Hendrick's Tour II: A Partially Triumphant Return
A sensitive, cricket-loving 25 year old man sits alone at a table in the breakfast hall of the lavishly named but modestly furnished Crowne Plaza Hotel in Leeds. A complimentary copy of The Independent is casually strewn in front of him at the expense of a stale croissant and decidedly uninspirational bowl of bran flakes that take up residency beneath, largely untouched and almost entirely forgotten. The back pages lie open to reveal a full two page spread documenting the destructive barrage of sporting hostility unleashed by England cricketer Stuart Broad amidst a summer of pulsating Ashes carnage.
As he reads, the aroma of economy own-brand coffee filling his nostrils, the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end once more as two simple numbers lay bare in simple black and white the moment on the first morning of the fourth Test when the urn was rent from Australian hands. Eight for 15. Eight Australian wickets for a paltry 15 runs in a sublime hour and a half of such tear-jerking magnificence that grown men across the country were seen hastily excusing themselves from communal living areas to be at one with their emotions. Even reliving the experience through printed text the following morning makes his eyes glisten with a sheen of pure emotion.
But it is not only the love of his country’s sporting endeavours on the cricket field that fills him with such nervous exhilaration. No. What drives his heartbeat a little faster on this disappointing ‘summer’ morning in the damp north east is the thought of his own cricketing adventure soon to come. Rivalries to be revisited and dreams of dashing heroism and athletic immortality to be once more played out across the village greens of rural England. For this, dear friends, was the eve of yet another deliriously anticipated Hendrick's XI cricket tour.
With the unloved and increasingly moist cereal by now having reached saturation point, he strides from the room, a veritable spring in his step as his thoughts wander to snapshots of cover drives and diving catches, his nose already aquiver with the smell of musty cricket gloves and freshly cut grass. From his mental calendar he prepares to cross off yet another day of business meetings, spreadsheets and strategy updates. Only another nine more to go…
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When the annual cricketing adventure finally got under way with it’s usual fanfare, it was dominated by talk of one man. Not the rangy, handsomely bequiffed England fast bowler that laid waste to the Aussie ranks, but rather an altogether more unlikely candidate in the form of diminutive, turn-of-the-century Austro-Hungarian novelist Franz Kafka.
Following James Hewlett’s fateful utterance one morning that many of the post-match punishments for offences committed during games had become ‘Kafkaesque’ in nature, the ever-fastidious Tim Saunders pounced rapaciously like a pedantic, semantically-obsessed jackal, tearing into his teammate’s “insufferably pretentious” use of the word. Accordingly, the assembled crew all had a hearty laugh at Hewlett’s expense around the breakfast table, berating their hapless colleague mercilessly as has so often been his unjust fate over the past five years.
However, upon closer investigation and some heavy post-tour research, it became apparent that not only is the word Kafkaesque a widely recognised adjective in the modern vernacular, but it was also a shockingly apt assessment of the interrogations and trials which dominated a tour plunged into a series of acrimonious accusations and increasingly heavy penalties for poor performances on the field. The shadowy, sinister council of Hewlett, Saunders, Ross Quest and Oliver May had spent long hours ensconced in isolation, conspiring behind the scenes ahead of the journey’s commencement, as they plotted a brutal campaign of debasing, diabolical and often hilariously cruel punishments, sometimes for crimes which had not even been committed. As two unfortunate team members who found themselves stripped to the waist, forced out into the driving rain at 11pm and made to straight-arm a healthy measure of gin while lugubriously intertwined will attest to, it wasn't far wide of the mark.
As for the touring personnel themselves, there was work to be done. Shorn of Simon Caunt, a man who laid more than a passing claim to being the team’s best bowler, batsman and all-round athlete, there were murmurs of concern among the tabloid press that this was a weakened side that would hit the road for the 2015 season. Unbeknownst to these fickle (and entirely imaginary) sporting journalists, the Hendrick’s recruitment team had been in overdrive during the offseason, sourcing players from near and far (although almost exclusively near) as friends, friends-of-friends, and even passing acquaintances were press-ganged into involuntary service.
The result was three brand new recruits of above average quality who exceeded expectations in team well renowned for having absolutely no expectations whatsoever. Alex Harding, Qas Khattak and Oliver May signed on with reckless abandon, amidst ludicrous promises of whirlwind excitement and high quality cricket, while there was also a pleasing return for dangerous off-spinner and lower order mainstay William ‘Spitting Cobra’ Crowne.
Hurdles had to be overcome elsewhere too. True to form, James Hewlett began the tour a customary 90 minutes behind schedule, taking extra time to ensure the creases in his whites we as immaculately presented as the parting in his hair. Drifting in on a cloud on nonchalance he located the remainder of the team waiting with increasingly strained patience in the crowded car park of the Clapham Junction Asda.
Saunders was briefly detained by police when the full compliment of emergency services had arrived at his house the previous week following calls from alarmed neighbours that “a 40 year old man” was walking around on the roof of his apartment building “confused and disorientated” during the early hours of the morning. When it transpired that the errant 40 year old was in fact Saunders himself, a SWAT team was dispatched to the roof to coax him down, refusing to believe his assertion that he “just wanted to look at the moon”. After being closely examined by a succession of experts he was eventually deemed fit for service and released to join up with the touring party.
And as for Will Pitt… his mysterious disappearance just hours before the tour’s commencement is still being treated by police as suspicious, although no suspects have yet been named. The search continues.
Day One - Rivalries Revisited
Returning to his customary and entirely undeserved position at the helm of the Twenty20 team, Henry Wickham led the Hendrick’s contingent onto the beautifully manicured artificial wicket of Oxford University’s Balliol College ground. Spoiled once more by weather and setting, both immaculate as if pre-prepared by some benevolent force of nature, the Hendrick’s rabble arrived in dribs and drabs throughout the evening, with each member announcing his entrance to the generously proportioned club house with a swift order of drinks and twiglets from the bar. The opposition was to be their old rivals the Bodlean Library XI - a score of delightful, charming and affable gents drawn exclusively from the most pleasant corners of the land.
In a dangerously professional ploy, the team got under way with a full compliment of players, as opposed to the more conservative seven they had fielded at the outset of the previous year’s opening fixture. Ajay Shah, a man as reliable with ball in hand on the field as he is elusive and enigmatic off it, kicked off proceedings with new opening partner Harding. The pair bowled with their customary pace and accuracy, before the skipper felt the bowling had become both too pacey and accurate, so chose instead to deploy the more mercurial Hewlett. Obliging chipping in with four wildly uncontrolled and wayward overs that led to the phrase “Sorry, batsman” being uttered with increasing regularity, he had the largely unhelmeted opposition throwing themselves to the floor with impressive alacrity as ball after ball whistled through unforgivingly around the earholes.
Seeing the scoreboard take off like a Chinese firework and fearing an unsurmountable total to be on the cards, Wickham elected to play his trump card, tossing the ball to strike bowler Tom ‘Freight Train’ Metcalf, for some of his legendary left arm seam. The spark of inspiration did not take long to reignite, as some tidy bowling yielded two quick wickets, both made possible by a couple of confidently held catches from Harding as he shamelessly flouted the Hendrick’s protocol of fumbling the ball dramatically for several seconds before allowing it to fall to the turf with dramatic aplomb.
Ultimately the game would be dominated by talk of who didn’t bowl as much as who did. During pre-season nets the rakish sight of Ross Quest charging in and delivering ball after ball of dangerously fast and often shockingly accurate bouncers was one which the team had become well accustomed to, but sadly not one which would ever be replicated upon the luscious greens of Oxfordshire. Having set aside the desire to bat in training, philosophically declaring that “It is the greatest samurai who lets his sword rust in his scabbard”, hopes were high that this would be the season that Quest finally unleashed his brutal cannonade of rampant left arm fury.
Alas, it was not to be, and the team had to struggle on as the Bodlean’s David Shakleton, scourge of last year’s fixture when he blasted 50, replicated the feat again with a composed half century that set the Bodlean up for a imposing total as a rust-ravaged Hendrick’s attack tired towards the end of the innings.
Regular opening fixtures and perennially antagonistic pairing Quest and Saunders strode confidently out to the middle, although a good distance apart, Quest in his immaculately pressed Gosport XI cricket whites, positively gleaming in the shimmering mid-August twilight, Saunders in his fashionably stained, off-white t-shirt, weatherbeaten and careworn straw hat perched breezily atop his customarily untroubled countenance. An incident-free first wicket stand saw both men cruise into the twenties before promptly cruising back to the pavilion to partake in an ever-expanding array of quiches, pastries and Prosecco.
Wickham played what can only be described as a ‘captain’s knock’ - in the purest sense of the word - creaming his first delivery from the opposition skipper for four before plundering a series of twos the saw his score race into double digits for the first time in his long, long history with the club. Naturally this was an achievement of Herculean proportions for a man whose batting average had only recently crept into single figures, although normality was soon to resume as he too found himself back in the pavilion, awash in a sea of misery and sparkling wine, while subsequent fixtures would see him chalk up a couple of masterfully engineered two-ball ducks.
May continued the charge in earnest, peppering the boundary with a vicious onslaught that contained a series of bludgeoning heaves down the ground and ostentatious edges over the keeper’s head. As the sky darkened and light became an issue, the limited overs white ball was dug out from a shrewdly packed kitbag, and a frenetic finale ensued. It was difficult to tell who was more at risk from the dingy overhead conditions, batsman, fielders or umpires, as the assembled personnel strained their eyes and backs in rhythmic succession - first struggling to locate the ball before having to swiftly bob, duck and weave as it came flying unmercifully towards them.
Agonisingly it was not to be, and despite admirable support from Metcalf the Hendrick’s bandwagon eventually wound down a few runs shy of their total and the team consoled themselves with a seemingly endless supply of booze and cake, a sorry looking Victoria sponge bearing the brunt of some predatory post-game appetites.
The squad then relocated to their temporary headquarters, situated in the vibrant, sleepless metropolis of Stroud in rural Gloucestershire. AirBnB had served them well with a madcap cottage built into the side of a ravine housing a collection of aggressively left-wing propaganda from the last few decades, alongside antique sewing machines and an ornate copper bathtub. Khattak and Harding capped things off with undoubtedly the greatest victory of the day, both on and off the field, when they successfully called in the services of the local takeaway delivery services amidst confusion on how the oven was operated. The musical accompaniment came courtesy of Hewlett's rendition of Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. Sung in Chinese, obviously.
Day Two - The Game That Almost Wasn’t
There are times in life when the odds seem stacked against you and the outcome of even your sterling endeavours doomed to failure. Match Two of the 2015 Hendrick’s tour had long constituted a dark, ominous vacuum on the fixture list; attempts had been made across the team to secure opposition for the Saturday, as phone books were dug out and childhood friends contacted entirely out of the blue in a vein effort to set up a game which would constitute a third of the entire Hendrick’s season. Even as dawn broke on a clear, crisp Saturday morning there seemed little hope that the enterprise was destined for anything other than a crushing acknowledgement that things were just not meant to be.
But just when the night looked darkest, dawn broke in the form of an invitation from the Buscott village second XI. At this stage the Hendrick’s management would have settled for a disused car park behind a run down industrial estate housing an opposition team of meth addicts. As such, what they received was a rare and extraordinary blessing. Closeted away in the sprawling heartland of the official middle of nowhere in a clearing between the trees so absurdly picturesque, it was as though the cricketing gods themselves had taken an afternoon off in order to winkle out this idyllic slice of cricketing heaven. And it had a thatched clubhouse to boot.
James Hewlett took on the captaincy and was clearly keen to stamp his authority upon proceedings, tinkering randomly with both batting and bowling line ups, as well as the rules of the game. Electing to forgo the tedious, time-honoured tradition of flipping a coin to decide the order of play, he obstinately insisted upon a gentleman’s agreement with the opposition captain that heavily favoured his own preference to bat first, before increasing the previously agreed over limit from 35 to 40 and removing the long-standing custom of retiring at 50.
Having seen Wickham so shamelessly promote himself up the order for the opening game, he clearly saw this Saturday fixture as a prime opportunity to do likewise. Sticking himself in at five and demoting Quest to the lowly echelons of seven, much to Quest’s evident chagrin, he once more dispatched Saunders to the crease under the ferocious intensity of the south Oxfordshire sun, along with the ever obliging Metcalf as new opening cannon fodder. A couple of watchful overs passed by with an almost pained indifference before the traditional Hendrick’s top order collapse, so often a precursor to the team’s equally famous middle and lower order collapses, arrived as if on cue.
The loss of Metcalf was followed shortly by Crowne, and with the score barely in double figures it looked as though the overworked volunteer lunch lady was going to have to get a shift on with the cucumber sandwiches. However, much to the delight of the touring side, as well as sweet old Dorris - who had observed the tumble of wickets with evident consternation as she slammed herself into top gear attempting to rollout the pâtés and jammy dodgers - the ship was steadied by another imperious debutant batting performance. Harding joined Saunders at the crease, and a dizzying half hour followed in which both batsmen cruised their way elegantly to fifties in a sublime partnership of such effortless give and take it was like watching two ballet dancers rhythmically harmonise during a elegant pas de deux.
Unfortunately when both tiring performers were eventually dismissed the supporting cast could offer little in the way of assistance. Quest, in his own humble words, “started to rebuild an innings with some classy clips of his pad and shots back down the ground”, as he simultaneously provided a ceaseless stream of Blofeld-esque commentary while executing crisp cover drives and charging relentlessly between the wickets, pausing only to comment on passing buses and remind bemused onlookers of his batting average. Fortunately his one-man Test Match Special roadshow was brought to an end when he ran out of batting partners; a series of wild hacks, horrific misjudgements and lackadaisical footwork saw the lower order capitulate pitifully, prompting a deluge of expletive-laden remonstrations from the incensed Quest as he berated the string of hopeless accomplices who had left him stranded on 27 not out.
After a tea of almost unparalleled decadence, the team hoisted their trousers a little higher and reluctantly crunched through the gears as they took to the field - the heavy spread clearly a masterful ploy by Buscott to slow down an already sedentary opposition. Given the lethargy which gripped the side as they staggered out to their positions, the opening spells from Shah and Harding were staggeringly tight and even threatened the odd wicket or two. Such dreams remained in the realm of fantasy, however, as Hewlett nobly intervened to stop any such glory-hunting and showboating, positively throwing a simple catch to the floor such was his disgust at the unsporting notion that wickets should be taken so easily.
A series of tidy overs would follow. May was torn from the comfort of his position behind the stumps in an attempt to reduce the need for more overs from Hewlett, and a rejuvenated Crowne bowled with the smooth, metronomic action of a young Graeme Swann, skipping up to the wicket with almost theatrical poise as his tousled hair buffeted gently in the lazy afternoon breeze.
When Khattak, a man known for his deft ability to mix up line, length, spin, seam and swing -sometimes entirely involuntarily - was handed the ball, debate was rife as to the technique he would employ today. With variations as unpredictable to batsman as they were to the bowler himself the crowd were always in for a treat. What followed was a masterclass in consistency that Glenn McGrath would have been proud of as he probed the corridor of uncertainty with almost intrusive tenacity and found the top of off stump for fun. Zipping through deliveries that had batsman groping feebly and defending desperately he soon had his reward as the wickets column on the scorer’s sheet began to fill up bountifully.
On a high from his sparkling bowling display, Khattak’s fielding, already comfortably regarded as the most accomplished in a team who by and large viewed the travelling ball with a healthy level of suspicion and cynicism, hit new levels of distinction. Leaping gracefully like a smartly dressed salmon he pulled off an absolute dazzler, snaffling the ball centimetres above the waiting grass in a scene reminiscent of Ben Stokes’ heroics at fifth slip during Stuart Broad’s famous Ashes spell in Nottingham.
Evidently inspired by his teammate’s athleticism and keen to atone for his earlier clanger, the captain finally stirred himself. Power suddenly seemed to coarse through him like a seismic wave, pulsating and magnetic, almost sparking with a celestial energy. When a crisp off drive was drilled towards him Hewlett’s eyes positively gleamed with anticipation. Throwing himself to the ground with the force of a thousand hammers, as if his body were an instrument being wielded by Thor himself, he crashed furiously to the turf, sending chunks flying about him like some thunderous meteorite. Extending the full length of his extensive frame he grappled with ball as it attempted to elude his grasp, eventually wrestling it into submission as his teammates stood by confounded and immobile, jaws hanging slack, before snapping out of their stupor and rushing to embrace the valiant skipper.
Granted, it wasn’t actually a catch. Damn good bit of fielding though.
As the game neared it’s thrilling climax, and thrilling it most assuredly was, proceedings looked to be finely balanced. Having demoted both openers to 10 an 11, Hendrick’s were faced with a stern rearguard action that threatened to nullify the good work done earlier in the innings. Thankfully, another hero would step forth. Having displayed what one might deem only a passing interest in the stream of deliveries which had surged their way towards him during the course of the innings, the effervescent presence of Saunders, taking up residency of the sweat engorged wicket keeping gloves, sprang into life. Snaffling a sharp chance off the thinest of outside edges he brought an end to the late charge and smiles to the faces of his delighted associates as the team rapturously celebrated their first victory of the tour.
After promising a ‘brief’ post-match speech ahead of the traditional presentation of Hendrick’s gin to the opposition man of the match, Hewlett promptly launched into a rambling retelling of the club’s formative years, beginning with the phrase “Five long years ago….” before providing a detailed account of the history of Hendrick’s gin itself while also touching on some key moments from the English Civil War and the rise of modern industrialism in Greater Manchester. Some 45 minutes later the team prepared to leave, Hewlett’s epic soliloquy finally at an end, as they triumphantly gathered cricket kit and leftover fruit cake in equal measure.
The return home was marked by the usual intense, forensic analysis of the day’s play and the important business of where shots and punishments would be allocated. Quest attempted to put his teammates’ woeful batting performances out of his mind by throwing himself headlong into the preparation of a sprawling meal of titanic proportions, fixing up tacos, fajitas and nachos for an appreciative audience who devoured the Mexican banquet with far more energy and appetite than had been displayed during the party’s attempt to play cricket earlier in the day.
Needless to say the fines were hefty and the decisions difficult as six of the side had failed to register a single run, leading to the birth of the team’s first “worst duck” competition - an ignominious honour which eventually fell to Wickham for his extravagant attempt to gift an opposition bowler what would have been a hat-trick -securing third wicket, only to fall plumb LBW the following delivery. Not content with his wildly subpar performance during the game he continued to assault the senses with a cheek-clenchingly painful rendition of Elton John’s legendary ballad Tiny Dancer, while Hewlett’s mystifying decision to bowl himself while heinously out of form led to a bewildering recital of Bobby McFerrin’s acapella chart-topper Don’t Worry Be Happy.
Metcalf bore the brunt of increased regulations regarding the failure to score, handed a hefty fine of one shot per ball faced, which equated to a mighty six for his ponderous, scratchy efforts at the crease earlier in the day. Howling with rage at the injustice of the situation and pounding his fists manfully on the table in protest he was eventually becalmed and reluctantly resigned himself to his murky, ethanol-induced fate. Crowne and Wickham were then frog marched out into the rain to receive their punishments for shamefully inadequate showings in the field, thrown together in a palpably homoerotic blur of precipitation, sweat and gin in a scene so harrowing and undignified it will likely scar the two woebegone young men for life. Kafka would have had a bloody field day.
Day Three - The Summit of Peace
To the unsuspecting onlooker the picturesque surroundings of Richmond Green, nestled away as it is in one of the more prosperous corners of the capital, may seem to be the very picture of reputable upper-middle class gentility. Not so. Dig a little deeper, past the upmarket boutiques, lavish town houses and gently swaying oak trees and there lurks a fierce, deep-rooted sporting rivalry of such titanic proportions and violent inclination that it leaves lesser confrontations of local adversaries quaking in the shade. Forget Glasgow’s Old Firm, Spain’s El Classico or any of the derbies that divide great cities down the middle like some ugly cleaver. This is was sporting animosity at it’s most ferocious and destructive.
The Cricketers. The Prince’s Head. Two pubs separated by 22 yards of concrete, housing two teams which would shortly be separated by 22 yards of unpredictable, poorly maintained cricket wicket. Much like in Fair Verona, these two households were both alike in dignity, with ancient grudges threatening once more to spill out into new mutiny. Thankfully there were no star-crossed lovers involved, as far as we are aware, although that would make for fairly ripping end to this tale.
Enter the Hendrick’s XI. Like a UN peace keeping force sent in to diffuse a ferocious civil war, our white clad heroes of cricketing diplomacy parachuted (strictly metaphorically) into the hostile territory as hapless civilians desperately ducked for cover; mothers desperately clinging to small children to shield them from the vicious barrage of stray cricket balls soon to engulf the sleepy suburb. After battling through weather of apocalyptic proportions that saw rain hammer down on a biblical scale that briefly threatened to kill the spark plugs in Harding’s faithful old Mitsubishi Colt, the ambassadorial Hendrick’s delegation arrived to find there were two and half teams waiting to play one game of cricket. It was time for years of rancorous hatred to be put to bed.
The rain delay and double booking of the pitch had curtailed the number of overs but swelled the number of players, despite less hardy and more pessimistic opposition having drifted back to the comfort of their sofas and Sunday afternoon television. The pitch was as unruly and unforgiving as a whippet on crack, but the ever-professional Hendrick’s contingent were quickly into their stride, a typically tight opening over from Shah producing a sharp chance for a catch at point, only for Khattak, diving Collingwood-esque to his left, to have his hands grasp and subsequently relinquish the ball. It was testament to the teflon nature of his performances that even this dropped catch would later be nominated for the game’s ‘Champagne Moment’.
Fortunately this rare slip did not go heavily punished; a few balls later a much simpler chance was chipped directly to Wickham at square leg, who did superbly in making the catch look far, far more complicated than it actually was as he shimmied, stumbled and lurched his way forward, eventually getting under the ball’s gentle arc and managing to hold it, against all odds, in trembling but grateful hands. From there on in it would prove to be an uphill struggle. Or at least more so than usual. Players started pulling up in spasms of agony or hitting the deck as though picked off by rogue sniper fire. Ambulatory care was promptly radioed in as a number of the team found themselves air lifted to safety by a squadron of emergency helicopters.
May resumed his relentless charge, puffing and chuntering away like a robustly built ginger steam train, while Hewlett continued to windmill his arms in increasingly flamboyant arcs like a West Country Harbhajan Singh, showcasing all of the flair but sadly none of the spin. Such was the devastation to the ranks that even Wickham was tossed the ball for his annual over of lethargic right arm; trundling in from a non-existent run up he saw the ball creamed to all parts. But with not a single wide or no ball bowled, he positively charged through an over in the allotted six balls before wheeling away in triumph, fist pumping manically before high fiving random members of the public on an unscheduled mid-game victory lap. The total eventually clocked in a touch over 160, and the stage was set for the tour’s final showdown.
The Hendrick’s response was orchestrated from the start by Khattak, keen to put the nightmare of the previous game’s first-baller behind him. A solid start with recent acquisition Mark, a highly promising ringer sourced from the ranks of the opposition, saw things tick along pleasingly. Quest then returned to the crease and resumed both his barrage of boundaries and self-indulgent mid-game commentary as he “ramped up the pace with an elegant six struck effortlessly over long off giving all fortunate enough to be observing a lesson in the purest possible timing of a shot”.
May followed suit with a couple of his own, making the clearing of the ropes look almost embarrassingly easy, particularly when compared to the extravagantly ineffective efforts of his companions. Overly excitable Kiwi commentator Danny Morrison could be heard in the distance gleefully proclaiming “that one’s coming down with snow on it!”. Saunders played an innings of diminished fluency but equal effectiveness, before he too sought the leafy pastures of early retirement, leaving May to slog away for several overs to find the one run he required to also reach the 25 run milestone. Sadly, their efforts would prove to be in vain, despite Minchinton’s valiant endeavours to rally the lower order with some of his traditionally rousing activities at the crease, leaving him drenched in sweat and the proud owner of a batting average a shade over 1.3.
The writing was on the wall when Metcalf and Shah came together in a partnership which eerily echoed the tragic scenes of the previous campaign when they briefly shared a fraught and catastrophic time together in the middle. Having scratched around for a couple of overs in a doomed attempt to score runs, the ill-disposed duo mercifully decided to bring a quick end to proceedings by running each other out before time was called. In their vigorous attempts to do so they sadly misjudged the requirements and collided mid-pitch, having launched themselves into the undertaking a touch over zealously. They weren’t to be denied second time around, however, and finally achieved the lamentable end they both so dearly craved with the final ball of the innings.
As the players trudged off they refused to be too downhearted. After all, their true purpose that afternoon in West London had been a riotous success. The truce between the two warring clans was sealed as so many NATO pacts have been over the years: with the sharing of BLT sandwiches and earthy, country ales. Quest even managed to photograph the iconic moment when Saunders brought both captains together to publicly decry the violence which had rent their peaceful suburb in twain and usher in a new era of peace (see inset). It bore a remarkable resemblance to the time Bob Marley famously coalesced the leaders of the Jamaican civil war when he joined the hands of political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga during the One Peace One Love concert of 1978.
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Their work now done, The Hendrick’s company drifted back to their makeshift barracks on the pitch’s edge, enjoying the last of the dying sunshine and Quest’s ever decreasing stores of fine wine. Final punishments were of course dispensed. Metcalf and Shah were forced to recreate the fateful moment when they had simultaneously yielded their wickets at the game’s conclusion, in a twisted fallacy of reality that pitted both men against each other in a sprint race followed by a pint chugging contest.
Charging down a crudely measured 22 yards of grass Metcalf took an early lead, his obviously superior technique and agile frame standing him in good stead for the opening dash. However, he hadn’t reckoned on Shah’s many years of obstinate drinking alone in the Warwick University student union, which saw the underdog tear back into the fray, obliterating his opponent’s advantage before storming home to take a shock victory against all the odds. The crowd went wild, as if watching two mighty gladiators batter the crap out of each other in some ancient colosseum.
Khattak and, unsurprisingly, Wickham, were then landed with the task of producing the tour’s final performance piece, which they pitched somewhere between boorish karaoke and interpretative dance. Launching into a barely recognisable cover of Oasis’ world-conquering Don’t Look Back In Anger, it provided a surprisingly fitting end to a tour where players had both set aside past differences to convene upon the verdant village greens and, for some, had to live down a string of disgracefully weak performances that called even their place on a sub-amateur cricket team into question.
But, in the poignant words of legendarily moustachioed American author Orison Swett Marden, “Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds”, and it is in such a frame of mind that the Hendrick’s entourage have always acquitted themselves.
The last three bottles of Quest’s portable wine cellar were accordingly dished out to the star performers across the disciplines. The fact that all three went to the debutants proved in no uncertain terms that most of the old guard really were as hopeless as they had feared. One final photo shoot was hastily arranged when an unsuspecting young lad was torn away from an intimate Sunday evening with what one can only presume was a fresh Tinder partner, such was the awkwardness with which they interacted and the discomfort with which they squirmed on the nearby park bench.
Having successfully ruined any fleeting chances of burgeoning romance the joyous cohort bid farewell to the ill-starred lovers as well as their gracious hosts, who had been keen to arrange a return fixture the following year should the shaky armistice not hold. Melting away into the twinkling beauty of a late summer London night, and the somewhat less spectacular Richmond Green car park, the troupe went their separate ways, ready to be called in to action once more, should the need arise.