There are plenty of drawbacks to the writing and acting gigs; having a Thursday afternoon free to play cricket is not one of them. Perhaps that’s a part of what has kept this oldest of fixtures going for a century and more, the solace of a game as the rest of the world speeds by, oblivious. You take it where you can get it these days.
Both teams have had champions at their helm, the Actors C Aubrey Smith, a one-Test wonder, the Authors that old bag of tricks Conan-Doyle, alleged conqueror of WG himself (a claim the Doctor sniffed at), so the current incumbents, Lewis and Campbell, had big shoes to fill. Lewis, driven, he said later, by the need to right youthful wrongs meted out on this same pitch, led the more likely-looking crew: his Actors glowed with vigour and relative youth. Campbell had to confront a problem familiar to Joe Root, an ageing bowler carrying an injury into the game.
This was Tom Holland, who had, plaintively, twanged his non-bowling arm “doing a press up”. Mind you, Derek Pringle once missed a Test match after ricking his back while writing a letter – danger lurks everywhere for the trundler. Holland’s first delivery was a performance fit for any theatre. In he came, the familiar lope perhaps a little more ginger than usual, before a stagey groan as the ball flew from his hand high over the batsman’s head. Here was drama. Somehow, he withdrew to his mark and came in again, and the old magic flowed, enabled by the anaesthetic qualities of the under-the-counter narcotic gel Nick Hogg has on bulk order from the Bowlers’ Union.
With Campbell flying in from the other end, a cricket match quickly broke out, the Actors’ openers Geoff Streatfield and Nick Asbury both striking fine boundaries before Holland found a way through the former with some late swing.
Unlike those maestros of mental disintegration Warne and McGrath, who preferred to freestyle whatever abuse came to mind (Warne’s “You’re a f****** a**** c***” on being hit for six by Zimbabwe’s Stuart Carlisle was once judged the second-filthiest phrase used by a cricketer during play by Wisden Cricket Monthly*), Holland had his sledge pre-written: “You’ll never play the Dane, son…”
Asbury had a good stoush with Campbell, one fine back foot drive provoking a fiery lifter in response, while at the other end Will Troughton, having got an airy swish at Holland’s first ball out of his system, looked a cut above. His family has a fine tradition in both acting and cricket, brother Jim having served Warwickshire nobly and been capped six times for England’s ODI side, so it was perhaps no surprise to see Will striking so fluently, and ultimately driving Campbell to distraction with his ability to hit gaps.
Ben Falk bowled Asbury for a bright and breezy 20, but that brought in the avenging Damian Lewis. He started carefully, punching singles to give Troughton the strike, but as confidence grew he found his timing and began to push the field hard. Troughton passed fifty with a volley of boundaries, and the partnership reached 103 before Hotten induced a leading edge, the catch well bagged by keeper Adam Rutherford, running backwards.
Lewis took over, and although Hogg nipped out Julian Ovenden for 17, the Authors couldn’t staunch the bleeding, Actors finishing with a hefty 227, the skipper unbeaten on 70.
The Authors’ reply fell as flat as Holland’s sledge; that it stayed alive at all was down to the excellent Hogg, who moved up the order and, Stokes-like, batted like a number four against a strong attack, firm in defence and then elegantly harsh on anything loose. Earlier, Beard and Khan put on a stout 27 in the face of some fine, hostile new ball bowling from Lachlan Nieboer, who got one through Khan’s defences, and Ant Jardine, who picked up Beard and Tony McGowan in consecutive deliveries, both caught at gully.
Art Beard hit well at the death, his rhythm returning after two years out in the Siberian tundra, and he maintained the generational duty of the Beard family at Eton in running out Jon Hotten. The wiles of Dan Tuite hastened the end, which came when he rapped Holland’s pads in the final over. Holland was theatrically un-amused.
It emerged later that the Authors had a cuckoo in the nest, Tom admitting that he had once given his Hamlet to a philistine crowd in a university pub. From such knock-backs do mighty rivalries grow.
*The winner was John Emburey’s legendary “the facking facker is facking facked…” uttered in his Sarf London tones about his bat, which had just broken.
Actors 227-4 (Troughton 86, Lewis 70*, Holland 1-32); Authors 171 all out (Hogg 69, A. Beard 39, Tuite 4-32). Actors won by 38 runs.
Rathbones moment: Tom Holland, for either his wicket, or his first ball.