Down in the Valley

I had been waiting for this day since the announcement of a fixtures schedule back in the murky depths of winter. Ever since reading of the team’s exploits in a book entitled ‘The Authors XI: A season of cricket from Hackney to Hambledon’ a few years previous and discovering that said team made at least one venture a summer to the Bowerchalke home ground of one of the authors, I had made a mental note to attend a future fixture at said venue. Such an excursion had taken place during the 2014 summer and now, three years down the line, a return had been planned. My friend had lived in the village of Bowerchalke for almost five years and, on an excursion to the Queen’s Head pub in neighbouring Broad Chalke upon my first visit to his house, we had undertaken a detour to the new cricket ground hiding behind the dwellings on meandering Church Street. Almost immediately I had been enraptured by this beguiling, beautiful, bucolic vista. Amid the juxtaposition of a late spring sunset and the fast descending twilight, I encouraged my friend to make a trip or two down to the ground during the upcoming season; if only to mooch on a chair and read the paper with the gentle sound of leather on willow resonating in the background. Had I been a single man then a handful of such journeys would likely have been undertaken during a sultry summer but there is only so much cricket and golf that one can feasibly play and watch without retribution when happily ensconced in marriage.

Nestled in the lee of Marleycombe Hill and the ripple-like folds of the south Wiltshire hinterlands, the Chalke Valley almost feels like another world. The last half a dozen or so miles of the journey really set the ambience for the day. The caprice of the sat nav or internet maps occasionally direct one down the road to Blandford Forum and then up to the village once one reaches East Woodyates but a more interesting route is along that which runs parallel to the River Ebble; turn off at Coombe Bissett and tick off the villages: Stratford Tony, Bishopstone, Broad Chalke and onto Bowerchalke itself. The alternative proffers a majestic view though. Once one ventures off the A354 and heads along the country lanes the sense of journeying back in time to a bygone generation begins to take influence. At one point along the road to the village of Broad Chalke the open swathes of the valley floor some two hundred metres below appears from behind the line of trees, two white sight screens at opposite ends of a verdant stretch indicating the location of Chalke Valley Cricket Club. The road soon descends to the valley floor and through the villages of Broad Chalke and Bowerchalke. Whichever route one decides upon, any number of hackneyed clichés, eulogiums and maxims alluding to archetypal Englishness could be used to describe these near neighbours and all would be fitting, apt and relevant. They are gorgeous locales with narrow, serpentine lanes and quaint dwellings.

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The ground itself remains as glorious and majestic as it had appeared on that warm evening a few years past, framed on two sides by the verdant, lush slopes of Marleycombe Hill and its neighbour; trees and golden fields almost ready for harvest flanking the other two boundaries. The peace and tranquillity is all pervading. The roar of traffic and hubbub of urban life are a million miles away, replaced by a scene that could easily reside in Edwardian England but for the maker’s logos on the batsmen’s willows and the ornate piping on the players’ shirts. The sounds of cooing pigeons, buzzing insects, a beguiling herd of cows, silhouetted against the mid afternoon sky descending the western edge of Marleycombe Hill in almost perfect single file and a farm vehicle from a nearby field juxtaposed with the voices of those partaking in the latest contest of the Chalke Valley’s first cricket week.

Playing in the third match of the week are the Authors, one of wandering cricket’s more famous teams taking on the Heartaches, the famous creation of Sir Tim Rice, award winning lyricist as well as staunch cricket aficionado. The Authors certainly wander in the cricketing sense, visiting a number of locales in the southern counties but also heading as far north as Barkby in Leicestershire on their travels. The current summer witnessed and will witness some overseas wandering though as the team has already played a couple of matches on Guernsey whilst there is an imminent two match series against the Icelandic national team scheduled for balmy Reykjavik two days hence. The Authors have also played in India and Sri Lanka during the brief five year period since their resurrection.

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Majestic Marleycombe

 

Under gloriously sunny skies the Authors begin rapidly in the 35 over contest, scoring 43 runs off of the first half dozen overs with Sam Carter, mop of hair sprouting from under his maroon  Authors cap, playing a succession of delightful cover drives; one back foot equivalent particularly sumptuous to watch. Fellow opener David Owen begins to move through the gears as 63 runs are plundered from the first 10 overs, both openers attacking the change bowlers with relish.
Watching Sam Carter bat is a joyous experience. The original Authors tome makes a number of mentions apropos his contributions but experiencing his skills in the flesh proves particularly enjoyable. Cricket, akin to golf, is all about what goes in the book but Carter’s runs leave a lasting impression on the cricketing memory. Others may score more but the manner of the run scoring is what creates the indelible mental niche. Quality shots and stellar technique are to be expected at the highest echelons of the game but to witness such seemingly effortless play in wandering cricket pockmarks an increasingly magnificent afternoon. The aforementioned back foot cover drive draws a gasp of appreciation and deserves a larger audience than the handful of spectators dotted around the boundary.

Of particular intrigue is how Carter bounces purposefully and idiosyncratically as the bowler approaches, batting with assurance and cuffing any delivery that is even slightly loose to the boundary. Owen is not quite as aesthetically pleasing but just as effective and their 100 partnership is reached in the 16th over. Somewhat disappointingly, Carter is bowled four runs short of a half century three deliveries later but the opener receives polite applause from his fellow scribes as he approaches the boundary. One suspects those in the maroon caps are slightly peeved that the innings was curtailed so soon.
Scoring slows a little after Carter’s departure but Owen reaches his half century with a swashbuckling square cut. He perishes soon after, caught at mid-on, but the Authors are well placed at 142-2 with 10 overs remaining. Messrs Faulks and James Holland, playing on home turf, shepherd the Authors to the finish as the de facto hosts conclude on an extremely impressive total of 218-3.

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James Holland on the attack

 

The mid innings interval provokes a personal partial ascent of Marleycombe Hill to enjoy the glorious bucolic panorama. Sweeping, undulating fields featuring almost perfectly straight tractor lines and a meandering row of houses and cottages provide the perfect backdrop to the cricket field. From the slopes of Marleycombe Hill one can enjoy and immerse themselves in the glorious peace of the valley. Despite sitting some distance away from the ground itself one can hear laughter and badinage drifting out from the Egret marquee on the boundary’s edge, whilst the chirping of swooping, dive-bombing swallows on the slopes of the hill is mixed with the baa-ing emanating from a sizeable flock of sheep gambolling around a couple of fields over. Traffic noise is almost non-existent save for the distant hum of the odd vehicle on the valley road and the sight of equivalents drifting along the summit of the neighbouring ridge.

From such a vantage point it seems appropriate to repose and refresh one’s memory of James Holland’s chapter regarding the genesis of the new ground; the story of Holland’s father playing for Bowerchalke Cricket Club at the old home ground across the road, the club’s end and merger with neighbours Broad Chalke, the gradual erosion from other sports onto the playing field at the Chalke Valley Sports Centre and Holland’s field of dreams zeal in returning cricket to Bowerchalke. The chapter remains intriguing, evermore so when one can pick out various landmarks described by Holland, whilst the view is stunning; undulating farmland in almost every direction with a small square of verdant green in the centre. One could do a lot worse than watch the second innings of the match from this vantage point.

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Required to score at over half a dozen runs per over, the Heartaches lose a couple of early wickets but reach 50 in the 8th over. The Authors bowlers patiently absorb the boundaries though and three tight overs from Nicholas Hogg, including a first over wicket, reduces the visitors to 89-4 off of 18 overs. The Authors very much appear in the ascendancy as the shadows from a coppice of trees behind part of the northern boundary begin to stretch across into the playing area and the warmth of the afternoon is replaced by the chill of early autumn. Today may only be the inaugural afternoon of September but one can sense a change of the seasons; Bank Holiday’s balmy weather has been replaced by a cooler equivalent. The end of the summer is nigh and the end of one’s spectating for the day has arrived; personal circumstances dictate that the final quarter of the match will remain a mystery for the moment.

Such minutiae ultimately matters little though as an afternoon residing in the glorious lee of Marleycombe Hill amid the brightest and sunniest of late summer evenings renders the overall result almost inconsequential in comparison to the joy of simply playing and watching the game in the most beautiful of places. For the Authors their itinerant season continues onward though with a two day sojourn to that cricketing outpost of Reykjavik to play the Icelandic national team at a venue far removed from the magnificence of the Chalke Valley less than forty-eight hours hence. Wandering in the most literal sense of the term.

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