Porto recollections from British citizen Chris Boden
Gatwick. Always an awful place to begin anything. I have never felt anything but loathing for this god forsaken hell hole of an airport. But according to the expensive propaganda campaign on Sky, a great deal of money has been spent to bring it up to modern standards. It was always the concentration camp style processing that got my back up. It seems that most of the modernising has involved installing automated systems that reduce to almost zero the amount of contact you have with other humans. Works well. Check in painless with my brand new English passport. After queuing behind the various stag parties already well hammered by 11am, I managed to get my breakfast Guinness. The plane was a mere 40 minutes late taking off, so by Gatwick standards, a fine start to the tour!
Having made a rather late booking I ended up being an advance scout for the bulk of the Tigers. Only Webster having an earlier flight. He took the opportunity to test the local sangria to ensure it was safe. I’d never been to Portugal before, let alone Porto. The first thing that struck me was the weather. Following reports on previous tours I had of course packed for warm, sunny weather. This is where I hit the first major snag – it was cold. Really cold. Overcast, cold wind, hang on it was warmer than this when I left London cold. The Oporto Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club (Est. 1855) seems a strange anachronism in a busy city centre. You’re suddenly in an oasis of calm that seems a throwback to a happier time when the rest of the world knew its place. I met up with Webster and before long BA had delivered the rest of the Touring Tigers faithful to the bar. Well some Tigers, plus a couple of Plums and Mr McGirr, a Tiger out of Sunderland (sort of).
After many beers we adjourned to a restaurant that shall in my mind be known as “The Meat Palace.” There was meat, so much meat. And so delicious. And wine. And more meat. Local tourist office employee Maggie joined us late on for drinks and then led the way to the various gin bars that nestle in the heart of Porto. Some details become blurred at this point, but there were massive fishbowls filled with either G&T or some sort of strawberry daiquiri. And wandering of the streets with said fishbowls until we found ourselves a club that seemed to have been set up in someone’s library. Then more buckets of gin. And there was dancing! Tigers were on the dancefloor, cutting moves with feline grace and showing the kind of style that had women swooning. At least that’s how I remember it. Then a scene was deleted and I found myself in a hotel room the next morning.
There are those who take life easy. I am one of them. I needed to catch up on sleep after a hectic week of work. My roommate, Chris “Mr Motivator” Wright, had been for a swim and played squash before the sun had rudely interrupted my soliloquy. 11am seems an uncivilised hour to be awake, let alone to begin a game cricket. The Tigers were in various states of disrepair and none too pleased to be sent in to bat on a typically overcast and cold Porto morning. Why didn’t I pack more warm clothes?!
The batting was opened by Plums stalwart Jim Shea and oft missed Tiger Ian Porton. In what proved to be a challenging day to be called Ian, Senhor Porton lasted three balls without troubling the scorer. Tigers 0/1. Enter Wright at #3, fresh from jogging 3 laps of the ground. He and Shea showed application against the tricky opening pair of Khan and Rashid. But not quite enough. After 10 overs the tigers were 28/3, all caught off Khan, and teetering like a bunch of hungover Englishmen. But Skipper Taylor joined yours truly at the crease and set about determinately not getting out. And for nigh on 17 overs we managed just that, turning over the scoreboard at a steady rate and dispatching the odd ball over the (very) long grass to the boundary. Clearly in my foreignness I upset some locals, hence why I had three full tosses pinged at my head. Or perhaps it was an initiation. But all was well until I played down the wrong line to one that swung a little and lost my off stump. Bugger. Out for 30. No need to worry, enter Chris Folley, drafted in from the Plums to ensure that the team has the requisite number of Chrises. He and Stew saw us to lunch at 105/4. A sound foundation for a big innings.
Many teams have a great weapon. A demon fast bowler, a big hitting batsmen, a canny skipper. In the case of Oporto Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club (Est. 1855), it’s lunch.
Yes that is wine you see. Red and white. And that was just with the first course. After the spicy chicken, rice and frittata there followed chocolate mousse, a cheese platter and of course – Port. Your technique against spin may be impeccable. You know to play late against swing. But how does one defend against Fonseca Bin 27?? I think a quick note to the ICC about this unfair tactic must be written immediately.
Suffice to say, the second session did not begin well for the Plumderland Tigers. And it was largely downhill from there. Porto’s other secret weapon was Mike the Kiwi. Bowling the sort of unplayable slow breaks that kept Daniel Vettori in the national side for so long. After tempting the (clearly impaired) captain (top scoring with 37) into an unwise shot he tore through the tail.
[Note: If your surname is Taylor you never, ever want to see this piece of video]
Ian Daffern lasted exactly as long as his namesake at the top of the order with an equivalent score. Phil Hill “gave himself some room” to punish a loose ball from the Kiwi tyro. He in fact gave himself so much room that the phrase “hit wicket” doesn’t really do justice to the damage inflicted by the body of the Hillbilly upon the poor defenceless stumps. Folley’s resistance came to end leaving Jem to support McGirr in a plucky eighth wicket stand where McGirr did all the scoring and made the 3rd best total of the innings (12, equal with Wright). But it wasn’t to be, more Kiwi magic did for Jem and Buttocks’ attempt to earn a promotion from number 11 (broken fingers and all) ended after just six balls. So from 105/4 at lunch, the Tigers found themselves 127 all out. I blame the port. It was bloody nice though.
But a Tiger can never be hold down for long. Now fired up, the opening combination of Wright and Webster (broken fingers and all) crushed the Porto batting order in a miserly vice. Wright in particular used the bounce of the artificial pitch to good effect and at one point they had bowled five consecutive maidens between them featuring two wickets. And the catching, you’ve never seen anything like it. Jim, clearly bolstered by the Fonseca, fielded at short leg and snagged Wright’s first victim Sanath. Matt Webster after breaking fingers attempting a caught and bowled the week before managed to hold on to a caught and bowled from the Porto skipper with only the mildest of screaming. And then I took a catch. Wright was charging in at full pace and Sher decided to open the face and guide it through gully. Standing at second slip I saw a red tracer bullet fly low to my right and then suddenly it was in my hand. Snap. The batsman couldn’t believe it, the fielders couldn’t believe it. Hell I can still barely believe it. It made the other slip catch I took three overs later seem quite run of the mill. Jim snagged another and Porto were floundering at 31/5 off 19 overs.
A partnership was established for 32 runs until Awan drove one to McGirr at mid-off and the Thighs of Doom came into play. There is no escape from them and another catch was snaffled. Here the story goes a tad pear shaped as Vinod began to open his shoulders. Quite widely actually. The ground seemed to shrink and the spectators were in very real danger as he risked a life ban by almost pulling one into the chairman’s wife. By the time Taylor held onto one on the boundary coming down with snow on it the damage was done and Vinod was out for 74 off just 46 balls. His partner for most of the time was Kiwi Mike, whose batting was every bit as adroit as his bowling. He played his shot to great effect and it seemed appropriate that he hit the winning runs – two consecutive boundaries, with A.B. DeVilliers like use of 360 degree cricket. You can’t set a field for that.
And so it was a loss, but a fighting one. Wright was the pick of the bowlers with 34/4 off 12 and Webster 32/2 off 8. John McGirr had the old rhythm back, grabbing a wicket for just 14 runs and Taylor bowled with swing and pace but unfortunately had neither luck nor justice on his side. The bowling of the other two Chrises is best not discussed at length. But at least all of mine landed on the wicket.
On to the club house for drinks, posh frocks and more drinks.
After a fine meal, speeches and more port (obviously), the touring gentlemen adjourned to the Billiards room for more refined entertainment. Jem introduced a sort of Killer Snooker game that proved popular and showcased a set of skills that will surely see a Tiger making an impact at the Crucible in the very near future (and being ejected by security shortly after). Highlight of the evening was Jim Shea making €35 for sinking just a single ball. It was a game where just hanging in there and picking a wise shot was the main order. It proved to be a harbinger of things to come the following day…