Hendrick’s XI 2017 Tour Diary
Once More unto the Crease
Regretfully, regular correspondent Henry Wickham has not been able to pen this year’s tour report as a result of his absence from the tour due to family commitments. Hendrick’s XI and Henry Wickham wish to officially deny malicious media speculation that Henry’s absence from this year’s tour was due to a bout of ‘copywriter’s block’, and utterly reject false ‘fake news’ claims that his legendarily deep well of extravagant adjectives and elaborate metaphors has run dry. Henry commented that “the people who are saying these things are really bad, and if they think I’m going to give up writing, then they’re sparrows looking for a carrot”, before wondering off to consult a newly purchased thesaurus.
With no one individual able to take the talented scribbler’s place, we have three guest correspondents picking up the pen for one day of the tour each. James Hewlett has pitched in with Friday, Tim Saunders has covered Saturday, Tom Metcalf has given his take on Sunday, and James Gilbert was the man behind the camera with photo credits. Normal service should be resumed next year; we hope you find a productive use of the two hours saved from reading this year’s more svelte dispatch.
This year’s tour took the Hendrick’s XI back to familiar territory in the city of dreaming spires, Oxford. Hendrick’s form so far this season has been described by understated observers as underwhelming, while the less restrained tabloids were scenting blood. A solitary victory in a 10 over game so far this season has done little to allay calls for under-pressure captain Saunders to consider his position. At a recent game in North Enfield, a dressing room revolt from some players meant that Hendrick’s were forced to borrow 3 players from the opposition, while disgruntled supporters were rumored to have hired a plane to fly the message ‘Saunders Out’ over the ground as the team slid to another defeat. Club president Trevor the Panda had even been forced to issue the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ in Saunders’ ability to lead the team. As such, the Hendrick’s management were hoping that a return to the scene of many past glories (and ignominies) could inspire a phoenix-like return to form.
They were boosted by four new recruits touring for the first time, though each of them had debuted in previous games. The absent Wickham’s ploy of immediately asking everyone he was introduced to at work whether they would like to play cricket had finally drawn success with the recruitment of enthusiastic bowler Ravi Patel. Joining him in a refreshed bowling attack was James Gilbert; originally lined up to tour last year but cruelly denied by a twisted ankle, Gilbert was looking to make up for lost time both on the cricket field and in the bar. Gilbert’s opening bowler partner was another new recruit, Ed Robinson. Robinson’s bullseye accuracy with the ball in outings so far had certainly marked him out in a team where most of the bowling attack usually settle for the equivalent of hitting the dartboard. Finally, a veteran of 7 Hendrick’s matches already, James Rollett completed a triumvirate of James’ in the touring squad this year. With the absence of Ajay “Can I get gravy with that?” Shah this year, Rollett also helped the team meet its diversity quota for the number of Northerners* in the squad.
These new faces were joined by seasoned tourists Tim Saunders, Ross Quest, Tom Metcalf, Ollie May, Simon Minchinton, Qas Khattak and James Hewlett. As with previous tours, the Hendrick’s management had taken the precaution of assembling a 12-man touring squad, and as with previous tours this was reduced to 11 due to a drop-out in the week before the tour. This year, Will Pitt decided his imminent emigration to New York meant that he could not devote his last weekend in the country to playing cricket, leading to viral speculation that he’s had problems with his sleep and that Christmas had come early for him.
* We are, of course, using the traditional definition of Northern as someone from north of Watford Gap.
Friday - The Opposition Have Accrued the Top Score (20 overs vs. FFTMCC)
Previous years had seen sizeable amounts levied in tardiness fines as a result of team members failing to arrive punctually for Friday evening matches, so perhaps the most impressive feat of the tour was that all 11 of the Hendrick’s contingent made it to the venue of the first match before the scheduled start time. There was even time for a quick net session and fielding practice, though in a sign of things to come the groundsman’s dog was easily the most impressive fielder on display. This year’s Friday fixture was a repeat of genial opponents from last year’s tour, the Thomas Hardy inspired Far From the MCC.
The opposition graciously agreed to captain Saunders’ preference to field first. Robinson and Gilbert made a strong start with the new ball, keeping the runs down, while Robinson took the first wicket of the tour with a corker which clean bowled the opposition opener.
This lack of rust was sadly not replicated in the fielding, as no less than seven catching chances of varying difficulty went to ground in just 20 overs. Chief culprit was Rollett, whose two dropped catches in the opening overs led the team to suspect that he liked drinking gin rather more than he had let on.
After parsimonious opening spells, Saunders introduced May, Patel and later Metcalf into the attack to replace Robinson and Gilbert. Settled batsmen at the crease saw the run rate start to pick up, and the FFTMCC opener retired having reached the now traditional landmark of 42. ‘Golden Arm’ Patel did provide some respite when he clean bowled an opposition batsmen with the first ball of his spell, a feat he was to repeat twice more over the course of the weekend.
Hendrick’s pulled it back towards the end of the innings, as Quest entered the attack to good effect and picked up a wicket. Rollett also showed a tantalizing glimpse of good bowling form, though not before he shelled his third catching opportunity from a sharp return chance. FFTMCC finished on 130-3 from their twenty overs – a very chaseable score, though one more than the total Hendrick’s failed to overhaul last year. To provide fuel for the challenge ahead, the team tucked into a gin and tonic cake (what else?) provided by Mrs Hewlett.
Captain Saunders and Minchinton were tasked with getting Hendrick’s off to a flyer in the chase, but sadly the much desired flyer was more ostrich than swallow. In the fourth over, Minchinton was dropped at point, but the skipper, disgusted that this batting partner had so easily been let off the hook, promptly called him through for a dodgy single, resulting in Minchinton being run out. The opposition then brought on a canny spinner, to whom Saunders and Khattak perished trying to increase a lethargic run rate. In a recurring theme of the weekend, Saunders was unhappy with umpire Gilbert’s decision to give him out LBW, and he spent the rest of the innings sat on the sidelines plaintively lamenting that he was “a long way down the wicket”. Investigations are continuing into unexplained payments credited to Gilbert’s account from a company registered in the British Virgin Islands of which Minchinton is the sole named director.
At this point, the score was 31-3 after 7 overs. However, Robinson and Quest were now in, and they set about dragging Hendrick’s back into the game. The pair rode their luck, but scored briskly in a partnership of 37 before Quest was bowled for 18. Robinson eventually retired for an aggressive and well-made 42.
At this point Hendrick’s foundered, with the following batsmen unable to find the same fluency. May, Gilbert and Hewlett all departed the crease cheaply, and the asking rate began to climb steeply. However, there was still time for a second run out of this innings. This time it was one for aficionados of hapless run outs, joining previous notable efforts from Metcalf and Ajay Shah in the collector’s book. Patel was now in, and with Hendrick’s in dire need of runs he attempted to hoodwink the opposition by vocally turning down a second run while still charging for the other end. Unfortunately this masterful ploy was too successful, as batting partner Rollett fell hook, line and sinker for Patel’s guileful gambit, and both batsmen ended up at the same end. Rollett was eventually adjudged to be the man out, and with that Hendrick’s wound down 19 runs short of their opposition.
The opening game left a heavy toll of fines to be levied, as is traditional in the currency of juniper juice. For the first time ever there were two races to determine the blame for run outs (as captured below by the club photographer). In the first contest Minchinton easily blew away skipper Saunders by skillfully seeing off his beer, while in the second Rollett warmed up for his three shots of gin for dropped catches by casually chugging away his beverage, leaving Patel floundering in his wake.
After a swift drink with the opposition in a nearby hostelry, the team returned to their accommodation. In a new development for this year’s tour, the team stayed in college accommodation in central Oxford rather than a rural mansion as in previous tours. This allowed a greater range of nocturnal activities, starting with a curry and beers at a local Indian restaurant. Here the team took the advice of Napoleon in deciding that a lucky captain is better than a skilled one, and thus used the game of Rock Paper Scissors to select Hewlett and Khattak as captains for the Saturday and Sunday games respectively.
After this, the team decamped to a local cocktail bar, inspired by the experience of Hewlett on his stag do in the city last year. On that occasion he had entered the fray against a fearsome range of strong cocktails, only to be felled and forced into a humiliating retreat. This year, our dashing hero fearlessly strode in, bar menu in hand, to do battle once again, and succeeded in seeing off a couple of the more brightly coloured and intriguingly flavoured concoctions.
Some of the team’s more eligible members had begun to attract enquiring glances from members of the opposite sex. To ensure any pulling for the weekend was strictly limited to cricket the team left the bar to witness performances from team members nominated for their lack of performance on the field earlier in the day. Controversial choices Metcalf (2-0-24-0) and May (4 from 13 balls) uncomplainingly took up the mantle of crooning a light musical number, enthusiastically belting out the lyrics to Electric Six’s Danger! High Voltage! in the middle of a city centre roundabout. Despite earning rave reviews for their sultry vocals, their failure to emulate the music video and hook up flashing lights to their intimate areas saw them marked down for effort.
Some members of the team took this opportunity to conserve their energy and retire for the evening, but others sallied forth into the night to another high-class venue, Jamaican eatery-cum-reggae bar-cum-garage Hi-Lo. Here the remaining team members had the pleasure of meeting a remarkable cast of individuals. Gilbert and Hewlett were engaged in conversation by an extremely tactile middle-aged gentleman who enjoyed boasting about his expensively endowed and possibly imaginary girlfriend. Meanwhile Saunders’ offer to the security guard of a puff on his joint was abruptly reciprocated with the offer of a headbutt, which the skipper graciously turned down. After several rum and ginger ales and perhaps a little worse for wear, the team returned to their rooms to await the morning.
Saturday (35 overs vs. Bodleian CC)
The day began bright and early, and some of the Hendrick’s players were even awake to see it, enjoying a hearty, if slightly plastic, cooked breakfast. Other members of the team were resting in their beds, mentally preparing for the day’s game by visualising shots, deliveries and catches they planned to hit, bowl and take. [REDACTED] was preparing by shedding unnecessary weight from his stomach lining.*
The late start of the match allowed a sextuplet of Hewlett, Rollett, Robinson, Gilbert, Ravi and Saunders to give punting a go. Surprisingly they were able to execute this rather successfully, with Rollett in particularly showing a previously unseen ability to propel an object forwards in precisely the direction desired. [REDACTED] continued his expulsions.
The 11 then regrouped around 12:30 and, by various methods, made their way to Warborough Village Green. Here they found a cricket pitch of exceptional beauty, surrounded by thatched roofs and an attractive church dating back to 1666. A beautifully sunny day ensured the stage was perfectly set for cricket and, with the ground bathed in such golden light, one could see why it had been used in the filming of such quaint, retirement-age melodrama as Jeeves & Wooster and Midsomer Murders. Fortunately today wouldn’t see any of the farcical humour or deadly intent associated with these two shows. Or would it?
With Hewlett insisting upon captaining for the easiest game of the tour, in a selfish attempt to maintain his oft-mentioned captaincy record, an exciting and dynamic batting order was guaranteed. Rollett and May opened up on a slightly two-paced pitch against some reasonably tight bowling and did well to see off the first few overs before Rollett edged behind. This brought Gilbert striding manfully out to the crease, bat tucked under his arm, only to find himself striding manfully back after a few deliveries, adjudged to have been LBW, quite wrongfully in the batsman’s mind. May’s vigil was brought to an end shortly afterwards, becoming the second victim to fall to Robinson’s deceptive slow and straight deliveries.
So it was that Khattak and Metcalf found themselves at the crease with the Hendrick’s XI teetering on 23-3. To everyone’s surprise, the usually watchful Metcalf scored at a similar rate to his more expansive partner and by both accumulating quarter-centuries they steadily rebuilt the innings until Khattak found himself trapped in front by the excellent bowling of Adnan. By the time Metcalf fell shortly afterwards, the score was looking healthier, if not quite par, on 95-5.
Hewlett and Saunders were at the crease and the stage was set for a gritty, determined captain’s innings from Hewlett. Having watchfully played himself in with five dot balls, the skipper was just preparing to unleash himself and stamp his authority firmly on the game, when he was clean bowled for 0 and had to trudge off, muttering something about the ball keeping low as he did so. With Saunders following swiftly, departing for a distinctly edgy 14, the innings was once again on the brink of being unsatisfactory.
However, the dangerous trio of Quest, Robinson and, of course, Ravi, were about to change all of that. In the final 10 overs, they brought the score up to an imposing 212, with some beautifully timed shots. Quest bringing up an unbeaten half-century and celebrating with his trademark “upside-down smile”, Ed sending the ball to all parts of the ground between deep mid-on and deep mid-off to record a fiery 33 from 21, and Ravi seeing off a delivery with extraordinary poise and elegance.
At lunch the mood was buoyant and despite earlier indication that food might not be welcome in all stomachs, the delicious tea was wolfed down, with the ginger cake being a particular highlight. The Bodleian reply got off to a very slow start, partly due to a very tight line being bowled by both Gilbert and Robinson, the latter finishing with excellent figures of 4-3-3-0, and partly due to the batsmen’s reluctance to hit the ball or run on the rare occasions they managed to do so. At 31-0 off 18, the innings had more or less ground to a halt, although a slight acceleration did see the Bodleian crawl to 87 before the time the first dismissal was made, with Metcalf bowling a rank wide delivery, which somehow resulted in a stumping.
As is so often the case, this brought two more quick wickets with Metcalf doing the number three batsman for (lack of) pace and Ollie inducing an edge behind, from the other opener, who departed somewhat crestfallen with his score on 47. At this point, the Bodleian were well behind the 8-ball and their batsmen went on the attack. Asad and in particular Shaw hit some nice shots, with Shaw successfully piercing the on-side boundary a number of times. Quest eventually knocked over Asad’s off peg, before Hewlett had Shaw caught in the deep by Metcalf. For those who haven’t received a slightly longer and richly embellished account of the performance from the man himself, this capped a fine all-round performance from Tom, both recording his highest ever score, cementing his place at the top of the wicket-takers board and, perhaps most remarkably of all, taking a decent catch.
By this time, the game was more or less won although there was still time for Ravi to get in on the act with an excellent delivery to dismiss Gareth, although not before he’d had time to run out Tim P without facing, courtesy of some slick fielding by the swarthy Khattak. The Bodleian eventually finished on 173, giving the Hendrick’s a handsome 39 run victory. All in all a lovely game, at a lovely ground, against lovely opposition, made even more enjoyable by the fact that it represented the side’s first win of the season, outside of their specialist format of “10-overs or less” drive-thru cricket.
After a couple of drinks at a startlingly quaint local pub, it was agreed that nourishment would be sourced, which turned out to be reasonably tasty. It was also inexplicably agreed that Tim would drink a pint from a dog bowl. Following a very moving rendition of “I’m Henry the Eighth” by the day’s captain, the team made their way back to the accommodation for well-earned showers. They then settled in yet another highly agreeable public house, The Fir Tree, where a raucous, riotous and at times raunchy scrabble game broke out. After nearly starting a fist fight with Hewlett over the word “ba”, Gilbert emerged victorious and, shedding a few players along the way, the team continued their liquor-laden tour to The Mad Hatter.
Here they were forced to solve a riddle before they could enter: “what goes up but never comes down?”. It wasn’t, as Hewlett boorishly blared, “house prices”, but in fact one’s age. Inside they discovered two rather wondrous things; firstly that the bar served Hendrick’s cocktails by the bucket and secondly that Simon was more than willing to buy two. Having polished these off, interacted with a couple of saucy hen parties (one real, one fake) and done at least as many shots as Simon could persuade people to, the remaining adventurers headed to the only location for late night Oxford shenanigans, Hi-Lo’s. Recollections of this portion of the evening are scarce and at best hazy, but Saunders alleges it involved quite a few rum and ginger ales and perhaps some cognac. At around four in the morning the remainder of the team headed home and, after Rollett and Metcalf insisted on playing and lip-syncing the ever-popular Lynyrd Skynyrd classic, “Freebird”, to bed, for some well-earned rest.
*Editor’s Note: The original version of this chronicle named the player who vomited several time on Saturday morning. However, this player has since obtained a British court injunction arguing that revealing the identity of the player concerned would breach their rights to a private family life. Given that the Hendrick’s XI coffers are already stretched due to other ongoing legal disputes with the Warwick University Christian Union and concerning Quest’s image rights, the risk of incurring significant damages in this case led the Hendrick’s management to conclude that redacting the name of the individual concerned would be the best course of action. Curious readers will be able to discover the identity of the player concerned in the extensive coverage of the incident by media outlets abroad.
Sunday (30 overs vs. Delhi VI CC)
Things were looking up for the merry men of the Hendrick's XI as the sun rose on a pleasant August morning in Oxford. They had achieved their first proper victory of the season the previous day and following a team bonding session on the Cowley Road the night before spirits were high (in the case of one unfortunate team member spirits were also all over the bed sheets, along with the remnants of the previous night's dinner).
As the various members of the squad - more than half yet to arrive at complete sobriety - roused themselves and gathered in the hotel corridor, thoughts began to turn to the upcoming fixture (Minchinton's thoughts also turned to the not insubstantial bar bill he had racked up a few hours earlier as he generously attempted to ensure the team sampled as wide a range of liquor as possible at the Mad Hatter speakeasy cocktail bar).
Sunday's game was to be a novel experience for the Hendrick's, as for the first time in their illustrious history they were facing international opposition; through his shady network of contacts Saunders had managed to arrange a game against a traveling team from India.
The players were excited, but apprehensive. Not only did the fixture provide ample opportunity for a racial faux pas from Saunders, but there were concerns about the quality of the opposition. “How good would they be? They must be pretty good if they’ve come all the way to England to play cricket. Will they have a fearsome fast bowler? An extravagantly gifted mystery spinner? How many elegant yet destructive batsmen?” These were just some of the questions swirling around the mind of newly appointed skipper Khattak as he and his motley, hungover crew made their way to the Horspath Sports Ground just east of Oxford.
Once at the ground, though, the nerves started to settle. The sun was shining and the ground, while not quite as picturesque as Warborough, was pleasant enough. What’s more, they were on a one-match winning streak. Anything was possible.
The only thing missing was the opposition, who were still somewhere on the M25 as play was due to begin. Khattak, wanting nothing left to chance, used the extra time available to put his troops through a series of punishing fielding drills, which mostly involved May erratically belting balls as high into the air as possible for his team mates to mostly drop.
When a minibus eventually pulled up the Hendrick’s contingent were somewhat surprised to see only six people emerge. They might not know much about playing cricket, but they were fairly certain it was traditionally done with 11 players on each side. If Patel - not known for his numerical skills despite apparently earning a living as an accountant - had been in charge of liaising with the opposition, the discrepancy in numbers could perhaps have been understood, but this had not been the case.
It soon transpired that several of the Indian touring party had been called up for a game of serious cricket, that elusive nemesis of the Hendrick’s XI, at the last minute. Saunders and Minchinton generously put themselves forward to play for the opposition and Khattak, in a decision he was soon to regret, acquiesced.
It was agreed that the remaining nine men of the Hendrick’s would bat first, and the yeomanlike duo of Patel and May strode out to open the innings, the former fortified by an extra cooked breakfast that morning.
The early stages of the innings passed without incident, Patel attempting to assert his authority over the bowling with a convincing thick edge for four. But then, with the score on 9, disaster struck. Having dealt with the pace and accuracy of Kush, the Delhi side’s strapping 19-year-old opening bowler, from one end, Patel’s eyes lit up at the prospect of a gentler delivery from Om at the other. Against the average fielding side his attempted lofted on-drive would have dropped safely, but he had not reckoned on Minchinton, arguably the finest specialist fielder produced on these shores since Gary Pratt. Sprinting round to his left with considerably more determination than is expected when playing for the opposition, he completed an excellent sliding catch, much to the delight of his new teammates. 9-1.
Next in was Hewlett, a man with a point to prove having recently been deposed as captain despite an unbeaten record. The point was left unproven though, due to an act of supreme treachery brilliance by Saunders. An edge by the Big V looked to be heading through the vacant third slip region, only for the blond bombshell to fly to his right with a skill and athleticism he had seldom displayed when performing wicketkeeping duties for his regular team to take a superb one-handed catch off Om. 14-2 and Hendrick’s players, accommodating as ever, had now taken as many catches for the opposition as they had for their own side over the weekend.
If Ross Quest sometimes gives the impression of a man with the weight of the world - or at least the batting hopes of the Hendrick’s XI - on his shoulders, it’s because this is usually the case. Like Joe Root coming in with England yet again two-down for not many, Quest had been here before. With him at the crease, his team needn’t worry. A quick 40 or 50 would soon have them back in the game.
What happened next sent shock waves through the patch of grass beyond the boundary that was serving as the Hendrick’s dressing room. Kush, who had bowled well so far without reward, sent a ripsnorter of a delivery through Quest’s defences with the great man on just 2. The score was 16-3 and the Hendrick’s were reeling.
As chaos unfolded around him, May stuck to diligently defending the good balls and dispatching the bad, but he needed support. Khattak was next in and if ever there was a time for a captain's knock this was it. The skipper was settling in nicely and had just cracked a trademark boundary when controversy erupted.
Questionable umpiring is as much a part of the Hendrick’s DNA as dropped catches, misfields and comedy run outs. It has a long and storied history, stretching all the way back to the days of Henry ‘Trigger’ Wickham. Perhaps it was a subconscious desire to be a part of this rich tradition that persuaded Patel to raise his finger when Khattak flashed at a wide one, who knows? Granted there was a noise of some description, but the disbelieving reaction of the captain, usually the epitome of poise and magnanimity, suggested it may well have been bat on pad. After Khattak had dragged himself from the crease (24-4) the unflappable Patel, fresh from asking if he could reverse his decision (“no”, was the answer), proceeded to allow an extra three balls of the over to be bowled before he was summarily demoted to square-leg-only duty.
Wickets continued to tumble as, like a neighbour popping in for a cup of tea but insisting they couldn’t stay long, Rollett and Robinson each came and went. The latter at least managed to smite a towering six into the field across the road to become the second batsman after May to reach double figures. When the red-headed redeemer himself fell, bowled by the irrepressible Kush for an admirable 23, Saunders was removed from fielding duties and sent in to atone for his disgracefully impressive catching.
And atone he did, setting about the bowling with a display startling in its competence compared with what had gone before. With Metcalf by now at the other end and doing his best Matthew Hoggard impression with the bat, Saunders progressed serenely to 42. When he was eventually stumped off Om he had at least given his side something to bowl at. After the recalled Minchinton was last man out, clean bowled by Venay to leave Metcalf stranded just 91 runs short of a maiden century, the opposition required 129 runs to win.
The total was far from embarrassing but some way short of imposing, and a fast start was required with the ball. Things started promisingly, Robinson and Gilbert keeping the talented opening pair honest. Robinson in particular proved difficult to get away and was rewarded when Kush flicked one behind square, expecting to see it run away to the short leg-side boundary. Instead what he saw was Gilbert channelling David de Gea, as he flung himself to his right to cling on to a sensational catch. It was by far the most cricket-like piece of fielding to have taken place all tour. Latest score: Catches made by Hendrick’s players for Hendrick’s - 3, Catches made by Hendrick’s players against Hendrick’s - 2.
Sadly, that would prove to be as good as it got for our intrepid Hendrick’s heroes, as the fears about the opposition’s batting ability materialised and Manoj flayed the rest of the attack to all parts. There was still time for a couple more highlights: Patel cleaned bowled the opposing captain, Hewlett lured Om into an injudicious sashay far enough down the wicket to allow even Saunders time to complete the stumping, and Rollett got hit in the gonads. But with Manoj now expertly - some would say over-enthusiastically - farming the strike, it was all too little too late.
Sensing the game was up, and no doubt keen to make an earlier coach back to London, Hewlett kindly served up a veritable smorgasbord of eminently hittable deliveries to enable Manoj to see his team home, and himself to 99*, for the loss of just three wickets.
And with that the curtain came down on another Hendrick’s XI summer tour. All that remained was for the final round of fines to be administered and for the post-match awards to be distributed; the ubiquitous bottle of Hendrick’s gin went to Kush for his devastating five-wicket haul. The opposition, having given their own MOTM award to Manoj, also presented Saunders with an award for Best Performance, doubtless for his complicity in the Hendrick’s downfall, and Khattak with some kind of thanks-for-turning-up trophy.
And then the Hendricksians went their separate ways, drifting back to various far flung parts of London and beyond. With the season winding to a close, they knew not when they would next pull on the fabled green and grey cap. They may have been the heroes cricket deserved, but they were not the ones it needed right now.