The drive to Avebury, past Silbury Hill and towards the stones that lie just beyond the ground is an eerie and timeless pleasure. The last of the druids, new-agers and truth-seekers were packing their campers: it hardly felt like it, but we were already on the downswing towards winter nights, the summer Solstice behind us.
Like the great stones, the format of the Avebury game is immutable, even if it requires explaining every summer: two innings per side, the first of them split over 50 overs, the batting captain free to declare at any point during those fifty to leave the remainder for the opposition. With the final twenty overs scheduled for 6.30, the second innings requires another declaration by the side batting third, leaving a run chase for the final innings.
In everyone’s minds were the extraordinary events of last year, when the Authors tied the scores with Will Sutton’s six from the final ball of the day, the closest they had come to winning this fixture. Campbell, carrying his quixotic mood over from St Paul’s, had picked just four frontline bowlers and they were in action right away, Campbell, chin jutting, feet sliding slightly outwards as he ran down the slope, had the new Duke’s on a string, while Holland, from that fastidiously marked run, nagged away, allowing the weight of time and dot balls to do their work. They split 16 overs between them, which came either side of a stoush that would run through the day like words through seaside rock, Chris Hemmings engaging with R Patwal, a young player over for the summer from India. Hemmings is a gentle, thoughtful man, yet a thrusting, combative, all-action cricketer, the ghost of the fast bowler he once was still present in his off-spin, tweaked sharply, and his chat, goading the youngster to launch him over the short pavilion boundary. He tried, but Hemmings had the last word, and the Avebury declaration came at 129-4 from 25.
Solidity was needed, and it came from Tony McGowan, part of the fabric but playing here under very trying personal circumstances. His unbeaten 35 was the stand-out knock in a total of 123-5, his big heart and broad bat kept his side in the game.
Too often here the match has been lost in the third innings, the Authors usually beginning in a post-lunch torpor that sees things run away quickly, but this year was different, with more heroics from Campbell, who managed another ten overs of cut and swing, and eight from Holland. They scythed through the Avebury top order with some high-class new ball bowling, sharing five wickets before the returning Dix and Patwal renewed battle with Falk and Hemmings. Avebury’s 146-6 occupied 30 overs.
Beard and Hemmings set out after 158 from 24 overs, stiff but quickly contextualised by Hemmings’ mighty blow over the pavilion from his nemesis Patwal. When Hemmings went, aiming for something even more stratospheric, he had 39 of the Authors’ first 50. He gave Patwal a hug as he passed.
Rich Beard loves Avebury, and he produced more of his timeless batting. The years cannot erode him, like the stones, it seems, he is always there, if sometimes less mobile. Around his great anchor swung first Will Sutton, impishly clearing the boundary by the mighty copper beech, and then Charlie Smith, whipping wristily through midwicket. The final flourish went to Will Fiennes, who capped his usual effortlessness behind the sticks by smashing Authors home with a couple of overs to spare, their first win in this increasingly epic fixture.
Avebury 129-4 (Dix 44*, Patwal 31, Hemmings 1-33, Campbell 1-41) and 146-6 (Patwal 57*, Dix 39, Campbell 3-27, Holland 2-62); Authors 123-5 (McGowan 35* W Sutton 24, Patwal 2-17) and 158-3 (Beard 56*, Hemmings 39, Virma 1-17). Authors won by seven wickets.
Rathbones moment: Will Fiennes’ stumping standing up to Tom Holland.