It was an outswinger. The batsman attempted to play at it but misjudged the movement and caught an edge. The ball flew on to second slip who dived to the right, arm outstretched, before skidding to a halt ball in hand.
The umpire signaled out and the batsman walked to a ripple of applause from his teammates who were lounging in striped deckchairs or lying propped on elbows on the grass near the white-painted pavilion. The next batsman got up on to one knee and retied his laces. Then he rummaged in the kitbag before turning his back in order to arrange the protective aluminium cup. When he was satisfied that it was in place he turned round and tapped it theatrically, the hollow knock made everyone laugh. Someone joked about it sounding much too big and there was a ribald consensus that it was undoubtedly true. The dismissed player swapped pads with the incomer, handed over the bat and said good luck.
‘Only 4 balls left before lunch, try to make sure you’re still batting after the sandwiches, Dickon.’
Dickon raised the bat in acknowledgement and someone shouted that he should watch for the outswinger. The returned batsman flopped down on the grass and then lay stiff-legged to ease his own protective cup out of his trousers. He tossed it towards those seated on the deckchairs where its arrival caused a good-natured over reaction that gradually subsided.
The reclining player next to him nodded after Dickon and said he was a good player and then continued, ‘Dickon was captain of the 1st 11 at prep too, we were in the same class together.’
‘Where were you?’
‘Dovecot, Wiltshire. You?’
‘Lark Hill. Bloody awful place. Cost a fortune apparently.’
Everyone looked up at the sound of a bat’s heavy contact. They saw Dickon and his partner passing each other in the middle of the wicket and then slow down to a walk as it became obvious the ball would make the boundary. The seated players clapped their appreciation and sledged the chasing fielder as he puffed towards the ball. It had come to a halt quite near. After the final delivery of the over the laden umpire redistributed the players’ previously discarded jumpers and everyone made their way off.
During lunch the two teams mingled, chatting over plates of sandwiches and cups of tea. A member of the visiting contingent dropped a vol-au-vent and was mercilessly teased about having dropped a sitter during the first innings. A man dressed in a charcoal grey suit with a matching waistcoat and a winged-collar shirt clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief,’ he said, pausing to let the sarcastic expressions of disappointment end, ‘thank you gentlemen,’ he said to laughter. ‘The fixture between Hambledown College and ourselves has been played every year since 1904. That unbroken run was nearly scotched by the Luftwaffe-’ he waited for the hissing to end, ‘when a spitfire was shot down and everyone had to run for cover. Luckily the supermarine crashed into the Solent and mercifully the pilot managed to bail out. I’m sure that you are all aware that the two 1st 11’s playing that day were the first to find him dangling from the oak tree by his canopy. St Barnabus’ captain remonstrated with the unfortunate fellow that attendance was by invitation only and would he mind leaving at once, a remark that earned him a drubbing but forever a place in Barnabus’ folklore.’ The home 11 broke into song;
‘The Bosch were all over
The white cliffs of Dover
Knocked the ball for six
We made fine silk knickers
Gave them all to Vickers
He wore them
The man raised his hands eventually bringing the cheering and laughter to a halt.
‘Thank you for that St Barnabus, would that you would only sing the official school song with such gusto. Yes the parachute silk was indeed presented to the school by squadron leader Hawkesmore where I am happy to report it remains unmolested to this day.
‘There is absolutely no truth whatsoever in the rumour that undergarments of any sort were manufactured from it or that the then Master, the venerable Dr Vickers, disported himself in any such way.’
‘So let me just finish by saying how delighted we are to host Hambledown once again for the first of the two fixtures of the 1952 summer term. Welcome Hambledown. Hip hip!’
Dickon emptied the creased and age-softened brown leather holdall onto the floor. Bats, balls and stumps lay in a jumbled pile amongst the grass stained canvas covered pads and keepers’ gloves. As first-team captain he didn’t have to organise the kit, he could have made someone else do it but he’d decided to deal with it himself. It was a choice which he put down partly to the room itself. Its oblong windows were set high up along one wall. On sunny July days their position allowed the light to angle down in streaked golden bars that Dickon imagined seemed solid enough to grasp.
Today was just such a day.
The windows’ shapes, 3 warmed amber parallelograms of precise angularity, were cast on the parquet floor. To preserve the floor it was accepted that cricket spikes weren’t worn so Dickon was in stocking feet. He shuffled flat-footed into one of the patches of light and smiled at the warmth. He would have remained for longer but he’d decided to sand and oil the bats before putting everything away. He opened the cupboard where the tins of linseed and emery papers were kept. Taking a cheesecloth he wiped the edges of one of the bats and then used a paper on its face and toe. The patina was gradually transformed from a deep smudged straw colour to a much paler almost bleached appearance. As he rubbed the dust mushroomed and eddied, sparking through the columns of light. Dickon sanded both bats and then killed the dust with the cloth before applying the oil in the way the master in charge of cricket had shown him at his prep school, bare fingers rather than a cloth, so that the oil would find its way into any nicks that the emery paper hadn’t removed.
He had just finished repacking the cricket equipment into the leather bag when he heard noise coming from the adjoining changing room.