As the rain continues to cascade down here in Wellington, the range of hill tops hidden by a never ending blanket of impenetrable mist it’s hard to remember this city ever seeing sun this time last week. Some photos arrive in my inbox that jolt the memory. Dear reader, I forgot to inform you…
A life time ambition was finally realised on Wednesday 13th March, Anderson Park, Wellington. New Zealand vs England. Sort of.
Ok, I’m not a fully fledged international you realise, but an international nonetheless and I was due to play in the second of three Twenty20 matches between New Zealand’s Beige Brigade and the Barmy Army from England. At stake was international cricket’s newest prize, The Rashes.
The call up came from the Godfather of the Beige Brigade, an esteemed gentleman by the name of Paul Ford. That you see people at cricket matches in NZ dressed in beige shirts is all down to this man and his good chum Mike Lane.
Next time the camera next pans round the spectators and various visions of beige apparel leap out of the screen at you, it will be down, in some part, to the hard work of Kiwi cricket obsessives Paul and Mike.
Having seen cricket supporters from other nations collectively and pointedly align themselves with their heroes (the most obvious example of this being the aforementioned Barmy Army) Paul and Mike decided to join in with their take on things. Drawing heavily from the late Seventies Kerry Packer-era World Series Cricket and their nation’s first foray into coloured clothing (back when I would imagine beige and brown was clearly the obvious choice of clothing to people then), the lads decided there was a market for both retro and showing support for your team.
That so many others have bought into the ethos of the Beige Brigade shows Kiwis heartily agree with them. It is about passion, not fashion after all.
But it is also about friendliness and a shared love of cricket with these upstanding fellows too. Which explains how my mate Phil and I have remained in contact with Paul ever since our first encounter with them at the Test Match in Wellington three years ago.
When the call came through I answered in the affirmative immediately. Split loyalties or lack of patriotism didn’t come into it. As I see it, it I’d been given an opportunity to play cricket, err, internationally, with some top blokes in a lovely location. It’s not as though ‘Baz’ McCullum and Mike Hesson had been in contact through a series of coded messages offering me the option of enlisting in the cricketing equivalent of the Cambridge Spies. Inevitably though I did cop a lot of stick from among my compatriots in the travelling contingent when I rocked up in my whites, sorry, beiges.
Having convincingly won the first encounter down in Dunedin, hopes were high from the home side going into the next game at the Beige Brigade stronghold. To further add to the atmosphere, Paul recruited Simon Christie, a local tenor, to sing God Defend New Zealand and Jerusalem while the ever affable, ever reliable Billy The Trumpeter from the Barmy Army affably and reliably accompanied him. As the away team comfortably won the battle of the singers, I adopted the listless, uncaring demeanour usually seen in those clueless Man United players (having been told beforehand by Fergie to not betray any kind of positive emotion) when God Save The Queen plays at Wembley.
After a couple of looseners, our captain, Brent Coffey set the tone with a decent opening over, he followed this up shortly after with a sharp one-handed slip catch at square leg. The Beige XI dominated for the following thirteen of the Barmy XI’s twenty overs. Athletic run outs by Brett Wooffindin and John Hill underpinned the fielding performance. In the last five overs, the English finally got their act together and registered something like a competitive total. Their eighth wicket partnership decided to throw the bat at everything and being charged with bowling the penultimate over I was directly in the firing line.
Following a viciously struck four through deep midwicket, a booming six over square leg was met with huge cheers for the endeavour and jeers for me. Worse was that it was in front of the England captain and his lovely wife Alice who had popped in for a stroll around the adjoining Botanical Gardens. I gloomily took my hat back from the umpire and plodded off to long off to silently have a stern word with myself.
The big hitters had pugnaciously dragged the Barmies back into the match. Credit here should also go to one of my travelling muckers, Charlie, who also batted well. To win The Rashes, the Beige XI would have to score 131 from twenty overs.
Which they did rather easily to be honest. As with the devastating effort at Dunedin,the Beige batters got amongst the opposition, emptying car parks and sending bystanders scurrying for cover. The Falconhawks trio of Nicko, Duffy and Mann did the damage, captain Coffey also enjoyed himself leading from the front as retiring out turned out to be the main method of dismissal. The Beige XI won by five wickets with an over or two to spare. Barmies captain Giles Wellington presented his opposite number, Paul The Godfather, with The Rashes trophy to great applause in the Wellington Collegians club house.
A gracious Giles presents a rather delighted looking Paul with The Rashes tub. Despite having earlier taken his first international wicket, Trumpeter Billy, in the background appears somewhat crestfallen.
Thoughts now turn to Thursday’s clash at Auckland where the home team, under Mike Lane, will be hoping to make it three from three and with it an unprecedented Beige-wash. Their ruthless pursuit of this honour will seemingly stop at nothing as my place in the team has gone to ex-Test bowler Daryl Tuffey.
I’m quite honoured to be stood down in these circumstances, to be fair. You should see the likes I’m usually dropped for at Elstow.