Richardson open to Lashings of fun

Stephen Brenkley meets the man who wooed a World Cup star to the Medway; As West Indies captain tries to unify his side a little club in Kent is waiting to put out the welcome mat
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The Independent Online
IN THE more frenzied moments of the World Cup, the captain of the West Indies may do well to seek momentary tranquillity by imagining the Garden of England. When the pressure becomes especially intense during a tight finish or in an irascible dressing-room, Richie Richardson can at least reflect that, soon, his cricket will be of an altogether different hue.

He has agreed, indeed he asked, to spend the English summer playing in the villages of Kent. The scorer of 16 Test centuries at grounds from the Kensington Oval, Barbados, to the Kennington Oval, London, will wield his heavy bat this season at such venues as Challock, Cobham and Ryarsh.

"We're a village side and nothing more," said David Folb of Lashings. "A pub side really," he added, swiftly revising his assessment downwards. "But I always say you've got to have ambition or you'll never get anywhere."

Lashings is not a village amid the oast houses of the Downs but a Tex- Mex restaurant in Maidstone. Folb established both the eaterie (in 1980) and the cricket team, which followed nine years later on the back of several football sides.

"To be honest, I wasn't much interested in cricket," said Folb, who was in the same class as Mark Benson, captain of Kent, at school. "I was always football daft, played for Chelsea Youth and all that before I discovered I wasn't good enough.

"Well, there came the day that the Minstrel, the place down the road, had a cricket match arranged for the following afternoon but their opposition weren't turning up. We decided to put out a side. With a few phone calls here and there we managed to get 11 people and we were bowled out for 30."

That dismal total was, however, sufficient to persuade Folb and his chums of the merits of the summer game. Before he knew it he had a team turning out regularly. This consisted of established local cricketers looking for a different club and other regular diners who had never played in their lives.

Lashings, which also has baseball and basketball teams and sponsors the town hockey club, played until last year at a Maidstone school. This summer they will share a ground at Cobdown on the outskirts of town for their fixtures in the Riverside and Eurosport Medway Leagues.

The road to the spectacular signing of Richardson is already dotted with overseas players, though till now they have not quite been so auspicious. Paul Kirsten, brother of Peter and Gary, was the first after Folb heard through a friend he was unhappy at a club near London. He scored 364 runs in his first three innings without being dismissed.

A string of other South African players followed, lured by the relative lack of pressure in the cricket, the conviviality of the restaurant and, doubtless, Folb's silver tongue. Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan off-spinner, played last summer.

"Lovely fella, really got involved, wanted to play, helped us all to improve our cricket, couldn't see anything wrong with his action," said Folb, recalling that Muralitharan had been no-balled for throwing in Australia this winter.

The Lashings reputation has spread. Folb suspects Richardson heard of them while on tour with the West Indies and the player's management group made contact last summer. Negotiations have taken several months but were finally completed last week. Richardson will not be paid for playing cricket but will be available for promotions and invitation games.

"Not all of our overseas players have gone down that well with other sides," Folb said. "But we've always tried to use them sparingly and they have helped to elevate the cricket of what are fundamentally non-cricketers."

Richardson's presence in such unexalted company, however, is already anticipated eagerly. The dream of dismissing him will make the winter and spring rush by in Kentish villages. "Everybody wants to play him," Folb said.

After the World Cup, Richardson has the small matter of yet another Test and one-day series, this time at home against New Zealand. That ends on 2 May. On 4 May he has promised to be in the Lashings XI at Cobdown.

Folb, who also runs a property management company, was naturally delighted by his signing's early World Cup victory against Zimbabwe. "Looked in good nick," he said after Richardson's 32. "He'll do for us. I shouldn't think I'll have to ask him to serve behind the bar."