Passers-By

In any league and in any sport, bottom playing next-to-bottom usually makes for an interesting match-up and today’s Gloucestershire County League Division One fixture between Cirencester and Great Rissington seems to fit the bill perfectly. With seven games of the season gone, the near(ish) neighbours go into today’s game marooned at the foot of the table, which makes this encounter, for both teams, the proverbial ‘must win’ fixture. 

A dodgy postcode and lack of main road signage means this isn’t the easiest ground to find if you haven’t been here before, the single-track lane sneaking behind Cirencester College and down past the caravan site before a small wooden sign confirms we’re on the right road, if you can call it that. 

The hosts occupy a niche towards the eastern boundary of the 3,000-acre Cirencester Park, seat of the Bathurst family from around the late eighteenth century and the club’s home for getting on towards two hundred years. Great Rissington CC is a modern club in comparison, being founded a mere 63 years ago in 1961. It occupies an equally picturesque location, however, overlooking the delightful Windrush valley and following a series of recent ‘ups’, matched by Cirencester’s series of equally recent ‘downs’, the two sides that are geographically separated by twenty miles of Cotswold countryside are now just a handful of points apart.  

The directive on the electronic gate that eventually opens to let us on to the Bathurst Estate clearly states that while dogs are very welcome in the park, they must be kept on leads. Unfortunately, around 40% of today’s canine owners display reading levels that bear absolutely no correlation at all to either their perceived social status or position on the AWI (Accumulated Wealth Index) as entitlement trumps protocol in this little corner of GL7. 

Rissington show little interest in indulging in a full-blown warm-up having clearly preferred a late departure following an extra hour in bed, while the hosts are savouring an impressive warm-up routine that involves a carousel of drills, the bounce-board catching activity paying off after only nine balls of the visitors’ innings when Sam Buckfield is neatly pouched by James Bassett in the gulley off the bowling of Jasper Cleaver. 

That is Ciren’s only success for a while though, as Oliver Burney and Leo Agacy execute a series of well-struck off-drives and delicate deflections to add an impressive 84 for the second wicket before Burney is caught at mid-off, three balls after being dropped at short cover. At least some of the fielding drills paid off. 

Giles Wellman and Michael Scarrott depart cheaply, while just as skipper George Garratt strides to the middle, a middle-aged lady with both a miniature poodle and disgruntled husband in tow waltzes through the field beyond the southern sightscreen, her Knead Bakery & Patisserie bag as large as the intended pun in the establishment’s name. They reach the access road to the ground, just as a man with slick-backed hair and looking every inch like Peter Taylor, the legendary Brian Clough’s other half, accelerates his motorised scooter to such a degree that the dust cloud makes both the woman and her bag disappear for a full five seconds in a bronchial conjuror’s trick that leaves her gasping for air and her bread and cakes needing the bakery equivalent of a jet wash. Garratt is unphased, however, pushing to the off side and jogging through for an easy single to get off the mark. 

Garratt is eventually bowled by Alex Tatara-Mills for 19, but Tom Webley helps Agacy add 52 for the sixth wicket as Rissington set the as yet winless hosts a victory target of 220.  

Cirencester’s halcyon days as long-standing members of the much-lamented Three Counties League may now be little more than a distant memory, but the club’s historic pavilion has undergone a much-needed refurbishment during the intervening years. There are new players’ and officials’ changing rooms to the rear, a small but well-equipped kitchen (with an impressive, Pisa-like leaning cupboard beneath the sink) situated next to the bar and wooden flooring laid throughout the comfortable lounge area. The nice lady in the kitchen is only serving cups of tea, the edible stuff having become a rarity nowadays in the County League, but the players seem happy to sit around the patio and adjacent areas to contentedly chomp on their mostly-Waitrose (Cirencester) and mostly-Tesco (Rissington) ‘meal deals’.  

Much of the wall-mounted memorabilia inside the pavilion remains pretty much unchanged from the days when cakes and scones and cucumber sandwiches were the order of the day during the mid-game changeover. E,Hampton is still at the head of the Club Captains’ Honours Board, having taken over the reins in 1852, team affairs for the first ten years having been overseen by the eloquently titled ‘Match Managers’. And a portrait of a smiling Reg Tugwell, complete with pipe and gap teeth is still poignantly inscribed: ‘Father of Local Cricket’. Even though son Richard skippered the 1st XI for three separate periods in three separate decades, Reg never quite made the Captains’ Board, only the bar stool a few feet away from which he disgorged a life’s worth of advice and anecdotes in equal measure. 

The shelves at the back of the room have accumulated considerably more trophies and a significant amount of extra dust since our last visit to this interesting listed building. To their left as you look, a cigar-smoking Ian Terence Botham stares out of a white-framed changing room somewhere in the cricketing world and to the right there’s an interesting vignette about CCC during World War II, during which Glenn Miller performed to a crowd numbering seven thousand at the ground, just a few months before his untimely disappearance and death in December 1944. 

As umpires Saunders and Stenner retake the field, a northerner with a patronising tone and a big, brown dog asks the posh lady lounging on the memorial bench where ‘the village’ is. Doing her level best to hide her disdain, she nods pleasantly, points decisively and smiles contentedly, before sending him off in completely the wrong direction. 

Cirencester opener Alex Tuck makes his intentions clear from the start, latching on to anything short or over-pitched and attempting to land the ball as close to the perimeter of Lord Bathurst’s land as possible. His opening partner, Cleaver, is bowled by Scarrott for 12 with the score on 47 and Akash Patel, Raife Hackett and Hamish Brook all follow pretty swiftly, Scarratt (again) and Garratt (twice) doing the damage. A tall fella carrying a noticeable limp and a man bag strolls past the perimeter fence, commentating on the game to absolutely no-one at all. ‘Great delivery,’ he exhorts as Garratt traps Brook in front first ball: ‘Nipped a bit, straightened up; wonderful stuff,’ before disappearing from view with an immediacy that clearly upsets the toddler wearing a Union Jack sunhat sitting atop his father’s shoulders if his incessant bawling is anything to go by. 

At 66-4, Rissington are clear favourites, but Harry Brownless supports Tuck in a key stand of 82, the opener continuing to flail the ball to all parts of the ground. Brownless is eventually caught and bowled by Agacy who soon adds the wicket of Peterson to his tally. At 156-6 with 31 gone, it’s wickets not overs that are the problem for the hosts, but Eddie Buttress belies his ranking as a number eight batter, looking solid in defence, quick on the single and appreciative of the situation.  

Tuck brings up his century with a drive to long on, just as the dad playing five-bounce tennis with his hugely more talented son on the court opposite concedes after failing to score a point all afternoon. Undeterred by failings elsewhere, Tuck soon sees the total past 200 and finishes the run chase with a flourish to take the hosts to their first victory of 2024 with a whopping 43 balls to spare. 

The pre-match assertion that bottom v bottom-but-one is usually an interesting encounter has been proved correct – there’s been some excellent batting from both sides with a match-winning hundred to boot, some fine and not so fine bowling and some impressive fielding alongside some that suggests a few more bounce-board minutes won’t go amiss. Weatherwise, it’s been a perfect, not-too-hot sunny afternoon on a historic ground in a lovely setting. But while the cricket has been interesting to view throughout, on this occasion, watching the passers-by has been just as entertaining. 

Great Rissington: 219-8 (Leo Agacy 83, Oliver Burney 46; Harry Peterson 2-28). 

Cirencester: 220-6 (Rich Tuck 139no, Eddie Buttress 22no; Leo Agacy 2-32). 

Cirencester (21 points) beat Great Rissington (8 points) by 4 wickets.