Beyond the boundary – #1 – Striker

Summer has certainly arrived at GL13 9DT. Rockhampton II are taking on their Cheltenham counterparts in GCCL Division 2 and if the cricket reaches similar levels to the pitch-side thermometer, we could be in for a treat.

The hosts win the toss and elect to bat on a good-looking track, but, opener-cum-groundsman Jerry White apart, the top order struggles against the all-left-arm-over opening attack of Paul Turner and Alex Christie. An innings of very few singles is terminated at 32 when White involuntarily steps on his stumps and at 56-6, things are looking pretty bleak for the hosts. A half-century stand between James Hancox and Jack Warren, however, revives the spirits of most of the crowd of 29, a number that includes two well-behaved dogs and a babe in arms that are sprinkled around the pavilion-side boundary.

The assemblage includes a lady wearing a bright orange dress and fully-tattooed arm, an eight-year-old boy in a sky-blue Manchester City top with ‘Haaland’ unsurprisingly emblazoned across the back and local celebrity ‘Striker’, whose deep-red motorised scooter sports a grubby old flag of St George that spends most of the day fluttering patriotically in the mid-afternoon breeze.

There’s a smattering of applause as Warren cracks his seventh boundary in a better-than-a-run-a-ball 32, but this is replaced by a sigh of disappointment moments later when he clips a simple catch to Chris Drew and the last three wickets follow pretty quickly as the hosts are dismissed for a well below par 129.

Tea is always a pleasant surprise in these strange post-Covid days, and an earlier than expected interval is always met with dinner-plate smiles on days of bright sun and cloudless skies. There’s boiled potatoes and crusty bread, mature cheese and cherry tomatoes, processed meats and smelly pickles provided by the extremely pleasant tea lady-cum-waitress, who immediately gains the unreserved approval of umpires Vizard and Williams by bringing their cups of hot, sweet tea out to their patio picnic table.

With players, spectators and officials hydrating unrelentingly, the WCs are in regular use throughout the 30-minute interval. The wash basin in the Men’s Room has a 12-step guide to handwashing stuck next to it at a height that if you could actually manage to read it, you’d struggle to get your hands in the basin itself. The décor is completed by a plastic bowl strategically placed beneath one of the two urinals, presumably in case there’s a sudden overflow after someone wins a bet by drinking a gallon of Thatcher’s Gold at a rate of a pint a minute and a random batting pad that probably wasn’t included in the building’s original design.

‘3.35’, the umpires confirm in a series of wonderfully synchronised replies to the inevitable ‘What time are we restarting?’ queries, before returning their plates to the kitchen hatch and leading the Rockhampton fielders back on to the ground.

Connor Preston, whose neat wicket-keeping saw him claim four dismissals in the home side’s innings and Chris Drew get the Cheltenham reply off to a positive start, leading to the Rockhampton ultras, now largely gathered under the two trees to the left of the pavilion start to frown malevolently at each other while muttering things about ‘my day’ and ‘it was never like this’. Two actually fold up their seats as the total reaches fifty without loss and trudge disconsolately back to the car park, where a big, black & red van promising to ‘Breathe New Life into Your Old Kitchen’ dominates the view. Whether it’s there because its owner is playing in the game, or waiting to give the Rockhampton catering facilities a once-in-a-lifetime makeover is uncertain, though by now the outcome of the contest is anything but.

Preston falls for a well-made 36 with the score on 62, but Alex Haworth strides to the crease with a confidence that suggests the fall of a wicket will make precious little difference to his team’s prospects of a convincing victory. One of the nine advertising hoardings attached to the wooden, field-side fence gives commendable publicity to ‘Gap Supplies’ and both Drew and Haworth make the most of those appearing in the home side’s fielding circle, amassing 13 fours and a well-struck 6 over long-off between them.

When Haworth is caught behind by Jack Spence with just eight needed, the parietal lobe in one of the home side’s fielders’ heads clicks into action and he excitedly announces: ‘We’ve just got a point’, a proclamation that is received with precious little enthusiasm by his beleaguered team mates. Meanwhile, there’s a brief flurry of preparation in the Cheltenham dressing room and a plaintive shout of: ‘Where’s my pad?’ echoes through the half-open window, but everyone’s aware there’s little real cause for concern on the batting front.

The winning runs arrive shortly after 5 o’clock and everyone shakes hands before retiring to either the shower, the bar, or the car park. All apart from Striker’s patriotic ensign, that is, which is last seen turning left onto the main Rockhampton road and heading off on the near five-mile jaunt back to his house in Oldbury. Let’s hope his battery is fully charged.

The cricket hasn’t quite reached the heights of the pitch-side thermometer, but it’s been a very pleasant afternoon on this most pleasant of grounds. The bonhomie between two well-led sides has been impressive and Cheltenham head back up the M5 21 points better off than they were a few hours previously. Rockhampton, on the other hand, find themselves anchored to the foot of the Division Two table and already nearly 20 points short of the safety line. The village club was founded way back in 1872,

but if the team doesn’t turn its form around soon, they may well be starting their 152nd season in the County League’s third tier.

Rockhampton II 129 (J.Hancox 35, M.Turner 3-10, A.Kumar 2-11).

Cheltenham II 131-2 (C.Drew 48no, C.Preston 36).

Cheltenham II won by 8 wickets.