Further evidence, if any were needed, that India is now the centre of the game arrived at sleepy Aston Rowant in two large cardboard boxes. Inside, direct from the sub-continent, was the Authors’ new kit. Soon it was clear this was not just kit: it was an instruction, a comment, a warning, a rebuke.
Charlie Campbell handed it out, and almost as quickly began taking it back again. Just as many Authors’ dust jacket photos are quaint reminders of what once was true, so the kit offered its reality check. Those who, from the safety of winter, confidently ticked the box marked ‘medium’ were reminded of what ‘medium’ actually means.
Campbell saw fit to award the tightest trouser only to himself and Tom Holland. How the Lion swaggered. The rest were offered a more forgiving, if more diaphanous, model. Faulks looked on warily before drawing his old faithfuls from the kitbag. Hogg decided his new sunhat was enough for now. McGowan slid himself into a shirt he declared ‘a triple XXXL’.
What the kit was saying was, cricket is game for athletes now, for mastery of all three disciplines, not just one or two. This was India’s message, sent direct to a quiet crook of the Chilterns, and it was a message echoed by the match itself: run-packed, drama-filled, almost decided by the fitness of one side and the growing raggedness of the other.
The shirts, once correctly sized, looked a picture, and after Campbell had won the toss and elected to bat, white drifted across the green in its timeless way. Timeless too was Rich Beard, building his score with back cuts and a loping run. His technique is unfussily classic, his innings one of remorseless accumulation rather than pyrotechnic hitting. At the other end, Will Sutton struck a whip crack straight six, delighting in not just the setting but the return of his brother Jono.
It was a great moment for the Authors when Sutton senior strode out mid-innings, that familiar shock of hair as wild as his biffs over the infield, some symbolic dark clouds clearing to let through the sun as he got to work.
Beard ground on, punishing the bad, deflecting the good, the hundred as inevitable as anything Boycott has produced. Tom Holland, pads on around those dazzlingly sheathed legs, grew restless in the hutch as Authors finished on 241-5. They would need every run.
The Aston ground is an upturned saucer, a big surface by club standards and one that tilts towards almost every boundary. Fox and Cohen began running hard, one four (all-run) two threes, a welter of twos. The field was forced back and couldn’t stop them.
Campbell and Holland each found some movement, and, as the opening stand grew, Jono Sutton produced some skilful overs at Fox, taking a couple of edges that fell agonisingly short. When Falk broke the opening partnership, there were 119 on the board and the chase was on.
Fox hammered anything short or legside, Hogg and Falk responded, pushing him wide of off stump. Fox and Luttman Johnson added 64 before Fiennes turned the innings on its head, Luttman Johnson stumped, and Sully run out next ball with a quicksilver sprint and throw. Fox, tiring, continued to push the field, tempers growing thin as the match tightened again.
Campbell produced a superb penultimate over to leave ten required from the last. Falk was equally good, but Fox, with a couple of lung-bursting dashes, got seven from the first five. Jammo cleverly pushed the last ball wider of off stump, Fox got bat on it – just – and scrambled two for what Tim Rice announced was just the third tie in Heartaches’ 697 matches. It was a stat fit for the uncommon drama of the day.
Authors CC 241-6 (Beard 126*, W Sutton 31, J Sutton 28; Cohen 2-36); Heartaches 241-3 (Fox 127*, Cohen 38, Luttman Johnson 37; Hogg 1-45). Match tied (35 overs).
Rathbones moment: Will Fiennes for his stumping/run-out from successive deliveries.