Forty Years a Don

by Lincoln Allison

This is a short memoir covering my forty years of playing for the University of Warwick Staff and Graduate Cricket Club, which fact seems quite unreal. It is not meant to duplicate either the club history or records or my personal dossier, though note that our records, apart from tour, only go back to 1982, by which time I had been playing for twelve years.

Previous teams: Although I went to a very good cricket school, Lancaster Royal Grammar School, I didnít play, representing house and school at athletics, shooting and swimming in the summer months. I first played cricket as an adult for the Utopers, the social XI of University College, Oxford and then for Nuffield College who had needle games against other graduate colleges like Ruskin and St. Anthonyís which later became a full "Cuppers" for middle common rooms and graduate colleges. Nuffield usually won and, having got the taste and already played a seasonís football with the then staff captain, John Halliday, my involvement in staff cricket was fairly inevitable.

Debut: A Thursday evening in May, 1970, either the 7th or the 14th, away at Leamington College. I took a one handed catch at square leg, scored 3 and we won. We had about a dozen fixtures that season, one of them in Manchester.

Other Clubs: Although I have played 95% of my cricket for the club, there have been others: Stanford University, 1975-77, in the Northern California Cricket League and in other fixtures; Mid-Warwickshire Primary School Teachers, 1988-96 (male teachers being in short supply, husbands played); Singapore CC (something of a club connection developed through their skipper, Stacey Muruthi, who also played for us), Leamington and Royal Bangkok Sports Club.

Five Great Squads

Probably more than 500 players have played for the club altogether and I thought the best way of remembering some of them would be to group them in squads according to their relationship with the club. Apologies to those left out either because of failing memory or because they didnít fall into any category:

The Who: (Born under a male monarch and playing at least two decades.)
Lincoln Allison, Steve Lamb, Rob Burns, Ken Foster, Nick Boucher, David Storey, Alan Lovell, Robert Pettifer, Mike Smith, John Halliday, Peter Gardner, David Hughes, Dave Winchester.

Young Stalwarts: (Born under Elizabeth II and playing for many seasons.)
Chris Cooper, Chris Stride, Rob Wood, Steven Cammiss, Mike Allison, Chris Lamb, Richard Lamb, Neil Carter, Clive Gregory, Martin Lees, Ken Faisey, Richard Dobedoe, Hywell Lovell, Steve Curram, Warren Finlay, David Wilson.

I Zingari: (Shorter term relationship with the club, mostly as graduate students.)
Gerry Frizelle, Alan Marchant, Dave Chaplin, Andy Rogers, Jim Swailes, Graham Semple, John Jackson, John Cruddas, James Perkins, Tim Devitt, Kevin Morrell, Nick Goold, James Daniel, Mike Keating, Dan Hall, Jim Allison, Jay Bryne, Tony Rich.

Peripatetics: (The club has had a number of players who have turned out over some years, in tour and/or midweek games, while playing mainly for another club.)
Jim Rushton, Robert Dyson, Malcolm Melrose, Bob Hurrion, Andrew Wootton, Andrew Ridley, Roddy Vann, Andy Lamb, Phil Dixon, Jim Forbes, Doug Darby, David Holmes, Steve Allison.

South Asian All-Stars: (The club would not have survived in its present form into the second decade of the twenty-first century without its South Asian constituency.)
Saurab Malhotra, Aditya Jainarayan, Ali Abbas, Fuwad Sayed, Kevin Jacob, Ajit Nair, Ajay Nair, Babber Hassan, Sahil Kulkarni, Tughrab Tughral Ali, Deepak Kumaresan, Mudassar Iqbal, Sandeep Sandhu, Nicky Sandhu, Harrish Putti, Rajesh Chidaramban.


. . . a tournament between these five squads, assuming everyone was in their prime. A commentator who knew the players might answer, "Not The Who . . . unless it was a tournament of timeless tests." To which I would reply that any team which had Nick Boucher and Steve Lamb in their prime bowling for it could not be written off; on several occasions I have seen them successfully defend totals under 75.

Best Season: For me, it has to be 1988, my first season as a regular skipper, when we won the Coventry Mid-Week League and in other fixtures lost only twice.

Worst Season: Has to be 1998. Bad enough as Saturday skipper to lose the first three league games and put us out of contention, but much worse to experience a level of disc lesions in Aberystwyth which had me staggering onto a train home and missing the rest of the season.

Best Game: Lots of candidates. Runner-up might be Aberystwyth Town 2004, part of a "round robin" with the University and the last of the weekend tours. The game ended with a young Aber tailender scampering a leg-bye to level the scores only for him to notice that umpire Stefan Roberts had his finger up to uphold Steven Cammissís LBW appeal. Dons 208, Aber 207.

But my best game was one that had huge ups and downs and took us into unknown cricketing territory: Offchurch away, 1992. Batting first Cooper and Burns put on 208, then a club record. I declared on 252-4 at tea, also a record. After four overs of their innings, S.Lamb and Pettifer bowling to Killian and Blundell, they were 54 for no wicket and seemed likely to win the game in under 25 overs. Boucher tricked Killian, but I dropped the catch Ė the silence could be heard throughout Warwickshire. But, as their victory seemed overwhelmingly probable, I persuaded Killian to hole out to James Daniel and "the Church" fell 15 runs short. By lucky coincidence we had just passed a resolution to have more social events and we all went for a curry after the game.

Worst Game: This raises a philosophical problem Ė the worst games are surely those which arenít played and there are too many of them. Perhaps even worse is the game which is beautifully set up to be a classic and then the heavens open. This was the case with our last ever game at Brecon, made worse by the irony that the sun was blazing down again twenty minutes after the rain, but the field was waterlogged.

Most Satisfying Game/Moment: There are lots of kinds of satisfaction. In recent years there has been a particular satisfaction in the league 2nd XI when forcing a result with a limited and unbalanced team. A good example would be Boddington away 2004 en route to our first promotion where we had only 10 men and none of the original 2nd XI batsmen, but David Storey and I ground out a victory in a stand of 17 overs despite John Southam taking 6 for 17, though I was out with four needed leaving Warrenís sturdy bat to see us home by the smallest of margins. Another 10-man, last wicket victory which was just as satisfying for different reasons, was over Radway in 1988 Ė this time I was not out and partnered John Halliday through to victory, which he secured with a splendid six which hit a dry stone wall and ruined the ball. It would have felt bad to finish our best ever season with a defeat and it was pretty much Johnís swansong. (We were playing with ten men, incidentally, because the eleventh had made his own, independent judgement about the weather!)

But the game that always stuck in my memory was at Llanidloes, the final match of our "Grand Slam" tour in 1978. Batting first, we collapsed from 122-2 to 128-8, which brought me in to bat (on the back of three successive ducks) to partner Steve Lamb. I remember the cheer when I scored my first run and we put on 48 (yes, Steve scored most of them) before Rob Burns declared, going on to win the match with a Mike Smith catch in the last over. Robís prediction that this feat would never be achieved again has turned out to be correct, though we would have equalled it ten years later if a certain batsman had turned to run the winning run instead of celebrating the tieing run against Aber Commoners. For a long period in the history of the club tour cricket seemed to be the best and most intense cricket we played, though this was not true in later years.

Great Performances: There is too much of the weird and wonderful to give a fair account. Iíve seen lots of centuries and youíll forgive me if I say I enjoyed my son, Michaelís maiden century at Thornborough the most. Moments that stick in the mind: Jim Swailes throwing flat from 70 yards to run out a Wednesday league batsmen by half a pitch, Robert Pettifer suddenly breaking out from Les Kempís stranglehold at Willoughby and hitting the ball into the middle of the adjacent field of wheat, John Halliday saying "too late now" when brought on when Central Hospital were 41-3 in reply to our 42 Ė then proceeding to take 7-0 to win the game, Jay Bryne bowling out Warwick Museum for 8 (yes, 8, in total) before I could get him off. . . .

But the two greatest performances were Nick Boucher on his two league debuts: 7 for 4 against Dunlop in the Wednesday league in 1978 and 8-25 against Flecknoe in 1995. (It says 25 in our records; I thought it was more like 15!)

Best Personal Performance: It certainly wasnít the only occasion (I think) that I ever returned highest score and best bowling analysis in the same match because that was against Gawcott at home in a league game in 2006: crap pitch, crap game and we lost. My real best game was my debut as skipper in 1984: 4 for 19 with the ball and part of the winning stand with Tony Rich, including the winning boundary through midwicket. The book shows Barford 143, Dons 144-8 with Peter ("Peg") Gardiner still to bat. My memory contradicts this because I thought I was the last man, but I could be wrong. One of the sweet ironies of cricket is that you can get it right by getting it wrong: this was a game in which (perhaps) everybody batted, most people bowled and we won in the most exciting manner imaginable Ė none of which might have happened if Iíd been a more experienced skipper.

Strangely Magic Moment: A game played against Jim Rushtonís XI on our ground. Andrew Hamilton, umpiring, politely asks me, as I set another bowlerís field, whether I intend to bowl myself and adds that many people would enjoy a contest in which I was the bowler and Jim was the batsman. In due time Jim comes in to bat and I come on to bowl. He plays and misses at the first three deliveries before prodding the fourth straight into the hands of Alan Marchant at my favourite, brave, silly cover position (canít get anyone to do it these days!). Jim curls into a ball and whimpers and screams like a trapped animal. Turns out he has told his dressing room that I am "the worst bowler in the Northern Hemisphere" and that anyone who gets out to me neednít doubt his manhood, because itís certain he hasnít got any. When challenged Jim explains that he said "Northern Hemisphere" rather than "world" because of "insufficient information".

Actually, we had an excellent record in this fixture, continuing to win as the Jimís/Leamington XI got stronger every year.

Happy Hunting Grounds: Naturally, I have happier memories of some grounds than of others. Barnardís Green is bound to be among the good ones since I scored my highest score and took my only hat-trick there, but Llanidloes is my favourite ground. Other good ones include Leamington, Hunningham and almost any ground in Oxford. And not so happy . . . Bad things seemed to happen at Entaco, Flecknoe, Brecon and Newbold Comyn.

The Opposition: Of course, those of us who have played for as long as I have will have seen opponents come and go with greater speed than we ourselves have come and gone and in several cases we have found ourselves playing against the sons of the original opponents. We have had conversations over a pint about a "Cadís XI" of the rudest, cheatingest, least graceful of players, but those thoughts are best left in conversation. However, there are two opponents who I would like to pay tribute to, having faced them over many years. One is Tony Derrick of Aberdare and the other is Mike Kiernan of Offchurch. In both cases they combine the maximum of friendliness and cooperation off the field with a competitive edge on it, the combination I was taught to regard as the mark of the true sportsman.

The Great Bonus: Counter-factual hypotheticals are supposed to be tenuous, but I can say with certainty that I wouldnít have played cricket for forty years for the same club if it had not been for the conducive company Ė a core of friends and an ever-changing cast of assimilables. I love sport, but Iím not that good at cricket and donít even prefer it so strongly over other games that I would have persisted except for the chaps, whose humour and conversation makes it worth turning up even when itís raining. The huge bonus for me was, of course, that in time "the chaps" came to include my own three sons, all of whom have played for the club over a number of years, though Michael is the only one who could be described as a "stalwart". On several occasions we have all played together, sometimes with the three Lambs, making it a real family affair.

Author: Lincoln Allison May 2010

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