WEEKENDERS TAKE CENTRE STAGE IN A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S MARE AT THE NATIONAL
A match that had been officially pronounced dead by Dr Hargroves on Friday morning was astonishingly resuscitated on Saturday night when, in a turnaround worthy of the most fantastic fairytale, Duncan Fletcher emailed Disco with eleven more players for Sunday. England were looking for some meaningful cricket, to be sure, but what really impressed the England coach was the quality of our fixture cards.
'I particularly like the layout' said Fletcher, 'and having all these mobile numbers and addresses is tremendously helpful'. The club's efficiently functioning website also attracted the interest of Shane Warne and Shoaib Akhtar who both asked if there was any chance of a cheeky toad against the National Theatre while they were serving their suspensions for drugs and ball-tampering offences.
This left the selectors with an embarrassment of riches. But in the prevailing atmosphere of unreality, the actors Sackville, Webster, Douglas and Brockis all suddenly withdrew to accept lucrative TV offers. The four Aussies said they weren't much interested in sport any more, Tony Smee entered holy orders and Martyn Read was asked to be the new face of Estée Lauder. Surely we had enough strength in depth to halt the recent run of defeats, but how many Weekenders would hold their places against the influx of internationals?
Clive Swift got the nod ahead of Robert Key because he covers the ground quicker, scores more runs and asks searching questions with his dinky little wobblers. Anthony McGrath was a shade unlucky to miss out to Hargroves and on another day James Anderson might possibly have displaced d'Inverno but the England debutants' lack of spare fags probably counted against them. Finally, since the truth has at last emerged about who dropped the baton in the 4x100 at the 1992 World Championships in Seoul, Bindee Goon Chew was preferred to Fiona Blair for the number eleven berth.
Wandsworth recreation ground had never looked lovelier. In the last fortnight the pavilion had not only been moved half a mile closer to the pitch but also completely refurbished with dressing rooms, hot showers, a curry house and swimming pool. The agreeable verandah bar, staffed by half-dressed Thai waitresses, remained empty all afternoon which was a shame but hardly surprising with so many teetotallers in the side.
The game started at two o'clock on the dot. d'Inverno and Swift saw off the National's new ball attack, Swift being particularly severe on Nicholas Hytner's artistic policy. After a patiently constructed 37 in a little under two hours d'Inverno was undone when Sir Ian McKellen managed to sneak a nasty grubber between his legs. Hargroves dropped anchor and went on to craft a chanceless undefeated 2 but Swifty's demise at the other end triggered the all too familiar Weekenders collapse.
Trescothick nibbled at a Fiona Shaw outswinger, Hogben and Alec Stewart both had injudicious darts at Nerys Hughes, and Nasser Hussain allowed himself to be mentally deconstructed by the saucy sledging of Bobby from Wardrobe. Michael Vaughan found yet another unusual way of getting out when he pulled a long hop straight into the path of a low-flying UFO. His face when substitute fielder Elvis Presley caught the rebound said it all.
First Warne then Akhtar tucked into Daid Hare's innocuous slow left-arm and helped Hargroves raise the score to an improbable 432, a total which seemed yet more unassailable as the National's reply got off to the worst possible start. David Hare deliberately ran out Pinter and Stoppard and when, after a long delay, the National's number four, Joseph Fiennes, failed to emerge from the pavilion, a red-faced Nerys Hughes held her hand up and admitted she had in fact eaten the slightly-built heart throb after being overcome by hunger in the penultimate over before tea.
0 for 2 (but effectively for 3).
Dench and Hughes got stuck in but the Weekenders fielding was so tight that no singles whatsoever were conceded throughout the entire innings. All the runs came in sixes off d'Inverno, Hargroves, Swift and Freeman, the latter suffering especially from the dashing dame's blade. Freeman disgraced both himself and the club with a stream of foul-mouthed abuse and head-high beamers hurled intemperately at the Cleopatra of her generation. It was a lucky thing that Sam Freeman had earlier declined to play saying he'd rather tidy his room and catch up on some geography revision.
The captain could perhaps have made slightly better use of Shane Warne and Shoaib Akhtar who were left with rather too much to do in too little time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. With the National Theatre needing only four to win, Warne came on and swept away the middle order and most of the tail. In the following over the Rawlpindi express roared in for his first delivery, but six leg-byes off Callow's codpiece were enough to finish it.
Although the National Theatre got the better of the Weekenders there were no complaints from the visitors as any other result really would have been in the realms of fantasy.
After the game the teams were visibly moved when the anonymous benefactor who paid for everyone's tea and match fees was revealed to be a Mr S. Dunne of Derby. Tragically though, a near-perfect day was spoilt by an ill-tempered Weekenders brawl over who should be allowed to keep the kit-bag until next week.
WCC 432 all out
D'Inverno 37, Swift 56, Hargroves 2*, Trescothick 3, Hogben 4, Stewie 0, Hussain 0, Vaughan 4, Freeman 1, Warne 181, Akhtar 119, Bindee Goon Chew 0.
Sir Ian McKellen 9-1-46-1, Dame Judi 6-0-28-0, Nerys Hughes 15-3-54-4,
Fiona Shaw 5-1-20-1, Bobby from Wardrobe 1-1-0-2, Sir
David Hare 7-0-252-0
National Theatre 435 for 8
Hare 1, Pinter 0, Stoppard 0, Dench 293, Nerys 105, Hytner 0, McKellen 0, Shaw 0, Callow 0*, Bobby from Wardrobe 0*. Fiennes absent eaten. 12th Man: Presley.
d'Inverno 10-0-102-0, Hargroves 14-0-108-0, Swift 10-0-114-0,
Goon Chew 3-0-41-1, Freeman 4-0-78-0,
Warne 1-1-0-6, Akhtar 0.1-0-0-0
Extras: 150, all with spears and moustaches.
Anecdotes: Callow 29
Our failure to win even in our dreams is something the committee needs to address.