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    Western Tour 2013

    Tour Report

    Contrary to first (and, very possibly, second and third) impressions, the Sou’westers are at the very forefront of innovation and modernity! During the 2013 tour, there were numerous examples to convince any sceptics of the truth of this statement. Firstly, for example, it was absolutely littered with tweets, many of them due to Philip Oliver or Jeremy Peet but there may have been others at it too. This is a field positively eschewed by your correspondent, whose New Year Resolution was to tweet only on his birthday or to please the lady wife, but the fact that somebody was at it ensured that our many adherents around the globe were kept up to date with progress instantaneously.  And secondly, there was a first appearance for the Sou’westers for a player with a black earring in each ear. The Year Books are strangely silent on the point, but it is possible that there is not even a monaural antecedent.  Either way, you can see how modern we really are!

    To start with though, it was a very traditional subject that occupied the thoughts of those heading towards Tiverton for the first match. For your correspondent, there were heavy showers at Hungerford, Swindon, Bath and Weston, culminating at Wellington in what Terry-Thomas would have classified as an Absolute Shaaaaaaar. It had passed over Tiverton en route and the start was therefore delayed, but at 2.15 proceedings got underway with Acting Captain (AC) Simon Hogg  (who batted himself at 11) in charge. True to historical tradition, the first Sou’westers’ collapse began immediately. From 22-4, Sam George, playing his first cricket since April 2012, led a good recovery with support from Harry Thomas (46) and Tom Long (a quick 56no). He was eventually run out for 70 off the last ball of the agreed 35 overs, setting Old Blundellians 206 to win. They got them for 7 off 34 so it was a well-contested affair.  Sam Sprague returned 3-33 and took the Spray Cup for the highest wicket of the tour, an aesthetically delightful effort which bowled number 5 behind his legs after temporarily passing outside the earth’s atmosphere on the way up (and, of course, on the way down too).

    It was pretty much the same story the next day at Cerne Valley – rain in the morning meant a late start but when we got going a lovely old fashioned match was played out on a lovely old-fashioned ground against very, very congenial opposition. Just how old-fashioned was it? Well, tea was fixed for 5pm; Captain Oliver praised A C Halliday (who batted himself at 11) for ‘keeping them interested in it’ when shutting up shop seemed the most likely option; and, despite all that, the result was a most satisfying draw (214-6 played 205 – 6). Paul Barford and Sagar Patel, who opened our innings, both reached 50 and Sam Sprague again bowled well (2-42 off 11). The moment that will stay in the memory, however, was when Umpire Dean gave Simon Sprague LBW without any apparent appeal. The only improvement possible would have been if it had been Umpire Williams, the loudest umpire known to man, who had to adjudicate on what was apparently the quietest recorded appeal (for the records, by Whispering Mark Collinge).

    The weather forecast for Sidmouth suggested we might be fogged off and we were indeed within a whisker of suffering that fate. The tree-covered hills inland from the ground were covered with swirling black fog all day; it looked like the set of ‘Gorillas in the Mist’. In fact, to some of the more geriatric Sou’westers, it was an accurate reminder of conditions on that day long ago, when Bernard Sutton was given out Handled the Ball, following an appeal by the aggressive David Cook (late of Warwickshire), when conditions early on were equally in favour of the bowler. There was no such drama in 2013, but this remains a Serious Fixture, as demonstrated by the fact that AC Barford listed himself at the dizzy heights of 8  (and it was just as well).  Our initial collapse in the moist air was even more comprehensive than usual (45-6 at the nadir) but AC Barford and Rich Godfrey put on nearly 100 for the seventh wicket and 10 (Andy Bolan) and 11 (Sam George) staged a jolly last wicket partnership. 196 was never going to be enough, however, although we eventually gave them a bit of a fright at the end of their innings and got six down, to make it more respectable. It would have been closer still if we hadn’t dropped half a dozen catches to help them along!

    Most unexpectedly, there was an outbreak of summer at Sherborne, celebrated in style by Harry Thomas with an excellent 5-37 in the Swashbucklers innings of 214 a/o. Now, unlike Sidmouth, this is not viewed by The Authorities as quite such a Serious Fixture and, despite the fact that we were still without a win at this stage of the tour and could have done with a bit of a lift, AC Halliday duly batted himself at 11, where he could make no positive contribution to obtaining it.  We were all out for 166, despite Andy Bolan’s 67, and never looked like winning. The Acting Captain was not out 0. Your correspondent and the other decrepit spectators are unanimously of the opinion that Something Should Be Done about this ludicrous practice. Sharing the game around is important, being good and sociable opponents is important, but so is winning the odd one and the batting order should give that objective the necessary weight!

    We had a Virgin Captain at Taunton the next day but, disappointingly, VC George (SJE), showing understandable respect for tradition, listed himself as last man and didn’t bowl.  Fortunately, this didn’t produce the usual result and eventually we registered a first win. We batted solidly for 57 overs with three half-centuries recorded (Justin Williams, Will Harley and Mike Hall). There was a flurry towards the end but there were times during our progress to 270-5 off no less than ten bowlers that the spectators felt we were a little pedestrian. To illustrate the point, sometime after lunch two white Rolls-Royces drew up at the school chapel. The bride entered at 191-2 and re-emerged, a married woman with the serious business of life completed, at 209-3. Rather quicker was the Old Tauntonian collapse when it was their turn to bat against a better than average Sou’westers attack. The game fell away quickly and the Virgin Captain retired hungry for more.

    At 14.08 on 3rd August, Chulmleigh Cricket Club looked what it was – a lovely traditional village ground peopled with enthusiastic players of all ages and with a wonderful cricket tea already in course of preparation. At 14.09, the monsoon arrived and it continued intermittently for three days, wiping out Bridgetown and the Dumplings completely. The game at Chulmleigh proceeded through the rain (with occasional breaks when it became really heavy, each break producing a reduction in the number of overs allocated in a limited over match (although Duckworth is unknown to the Sou’westers and Lewis wasn’t due till Tuesday). Clearly some people enjoyed it, especially the younger element, of which both sides had several. It may be easier to enjoy in retrospect if you are victorious – which we weren’t. Your correspondent, however, is a noted curmudgeon and did not enjoy watching a slippery ball being wacked over the hedge into the adjacent field. There were compensations both on the pitch (a bucket placed over a pile of sawdust being struck by the ball and a following cry from Damp Umpire Dean of ‘no penalty runs’) and off it (the test match and Jazz Record Requests on the radio) but generally curmudgeons everywhere would have thought it all very silly. This particular curmudgeon is of a similar vintage to Captain Oliver who walked out to bat at number 11 in the precipitating rain and with no possibility of winning the match. It felt good to be in the car at the time and not alongside him.

    When the rain stopped, it was Tuesday and a new and very pleasant first fixture at Kilmington, bequeathed to us by Axminster who found themselves double-booked. We had another Virgin Captain in Stone (C) who, it is sad to report, batted himself at 11 and bowled two overs as sixth change. At this point, please reread the Views of the Decrepit at Sherborne. However, it was generally a good tour for virgins, and this one produced a victory too and came back asking for more (a wish granted just the next day). Our innings was built around substantial scores from Harry Kennedy and Marc Meyer Webb, and Sam Kennedy took a good 5-33 when we bowled them out, including the last wicket with the last ball of the game. This was an excellent day in all senses and it is to be hoped we return to Kilmington in future years.

    The North Devon fixture, one always eagerly anticipated by tourists, has suffered a bit over the years and had been reduced to a 2pm start. It must be very difficult these days for even such an excellent club to put out a high calibre side for so many midweek matches. Frankly, this one was a one-sided affair affair, though the setting is as lovely as ever. We scored at nearly 7 an over for our 45 and three batsmen (Harry Thomas, Andy Rathborne and Justin Williams) made big scores.  They batted 10 and attained only 123 in reply.  Of course, we have been on the receiving end in the past and may well be again!

    A 45-over match was agreed at Seaton and our innings was completely dominated by a very powerful knock from Rich Godfrey who scored 170 no of our 290-6, a formidable total. Seaton did well enough (237-5) but were always going to be well short of mounting a real challenge. A ‘proper’ match, with the Sou’westers needing to take 10 wickets to win, would have been superior entertainment.

    The Berkshire Gents fixture was introduced to replace the Queries ‘on the way home’ for many Sou’westers. However, with more and more members based in the west, we usually struggle for players and have to call on guests. This year, one such was billed in advance as being ‘a tame Aussie’, a specie unknown to your correspondent after all his years following the game. How disappointing he found it when the chap concerned turned out to be merely an Aussie from Thame introduced by Alastair Thomas. There was more confusion before the start, because two Sou’westers turned out for the Gents, including Rob Pitcher whose hat-trick at Bridgetown in 1992 is well remembered by those who saw it. When all that had been sorted out, and after the loss of two early wickets, we proceeded calmly to a total of 207 (with Adam Dicker showing the way with 62 from number 1) Often that would not be enough at Falkland, but this was a wicket demanding some skill from the batsmen and giving help to most types of bowling. Led by Tom Long (4-33), we bowled them out for 164. It was a very congenial match, a happy ending to a happy tour and moreover the win meant a positive balance overall.

    The Club has now been in existence for 83 years. The world has changed hugely in that time and naturally Sou’westers cricket has too. Your correspondent may be an old curmudgeon but he is also a ‘half-full’ as opposed to ‘half-empty’ sort of chap. We (and in particular Captain Oliver) had to run hard to do it and many guests were involved BUT, at the end of the day, we fielded 11 players, an umpire and a scorer every day for twelve consecutive days. Several touring clubs used to do that but not many do now. Sou’westers rule, OK!