who bravely stepped up when other keeper-batsmen-hobbits avoided the skipper’s own eye at the prospect at filling the fifth bowlers’ slot. Parke bringing an early end to proceedings at least enabled us to enjoy more of the hospitality and begin the epic journey home in good time. For, as anyone who has sat through all nine hours of the films, let alone finished the books, or indeed made it to the end of this match report, will tell you – sometimes less is more.
Mandarins 120 all out
Brill CC 126-6
Mandarins CC (play-cricket.com)
-As a non-Tolkien inspired addendum (for Tony has never been known to use three words when one would do, or divert down unnecessary narrative passages), it should also be noted that there was a rumour going round that this was Sir Tony Hawkhead’s 200th (recorded) Mandarins appearance. As with all of the archivist’s stats, let’s just say that, like a Mandarins captain, he is only as good as the raw materials he has to work with. But if the rumour is true, we should all doff our orange caps to one of the great characters and cricketers of the club on this significant landmark, a particularly impressive achievement given that he hasn’t even lived anywhere near most of our games for about 25 years. It is always a pleasure to have him represent us and long may that continue. And, unlike Tolkien, at least his long stories are usually entertaining.