There are 42 Laws of cricket, which makes it one of the more legislated sports. Football is relatively lawless at 17, darts surprisingly complex at 20, Mixed Marshal Arts, sold as an event where anything goes within its fabled and bloody Octagon, is now up to five, although the rule covering fouls runs to a rather prissy ban on swearing and also outlaws ‘timidity’, something of which MCC could take note.
This is before we get started on the Playing Conditions and other regulations that mean ACO*-accredited qualification to umpire the humblest of single-innings club games takes 9-12 weeks of study and coursework. Becoming a solicitor or barrister takes a minimum of three years post-degree, but then there are many hundreds of bits of legislation on the statute books, so pro-rata, umpiring cricket at any level must be considered more complex and more perilous.
And then there is the nebulous ‘spirit of cricket’, enshrined not in the Laws but in the hearts and minds of the players. It is a state so fragile and transient that it echoes Steve Archibald’s definition of team spirit: ‘an illusion glimpsed in victory’, and by the end of this game, raucous, beery cheers from the home players in the pavilion were beseeching the umpire to give one of their own men out LBW. Even in victory, the spirit of cricket proved illusory.
None of this will be a mystery to Devil’s Advocates, the team of legal professionals who had cruised past the Authors in one of the coldest matches ever played, on the artificial turf of Regent’s Park at the start of last season. In the more clement and genteel setting of Chiswick House and its tree-lined boundaries, their skipper Gordon Lee won the toss and took first use of a pitch that, ridge aside, looked full of runs.
Chiswick House is not a small ground but it’s a hard one to defend, the outfield always slick. Campbell threw the new ball to Will Burns for the Tanker’s first bowl of the year from the top end and took the far end himself, the pair working up good pace in their opening bursts. Campbell fizzed a couple over the bails before Burns struck, Falk taking a fine, steepling catch from Almeida’s lofted drive.
The Tanker ran aground after four overs, victim of the first wafts of summer heat and a long walk from the train station. Hogg and Beckman stepped up, the latter beginning with two maidens, the second of them claiming Edwards leg before.
It became an innings of ebb and flow, Williams, Saunders and Garske striking powerfully, the straight hitting of Garkse particularly fluid and elegant, yet none really went on, pegged back by the guile of Hogg and Falk, who split seven wickets. Two of Falk’s were snaffled by Tony McGowan, the second, at a kind of leg gully from an unfortunate Gordon Lee, was sharp.
The Advocates’ 164 felt competitive but it was blown away by Matt Thacker’s 33-ball 57. Thacker had perished at the Regent’s Park game in a demented attempt to hit the year’s opening delivery for six, and his day had begun badly when he jammed a couple of fingers into the turf at long leg, the injury adding to the back pain he’d provoked during a long and boring innings of nine for Rich Beard’s celebrity XI in Oxford 24 hours before.
Like a more incapacitated CG Greenidge, he simply unleashed, the ball ringing from his bat as he struck ten fours and six in a memorable onslaught. When he went to a tumbling catch at long on, there were 97 on the board, and after a couple of alarms, Hotten and Hogg eased the Authors home. Lee brought on his father in law for the final over, his shoulder rusty from winter, and when a slow one crept past Hogg’s bat, the appeals – from the pavilion at least – were loud yet unanswered. The Law was rightfully, rigidly upheld and Hogg, unbeaten for another week, could afford a grin.
* Association of Cricket Officials – you didn’t even know that, did you…
Devil’s Advocates 164 all out (Garske 41, Saunders 25, Williams 24; Falk 4-29, Hogg 3-22); Authors CC 165-4 (Thacker 57, Hogg 35*, Hotten 28*; Gupta 1-28). Authors won by six wickets.
Rathbones Moment: Matt Thacker, 50 up from 27 deliveries.