A Founder Captain Writes....

 

The website has now pulled in a 4th player from the original NAGCC XI that played against Ash in 1972. I have recently received a message from Iain Smith, who captained the side in its second game and for the 2nd season, in 1973, in circumstances that he explains. He has sent me the text of an article he wrote about the founding of NAGCC, and also a bit more of his thoughts from our correspondence, which I reproduce below. Iain has also offered his address and e-mail to anyone who wants to contact him, so if anyone remembers him then please feel free to get in touch with him.

Incidentally I do wonder what effect those initial matches had on the players, as of the 4 we have contacted so far one lives in Australia, one in South Africa, one in California and now one in Portugal. Of course Lyle Ellard is still in New Ash Green…what did you do to them, Lyle, to drive them all away???

First of all, I enclose a copy of an excerpt of something I wrote in 1998. The full document has no title and begins with the sentence “here are the light-hearted stories I can remember from my life.” I have one spare copy of this 141-page magnum opus if any former New Ash Green friend is mad enough to request it. I hope that what I have enclosed will enhance your Archive:

England is so charming when it comes to the cricket season. Drinking a hard-earned pint of beer on a summer evening in Kent with the lads after a match is hard to beat for gentle warmth of pleasure. But it wasn´t all easy.

 

I answered an ad in the local rag for chaps who wanted to start a village cricket team, attended the initial meeting, and gave guarded support. An away match was then arranged for the end of September 1972, another for October 1, and it was pointed out that a lot of work would be required on our pitch for the 1973 season. We lost the first match with honour, our captain Ivor Phillips making the top score and me the next best.

 

Ivor was the only genuine cricketer amongst us, and it was a tremendous blow when he suddenly announced he would no longer be available. The blow was quadrupled when I realised that I was going to be the next captain, in addition to being treasurer.

 

We won a hilarious match on October 1, despite Eric Brindle and another fielder colliding with one another on the boundary, leaving just enough room for the ball to slide between them for four. The following year, 1973, we lost the first sixteen matches in a row. Captain:- I. Smith.

 

I think the problems can be categorised into three sections.

 

First of all we were pretty useless. When I tell you that I was one of the best batsmen and one of the best bowlers, you begin to get an idea of the magnitude of our lack of prowess.

 

Secondly, there was our pitch. It was obviously the same for both sides, but  a skilful bowler can make more out of a bad pitch than a less skilful bowler, and a skilful batsman is better able to defend himself than a less skilful one. I found myself constantly apologising for the state of the pitch in response to polite comments. Some of these courteous comments consisted of whole sentences, like "since you´re the captain, I´d like to tell you your pitch is a bloody disgrace."

 

Thirdly, there was the presence of Lyle Ellard. Lyle was (a) the chap in successful charge of the maintenance of the outfield (b) an admirably efficient Fixtures Secretary. In this latter capacity he had arranged an enormous number of matches that first year, Sats. and Suns. As Captain I had to "select" the team (translation "beg people to play"). Since the village of New Ash Green had just expanded enormously and British telephony was run by a State Department called the Post Office, nearly half the inhabitants didn´t have a phone connection. I was travelling a lot on business that year, so I would come home on the Friday night, 'phone the people who were 'phonable, wander around the rest of the village trying to raise two XI´s for Sat and Sun, play on Sat and Sun, and crawl off to the office for a rest on Mon before starting the next trip on Tues or Wed.

 

Lyle is a lovely person. Three of us kept the club alive that year, and Lyle was No. 1. But in addition to being a great person Lyle was also a lousy cricketer. As Captain, my natural inclination was to put him down for No. 11, and often felt he should really have been No. 12, but I usually slotted him in at No. 7.

 

Initially I also set my face against allowing him to have the ball in his hands, because I knew how awful he was. But after we had lost the first ten or so matches, I also took that bit between my teeth and tossed him the ball to have a bowl.

 

Without a word or a sign from me, the field immediately spread out to the four corners of the earth. Other than the wicket-keeper, there wasn´t a fielder within forty yards of the bat. I had taken up observer status at long-on.

 

Lyle ran in. You could tell he was concentrating, and without tripping over himself he actually reached the wicket in good nick, parallel to the stumps and with the right arm starting to move rhythmically in the correct arc and direction.

 

But he did make a mistake. He forgot to let go of the ball in time. By the time he remembered, the only possible way for the ball to go was ten yards away from him, hard onto the pitch.

 

This turned out to be unbelievably cunning, because it had the effect that the batsman was knotted over in laughter. As the ball dribbled towards him, he took an almighty swipe. The swipe took his bat just above the ball, which hit his stumps. Next man in.

 

As I looked around at this point, I saw five of my fellow outfielders lying on the grass, thumping it with uncontrollable laughter. One was being helped to his feet by a spectator. Bit of team discipline required, I thought. "Man in," I shouted, with difficulty because I was between fifty and a hundred and twenty yards away from all of them. Slowly and shakingly they came to their feet. The new man took guard.

 

You could see Lyle concentrating again. Again he arrived at the wicket looking good. Obviously he wanted to avoid his previous mistake of letting go too late. So this time he let go far too early.

 

As the ball soared into the clouds I took a quick count, and before the ball reached its zenith reckoned that at least three fielders were already hors de combat on account of excessive mirth.

 

Balls take much longer to go up than they do to come down. Once they start to come down the speed of descent increases quickly. It is also extremely difficult to hit a ball plunging down almost vertically at you.

 

The batsman, faced with this challenge, failed. His wild swing came nowhere near the ball. The ball hit his stumps.

 

Possibly Napoleon or Wellington or Sergeant-Major bloody MacIntosh could have controlled my troops at that moment. I couldn´t. The file was alive with the sound of laughter.  Lyle 2 for none.

 

Thereafter the game assumed a normal course, and we lost.

 

A brief-ish personal note. I attended the initial meeting in Ivor Phillips’ house in Punch Croft in the late summer of 1972. At the time I was living at 160 Knights Croft, and was in the process of moving to 15 Lambardes, where my ex-wife Barbara still lives.

 

After a passage of 32 years, you can more or less guarantee that different people will remember different things. What I remember is that, at that meeting, all of a sudden various attendees seemed to be assuming various important tasks, and that all eyes then turned to me. Feeling the assembled eyes burning in on me, I hastily volunteered to be treasurer, a job I fulfilled until early 1975.

 

We had the first match against Ash, which is well documented in your Archive. After that match Ivor Phillips said he wasn’t available for the next match. This, and his subsequent decision not to play in the 1973 season, were body-blows to me. I did not know then, and still less do I know now, why he took that decision. Obviously there are a lot of good possible reasons.

 

I knew immediately that Ivor’s departure robbed us of our only genuine cricketer. But the even worse news came five minutes later, when a group headed by, if memory serves me right, Jim Harbinson and Alan Avery, told me that I was the people’s choice to be the next captain.

 

Well, if you look at that situation from one point of view, of the people available I think it is reasonable to say that I was somewhere near the best choice. But if you look at from another point of view, namely “we’re looking for a captain of a village cricket team in the glorious cricketing county of Kent” then you would have to be off your ruddy head to choose Iain Smith.

 

My attachment to this letter gives you something of the atmosphere of 1973. We did win three matches on the trot just after the 16 losses I have recorded in the attachment, and then we lost approx the last three. I think, I am far from sure, that our winning streak has something to do with Sam (see below).

 

I played under  Sam’s captaincy in the 1974 season, of which I have no very concrete memories, and at the beginning of 1975 my job moved me to Germany. I have not lived in Kent since, although I did spend nine years in London.

 

I have no objection to my address, tel no or e-mail address being publicised, and would be delighted to hear from old friends.

Lugar da  Redonda,

Cortes,

P-4950-850 Monçăo,

PORTUGAL.

Tel. (+351) 251 653 748

Fax. (+351) 251 651 703

iainsmith@mail.telepac.pt

This next section may sound pernickety. The reason for that is that it is indeed pernickety. I just pick up here on points which struck me on reading your Archive.

 

-        The 1973 statistics which you show do indeed refer to a part-season. As I mentioned above, we played between 20 and 23 matches in the 1973 season, I believe 22.

-        We very much did not play all our matches away. We played a large number at home, roughly half. That was part of the problem.

-        I have sent an e-mail to Brian Buddle, apologising for one aspect in the attachment . I have been firmly convinced for all this time that Lyle Ellard was our Fixtures Secretary. Brian partially corrects me on your web-site. I think that his and my comments are reconcilable with one another, but I may be wrong.

I am absolutely horrified to see that I appear in the official 1973 statistics as having a worse batting average than Lyle Ellard. I did bat at No. 1, and he at No 13. But even so. One does have a little personal pride.

This last section is deliberately distracted. These are just thoughts which occur to me. It is almost exactly 30 years since I last donned the white boots of New Ash Green.

 

But there is one important point, and that is Sam. Now, I’m a bit uncertain about Sam, because I see on the web-site a reference to “S.Baldekwar” (spelling may be wrong). [Editor’s Note – for more recent players the Sam in question was Sam Hadi, and not, I am sure you will be relieved to know, Sharad!]

 

I am absolutely certain about the following things. 1. Sam was the first genuine cricketer after Ivor Phillips to play for the team. 2. Sam was an excellent slow bowler and forceful bat. 3. I persuaded Sam to be captain for 1974. 4. Sam was a quite extraordinarily nice chap.

 

I am less certain about the following. 1. Sam was of Pakistani, not Indian, origin. 2. Sam’s surname began with the letter “H”. I believe it was Habib, but offer no guarantee.

 

It is difficult for me, in my natural capacity of extremely old fart, to criticise you, who have done so much. But at some point in your excellent Archive you say (I do not quote, I try instead to summarise) “it wasn’t, as I had always thought, the Rugby chaps who cleared the playing ground, it was the Cricket chaps.”

 

Not quite.

 

The cricket ground was indeed cleared for the 1973 season. Long before the first Rugby match ( in which I participated in the autumn of that year).

 

The point is that the cricket and rugby matches took place on entirely different parts of the playing ground.

 

It was extremely difficult to prepare the cricket pitch. There is only one hero to mention here, and his name is Lyle Ellard.

 

The preparing of the rugby pitch could not possibly have been done by one man, or even ten men. I was one of about twenty men who plucked stones  out  of that damn’d soil. Logically, only a minority of us could have cast a glance up to the heavens and said “I am glad I am doing this because I am doing it for future generations of men.”

 

- - - -

 

I see I have not mentioned Alan Avery in the above or in the attached. I often think of him with affection. It was he (as secretary), Lyle Ellard and myself who kept the cricket club, such as it was, alive in 1973-74.

 

 

Iain Smith

 

And finally…Iain asked us to pass on an e-mail to Peter Blunden, who has also been in contact from that first side. Sadly at the moment we all seem to have lost his e-mail address, though I hope we will recover it. So in order to increase the chances of it getting to Peter I am going to publish the message below. Not only to get it to him, though, but also because I think it rather accurately captures a certain amount of the spirit of the early ‘70s….

Dear Peter,

 

      You  hairy Australian.

 

You are correct when you maintain on the New Ash Green Cricket Club web-site that your captain used to work for Reuters.

 

I know. I was that captain.

 

The problem with you, hairy one, was taking the ball out of your hands. You vividly describe on the web-site the problems which a subsequent captain of yours had in  South London. I don’t think I was that captain. I was only captain in 1973, if you’re still listening to me through your hair, Peter. If you are man enough to visit me in North Portugal, there is a fiery Scotsman available on iainsmith@mail.telepac.pt

 

 

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