Langford

We’re crossing the border today, but thankfully there are a limited number of checkpoints to negotiate as we slip out of Gloucestershire and into Oxfordshire almost unnoticed on what is already a hot Saturday afternoon. The Langford postcode is just about recognised by the Sat Nav as a right turn off the A361 takes us onto the Lechlade Road, a highway not quite as grand as its name might suggest, the mile and a half, ten-foot-wide lane punctuated by a random passing place every now and again. Another right and then a left brings us to The Wickets and a new cricket ground is about to be added to the ‘Been there, done that’ t-shirt and crossed off the ‘Must do’ bucket list.

We’re here for the GL7 derby, with upwardly mobile Langford hosting a Poulton side that have found the going in GCCL 1 much tougher this year than in recent seasons. To make matters worse, they lose the toss and are asked to field as the mid-afternoon temperatures touch the thirty mark, but receive an almost-instant fillip when Luke Palmer bowls Will Parsons in only the second over.

There’s a bit of early moisture in the track and both captain Harry Stevens and Number 3 Jeremy Kirby need to be watchful against an accurate opening attack, before going on the offensive with ten overs played. When Kirby is caught off Will Smith for 24, it’s 80-2 and with Stevens continuing in aggressive mood, the total soon moves into three figures.

The hundred coming up seems to be the cue for a man to appear on the pavilion terrace wearing nothing but a pair of retro swimming trunks the colour and texture of the type of deckchair that still adorns Skegness beach, while a little further round, there’s a smattering of applause from the line of easy chairs a little way down from the sightscreen. One assumes it’s to mark the first batting milestone of the day rather than appreciating 1960s Lincolnshire appearing in Middle England or providing a proper Langford welcome to the couple with a picnic hamper and Cockapoo who plonk themselves down at the far end of the assembled throng.

Stevens finally picks out Jack Kilby at deep midwicket to give Frankie Cheesewright the first of his four wicket haul and departs for a very well-made 79, the majority of his runs having come in boundaries. James West, who’s played a useful supporting role to Stevens follows almost immediately and when Ben Brown edges behind to give Jon Maunder some tangible reward for a neat display of wicketkeeping, the hosts are 160-5 and Poulton right back in the game.

Langford are sponsored by a traditional family butcher and a modern tech company that harnesses static electricity in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways, which is just about right for a club and ground like this. Plans are afoot for a spanking new, state-of-the-art community pavilion, but for now this interesting little ground has a genuine charm and appeal that needs little change.

In the south-east corner, there’s a triangular decking area nestling in the right angle created by two dark green shipping containers that are now used for storage purposes. Pallet-style seating hugs two sides of the Pythagorean shape and the shade created by the big metal monoliths makes it the perfect place to munch on a gammon & tomato sandwich (Jane’s Pantry doesn’t do ham) on a hot June afternoon.

Further round, in the north-east corner, two bottle green pitch covers sit idly, the right angle between them giving the ground a touch of Coincidental Symmetry, a concept that was beyond even the great Greek mathematician. Stretching away behind the covers, the village architecture is all Cotswold stone, glass frontages and period chimneys, suggesting that socialism, in this direction at least, is still at least half a century away.

The modern net cage with its all-weather carpet and leg, middle & off tramlines is bordered at one end by a tractor that can best be described as rust-coloured and at the other by a bowling machine that looks like the sort of medieval contraption that the witches of Langford once spent most of their nocturnal hours having nightmares about.

Circumnavigating the playing area, a fella wearing off-pink shorts and a ready smile bears cups of tea for boundary-hugging spectators in need of imminent hydration and in so doing elevates Langford CC to number one in the club hospitality stakes. Drinks are served in white mugs with a blue logo proclaiming ‘St Christopher’s C of E School 2000’, so like this lovely piece of west Oxfordshire, these too have stood the test of time.

Back in the middle, Aaron Court contributes a quick-fire 30 before providing Max Arnold with the first of two boundary catches that he never looks like dropping and Tom Stevens cracks a late 21, but the visitors go into the tea break happy with their efforts to keep the hosts to 217 and the game still in the balance.

Within thirty minutes of the restart, however, the situation is anything but even. Poulton’s first three batters have each departed without troubling the scorers as Jack Romanek causes havoc in the visitor’s reply and when Jake Harris is trapped in front to give the left-armer his fourth victim of the day, the score is a precarious 28-5.

‘I heard the cheers and thought I’d come and have a look,’ says Arthur, a tourist from Glastonbury, who’s booked a room at the nearby Bell Inn in order to escape the mayhem of the festival weekend along with the lovely Polly, his five-year-old border collie, not his long-suffering, non-cricket-loving wife who’s stayed at the pub. Arthur leans contentedly on the ground’s perimeter fence, a structure which has rabbit-dissuading chicken wire attached to its lower reaches and little rectangular plaques atop each of the posts. For £25 a time, you can be the proud owner of a LCC fencepost and with 120 of them bearing a generous backer’s name, this innovative scheme has reaped its just rewards. All bar AC Window Cleaning, that is. AC’s post has been largely engulfed by a marauding bush rooted in the adjacent field, but for anyone who’s in need of a man with a bucket & sponge, the PS Yellow Pages can reveal his number is 07917 783554, so don’t be afraid to give him a call.

Poulton captain Gareth Newman decides fighting fire with fire is the best way to go, smashing 49 off just 39 balls, adding 63 for the sixth wicket with Tom Rutter, before both fall in quick succession to Ali Main. The initial preparations for the evening’s barbecue begin almost immediately, suggesting the locals think the end is nigh and their premonition proves correct as Francis Bradley wraps up the Poulton reply still 87 runs short of their victory target.

The nearside outfield is now a hive of activity as players sprawl, people chat and youngsters munch the early evening away. Behind them, the pavilion area appears as idiosyncratic as the rest of this lovely ground. Pitched next to the wooden structure that houses the changing rooms and kitchen area is a white half-marquee that doubles up as an outdoor lounge and a semi-mobile bar called the Ridge & Furrow, no doubt in homage to the undulating nature of the outfield it overlooks. There’s nothing undulating about the business it’s doing, though, if the regular till rings are anything to go by.

Attached to the rickety pavilion wall are the plans for the brand-new structure that will soon rise from the depths to replace it. Whilst the club and community as a whole will clearly benefit from the necessary modernisation of its facilities, you can’t help but feel that this progressive move might see this quirky old ground lose a little bit of its unique and unspoilt charm. The graph behind the Ridge & Furrow bar suggests there’s a bit more fund-raising to do before the diggers can properly move in though, so a few more social functions may be in the offing to get the big red line to its ‘Ready to Build’ marker. And if anyone’s got twenty-five quid to spare, there are still a few fence posts in need of a sponsor.

Langford CC: 217 (H.Stevens 79, A.Court 30; F.Cheesewright 4-46).

Poulton CC: 131 (G.Newman 49; J.Romanek 4-37, A.Main 3-31).

Langford won by 86 runs.