Phil Smith Beyond the Boundary #14

North Park

It’s been raining pretty much all morning, but most of the Bath Road breakfast joints have roofs, so it’s not a huge concern. The Curious is packed though as the garden’s open to the elements and with their outdoor areas also suffering the effects of climatic depopulation, both Lucy’s and Moran’s are pretty chocka too. So it’s Toasties or the other one (loads of empty seats for obvious reasons; no name supplied for legal reasons) and as Cherie’s outside the former, beckoning in passers-by with a gusto that few can match, we set our paper down on the second table in and make for the counter to order a pre-match fry-up.

By the time we’ve logged our request for two eggs, two bacon, two tomatoes and two toast in true Noah’s Ark fashion, which is quite appropriate given the day’s current weather, some bloke’s plonked himself in our seats and is busily consuming the sports section of our paper from cover to cover. There’s a deca-swarm, or whatever the collective noun for a ten-strong stag party dressed in fluorescent children’s clothing is, lining the far side of the establishment, which has recently had a bit of a summer makeover – the table numbers have been written on pink A4 paper, laminated, and blu-tacked onto the wall next to each eating place, so we rescue the paper and squeeze into number twelve, which fits the space between the wall and the counter perfectly; if you don’t need to use the chairs, that is.

Also modelling some rather fetching fancy dress is Farook, the co-owner, who’s frying away in the part-open kitchen, sporting an armless olive green t-shirt, khaki chinos and a bald patch that seems to have doubled in diameter since last Sunday’s visit, all of which make him look like an extra in a 1960s war film about the Battle of El Alamein. It’s not a great look, a viewpoint backed up when a semi-middle-class couple arrive at the counter, peek into the cookhouse and beat an immediate exit before Cherie has had time to even get the ‘F’ in ‘Full English?’ into the public domain.

We’ve decided against having any of the Heinz varieties following yesterday’s late-night CCMMC (Cobra, Chicken Madras, More Cobra) evening at the Nepalese, but the bacon’s so thick it’s more like a chop than a rasher, which makes up for the shortfall of the absent beans.

Thankfully the rain’s eased by the time we leave the backstreet car park and head for the Shurdington Road, though there’s nearly a pile-up at the roundabout outside the Norwood when two cars simultaneously jam on their anchors as a whooping ambulance tears town-ward, leaving the usual chaos of an emergency services’ vehicle teetering in its wake.

While their first team is just down the road contesting a WEPL Gloucestershire local derby at The Spa, Hatherley’s Second XI is entertaining Westbury-on-Severn at their impressive North Park home. The two sides are currently at opposite ends of the County League Division Two table, with Westbury aiming to return to the GCCL top tier at the second time of asking following their 2017 relegation, while Hatherley are just about keeping their head above the late August relegation trapdoor.

The hosts opened their ground thirty three years ago in 1986, celebrating the occasion with a game against the Netherlands and the last few seasons have seemed a bit like a windmill for the club, with the firsts winning promotion to Premier Two but suffering immediate relegation, while this year they seem to have the prevailing breeze in their sails and look odds-on for a welcome return to the second tier of the West of England Premier League.

Farmers tend to be pretty accurate weather forecasters and Hatherley wicketkeeper Dave Carter, who’s married into a local agricultural family, spends the entire sixty seconds that comprise 1:02pm explaining why the rain won’t stop until the evening, only to find that at 1:03pm the precipitation’s ceased and work begins to ready the ground for a 1.45pm kick-off. Hatherley have two groundsmen: full-timer Roger charges around the outfield on his big blue tractor, scaring off anyone who gets within thirty yards of his square, the fielding restriction area being reinforced by both the circle of flat white discs and the threat of imminent death beneath the wheels of a mind-of-its-own harvester; part-timer Rich meanwhile, chugs sedately up and down the track on his emerald green roller, seeing how slowly he can compress a pitch that has been well covered and protected during the previous evening’s moisture-drop.

Westbury, missing star all-rounder Dan Hockaday, who’s foregone a potential run-in with Roger and his traumatised steed to indulge in a day of disrepute on the streets of England’s second city bat first, and despite Neil Wyman edging behind for seven, captain Greg Artus and number three Daniel Anderson take the score past fifty with precious few alarms. Anderson eventually slaps a full toss from Tom Care straight back to the bowler to depart for 21, but at drinks in a game reduced to forty overs per team, the visitors are a nice round 100-2 off 20.

Soon after the refreshment break, the crowd of two holds its collective breath as Artus hits a Seth Price delivery straight up towards a chink in the clouds, only for the bowler to go closer to a run out than a catch as the ball rebounds from his hands and just fails to hit the stumps, with the batsman still loitering halfway up the track. Artus analyses the reasons behind his mistimed aerial excursion, immediately changes his gloves and smites the next ball to the cover point boundary for four. Impressed with the result of his exchange, he swaps his mitts again, only this time it’s third pair unlucky as Alex Jennings holds onto another skyer at long on and Price finally has his man.

The Westbury captain’s well-made 63 however proves to be the mainstay of the visitors’ innings and with useful cameos from Stirrup, Williams, Edginton and Burrows, Westbury close their forty overs on a useful looking 197-9.

Tea is served in the Park’s fine pavilion, the back wall of which is adorned with an impressive array of framed cricket shirts, though closer inspection reveals that most of these come from the same two families. There’s a ball-by-ball TV re-run of Ireland’s second innings at Lord’s yesterday, though it’s all over before the cling film’s been fully removed from the very nice egg & bacon quiche. A list of fifteen qualified club first aiders is pinned to the middle of the opposite-end noticeboard, but from the information provided, the only team not to be Red Cross certified is munching its sausage rolls less than ten feet away, so let’s hope nobody clocks one this afternoon.

The eyes of the somewhat limited crowd had been drawn to captain Jake Nickell throughout the first innings, due in no small part to his garishly bright red & yellow Harlequin-style headwear and he impresses again as the second player this afternoon, following Wyman earlier, to walk after nicking to the keeper with the score on thirty. Ollie Perks joins Jennings and the two make steady progress against an accurate Westbury attack before the hosts’ number three is bowled by Artus to leave the home side on 69-2.

Hatherley are sponsored by Perks Building Contractors, but their middle order struggles to build any sort of partnership as four wickets go down for fifteen runs and the visitors are cock-a-hoop, having reduced the men from North Park to 97-6. Notchers Mark and Kate are making good use of their assortment of coloured pens on the pavilion balcony, though the pair are partly hidden by the award-winning purple, pink, red & yellow hanging baskets that are suspended in glorious technicolour from the clubhouse roof. The seven certificates that are fixed to the interior wall next to the cocktail sausage-end of the tea table illustrate how the floral displays have progressed from Level 3 (‘Developing’) in 2011 to Level 4 (‘Thriving’) from 2012-2014 and ultimately to the heady heights of Level 5 (‘Outstanding’) from 2015-2017. There’s an empty space where last year’s certificate should be however, suggesting that either standards have dropped somewhat in recent times, or Dixy fell into the wall and broke the frame while volunteering for Saturday evening bar duty following a last-ball victory for H & R 5th XI.

Jennings eventually departs, held in the deep off Anderson, but a late burst from Rob Dent and Michael Cupper makes for an entertaining conclusion as Hatherley reduce the deficit to just eleven before their time runs out and Westbury can celebrate a narrow, but well-earned success.

The visitors’ win, coupled with Shurdington’s cancellation at Woodmancote this afternoon sees Westbury now clear in second spot, while Oldlands’ tie with Cinderford has cut the gap on Hatherley to just thirteen points. With today’s hosts travelling to top-of-the-table Cam and Oldlands meeting seventh placed Woodmancote in 168 hours’ time, alarm bells might just be ringing at North Park next Saturday evening. And if they are, they’ll have nothing to do with Roger’s out-of-control tractor, Captain Nickell’s Harlequin cap or David Carter’s futile attempts at weather forecasting.

Westbury-on-Severn 197-9 (40 overs); G.Artus 63; H.Perks 3-36, M.Cupper 3-45.

Hatherley & Reddings 186-8 (40 overs); A.Jennings 56, R.Dent 39*; E.Edginton 2-16