“Catch as catch can” More recollections from Aussie-born anglophile Chris Boden
Beaten but not bowed, the Plumderland Tigers prepared to take to the field again at the (still) ungodly hour of 11am. I mean like, in the morning. Honestly. Wrighty was as spritely as ever with the morning swim plus squash game followed by a quick 5km run before breakfast. Although he may have overdone it a tad… The sun was threatening to make an appearance through the clouds and this time the skipper won the toss. Tigers to field.
In an unorthodox piece of captaincy and nod to years gone by, Phil Hill opened the bowling for the tourists. And the years were duly rolled back as the Porto openers weren’t quite sure what to make of the wily slinger’s barrage. 7 overs 25/0 proved to be an impressive return, especially given that two catches were put down off his bowling. Ah catches. How things can change in just a day. It’s always encouraging when one opposition batsman single-handedly wins the game for them batting from number 7, to see him opening the next day. Which makes it all the more important that when he gives a chance, it’s taken. Alas. After having swallowed (almost) everything that came our way the day before, it seemed that the biggest impact of the Oporto Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club’s hospitality was on our hands. Now there is no point in going through a list of who dropped who and how often. Suffice to say that no one really came away from the fielding performance with their heads held high. Except for Porton, whose keeping was immaculate. Pity he didn’t get an edge to hold on to.
Webster was again accurate and miserly with 9 overs for 47. But there the good news ends. Vinod batted like a man with a point to prove. That point being – “I can hit the ball clear out of this ground. Just watch me.” And so it went. In a stark contrast to the low scoring of Saturday, the Porto opening pair ran riot. There was more chance of serious injury to a spectator than there was of us taking a wicket. Though there were some close calls on both of those. Stew Taylor again bowled with venom and style, but once again seemed to have upset the cricket gods as luck and justice were not on his side. As the session wore on Vinod passed the century mark and his partner Patel got a 50. When lunch mercifully arrived the hosts were no wicket for many (I can’t actually remember). Patel was on 53 and Vinod 137 off 92 (11 6’s, 2 4’s) balls. Mercifully they decided to retire during the break while we mulled over the situation, helped by red wine, white wine, something with pork, rice, tortilla, cheese, port, a sort of giant panna cotta cheese cakey thing and of course, port. Ah Fonseca Bin 27 you beautiful brute.
Suffice to say, what lunch did for the Tigers batting in the first game it did to our fielding in the second. Two new batsmen in and all new chances to drop them repeatedly. And those chances were taken. The bowling lacked a certain zing. Wright had been unplayable previously but today lacked a certain amount of energy. Was it the late night? The early morning? The lunch? The personal training session? Either way, I’ve never seen someone actually asleep on their feet while fielding at cover before. Myself, Daffern and McGirr all had a crack at it, but when the declaration came it was OCLTC (Est. 1855, which is quite a long time ago) 286/0 from 40 overs. In the timed game format that left a good session and a half and whole lot of overs for the visitors to survive to salvage anything from the tour.
But cometh the hour, cometh the men. With a wry nod to the skipper they strode to the crease. Jim Shea, shirt neatly buttoned, the epitome of the English cricketer on tour. One can perhaps bring to mind the likes of William Scotton (England 1881 – 1887), a left-hander who once carried his bat through an entire first-class innings and scored 9 not out. His partner, the newly awake Chris Wright, shirt unbuttoned almost to the waist, necklace sitting resplendent in a nest of chest hair. One can’t help but recall the devil may care Australians of the 1970’s and see more than a hint of Doug Walters in the casual walk and steely eyed stare. Well, perhaps more glassy than steely but still…
The sun had made its long-awaited debut for the weekend and the early going was cagey. Neither batsman was giving a chance and both were aiming for the long haul. Shea took 14 balls to get off the mark while Wrighty had a grand total of 4 off 32 balls before playing the first shot in anger and finding the boundary. Bowlers Weeks and Sripad enjoyed a figuring flattering first 12 overs that went for just 24 runs. But Wright had fought off the fog of Fonseca and was starting to eye the red ball the way a hungry tiger eyes a wounded fawn. The procession of dot balls started to turn into twos and fours and the scoreboard ticked into life*. Shea on the other hand was having none of anything so vulgar as hitting boundaries. A batsmen of a different temperament, as Wright became an instrument of destruction, Shea remained an impenetrable wall of defiance. By Tea, the Tigers were no wickets down with momentum going their way.
So often the break had proven to be our downfall on this tour. But today it wasn’t to be. The Wall and the Instrument returned to their tasks with more determination and more focus. Shea remained indefatigable, while Wright crossed the 100 mark once again in Porto.
The format of the timed game (as had to be explained to me) is such that one hour after tea, 20 overs are declared to remain and at the end of that the match is over. The early declaration meant that the Tigers faced a full 40 overs before the final countdown even began. And it was only after this marathon mark that a crack finally appeared in the wall – Shea gave a return catch to Chalindra. It was the end of an astonishing innings – 114 balls faced for 27 runs. On the surface, a modest return, but in the context of the match, leading a brittle batting order he played the perfect opener’s innings. The opening partnership was worth 147 runs in 40.2 overs. The rest of the team had 19.4 overs to either score 140 runs to win, or at least not all throw their wickets away. Given the previous day’s return the bookies were split on the most likely result.
The downside of a monstrous opening stand is that the poor sod who comes in at number three is on hiding to nothing. I mean I warmed up, cooled down, warmed up again, sat, stood, hit in the nets, danced, walked around. And then I go out, score 6 watch Wrighty get caught on the boundary for 116 and then get out. Swing bowling should be banned. Still, 116 off 149 balls (2 6’s, 16 4’s) was an astonishing knock. A mix of incredible patience and power stroke play. Which set up the inevitable collapse to come. Porton and Folley came and went before the captain entered to set things right. Still determined that a win was on the cards, the score ticked over. With the fielding side under pressure, the favour of dropping catches was returned a number of times. It has taken many years, but finally Buttocks was given his chance to bat at the dizzying heights of number 7 (broken fingers and all). When Taylor fell for 14 with almost 10 overs still to bat, all aims of winning were over and it was a game of survival. Daffern came to the crease with a point to prove. His bowling eschewed by the captain in game 1 and failing to trouble the scorers with the bat; today he had got away with only a mild pounding in the field so things were looking up. The departure of either batsmen would unleash the unholy batting trinity of Hill, McGirr and Jem, so the stakes were high. During the final overs the onlookers all (well me anyway) performed the ritual of continuing to stay in exactly the same place they were so as not to jinx it. The bowling was tight but Buttocks was tighter. Displaying a solid defence learned from so many years of watching 10 batsmen above him, he was firm, especially when it came to saying “no” to singles. Even if the ball was ¾ of the way to boundary with no one chasing it, Buttocks was resolute. I will not be moved. No sense chancing it. Daffern at the other end was finding the rhythm and getting his eye in, even smacking a cheeky boundary towards the end. And they saw it home – Webster with 12 off 42 and Daffern 13 off 26. And there was much rejoicing! Match drawn. The Tigers batted exactly 60 overs, 233/6. A mighty performance. Time to celebrate!
Alas tour guide Maggie was unable to join us again. I was assured that the dancing on Friday wasn’t to blame. So off to the docks for a seafood feast. And a feast it was!
All the fruits de mer a Tiger could sink its fangs in to. Except of course for John “I don’t actually eat seafood” McGirr or Chris “prawns will kill me” Folley. But the skipper and I were happy to protect them by eating their share. With enough fish to start an aquarium barbequed and consumed, it was time to spend the rest of the night at Porto’s only all male karaoke bar. This being Eurovision weekend I think we did our best to live up the best that the UK has offered the song loving public. Jim “Alan Carr” Shea was a hit when serenaded a group of 21-year-old British lads on tour. Stewart “I am so much more into this than I’m ever letting on” Taylor could barely be kept from the stage as he belted out Britpop classics. Perhaps the surprise package of the night was Phil “Cyprus” Hill, Supertramping it up with a style that is rarely seen. Just as with his batting, Daffern swung hard at anything in his arc and lit up the stage into the small hours. Folley showed how they do it Plum style and I of course gave it my all, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Probably something to do with the air conditioning. When we were finally kicked out it was Me, Daffy and the captain vs three young local lads belting out the finest in Portuguese pop. The match was again declared a draw.
As the new day dawned and with a solid three hours sleep under my belt, I let Wrighty talk me in taking an early morning swim in the club pool. Was quite relieved the following Thursday when my testicles reappeared. Clearly Portuguese gin is gentler than its London cousin as hangovers seem not to be a thing. The Tigers went on to Graham’s Port lodge to sample the wares one man down. I had a lunchtime flight and the tour was over for this kitty cat. All that remained was a quick ride to the airoporto (see what I did there?), a 2½ hour delay, followed by waiting in the arse end of Gatwick for another hour before my luggage appeared. A two-hour train trip home and then a long, long lie down. Bought myself a souvenir bottle of Fonseca Bin No.27 for the memories and a nice bottle of Graham’s in solidarity. All in all, a very satisfying tour.
* Metaphorically of course. The scoring on this tour was quite a thing to watch. Nihal managed to score every ball of both games on an ipad hooked up to a monitor with an app that spits out all of the sexy graphs and stats available on the links. He did this while spending most of the day simultaneously on the phone, running some sort of online business and with a pint of beer that was always being drunk from but that never seemed to empty. And of course the paper scorebook was done as well. It was a thing of true mastery. Match 2 scorecards, wagon wheels, stats, charts etc can be found here