Howzat

NOW CAST YOUR MINDS BACK TO THE 1990s when that marvellous Mason, Philip Birch, was PGM. During his time in office that other great Mason, Eric Alexander Keay, organised an inter- Provincial cricket match between Yorkshire and London. Sadly, for all concerned, I stood within range of the Chairman of the Selectors at one Lodge meeting and, before I knew it, I’d been included in the first XV, or whatever numerical combination they use. Now, at the risk of being expelled from God’s own county, I have to admit I’ve never understood the first thing about cricket! I went quite happily through my formative years without once being picked for any sporting activity (the chess club was the singular exception but that’s a different story) and managed to reach middle-age without having recourse to rely on any dexterous skills whatsoever – until now.

My wife rolled around in convulsions when I told her and I suffered weeks of merciless ribbing during the run up to the great match. The neighbour’s fence, shed and (nearly their greenhouse) also suffered as I tried to hit a tennis ball with a bat in our back yard. But, to save me from absolute humiliation, my wife charitably borrowed a set of whites so I’d at least look the part.

Suddenly the big day was upon us and we aimed my van down the M1 to the Masonic School at Rickmansworth. We made excellent time and came off the M25 with over an hour to spare before kick- off. Then, as I foolishly remarked it was going well, the engine emitted an almighty rapping sound and we coasted, slug-like, up the slip road with a worrying red light illuminating the dashboard. To cut the long story short, I directed all my considerable mechanical skill towards the problem and straightaway rang the breakdown company. To my dismay the operator predicted a two-hour delay before their repairman could get to me. ‘That’s no good, I’m playing cricket for Yorkshire in an hour’ I cried in panic. ‘Oh well, in that case, I’ll see if we can get someone out earlier,’ she replied. ‘I’ll book it as urgent.’

When I got back to the van the midday news was just finishing and I heard a sports reporter babbling on about today’s cup final between Yorkshire and someone else at Lords. I never gave it a second thought but, twenty minutes later, a van screeched sideways into the lay-by and a breathless mechanic leapt out to execute the fastest fan belt repair in living memory, all the while jabbering on about silly mid ons, googlies and other nonsense. It was my wife who made the obvious connection

‘You didn’t tell them you were playing for Yorkshire, did you?’

‘Erm…’

‘Well?’

‘Erm, I may have said the Province of Yorkshire…’ and quickly started the noisy diesel engine to drown her scolding.

We finally reached Rickmansworth just in time for me to miss us batting but, as a sop, our captain sent me off to get changed in case we needed a fielder. That’s when I realised my next problem. Foolishly I hadn’t bothered trying my whites and, when I took them out of the carrier bag, couldn’t believe my eyes. My wife had borrowed the kit but omitted to mention it came from a nine-year old at the school where she taught! The trousers were so short they barely covered my calves and so tight I had to borrow a long white jumper (of which there were plenty on this scorching hot day) to conceal a burst zip and grotesquely bulging midriff. I made sure to execute a number of early, overacted athletic dives for balls at impossible distances to justify the broken zip. Then, horror of horrors, our captain put me in to bowl. I argued the errors of his ways, burst into tears, stamped my feet in a tantrum at the same time fighting off the umpire who was determined to divest me of my coverall jumper, but lost on all counts. My first two attempts aren’t worth recording, the third was a lob which almost decapitated the batsman, the fourth bounced halfway then slowly coasted to a halt at his feet, but the fifth was an absolute belter and

bounced right in front of him. He swung his bat like Glenn Maxwell and gave it one almighty clout, sending it rocketing into the pavilion, and I actually cheered! Brian Addy, the Provincial Grand Secretary at the time, squatting amidst his barbed wire scorers’ enclosure, broke with all etiquette and bayed for me to be dragged into the clubhouse and shot. Then, just as I fiendishly altered my underarm to overarm to thoroughly confuse the opposition, the over was over and, for some inexplicable reason, my bowling prowess wasn’t recalled.

At the end of the game, the rest of the team in their Persil whites were received with rapturous applause, whereas my pitch vacation was accompanied by silence apart from a resounding reprimand from the Provincial Secretariat for bringing the Province into disrepute and from my wife for destroying the borrowed kit. Good old Philip though had a good laugh about the whole affair and that night’s meal back at the hotel was an absolute riot.

Keep smiling and keep well.