Cricket / From Stinchcombe to Lord's: The spectacular catch that kept a love affair alive: Sparsholt succumb in field day for Frocester. Norman Harris continues along the National Village Cup trail

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The Independent Online
NOT ALL the battles in the Village Cup are won on the playing field. Some are decided in conference back at The Cricketer magazine. The name of Stinchcombe may have come up had they continued to win, while Frocester, should they go on to win the Cup, may well find this year is their last.

The magazine has striven heroically to preserve the ethos of the village competition it started 23 years ago. It even removed sides deemed too good.

The Hampshire group won by Sparsholt had generated vociferous controversy. A side named Woodmancote were perfectly within the the rules (which govern the size of villages, and exclude first-class cricketers) but their Sunday (and National Village Cup) team relied heavily on leading players from several clubs playing Saturday cricket in the Southern League. The Hampshire Chronicle thundered: 'Never let this happen again.'

Yet Sparsholt raised their game to beat opponents they called the Woodmancote 'All Stars' by nine wickets on an artificial pitch.

No wonder that the men from Hampshire alighted happily when their coach drew up beside the old apple trees at the bottom of Frocester's Pounds Close. The sun was dazzling, the breeze cooling, and on a ground of true village dimensions the wicket and outfield promised plenty of runs.

Sparsholt, who were making their first inter-zonal foray, have themselves had to endure de-selection by the organisers. Though they had never even won their area, they played in a strong league - the Southern. Now they are a step lower in Hampshire I, which has readmitted them.

The processes are arbitrary, though. 'We just felt several teams had outgrown us,' they say at The Cricketer. 'They weren't playing grass-roots cricket as we know it. We wanted to keep it to a shed on a cowfield sort of thing.'

That will take some achieving. Frocester have a cowfield, but it is two fields up from their present ground, and they've just bought it to make a second ground for Third XI games. The financing owes much to the handsome profits of a two-day beer festival staged on the ground annually since 1980.

A dynamic club and a lovely ground attracts good players. One of their best is a Cheltenham GP, Chris Lamden, who once captained English Schools and was also Harlequins' scrum-half. Now he's No 1 in Frocester's Big Four, and his return to the side means that young Ian Collins of Gloucestershire Under-19s, who deputised so well at Stinchcombe, will not even get in at No 7.

Sparsholt's opening attack is wayward and, strangely, a number of bowling changes are made before the two best performers are put in harness: the left-arm spinner Mustafa Mahmood and Keith Edwards who, at 42, bowls classic medium pace. But by tea the Big Four have all performed, and Sparsholt's captain, Andy Heyes, looks unhappy as he consoles himself that 'at one point we were looking at 250'.

Heyes' own formidable openers have set up each previous victory. Frocester are surely unnerved when over-pitched balls from Detective Constable Woodmason, their energetic left-armer, are twice caressed to the extra-cover boundary by the opener wearing a white sun hat. The hat, and the stroke, bring to mind Majid Khan. Only later will they learn that Mark O'Connor was once MCC Young Cricketer of the Year.

A first wicket falls. Increasingly, both sides know that the game hinges on O'Connor. When he hits in the air for the first time it is high and well to the right of the man at long-on. Dave Whincup's speeding legs look like getting him agonisingly close, but no one is betting on it. A half-dive makes the connection and he holds on to the ball as he slides to a stop, prayer-like on his knees. From all angles team-mates converge. 'It stayed in the air a long, long time,' he says later.

Spirited hitting keeps Sparsholt's hopes alive into the last over but the match has already been won by fielding. In all, five quality catches, and nothing dropped; and with the penultimate ball a stumping off the fast bowler. It is as good as anything you would see from a Gloucestershire or Hampshire XI.

Too good for village cricket? 'People have said we shouldn't be in it,' a Frocester man had said earlier. 'But what you see here is all down to the Cup. We're totally besotted with it.'

FROCESTER

C Lamden c Quantrill b Mahmood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

D Whincup c and b Edwards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .77

*J Evans b James. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30

S Reed not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33

I Smith c Ball b Quantrill. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

A Clarkson not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

Extras (b4 lb11 w10 nb2). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27

Total (for 4, 40 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .222

Fall: 1-114 2-148 3-173 4-203.

Bowling: James 8-0-41-1; Quantrill 9-1-53-1; O'Connor 3-0-28-0; Mahmood 9-2-20-1; Ball 4-0-28-1; Edwards 7-0-37-1.

SPARSHOLT

M O'Connor c Whincup b Hudd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65

B Quantrill c Woodmason b Norbury. . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

D James c Whincup b Hudd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

*A Heyes c Evans b Little . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

R Headington c Collins b Woodmason . . . . . . . . . . . . .39

K Edwards b Little . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

R Selly b Little . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

P Green b Woodmason . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

M Mahmood not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

M Ball st Reed b Woodmason . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

J Frith not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Extras (b1 lb4 w6 nb2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Total (for 9, 40 overs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .213

Fall: 1-68 2-108 3-112 4-112 5-126 6-128 7-192 8-208 9-212.

Bowling: Norbury 9-0-24-1; Woodmason 7-0-51-3; Smith 6-0-38-0; Little 9-1-50-3; Hudd 9-0-45-2.

(Photograph omitted)

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