THE white lines on the road around Thornton Watlass village green, half-hidden between Bedale and Masham in vernal, verdant North Yorkshire, may be different from any other road marking in the land.
The green’s also the cricket field. The lines running across the road help mark the boundary, though much of the road – and its street furniture – are 15 yards within it.
One sign warns that there’s no footway for 400 yards but says nothing of the danger of being brained by a cricket ball. The little white posts should not be assumed boundary markers, either. They’re for keeping cars off the green (and for pursuing fieldsmen to tumble over, A over T.)
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A 100ft chestnut tree and numerous others are also part of the field of play, a six only if the corker’s caught between the boughs and someone has the presence to call “Lost ball.” Like a thrift shop suit, Thornton Watlass cricket field fits where it touches.
At this time of year, it’s also a six if the ball hits the daffs without bouncing.
Last Wednesday they played Richmond Mavericks in the second division of the Wensleydale Evening League – that of Thorp Perrow, Newton-le-Willows and of the eternal Eryholme – sport so grass-rooted that it should be sponsored, forever nurtured, by Fison’s.
For both league and column it was the season’s first game, though not our Thornton Watlass debut. That was at the end of August 2000 when to mark the millennium they staged the most improbable day/night match in cricket history.
The floodlights had done back shifts on motorway maintenance contracts, the black sightscreens were mushroom sheets slung between the trees, black batting pads had been created by dextrous tailoring of bin liners and stumps rendered dark orange with a touch of tractor paint.
On the line marked “Venue”, the scorebook said “Watlass in’t dark” and, once darkness fell, sixes were greeted by rockets. “The first was so sudden, so clamorous and so vivid,” observed the column 17 years ago, that had Thornton Watlass been 20 miles nearer the sea, they’d have launched the lifeboat within minutes.”
Last Wednesday was a lovely Spring evening, a picnic table of spectators gathered outside the Buck. The pub wall’s no longer the boundary, the rope’s between there and the road. Drivers on cricket nights pass the Buck at their peril.
THE Mavericks were originally a football team, gathered beneath the Latin maxim “Non pedicare cupiunt” which, allegedly, translates as “They don’t like it up ‘em.”
Last year they finished bottom, cause not helped because there were only four occasions out of 16 on which they were able to raise eleven men. This year they’re determined more greatly to live up to their up-and-at-‘em motto.
The Mavericks claim just two “proper” cricketers. One’s Mike Layfield, scion of a great Richmond dynasty of summery Layfields, who plays despite a broken finger. The other’s Marcus Burnett.
Fabio Santini, the skipper, also looks the part, though that’s probably because he’s trundling something called an Original Duplex Wheelie, what these days is called a coffin. “Why do you think he’s captain?” ask the lads.
Mavericks bat first, the umpires from the batting side. One’s my 6ft 5in elder son, the white coat fitting him as might a tutu a caber tosser. The other’s Tim Waite.
The Mavs start well, progress interrupted when Tim divines that opening batsman Adam Dunwoody is lbw despite being so far down the track he could have been popping into the Buck for a livener.
I’m making a note when a familiar, jovial voice booms: “Tim, that is sick.” It’s his fellow umpire.
“They’re just jealous because I’ve got new boots,” says Woody.
Mike Laycock bats on, retires as the rules decree when he reaches 50, can return at the fall of the ninth wicket. Christian Player, who answers to Crimbo and sounds like he should be in the Church Times Cup, blasts a quick 23.
White coat discarded, my lad Adam’s the tail-ender, hits an undefeated 11, supposes it his highest score since he was 14. “It’s just because your dad’s here,” they tell him.
After 20 overs, the Mavericks close on 151, Layfield 72 not out.
THE atmosphere’s informal, relaxed, as convivial as the setting deserves. The crowd’s grown to 12 men, two dogs and an owl.
Watlass, replying, are indebted to Sam Vernon, another who must perforce exit at 50. The Mavericks are in turn grateful when a certain four hits the Z-bend sign 15 yards inside the boundary and rebounds helpfully to the vainly chasing fielder.
Other big-biffed efforts seem almost inexorably attracted to the chestnut tree. There’s a proposal that the tree be named man of the match.
With just five of their 20 overs remaining, Watlass are 95-2, poor wronged Woody particularly effective behind the wicket. The Mavericks close fielders discuss the possibility of an open-top bus. At the start of the last over, if not quite day/night then growing distinctly crepuscular, the new-fangled scoreboard illumines that the hosts still need 22 to win.
It’s bowled by Marcus Burnett, the first ball a wide. Thereafter the attack’s taken up by Chris Greensitt and, particularly, by Philip Peacock. Three are needed from the final ball. A six smashes through the trees to ensure the most unlikely salvation since Dunkirk.
Generously and genuinely, vanquished applaud victors from the field – so much for They don’t like it up ‘em. Watlass respond modestly, appropriately.
In the pub there are chips, very good chips, a consolation beer and a text message from poor Burnett explaining that he just doesn’t feel up to joining them. There’s a review of the season so far: Mavericks inarguably, Invincibles no longer.
It’s been an enchanted evening. Cricket, lovely cricket, welcome back.
STILL pushing up the grass roots, we hear of what might be termed lateral movement in the match between Middleton Tyas and Cockerton II, Darlington and District League division B.
Tyas were dismissed for 93, of which 30 were wides. A further 22 wides were stretched in Cockerton’s winning reply of 94-9 – and that didn’t include no-balls.
Cockerton official Terry Simpson, who umpired the second innings, reckons it 28 per cent of the total – “and the umpires were by no means being over-zealous.”
Is it a record, Terry wonders. Or is that wide of the mark, too?
- In the Darlington and District C division on Saturday, Charlie Walker – Demon Donkey Dropper of Eryholme – bagged 4-28 against Aldbrough St John II. The Demon is 76.
- Last week’s column noted that Hutton Rudby B – Langbaurgh League second division – had been all out for four (including one unspecified extra.) What we didn’t know was that those four had been amassed in 15.5 overs. That may be a record, perhaps a long-player, too.
….AND finally to Duncombe Park, York Senior League, where spectators were surprised to see prolific opener Brian Leckenby watching from the comfort (and safety) of his van. Brian, alas, had been involved in a head-to-head with a bullock – “not surprisingly he came off worst” reports Feversham league secretary Charles Allenby – and spent several hours in hospital. There are those notwithstanding, who’d have put money on a Leckenby win. Starting with Kirkbymoorside and then Pickering and Duncombe Park, it was the first time he’d missed a Saturday league match since August 15, 1992.