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    Western Tour 2023

    As the 2023 Western Tour began, media attention was focussed on the exceptional heat being experienced in many places around the world. Parts of the United States, Mexico, Southern Europe, and China recorded temperatures over 50 degrees Centigrade, over 40 was widespread, and one report asserted that the average temperature world-wide in the month of July was higher than for at least 100,000 years (though how this was established was not made clear). There were numerous wildfires and dramatic rescues of tourists from holiday hotels, most notably in Rhodes.

    Reassuringly perhaps, Devon and Somerset produced the traditional summer cursed by countless generations of British holidaymakers – cold and wet for much of the time. As a result, we lost four matches completely and a fifth was curtailed to 20 overs a side. With one very considerable exception, the matches that were played also took a more traditional form. Wickets were damp and/or drying; outfields were lush; and the bowlers enjoyed better conditions as a result. Consequently, in the matches that survived the deluge scores were lower and they were generally more closely fought than in some recent years.

    We started as we were forced to continue, with our lovely Saturday introductory fixture against the Loyton Oddballs the first victim of the weather. The inaugural social gatherings took place notwithstanding, both at lunchtime and in the evening, and the tour atmosphere convincingly reasserted itself even without any cricket. Pleasingly, this encompassed a larger entourage of what we must now call WAGs than has been seen in Sou’wester circles for many a year and we were all the better for that.

    The ground at Morebath slopes away from the square on three sides so Saturday’s soaking had flowed away by the time we all gathered apprehensively on the following day. Nevertheless, it was felt desirable to limit potential damage to the pitch, which was one reason why the decision was taken to play only a 30 over affair when we did at last get going. Matt Sunter, Will Oakes and Will Bucknell all proceeded to fifty and then retired, and we posted a challenging total of 238.   Morebath’s openers made a good start in pursuit, but both were removed by Sam Kennedy and 46-2 after 7 overs was less impressive than seemed likely at first. Thereafter, only number 9 with an aggressive 34 n o made up of 3 sixes and 4 fours, made much impact in a final total of 132.

    The match at Blundells the next day was the first played there since the end of the school term. The wicket seemed to have been covered all that time and, amazingly for summer 2023, produced an occasional puff of dust, although the rest of the square and the outfield reflected the recent soakings. OBs Captain, Justin Williams, won the toss, appeared to indicate that he would field first and then changed his mind when he discovered three of his men had not arrived by the time play was due to start. Naturally, no Sou’wester objections were raised to this manoeuvre and the OBs proceeded to bat. For a side containing Mr Williams himself and a full set of Bucknells, they did not do as well as might have been expected. The wickets were well shared in a below par total of 120, with Chairman Kennedy in the lead (3-15). In reply, we cruised to a 10 wicket victory thanks to excellent innings from Matt Sunter (65 n o) and Harry Kennedy (40 n o).

    Those are the bare bones of the match but, this being an historical record perused in high places, it would not be right to leave it without mentioning the shocking incident for which it will always be remembered and which took place early in the first innings when the ball had already become rather wet. At the end of one over, Angus Spratling was permitted to leave the field of play to try to find a towel in the pavilion with which to dry it. The bowler was in the process of bowling the first ball of the next over when he emerged and as the batsman struck the ball firmly towards the pavilion, Spratling ran smoothly back onto the field, collected the ball, and threw it to the keeper. Umpire Williams saw all this but did not intervene, impose penalty runs or send the offender to the sin bin as required by the Modern Laws promulgated in another life by…… Umpire Williams. It is as if Moses came down from the Mountain with the Tablets under his arm and immediately set about coveting his neighbour’s ass! It was truly astonishing at the time, and one hopes the news of it never reaches NW8.

    Summer this year finally occurred on Tuesday 25th July and what better location for it than Kilve? The sun was shining; the hours were set to a meaningful 11 a m start with 20 overs from 6 pm; and the annual improvements always noted here were a new boundary hedge and a much enhanced outfield. Yes, it had all been saturated over the past weeks, the wicket was slow and low and the outfield lush, but the result was an excellent game of cricket which rewarded the patient batsman but not the man in a hurry.  We produced several of the former to contribute to our 148 off 49 overs, of which the top individual score was James Flatt’s 29, but five others made it to the teens. Kilve’s opener, Mr Monro, in his last innings as a bachelor, recorded the only 50 of the day, but his support was more thinly spread and they were bowled out for 109 with James Flatt completing an outstanding all round performance with 4-12.

    Somewhat later in the tour, the question was raised as to “how on earth does cricket survive in a climate like this?” Actually, it was intended as a rhetorical question, but The Fount chose to answer it: “because of days like Kilve!”

    Kilve post-mortem featuring unique summer sky.

    Thanks to the accuracy of modern short-term weather forecasting, we knew the deluge would return next day and even at what time it would do so. As a result, we just managed to squeeze in a 20-over job at Sidmouth before it arrived.  Batting first, Sidmouth were 40 for 6 at one point before a late rally took them to 110. Led by a powerful pair of Charlies (Everett 40; Thomas 64 no), we steamed home in the fifteenth over, by which time the rain was at the ramparts. Even the 20/20 sceptics were forced to agree that this limited amount of cricket with a clear result was preferable to the complete washout it would otherwise have been.

    Next day at Taunton Deane there were few early signs of improvement in the awful weather, but the forecast was both encouraging and accurate and another tight, old-fashioned, and relatively low-scoring match was played to a conclusion in the afternoon on a wicket giving important encouragement to the bowlers. We were bowled out in 40 overs for 180, opener Matt Sunter continuing his excellent tour with another 53. There was not much of a contribution from the middle order, but the last two wickets added what proved to be a match-winning 50 runs, dragging us up from the depths of 130-8 (Sam Kennedy 25 no). 

    The reply of 160 in almost 43 overs was marked by an example of wily Captain Kennedy at his innovative best. The Taunton 5th wicket pair were threatening to take the game away from us, but he cunningly set a six-three field for one batsman and increased the pressure by going seven-two for the other. Several times, when the batsmen changed ends, this necessitated the extra man making a solo journey from one side of the field to the other while everyone else watched in silence; it was very dramatic, and one could sense the pressure increasing every time it happened. What a leader!

    Once again, this was a particularly enjoyable and well-balanced match against a side very much like our own with a wide mixture of age and experience enjoying a shared experience and a proper cricket atmosphere at close of play as people enjoyed a drink and a chat. It was also here that the transformation of the Sou’westers’ camp followers from the WAGs of earlier in the tour into somewhat less attractive FAGs (Fathers and Grandfathers) became strikingly apparent!

    Our Leader in relaxed mode.

    Taunton School was the setting for the one match which didn’t fit the pattern of soggy 2023, doubtless thanks to the constant attention of its skilled ground staff. In a game which ended in a tame and indeed rather tedious draw more typical of a long dry summer, Old Tauntonians racked up 359 in nearly 55 overs. Their captain and opening batsman scored 195 of them before being last out to our eighth bowler, Charlie Everett (3-27), cunningly held back for just this moment. The target was clearly beyond us from the outset in the time available, but we recorded 249 – 3 in reply.

    In total contrast, the Chulmleigh match only survived the dreadful weather by use of their artificial wicket. Because it is located towards the side of the square and thus created a very short boundary, it was decided to bowl from one end only with the short boundary on the right-hander’s off side. This decision had two interesting consequences:

           (1) At the end of each over, the fielders stayed in the same place and our two distinguished umpires (Pip George and The Fount, umpire Williams having temporarily taken up serious matters elsewhere) beat a diagonal path between the bowler’s end and square leg rarely seen on a cricket field.

           (2) it was a bonanza for left-handers who found the short boundary winking at them all the time. Thus it was that while our star left-hander, James Flatt, cashed in to the tune of 92 no out of our 189, the next highest individual score was 14!

    Chulmleigh were eventually all out for 114 but while their opener, Mr Campling (50), was at the wicket, it could have gone either way. Last year, Toby Silk and George Oliver made up a pair in our attack with a combined age of 23. This year they totalled 25 and the increased maturity bore fruit with a combined haul of 4-52 before we adjourned to the Old Court House where we were welcomed like old friends even though we only turn up once a year. A lovely fixture for the key mid-tour Saturday, this! Long may it continue!

    The FAGs at Taunton Deane.

    Equally special to the Sou’westers are both Bridgetown and North Devon but both fell victim to the weather, so it was at Westward Ho! that we next played. There was only weak sunshine with plenty of cloud and a strong breeze always present. Coupled with the gloomy weather forecast for more rain by evening, however, the town and beach were full of holiday makers utterly determined to make the most of the brief opportunity offered, and the cricketers felt just the same.
    When the Kennedy charabanc heads east on the middle Sunday evening of the tour, it is sometimes difficult for the Supremo to drum up similar quality in depth for the matches that remain. Looking round the side at Westward Ho!, however, the assembled FAGs felt reasonably optimistic about what was to come. In the event, we lost by 3 wickets and even that gives a false impression because both very capable Westward Ho! openers retired on getting to 50 and they nearly had the game won by the time George Oliver made it seem a bit more respectable with a lethal spell of 3-4 in 3 overs. The fact is that we simply had not batted to our potential in being bowled out for 159. 

    The forecast storm arrived before we left the ground and continued through the night so the last match of the tour was also cancelled. It should have been against the newly formed Tiverton Heathcoat Club, in effect an amalgamation of two of our recent opponents, Heathcoat and Sampford Peverell and Tiverton, and we look forward to that challenge next year.

    That made for a rather ragged end to a tour dominated by adverse weather. It certainly could not be called a vintage one, but neither was it a disaster. The warm friendships across the ages which mark this cricket club are stronger than any weather problem and we had a happy time together despite everything. That this can be so firmly said is due to the contributions of many people: the Supremo, of course, who orchestrates it all, based on the arrangements made over the winter by Andy Bolan; Marion Oliver who scored every ball of this tour to produce the immaculate record on which this report is based; our own Umpires Panel (Dean, Williams, George, Sprague) which covered both ends in the majority of matches; our various on-field Captains but especially Mr Chairman Kennedy; and Debs Kennedy who kept the Loyton inhabitants fed and watered for a week and made them pay in the end too. Those of us who simply sit back and enjoy it all owe these people our warmest thanks.

    Of course, a day or two more summer would have made it even better and we’ll be fervently hoping for that In 2024!


    Arranged 12  Won 6 Lost 1 Drawn 1 Cancelled 4

    v Loyton Oddballs Sat July 22 Match Cancelled

    v Morebath Sun July 23 Won by 106 runs (30 overs match)
    Sou’Westers 238-2              
    Morebath 132 all out                  

    v O.Blundellians Mon July 24 Won by 10 wkts
    O.Blundellians 120 all out
    Sou’Westers 121 for 0

    v Kilve Tue July 25 Won by 39 runs
    Sou’Westers 148 all out                  
    Kilve 109 all out                  

    v Sidmouth Wed July 26 Won by 9 wkts (20 overs match)
    Sidmouth 110 all out
    Sou’Westers 113 for 1

    v Taunton Deane Thu July 27 Won by 20 runs
    Sou’Westers 180 all out
    Taunton Deane 160 all out

    v O.Tauntonians Fri July 28 Match Drawn
    O. Tauntonians 359 all out
    Sou’Westers 249 for 4                                

    v Chulmleigh Sat July 29 Won by 75 runs
    Sou’Westers 189 all out
    Chulmleigh 114 all out

    v Bridgetown Sun July 30 Match Cancelled

    v North Devon Mon Jul 31 Match Cancelled

    v Westward Ho! Tue Aug 1 Lost by 5 wkts (35 overs match)
    Sou’Westers                159 all out
    Westward Ho!             160 for 5                                

    v Tiverton Heathcoat Wed Aug 2 Match Cancelled