And in the end……
Being a romantic, I always dreamed of playing on Broadhalfpenny Down at Hambledon – long regarded as the home of cricket. My infatuation with the place only grew when I paid a visit out of season and found exactly what I had hoped for – a rough field high on the downs, overlooked by the Bat and Ball public house – a home fit for peasant heroes in the 1600s!
Eventually, in 2000, a Holy Cross tour was arranged by my team mate, Brian Palmer, and, his brother having connections in the area, it included a game v the Bat and Ball CC – to be played at Broadhalfpenny Down.
By this time I wasn’t playing regularly, but my team mates decreed that this should be a fixture where a few of us oldies got the opportunity to grace the famous turf.
We were greeted by the landlord of the Bat and Ball – who was quite mystified by a cricket club called Holy Cross, and from Scotland, but directed us to the pavilion.
I have seldom been so nervous before a game, and Brian, skipper for the day, admitted he too was having difficulty lacing his boots. We were told we were the first team from Scotland to play at Broadhalfpenny in its 400 year history. No pressure then!
Batting first, we discovered they had a couple of former county 2nd X1 players. However, we made a respectable score. With one ball to go they got a wicket and I set out for the middle.
Their enraged skipper shouted at our captain” “Oh bloody hell, what’s the point of that with one ball left?” Brian removed the roll up fag from his mouth and said: “Oh come on, let him have his bat!” I did, and survived the ball. Their skipper had not soured the moment – I could say I had batted at Broadhalfpenny Down!
When we fielded, I was brought on first change. I considered myself a medium paced opening bowler, but not playing regularly, wasn’t sure I would get a bowl at all – especially as this friendly was being played with some national pride. Brian later admitted he’d brought me on early so an expensive over could still be redeemed!
The nerves returned. In my mind, not only was I bowling for Scotland, but I was in the literal footsteps of 4 centuries of cricketers. I bowled slowly off a short run: “Let it bounce on a length,” I prayed. It did, and the batsmen seemed amazingly respectful.
Suffice to say, I ended with unbelievable figures of 4-1-10-3: an lbw, a caught at the wicket, and….let me share the final wicket.
Their skipper came into bat; his look saying: “Ah, you’re the guy who batted for one ball!” He looked determined to dispatch me around Hampshire.
Sure enough, first ball he straight drove back over my head. It was perfectly timed and went like a rocket and I threw up my arm in a gesture of despair.
The ball stuck.
He departed looking astonished, and, after a moment of disbelief, my team mates joyfully jumped on me. I knew right then that I would retire: three wickets at Hambledon and the catch of my career? No way would I ever better that!
There was an early finish and a respectable draw after the rain came down around 6pm, but before that, another magical moment. Our leggie, Chris Kerr, after hundreds of wickets in the East grade leagues, was playing his last game. A knackered shoulder led to his announcement to the Umpire as he approached the wicket: “Right arm, over the wicket, underarm.”
The announcement caused a ripple of astonishment, but he bowled well and should have had a stumping. The local historian, sat next to my son in the pavilion, consulted his records and said: “As far as I can see, that’s the first instance of underarm bowling on this ground in 258 years. Brilliant!”
As we walked off in the rain I looked around me, wanting to savour the moment. The downs swept away below us in the twilight; tractors, their headlights shining in rows, were hard at work, as the harvest was collected in the grey blue evening light. It was like a scene from a Thomas Hardy novel – and I shed a wee tear – for my love of cricket and my love of life.
Behind the bar in the Bat and Ball, sits an engraved Quaich – presented to the club by Holy Cross Academicals CC of Edinburgh.
It marks the day a Scottish team first played at Broadhalfpenny Down, and my favourite, and last, day, as a cricketer.