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    Western Tour 2017

    As Freddie sang when under the influence ( of Eliza ) in “ My Fair Lady” , “ There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather be” – than , in my case , Blundells , on a bright sunny morning on the first day of the tour . What followed lived up to or exceeded all the expectations the weather allowed – until the advent of the monsoon nine days later.


    Captain Sam George won the toss, and offered an idiosyncratic reason for inviting the Old Blundellians to bat – “that way there is no possibility of our having to field for two and a half hours after tea ” Robbie Prior got proceedings under way with a typically economical spell (6 overs for 9 runs) – Joe Hall’s first over at the other end was a bit “ Hither and

    Yon”, but he surprised opposition skipper Justin Williams with a straight one in his second, otherwise the score might have been even greater than 128 for several when lunch was taken after 28 overs bowled in 90 minutes (first-class cricketers please note) James Flatt, making his debut for the club, bowled 9 overs of tidy leg-breaks, and would have had 3 or more wickets had catches been held – in the event he and the latest Sprague had to settle for one each.

    Shortly before the declaration, a delivery from Richard Godfrey hit the batsman on the foot. The ensuing silence was broken by the non-striker, who enquired, in the tones one feeling an obligation to maintain polite conversation, “Was that missing leg?”  Umpire Williams appeared not to hear. Richard, who can add one and one and make two as well as the next man, said “Hows that?”, and the umpire’s raised finger answered the non-striker’s question. History does not record the subsequent conversation (if any) between the non-striker and the departing batsman. The declaration came after 53 overs.

    At 108 for 2, with nearly 30 overs remaining, victory was still possible, but Richard Godfrey’s departure for a well-made 50, followed by a flurry of lbw’s and Sam Trumper’s dismissal for 48, put paid to that. However, all was not lost, and the day ended with a splendid last-wicket partnership of 32 by two Sou’Westers, the sum of whose ages fell short of the individual age of each of the other nine. (Usually, where the Sou’Westers are concerned I find myself pondering greater ages, as at Chulmleigh a few years ago, when our “two slips and a gulley” had ages whose total exceeded 200. Answers on a postcard, please). James Flatt played each ball on its merits, leaving alone where appropriate, and scoring when it was safe to do so – Alex Sprague struck to the boundary the five deliveries he felt deserved this treatment, but was eventually bowled by the returning quick.

    Sue of Blundells stands beside Miss Dennis of Instow in the pantheon of Sou’Wester benefactresses and produced yet another super supper, enlivened by a virulent outbreak of Sou’Wester blazers, and so well-attended that the treacle tart ran out . It is a splendid annual event, for which we are truly grateful.


    Captain Andy Bolan lacks the negotiating skills of his father, and despite making a prompt start against Heathcoat at noon, we found ourselves committed to a 40/40 game. Harry  (son of Al ) Thomas opened the batting with Mike Hall, and the pair obeyed one of the more constructive of cricketing  commandments ( “ for the first half hour , thou shalt play ‘ in the V’” ).  Not being constrained by the shackles of convention, the V in which they played was from first slip to very fine leg, and the first 19 runs of their partnership resulted from the ball finding its way into this narrow sector. Indeed, it was not until the score had reached 35 that that the first run was scored (just) in front of the wicket. Thereafter the partnership flourished until, with the total 210 and his score 96, and having just driven the sweetest of sixes over point, Mike’s otherwise elegant innings ended when he heaved across the line of the straightest of balls. At this time, Harry was tiptoeing through the nineties and had reached the ninth of that ilk when there was an unfortunate misunderstanding, which resulted in his being run out – an unfortunate end to a very good innings.

    256 looked a stiffish target – Heathcoat were 81 for 1 after 20 overs , and 147 for 2 at the beginning of the 30th , but when Justin Williams was bowled trying to cut a half-volley , the cricket rapidly lost meaning . Al (“ If God hadn’t wanted them shorn , He wouldn’t have made them sheep”) Thomas took little satisfaction in shearing five more and ending with figures of 6 for 32 ( including 6 for 9 in 14 balls ) . This had the great merit of reducing the meaningless “cricket” to 5 overs-worth; victory came with 5 overs unused.


    Our Great Leader’s diplomatic skills were stretched almost to breaking point in the morning , but he eventually persuaded the Sidmouth groundsman to change his mind and to concede that a 25/25 game starting at 3 o’clock MIGHT be possible – as indeed it proved to be . Andy Pring was by some way the most economical of our five bowlers , and took an early wicket , but Master Rowe , reputed to be the Australian U17 number three , soon took control and amassed a masterly 121 not out . Despite two run-outs and a couple of late wickets for Joe Hall, a truly sumptuous tea was taken with Sidmouth 217 for 5. One of Joe’s victims was bowled by a PERFECT leg-stump Yorker – never would “Aye lad, wasted on thee” have been a more unkind but appropriate comment.

    The quality of the tea added to my astonishment at the quantity left on the Sidmouth table at the end of the meal. A partial explanation was soon forthcoming as their captain set a four – two field for his opening bowler ; his team consisted of five good Sidmouth cricketers , Master Rowe (kitted out in the panoply of the Free Foresters Academy), a magnificently enthusiastic youngster, and Andy Bolan (on loan). This octet proceeded cheerfully to set about providing the Sou’Westers with some of the most competitive cricket of the tour – they insisted on adhering strictly to the idiosyncratic rules of engagement (agreed before your correspondent could, in his capacity as umpire , bring his influence to the negotiations ). These included having two close catchers for the first five overs – quite something when it left them with only four other fielders. However, three good, brisk, bowlers bowled their 15 overs for 113 runs (and 4 wickets,) Andy Bolan his 5 for 35 runs (and dismissed Harry Thomas c & b for a good 30), and despite a belligerent 51 from Justin Williams (on our side at last) and a similar innings of 45 from Sam Trumper, 27 were needed from the last over. It would have been 23 but for a barely believable bit of fielding by Andy B in the penultimate over, and even less without the truly heroic fielding of the Sidmouth youngster, spurred on by generous and well-deserved praise from his team. I hope the bruise on his sternum, the result of a fierce Al Thomas lofted off-drive, has faded by now. The skipper, bowling leg-breaks, kept himself on for the last over – and took a hat-trick with the first three deliveries, to complete a spell of 5 wickets for 3 runs in 8 balls. Andy Pring, having taken a hat-trick himself at Sidmouth in ’16, was the second of the trio dismissed in Sidmouth’s revenge in ’17. In difficult circumstances, our hosts had done everything possible to give their guests an afternoon of meaningful, cheerful, and competitive cricket (and an excellent tea) – thank you, Sidmouth.


    One of Exmouth’s youth sides had reached the final stages of a limited overs competition, and as most of them were playing against the us , Captain Simon Hogg’s endeavors to negotiate a game of cricket were doomed to failure; we batted first in a 40/40 game

    (subsequently reduced by a savage shower to 36/36). Each of the young fielders who passed within conversational range of square leg proved to be cheerful, courteous, and enthusiastic – BUT the whole was not the expected sum of its parts, and 36 overs of unremitting and untrammelled adolescent banter left your correspondent silently screaming for mercy. Andy Bolan struck 9 fours in a brisk 47, Robbie Prior and Ollie Nethercott contributed crisp cameos, and Al Thomas unleashed a sequence of imperious straight drives, a photograph of any one of which would have graced any coaching manual; however for a couple of overs Al’s bat was travelling South on one side of the central reservation, the ball North on the other. This problem was eventually solved, and a rapid 32 ensued.

    A frivolous infant struck Andy Pring for a two, a four, and a six in his first over, and perished (caught Hogg in the deep) apparently trying for an 8 in his second. Batsmen came and went (some with better grace than others), Andy Bolan picked up three wickets bowling almost as well as he had against us at Sidmouth , Miles Quick took a splendid catch at long-off and two late wickets , and we bowled them out with an over to spare . It was good to return to such a splendid ground, and Exmouth’s enthusiasm to cover the wicket as quickly as possible during the tropical downpour, and restart the game as soon as possible thereafter, was much appreciated.


    Twenty-first century technology allowed the two skippers to confidently predict a monsoon at teatime, so a 30/30 game was agreed, and began at 11.40 am. Memory refuses to tell me whether the accent was South African or Antipodean , but Mr Coburn became the second of three  colonials to help himself to a century at our bowlers’ expense – his 139* was more than twice as many as the five Old Tauntonians to reach the crease totalled between them . Ollie Nethercott took two wickets in two balls, James Flatt conceded fewer than five an over, but the highlight of the innings was a spell of two overs, two for twenty two by Andy Pring. The two wickets were the result of splendid catches by Miles Quick in Andy’s leg-trap, both taken within inches of the boundary at long-on. If Miles had been fielding substitute for Faf du Plessis earlier in the summer, Stokes would not have reached his hundred against South Africa.

    Our Great Leader was heard to express himself with generosity and width on the subject of the malign influence of “overseas” players on non-league cricket, but was considerably mollified by subsequent events. Andy Bolan scored a bright 37 , Richard Godfrey 70 in an hour , Justin Williams 52 in forty minutes , and following Miles Quick’s unfortunate demise , run out ( he deserved better of fate after catching so well ) , Ollie Nethercott and James Flatt put on the 35 needed for victory with four balls to spare . The winning runs, a left-hander’s square drive for four, will live long in the memory.


    There is no doubt that one of the pleasures of touring cricket is meeting old friends (and a few we love to hate) year after year – with one side attempting gain revenge for the previous year’s result . Chulmleigh may be a new fixture by Sou’Wester standards, but in half a decade, they have established themselves firmly as a team we think of as old friends – and we hope the feeling is reciprocated. Certainly they remember us – “ You’d think I’d batted against him often enough to have learnt by now !” said one batsman in almost terminal exasperation, having run out of patience awaiting the arrival of a Kennedy delivery, and spooning same into a fortuitously untenanted area of the covers. He was out eventually one short of what would have been a very good fifty, caught Andy Bolan, bowled son-of-Kennedy – extras, mainly wide’s, were second top scorer.

    Andy Bolan was 47 not out (ex 57 from the bat) when the umpires insisted that enough was enough, and that to accept Chulmleigh’s offer to continue in the ever-worsening rain would be an abuse of hospitality. The draw was celebrated by a full complement of each team in an Old Court House patronised (and that not fleetingly) by several scantily clad “ladies”, who clearly had no intention of ever adding to their allure by shaving their legs, and who would certainly have been more at home in the front row of the scrum than in the front row of the chorus. Their presence was accepted with serene lack of surprise by the other customers.


    Refreshed by an unwanted rest day, we arrived at Instow to find North Devon were to be represented by a squad (rolling substitution was agreed) with an age profile which corresponded to that of the Exmouth side we had played earlier. We were able to declare with 243 on the board (scored from 43 overs) thanks to contrasting sixties from Guy Bucknell and Charles Redmayne – the one a responsible innings from a proper opening batsman, the other a cultured assault which endangered Sou’Wester cars parked beyond wide long-on, and ended with retirement (umpire Williams made sure that the scoreboard registered that another wicket had “fallen”), to make room for unusual thirties by Harry Kennedy and Angus Spratling. They persuaded the ball to all parts of the ground using all parts of the bat except the middle, Angus bullied Harry into turning several two’s into three’s , Harry ran himself out, and promptly declared. The youth of North Devon clearly respected the few adult members of their side (and the game), and set an example in comportment that would have delighted the Lords Harris and Hawke, and proved that an ability to indulge in “banter” is not a necessary attribute for a young competitive cricketer.

    The Australian “ overseas” opened the batting, oversaw a recovery from 38 for 4 to 100 for 5 when the last hour began, and continued somewhat nervously to his 100 before he, too, retired (out), leaving to the youth of North Devon the responsibility of surviving the remaining overs. This they did – just. Angus Spratling had three balls at their number eleven – all were straightish, but none disturbed the furniture. It was apparently the first game of non-limited overs cricket in which several members of the North Devon team (including the Australian “overseas”) had played – the tail gave every evidence of relishing the challenge of “playing for a draw” for the first time in their young lives.


    Scorer – “Bowler’s name?”

    Sou’Wester voice – “Sprague”
    Scorer – “How do you spell Sprague?”
    Sou’Wester voice – “Like Prague, but with an ‘s’ in front”
    Scorer – “How do you spell Prague?”
    Kilve voice – “Like Sprague, but without the ‘s’”

    Fortunately Peter’s name was entered correctly in the scorebook , for he proceeded to produce a splendid spell of bowling , clearly following the gnomic advice to young bowlers, oft quoted by Granny, of the great Gloucestershire slow-left-arm bowler Charlie Parker (3278 first-class wickets) : –

    “There’s buggers as ‘as brains, an’ buggers as ‘asn’t, so ‘tis up to buggers as ‘as to sort out they buggers as ‘asn’t, an’ bowl accordin’”

    And of the patron saint of such bowlers, the Blessed St Wilfred (4204 first class wickets)  who, when asked for secret of his success, thought for a while before saying “Ah were nivver pulled, and Ah were nivver cut”.

    Certain it is that Peter “ bowled accordin’” , and if he was either pulled or cut that afternoon , I must have been looking the other way ; I can say with confidence that those who attempted to live by the sweep all died by the sweep. The result was 5 for 37 in 10.5 overs. For most or all this spell James Flatt was wheeling away at the other end – it was pleasure to see a young leg-spinner enjoying a spell of 16 (albeit luckless) overs – he will bowl worse and take five wickets. Bragging rights were shared in the Sprague household that evening; had your correspondent not been keen to get two quotations in early he would have started the description of the day’s events by praising the opening bowling partnership of Alex Sprague (3 for 22) and Richard Godfrey (1 for 18 in 14 overs), which set up the situation which Peter exploited so well. We bowled them out for 188 in a ball shy of 60 overs, an unusual number nowadays.

    Kilve too started with an effective opening bowling partnership, who soon reduced the Sou’Westers to 30 for 4. At this point Charles Redmayne joined Philip Oliver in a partnership which reached  98 before Charles was bowled through a gate which few of us had ever seen open before – by opposition captain Peter Stone , who may find himself bowling more for the Sou’Westers in future …..

    Philip accepted the responsibility of shepherding the lower-middle-order to victory, and succeeded – thanks to a fine innings, typified by a willingness to hit the ball in the air I for one had not seen from him previously, and frequent square- and off-drives, all along the ground and in the main straight to fielders. It was a very good 58*, in the presence of and appreciated by his father and his son – well, perhaps not appreciated by son, who really wanted another net bowler. The actual victory came when “Finisher” Flatt struck a crisp boundary, in the 46th over.

    A close game of competitive proper cricket, a superb lunch which for camp-followers meandered on until it merged with tea, adequate weather, a decent turn out of Sou’Westers past and future and their families, and a post-match drink or several – altogether the best day of the tour , and as it transpired, the LAST day of the tour too.

    Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday

    The less said about these the better. Suffice to say that Stewart had arranged three excellent fixtures on lovely grounds, to which we had all looked forward, but that the Gods had other plans.

    We enjoyed three-quarters of a tour which was as near-perfect as was possible granted the weather  and owe a huge debt to our management committee, and to Marion, whose immaculate score sheets, before me now, have enabled me to wallow in remembrance. Roll on Italy and the 2018 Western Tour – and more draws.

    Chris Dean