Most cricket clubs have regulations of some kind. You can see them on disintegrating paper notices stuck to dressing room walls with rusty drawing pins, or on smart notices nailed above the entrance to the pavilion. Little rules and requests which the visitors are expected to oblige and adhere to. Please do not tamper with the sightscreen, they state. Please clean your boots outside. No spikes in the pavilion. It’s all part of the social cricket scene, as much as vast home-made teas and dodgy local umpiring. Today though, was slightly different. Today we are to play Patmoor, a new fixture arranged at the last minute through the Cricket Conference.
“No books. No aerosols. No audio or video tapes,” announced a large lady with a mammoth bundle of keys dangling from her belt. “No non-safety matches. No sharp cutting objects. No plastic bags.” We went under the arch of the metal detector one at a time. “No mobile phones, no electrical equipment.” Security cameras stared at us from the ceiling. Guards shuffled round. We were locked inside one of Britain’s most notorious high-security prisons. How could we have known that Patmoor stood for PATients of BroadMOOR Hospital for the Criminally Insane!
Many people might think that Broadmoor is perhaps the natural home for members of Kensington Cricket Club. The fact that James Pickles had chosen to bring his girlfriend Catherine to this game out of the thirty or so possibilities on the fixture card suggests that he for one was lacking his full quota of marbles. A good romantic setting would inspire her love for the game. He could have taken her to the Bank of England, in opulent Roehampton. Or to the Royal Household fixture. To the beautifully green lawns of Worcester College Oxford perhaps? No, Patmoor was the one for him. The fact that Vinoo Nath asserted to Catherine that he was “the playboy of the team” suggested his grip on reality was slipping too.
“Aren’t we playing the staff?” we yelped querulously at the guard. “You’ll be alright,” was his cryptic response, “just don’t go wandering off.” We were ushered through a large complex of high walls and electronic gates that would have put Jurassic Park to shame. Doors and bars slid beepingly shut behind us. The time for chickening out was past.
After descending through the prison orchard and garden we finally arrived at the pitch, and noticed a slight disparity in the size of the two sightscreens. One was a battered panel of wood about the size of an A3 piece of paper. The other was a whitewashed section of the prison wall about thirty yards wide. The inmates were ready and waiting.
Tim, the captain for this fateful match, daringly won the toss and decided to bat first. In front of a captive audience (very funny. -Ed.) John and Vinoo walked out to the middle. They both wore helmets, more in anticipation of a baseball bat to the back of the head than a delivery rearing from short of a length, but as it turned out the opposition’s bowling and demeanour were both friendly. The helmeted duo nevertheless seemed anxious not to startle the opposition with any sudden movements, and inched their way to five without loss after six overs, clearly trying to lull Patmoor into a false sense of security. (ha ha. -Ed.) Vigorous encouragement from Ben at the boundary edge soon accounted for John however, goading him into an injudicious whack to point. The scoreboard then began to tick over more rapidly, largely due to a generous donation of wides from the first change bowler, and Vinoo eventually plucked up courage to nudge a four through third man.
Kensington’s innings closed after 35 overs on 165 for 5. Vinoo eked out a worthy 24, San made a careful 17 and Sunil an unbeaten 21, but the undoubted hero was Andy Doherty, newly promoted to no.5. He struck 57 off 69 balls, despatching one ball memorably into the orchard and almost causing a security alert as half the fielders suddenly rushed off into the undergrowth to look for it. Your innings, Andy, is captured on surveillance cameras should you ever want to relive it!
After tea (pre-packed metal-free rolls) Kensington took the field, leaving behind a nervous Catherine in the pavilion. She need not have worried. The guards could not have been more protective. Patmoor set out in pursuit of the total but their openers were unable to break free from the shackles (careful. -Ed.) imposed by some tight bowling, and soon wickets began to tumble. Jon Pickles, aided by the miniscule sightscreen behind him, would have taken three wickets in four balls if his brother had not dropped a viciously swirling dolly at cover. Andy Stuart then applied the killer blow (stop this now. -Ed.) by striking twice in successive balls, his second victim being a large, dreadlocked gentleman who was bowled first ball and returned to huge cheers from the pavilion (“Your seat’s still warm, mate!”). By this time it was getting quite dark and the guards began to fidget – not because of the failing light (there were, after all, floodlights!), but apparently some of the patients’ sedation could have been wearing off!! Sunil, thankfully, soon claimed his traditional cheap tail-end wicket and Kensington had won by 89 runs.
“Let’s all go to the bar, chaps”, Sunil beamed to the inmates, oblivious of the faux pas he had just made! They waved their goodbyes and appeared pleased that Kensington had made an effort to make their lives just a little less tedious. Cricket, as ever, was the winner providing a welcome “release” for the inmates and a community service opportunity for Kensington.
We were escorted back to the entrance and let out, which was a relief for most of us, and a pleasant surprise for the remainder. At the bar the security guards were pumped for gruesome detail by Sunil, which they supplied, though apparently no “incidents” had ever occurred during cricket matches. We eventually left with plenty to tell our colleagues about on Monday morning. Once again Kensington had somehow got themselves out of jail…(That’s it. You’re fired. -Ed.)