Third Man

There can be few more picturesque places in Britain to visit than the north Cotswolds’ wool town of Chipping Campden. Its Cotswold stone buildings, 17th century market place, high-end High Street shops and an average 2023 house price of just under seven figures means this lovely place that nestles quietly on the peninsula of Gloucestershire that juts inoffensively into the nook between Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, should be on everyone’s list of places to check out before, well, you know what. The author Graham Greene, creator of such famous tomes as Brighton Rock and the Third Man lived here in the 1930s, the serenity of the town and surrounding area proving to be the perfect counterbalance to the more animated content of some of his writings.

Lovely though the town is, as we drive down the steep descent to the settlement itself, we pass a tandem huffing and puffing on the other side of the B4081, its attempts to make headway up the first few yards of the incline not being helped by the riders’ apparent inability to turn the pedals very far in a forward direction. Indeed, they look as if they may be in for a pretty long and sweaty Saturday afternoon that is as far removed from the sound of leather on willow as it’s possible to be.

Chipping Camden Cricket Club, a centre of the local community for more than a hundred and fifty years, is located on Station Road, a route that provides the northerly exit from the town in the approximate direction of Warwick and, eventually, Coventry, a route that clearly declines in glamour the further along it you travel.

While the cricket ground has been here for well over a century, the spanking new pavilion on the Station Road side is a much more recent addition to the fabric of the club. Funded by the sale of the south-west corner of the ground to facilitate an upmarket housing development, the near part of which has appropriately been re-christened Boundary Close, the building is a hugely tasteful combination of wood, brick and glass with high ceilings and timber beams in the plush bar area giving everything a wonderfully airy feel. The modern wooden scorebox just beyond the changing rooms has all the trimmings expected of such a facility, including an upmarket barbecue oven that hopefully they take outside before firing the burners up. Scorers Keith Fuller and Sandy Rogers are clearly hoping so, anyway.

Westbury-on-Severn are the visitors in what must be one of the County League’s longest single-day commutes, with both sides tucked up snugly together in mid-table on 34 points, each having won a game apiece prior to this afternoon’s encounter.

Campden win the toss and elect to field, Sam Groves picking up the early wicket of Will Hargreaves before skipper Alex Wyman and Devin Rogers put together a second-wicket stand of 64, the highest partnership of the innings and indeed, as it turns out, of the day itself. Wyman is eventually bowled as Mark Trueman picks up the first of his three wickets and Dan Anderson follows soon after, castled by Josh Tamcken for four.

Francis Stirrup joins Rogers, cracking a quick-fire 30 at a run a ball that includes the only six of the innings, but after he’s well caught by Alex Thompson off Trueman, it’s the home attack which keeps a tight rein on Westbury’s attempts to fashion a winning first innings’ total. Rogers finally departs for a very well-made 73, bowled by Sam Nicholls, whose 3-24 is the home side’s best return of the innings as Westbury are finally dismissed for 190 with just three balls of their 45 overs remaining.

Campden’s bright and breezy website reflects the atmosphere in their five-star bar and eating area, though unlike the colourful online pictures, there are no teas on offer this afternoon. The away following, Westbury’s answer to the Barmy Army, has clearly got early wind of this omission and he’s brought along a container-full of cheese rolls that he’s happy to share with anyone willing to offer a pint of Madri in part-exchange.

Umpires Coote and Williams retake the field following the no-grub tea-break at four-twenty-three, though home captain Nicholls exits it at four twenty-six without troubling the scorers in their nice wooden box too much. Apart from writing Caught Rogers Bowled Artus, that is.

There’s a monstrous irrigation hosepipe positioned on the upside of the sightscreen, just outside the eastern boundary in the no-man’s land between the cricket field and adjacent farmer’s land which provides a somewhat anomalous feature if you’re taking in the view from the third man area at the other end of the ground. Irrigation isn’t a problem for the affable group sitting on the first of several picnic tables positioned in front of the pavilion, though. They polish off a bumper bottle of Rose in the first innings before switching to ‘The Beer of Madrid’ (which is actually brewed in Tadcaster, a small town a stone’s throw north-east of Leeds and in a vat that’s less than a stone’s throw from the Carling container in the same brewery – let’s hope the two never get mixed up) and several big blue bags of Doritos which are of far more interest to the resident dog than the Madri will ever be. One of the men at the table has an impressively tattooed right leg, though it’s nothing compared to the ink on both the lady wearing the olive-green dress’s lower limbs. Should the residents of Chipping Campden ever get involved in a guerilla war with one or more of its neighbouring villages – the marvellously named Weston Subedge or Compton Scorpion for instance, they’ll struggle to get much better camouflage than this.

Dan Moore and Matt Andrews steady the Camden ship with a 53-run stand, though four wickets then fall in quick succession, Ed Edginton picking up 3-28 in an impressive spell as the home reply stutters to 78-5. On the boundary edge, the Westbury away end celebrates with another pint of Tadcaster’s finest in anticipation of the points heading back to the River Severn in the not too distant.

Jack and Sam Groves however start to chip away at the Westbury total, adding 48 before Jack is caught off Spencer Bluntish. Ian Harrison is bowled by Rogers for five to leave the hosts seven down, but Tamcken provides solid support for Sam, whose eight fours and a six take Campden to 185 and the brink of victory before Wyman pulls off an excellent catch to dismiss Groves off the bowling of Artus. There’ve been several examples of really fine fielding today, but good though this catch is, the most impressive act occurred ten minutes previously, as the third man in a quiet, boundary-edge picnic group swooped to deflect Groves’ well-struck maximum and in so doing saved at least one if not two people from potential decapitation. As this unfortunate (and rather messy) occurrence would probably have resulted in the match being abandoned, the mysterious third man should receive as much acclaim as any of the players in Campden gaining what has been at times an unlikely-looking victory that’s eventually assured when Tamcken straight drives Artus with just nine balls of what’s been an excellent contest remaining.

So, it’s the home side that moves ahead of Westbury in the fledgling league table, but there is plenty of cricket left to play for these two teams this summer and if it’s in games as exciting, on grounds as picturesque and in weather as pleasant as today’s, there’ll be much enjoyment for both sets of players ahead.

If only the same could be said for the tandem on the hill. As we head home at just gone seven-fifteen, it’s still got fifty yards to go before reaching the level bit at the top, its exasperated riders huffing and puffing and sweating and cussing at the roadside, wondering what happened to their Saturday afternoon sojourn in the late-May sun. Maybe, like at the cricket, or in Greene’s Viennese noir, a third man might just have proved useful. If only to give them a push.

Westbury-on-Severn: 190 (Devin Rogers 73; Sam Nicholls 3-24, Mark Trueman 3-33).

Chipping Campden: 190-8 (Sam Groves 54; Ed Edginton 3-28).