The promised astroturf seemed a little browner and grittier than expected but it was explained that if you tilt your head like this and squint like this and think very green-tinged thoughts while humming Jerusalem and slurping enthusiastically at the pre-match gin, then it sort of looks like astroturf and not gravel.
Well maybe. Once the Baabaas had taken station in the field, Pippers tested the theory that it is really grass if you believe hard enough by flinging himself in the general direction of a chance that was somewhere near him, with all the grace of a brace of grouse on the glorious twelfth, discovering that, nope, it still ain’t grass.
Skipper for the tour Hookers had decided on an equitable staff rotation policy that would see him give a bowl to all the players and then start scouring the grandstand for options, but the Finnish oppo were not at all of the same mind, resolving to play with a minimalist line-up and sending their openers in with large dollops of superglue on the bottom of their boots, so that try as they might, the Baabaas just couldn’t remove them. It was said that the Finns didn’t bat much below four, but the Barbs were beginning to doubt that they would ever be able to test the veracity of this proposition.
Many shoulders were turned, with Bevvers and Vaikers steaming in, Koggers and Pippers chuntering in, Garners dibbling in and Dungers dobbling in, while Hookers became more and more isolated behind the stumps as the fielders edged steadily backwards towards the shade on the boundary. The odd breakthrough was made, but ever the believers in giving the other guy a fair crack, the Baabaas politely refused the occasional catching chance that did come way, with Robbers notably producing a drop that connoisseurs will long savour.
Realising that the blazing sun and lack of beer were making his men wilt, Hookers manned up and took over one end before unleashing the Baabaas secret weapon at the other. Actually not so secret, as Abbers had proved deadly the previous year in Helsinki, his cunning tactic being that if he hasn’t a clue where the ball is going when it leaves his hand, there’s not much danger of the batsman picking it.
Finally lunch and the end of the innings hove into view and after some hard yakka in the field, the Baabaas could finally open a tinny and get stuck into some hard yakking in the comfy seats. The Finland Wanderers catering was as good as ever, and the odd Barbarian brow was seen to perspire slightly, not so much from the power of the curry as from the concern about how the Barbs will match it in the return fixture.Post-lunch the Old Barbarians had two concerns, scoring lots of runs and remembering what it is you are supposed to do if you want to score lots of runs. The answer to the second part has long been known, and so the time-honoured tactic was employed of sending the guest players in first.
Vaikers and Dungers opened the account in true club style, one a Barbarian, the other Old, and soon they were peppering the boundary, biffing and clattering away, and threatening to make a game of it. Bevvers and Hookers kept the momentum going when their turn came, but the Finns were not fooled and they know that the Baabaas batting line up is like ice on a pond at the start of the cricket season, it may look solid at first, but once the cracks appear at the top, there is nothing of any substance down below. This time the Barbarians were batting deep down the order, with the tail starting only at number five, but given the choice between a noble but doomed rearguard and another swift half on the players’ balcony, resistance melted and the Old Barbarians folded within sight of the target, at least for those possessed of a Hubble-style telescope.The advantage of finishing with the cricket of course, was that the serious business of the day could begin, and Chizzers, who had been on driving duty during the day, manfully led the way with a beer and a bespoke gourmet sausage in each hand. Accommodation was simple but friendly, and once the barbecue had run out of prawns and the gin had run out of tonic, and the philosophy corner debate was threatening to turn into choir practice, Janners and Dungers were led to their cabins by their Mrs’s, while Hookers chased the other chaps into the sack.
It had been accepted in advance by both sides that the Saturday game was a mere warm-up that noone would take seriously and that the real business would take place on the Sunday. Arriving at the ground, the Barbarians started limbering up and huddling with gamefaces on, before defying tradition and actually batting first.
The rather obvious reason for this call was the ashen faces of many of the squad, so to increase recovery time, skipper Hookers did the gentlemanly thing and marched out to the middle with Bevvers for company. Bevvers is as cultured as a kiwi gets, and played a range of educated drives and classy strokes. Hookers is Australian and just walloped the bloody thing over the boundary. The tactic worked well, and indeed Hookers took a particular dislike to some trees beyond midwicket, attempting to defoliate them with a cricket ball, one leaf at a time. The attack so demoralised the oppo that easy runs were on offer to Dungers and Chizzers, who enthusiastically filled their boots, and to Pippers and Robbers, who enthusiastically filled a ballet pump or so. Eventually an unassailable total had been racked up, and the only reasonable response could be yet another stonking curry.
The main weapon in the Finnish arsenal was their pair of openers, who had shown themselves to be expert players of pace on the hard pitches, so the wily Baabaas skipper showed how he has been paying attention to recent developments in short-form cricket and decided to open with his two slowest bowlers. Dungers and Robbers have never intimidated an opponent in their lives – at least not through their bowling – but they showed how they could bore an opponent out, often by the second ball, and the previous day’s man of the match was promptly out taking aim at a satellite in near-earth orbit and landing ultimately in the keeper’s gloves.
The match was not without controversy, and Pippers risked half his match fee by entering into a Hegelian dialectic with the umpire on the exact definition of a wide. But ultimately his argument that “he bloody hit it” was deemed unconvincing and the umpire’s decision final. Private tussles were now emerging all over the field, often between Baabaa comrades-in-arms. Garners and Avers had been shoring up the numerically challenged oppo and had had to decide whether they really really wanted to take that catch, and now Abbers and Vinners entered into a contest for the longest over bowled, leaving the poor scorer in tears trying to work out how on earth to fit all those extras into a single box. Abbers eventually triumphed in the duel, taking such a dislike to the coconut matting that he point-blank refused to pitch a single delivery anywhere near it.
The match started to peter out, victory assured for the Old Barbarians. Janners gained the sobriquet Mad Dog for his ever so slightly unnerving batting habit of tipping it to the keeper and setting off with a wild yell of “two there, he can’t throw for toffee”, but eventually it was time to shake hands, and then again with the oppo, before heading to the port and the serious business on board the ferry of playing poker and working out who owed for exactly how many sausages...
The Baabaas first overnight away tour had seen as many return as had set out, and had known things happen of which men shall speak for many a year and other things of which men would rather not speak at all thank you very much. But a landmark has been passed by the club, a victory against the Finns finally chalked up, and a fire lit that will only carry the Old Barbarians ever onward and ever upward.