Thirty-Eight years ago I went on my first Fleet Street cricket tour to the West Country with The Badgers, a team I helped found.
Last weekend I made a sentimental return to find that little had changed in the three decades since my global ambitions declared me out CBC (career before cricket).
Sadly, nature has carried out her own Badger cull since my last appearance in the 1980s (two wickets, 19 not out, since you ask) but she has also made our cricket team a working model of life in microcosm.
Some great old stalwarts have gone over the years. Worryingly, I may have fired some of them to save money and evade company bankruptcy during my Mirror editorship in the horrid post-Maxwell years but thankfully successive ageing illnesses have wiped memories clean – mine as well as theirs – and we all exchange smiles and handshakes and the past is a foreign country once again.
Most of us originals are now old and infirm and have appointed sons as replacements. The batting lineup (Banks, Lamb, Cundy , Wood) and so on might have a familiar ring to it but these are now sons of the originals, mere cricketing clones come to wield the willow as their fathers did before them.
We oldies hide under Panamas and warm our weary bones inside thick sweaters while those still-active remnants of the old side scoff at the antics of nervous newcomers.
“Are we up with the run rate?” asks a hopeful young Badger in ill-fitting batting pads, black socks tucked into oversize white trousers (end-of-season bargain from Asda by the look of them) and then stuffed into grubby training shoes.
“Hardly,” sneers Graham, the world’s finest cricket photographer, a legend in his own mind. “We need 39 off the last two overs!”
A shout of joy from the fielding side electrifies the novice into stuffing a grimy batter’s box down his underpants. “Am I in?” he stammers.
“Not for vey long I shouldn’t think,” murmurs Graham the Great who over four decades has gathered about him the finest set of kit and the worst set of averages in the scorebook.
“Here, you’ll need these,” shouts another wag, tossing the trembling novice a pair of batter’s gloves, both of them left-handers.
He stumbles to the wicket wondering why he is suddenly all fingers and no thumbs, destined to face the fastest bowler in the village with newly arthritic hands and lacking the helmet that might just save his life.
He crosses with the dismissed batsman, a retired News of the World executive who has shared an hour at the wicket in teeming rain with the tipster Templegate of The Sun, contributing six very slow singles to their partnership stand of 58.
The Aged One has done the job his skipper asked of him – a rearguard action until the remainder of the batting order have shown up from the pub having watched the big race, now gigglingly referred to as the St Badger.
“Very tough out there,” moans the poor man’s Boycott, determinedly ignoring the fact that his ex-partner, unshackled from the restraints imposed by the Aged One, is now peppering the boundary with mighty swipes.
There is a degree of good-natured sledging of the News of the Screws veteran.
“Is it true that you had to pay off so many ex-wives with property settlements that the NoW fancied running a competition headlined ‘Sleep with Jonesie, Win a House’?
The cruel humour doesn’t change. One of the opposing batsman suddenly sank to his knees clutching his throat. Coughing and spluttering he cried: “I’ve swallowed a fly,”
As one, the trio of Badgers fielding in the slips struck up:
“We don’t know why/
He swallowed a fly/
Perhaps he’ll die!”
Sadly he survived. And made runs. Serves us right!