What is it about certain players at particular grounds? You think of Lara at St John’s, 375 and then, a decade later, that unsurpassable 400. Or McGrath at Lord’s, dismantling England on tour after tour. Tendulkar at the SCG. Murali in Colombo.
Tom Holland’s work as a historian is sometimes about the power of myth, the significance of story, events of a single moment layered by years of telling and re-telling. Hours before his return to Eton, it was no surprise to see once again on his Twitter timeline the founding image of the modern Authors CC: that misty and granular shot of Holland smearing a child bowler over the backward point boundary carries for him a totemic force. It was over in seconds and yet still visible, the light from a long-dead star travelling on to distant planets. No wonder so much of Holland’s life involves excavation and interrogation of these deep-time events. He is trying to weigh the meaning of what he achieved.
Why? Well, with each renewal of the match it seems more unlikely. Last Sunday, Agar’s Plough shimmered under fleeting sun like something from England’s half-imagined past. Had it really happened, or was it, like his childhood ‘hat-trick’ recorded so inconclusively in a scorebook that it required the word ‘hat-trick’ to be written in next to it, in fact mutable, notional, as subjective as memory?
He faced a choice and he knew it. He could return to the Twitter picture for comfort, or he could do what real men do: feel the ground beneath his feet and get back out there to do it again, do it better…
The captains walked out to toss, Thacker jaunty, Dr Tim Beard less so, perhaps unconsciously signalling his torn loyalties by wearing Home Park sweater and cap and a pair of Authors’ trousers. The Doc always seems to conjure a great day of cricket here, often from a team he has put together in some kind of fiendish selection lab. This year’s Home Park vintage featured, by his own description, a county women’s opening bat, an American maths teacher playing his first game of cricket, a world-ranked croquet player, a father and son, the son of an opposition player, someone’s mate who hadn’t played for eight years, three burly left-arm all-rounders and our old and friendly foe Tex Warnes.
Like Brearley in his prime, there was a level of artifice to the Doc’s claims. On a used track and with an outfield left longer than usual, he set expert in-out fields, the boundaries policed by youth with power in their arms. The left arm seam of Cramp and Warnes’ wily swing had the Authors bogged down at 36-3, McGowan falling to the first of the day’s many LBWs, Thacker unluckily strangled and de Bellaigue denied a generational confrontation with the zippy medium pace of his son Jehan (check sp) by the dread index finger of umpire Betts.
Beard and Hotten, long-time stoics, rebuilt. Hotten had been short of everything but excuses in the first three games, and pecked painfully until Beard upped the rate. They added 99, Beard gleefully belting his brother to the rope before departing for 72, Hotten stranded and falling to a lethal direct hit from the younger Grenier at midwicket. With the declaration looming, enter Tom Holland, whose first blow echoed his most famous shot, a front foot upper cut over cover off a short one from the returning Cramp. He was soon urging Thacker, now standing as umpire, to call his men in, mainly so he could start Tweeting about it, the skipper relenting with the score at 175-9.
Few could imagine the deep adrenaline surge that Holland must have got from his likes and mentions during tea, because the Home Park innings was his. Andy Duff struck the first blow, producing a lovely, deceptive arm ball to bowl the dangerous Hammond and then he came, a wolf in the fold. Falk took the first of two terrific catches, leaping high at square leg to bag an uppish clip from Miles.
The big de Bellaigue family face-off offered an entertaining interlude, Chris producing two fine overs of lively medium pace, his third ball rearing to take Jehan on the glove. Jehan responded with a sweetly timed drive to the pavilion steps before Holland swooped to end the fun, the Betts finger adding another U16 to his bag. Grenier senior soon followed, the Eton innings rocking now, Holland in the grip of one of those Broad-esque spells, his thousand-yard stare locked on the batsmen as he charged in.
Hogg and Falk kept pressure on all but Gumbs, the county opener. Left-handed and calm, she looked a cut above and was particularly severe on anything leg-side. Hogg plucked out Grenier junior’s off peg, Falk snared the hard-hitting Cramp and then, in the first over after drinks, Holland – who else –struck the fateful blow, inducing Gumbs into an airy drive, snaffled by a tumbling Falk. It brought him the Rathbones Moment and Holland his fourth Authors’ five-fer.
The Doc had held himself, Warnes and the straight bat of Taylor back to fight a rearguard, but as the overs ticked down Hogg found the key, trapping Beard with a narrow leg before and then inducing a wild swipe from Taylor, Thacker swooping to demolish bails, stumps, ball, gloves and everything else in a great rush of action that Betts found irresistible, if somewhat indistinguishable.
Within minutes, Holland was off the field and back online, feeding on the love, the strange magic of Eton in place once more. The myth will only grow from here.
Authors CC 175-9 dec (R Beard 72, Hotten 36, Warnes 4-23); Home Park 111 all out (Gumbs 46, Holland 5-43, Hogg 3-23). Authors won by 64 runs.
Rathbones Moment: Ben Falk for his catch from the bowling of Tom Holland.