Cricket / Stragglers fall short despite brave blows from the tail: Experience shines through for former Lord's finalists Frocester as their opponents buckle. Norman Harris continues his series on the National Village Cup

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The Independent Online
THE MOTIFS on the shirts of Stinchcombe's opponents in this competition so far have been near heraldic. An old drinking fountain; a famous oak; an elbow of the Severn and a swan; a ram butting at stumps.

Now come Frocester to Stinchcombe for the area final, shirts and sweaters boasting a golden hexagonal fence: the old sheep enclosure that is now their Pound's Close ground. But what makes the crest special is the lettering beneath: 'Lord's 1993.'

That appearance in the Village final, which Frocester just failed to win, has threatened to raise them to giants in the eyes of Stinchcombe men, never mind that the teams play in the same league and their grounds are a mere five miles apart.

On this day, the bags and cases that Frocester players heave from their cars are impressively large. And as their openers are taking guard, with the perimeter of the ground steadily filling with cars, they seem relaxed, some even playing football.

An opening maiden over causes no great concern. Basil Norbury can even joke that they're woefully short of the 14 they scored in the first over against Whitcombe (with another 13 off the second). Norbury is a maths teacher, a South African who is proud to have gone - like Nelson Mandela - to Witwatersrand University. In his salad days, he has become the 'slow drifter' who teases and frustrates opening batsmen.

Norbury, at 45, keeps good company with his 42-year-old skipper, John Evans, whose 73 was the top score of that Lord's final, and with the 51-year old Geoff Hudd, who is playing his 100th match in the 23 years of this competition.

It is a vastly experienced side, used to winning. Particularly feared are the first four batsmen; and, though an opener has become unavailable, the schoolboy who replaces him is Ian Collins of Wycliffe College and Gloucestershire Under-19s. A left-hander, he finds the boundary with straight drives, from both front and back foot, that have the authority and timing of a county pro.

By comparison, the young bowler that Stinchcombe have drafted in, Tim Griffiths, looks a raw recruit. His run-up starts with short, uncertain steps and a sway of the body. But he doesn't try to bowl fast; he just floats the ball up to the bat like an old 'un, and swings it. The apparently guileless bowling unhinges some of Frocester's best batsmen, who are suddenly 101 for 6. At this point, the figures of young Griffiths read 5-1-8-4.

The captain, Billy Dawe, will be most gratified. But, as if in a bad dream, Dawe is at this moment following the match on Radio Gloucester as he is driven at speed up the A38. Stinchcombe's key bat has a gashed mouth after making a diving stop in the covers. He seeks a casualty department that can deliver stitches - fast.

Meanwhile, Frocester's lower order are being given a rare test as they try to support Simon Reed, the sole survivor of the Big Four. In the countdown to the 40 overs, the No 11 batsman, Eric Woodmason, is crouching on the line shouting advice. Woodmason is another of the village game's characters. A policeman with an Oxford degree in geography, he might have risen higher than detectiveconstable but for the keen-eyed sergeant who spotted him playing cricket when he was off ill.

With dramatic timing, Dawe is delivered back as the tea break starts. Can he bat straight away? The umpires - who are now appointed officials - say that he can. But the question of whether this is a good idea, after four stitches and antibiotic pills, is not addressed.

Dawe, in a fresh shirt but blood-stained flannels, gets an anxious single from Norbury's teasing opening over and then faces Woodmason. The passionate policeman has a strenuous left-arm-over action, and just as impressive is the fact that the wicketkeeper, Reed, is standing up to him. Now, a beautiful ball slants across Dawe. A vague push, a thin edge, and Reed is throwing the catch sky-high. It is an almost stupefyingly good dismissal.

So soon, it seems, the game is up. There are some brave blows, including the first sixes of the match, but some batsmen fall prematurely in the outfeld. Later, interviewed on Radio Gloucester, Reed compliments Stinchcombe on their fight: 'Having to do the knock-on-the- door job and ask for the ball back is a bit disconcerting.' It is a generous remark from one who has been there before - as they all have. And that, probably, has been the big difference.

Two weeks previously, Stinchcombe's No 11, Alan Eustace, had promised: 'If we beat Frocester, I won't be driving home. I mightn't get home for a week.' Then, the question of going on to meet Sparsholt or Woodmancote from the Hampshire group seemed quite irrelevant. For Stinchcombe, this was their Lord's final.

SCOREBOARD

FROCESTER

I Collins c Kitchen b Griffiths. . . . . . 39

D Whincup c Salter b Kitchen. . . . . . . .10

J Evans lbw b Salter. . . . . . . . . . . .17

S Reed not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46

I Smith c Roberts b Griffiths. . . . . . . 10

A Clarkson c Greaves b Griffiths. . . . . . 2

G Hudd lbw b Griffiths. . . . . . . . . . . 0

S Little b Salter. . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

B Norbury c Pullin b Kitchen. . . . . . . .16

M Camm not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Extras (lb11 w4). . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

Total (for 8, 40 overs). . . . . . . . . .169

Fall: 1-21 2-68 3-77 4-93 5-101 6-101 7-125 8-160.

Bowling: P Kitchen 9-2-31-2; D Howe 9-0-43- 0; N Salter 9-1-25-2; A Eustace 5-0-24-0; T Griffiths 8-1-35-4.

STINCHCOMBE STRAGGLERS

W Dawe c Reed b Woodmason. . . . . . . . . .1

D Howe b Woodmason. . . . . . . . . . . . .12

L Roberts run out. . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

P Kitchen b Little. . . . . . . . . . . . .26

G Newman c Clarkson b Hudd. . . . . . . . . 2

J Pullin b Little. . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

N Salter c Smith b Little. . . . . . . . . .2

R Mann not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32

T Griffiths c Reed b Hudd. . . . . . . . . .3

M Greaves c Woodmason b Hudd. . . . . . . . 6

A Eustace b Hudd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

Extras (lb4 w2). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Total (34.4 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . 117

Fall: 1-3 2-18 3-54 4-57 5-71 6-71 7-94 8-105 9-117.

Bowling: B Norbury 9-2-20-0; E Woodmason

6-0-18-2; S Little 9-0-37-3; I Smith 1-0-7-0; G Hudd 7.4-1-16-4; M Camm 2-0-16-0.

(Photograph omitted)

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