Every club has one. The archetypal number eleven. The man that loves the destructive element of the gentleman’s game. The man who, growing up, alongside images of Megadeth and Travis Bickle would have had crudely defaced posters of David Gower and Gordon Greenidge on their bedroom wall. To them a bat is merely a nocturnal creature with odd shaped wings and big teeth, while a batsman is the enemy, the object of their absolute ire. The Louis XVI to their Robespierre. Playing cricket is the chance to unleash their fury. To get even. To bloody the nose of a kind of snooty aristocracy. Having been imbued with this rebellious belief, it never leaves them.

Elstow’s member of this particular occult is Big Al Phillips, the second team captain. He’ll sit there chuntering away in the score hut as the wickets tumble. The departing batsmen will do everything to avoid eye, let alone ear, contact with their displeased skipper as they scuttle back timidly to the relative safe haven of the dressing room.
Yesterday at The Warren against Whitchurch of Buckinghamshire, the other nine members of the team kept their heads down. Number ten, James Glean’s useful stand at the wicket had come to an end. Big Al, face like thunder, sleeves rolled up, perplexed that those above had summarily failed in their duties, stormed to the wicket.

Like some kind of fellowship, it was always the way that bowlers never went after bowlers. Rough up the batsman as much as you like, but leave your colleague in arms be. Solidarity brother.
At some juncture in the last twenty five years, possibly in the Devon Malcolm “you guys are history” Test Match in 1994, this all changed. The Minutes from that particular meeting of the Fast Bowlers Union have probably been destroyed. Or they are hidden in a vault in some North Korean bank. Or maybe elsewhere shrouded in mystery. That emotive motion would’ve been hotly contested. But, just like every other controversial law anywhere in the world, once passed, there’s no going back.

Big Al’s first delivery faced was a head-high full bunger. At the non-striker’s end, Luke Griffin winced. A wince that said, “dear me, you won’t like him when he’s angry”. Thanks to Griffin’s stoicism and handy counter attacking, Elstow were in a position to post a decent score. With the riled Phillips at the other end now suitably incandescent this looked a formality.
A beamer from a brother. It was all too much for Phillips who tore into the Whitchurch attack with the kind of vengeful vigour usually reserved for Bruce Willis films. A huge six over deep, deep mid wicket was framed by an ensemble of fiercely struck fours.
At one stage, amid two batting collapses, Elstow looked in danger of not passing one hundred runs. They now had two hundred on the board and a man on a mission.

Whether momentarily swayed by thoughts of turning his back on his former life and going as a gun-for-hire allrounder or fearful of the call from the local shop steward on Monday morning demanding to know ‘just what the devil he was playing at scoring all these runs’, Elstow’s captain initially struggled with his radar. From the last ball of his first over, he thudded one into the Whitchurch opener’s pads. A lusty appeal, and lucky decision, brought the first wicket. Phillips yesterday bowled a nagging wicket to wicket line. You miss, I hit. He would hit three more times.

Whitchurch, despite the steady fall of wickets, to their credit, continued to chase the runs. No slinging out the anchor here, they fought fire with fire; their captain embodied the brave plan. His innings was brought to a halt by a full toss from Glean. Griffin backed up his growing all rounder credentials by getting among the wickets, inspired, no doubt, by teammates Nick Lewis and James Tanswell who also enjoyed fruitful afternoons with bat and ball. Elstow were in complete control.
In just the twenty second over, Tanswell bowled the last man, the eighth of ten such Whitchurch dismissals. Boisterous cheers greeted this healthy 93 run win and with it a welcome 30 points as well as a proud, almost paternal smile from the cuddly captain who had the look of a man, who, whisper it, enjoys batting almost as much as he does winning.

Horner Shearing Man of Substance of the Day: Solid displays from allrounders Luke Griffin, Nick Lewis and James Tanswell, with a nod to contributions from batsmen Guraj Galsin and Ed Wisson too, were in the shake up for the award. However, the irrepressible skipper Alan Phillips is this week’s worthy recipient.
Sammon Pie Moment of Fancy: Big Al’s gargantuan six will stay in the memory for a long time. Archetypal number eleven batsman? He’s better than Messrs Martin, McGrath and Mullally combined.
Clag Nut of the Day: Your correspondent. A first ball dismissal was compounded by an afternoon of aberrations in the outfield. The final humiliation of a day to forget was the Fawlty-esque act of drop kicking my keys into the garden hedge in a rage of visceral self hate that meant I spent what was left of the cool midsummer’s evening picking up scratches and splinters searching for them. Not quite the Saturday night rooting around in a bush I envisaged when I started the day….

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