BALLS, BEER AND RUNS
A Potted History of the Old Haberdashers’ Cricket Club.
THE EARLY YEARS
Prior to 1947 and the formation of the Old Haberdashers’ Cricket Club there had always been an annual cricket match between the School and the Old Boys. There are some records of these games in the old editions of Skylark and they give us a flavour as to the history of the fixture.
It would appear that there was a match arranged between the School and the Old Boys on 2nd July 1904 but there is no indication as to whether the match was actually played. So the first recorded match was in 1906 when the Old Boys won by eight runs; the Club scoring 111 with the School cricket coach Stanley Norton (playing for the School!) taking 5-26, and in return the School being bowled out for 103.
The next two years saw the School victorious with Mr. Norton again being the scourge of the Old Boys taking 5-25 in 1907 and 6-27 in 1908 with the H.O.B.C. (the Haberdashers’ Old Boys’ Club, as it was officially known in those days) being dismissed for totals of 60 and 69.There is no record of a fixture in 1909 but the Old Boys won the 1910 and 1911 matches.
The 1912 fixture is worthy of mention, it being the first all day game and was surely a product of a bygone age. Not all the scores are recorded in Skylark but it would appear that the School batted first and were bowled out for a low score. The Old Boys then went in and were all out for 101 having batted on as was the custom in the early years of the 20th century, after reaching the School’s score. The School then batted again and they were able to set the Old Boys a target of 157 in an hour and a quarter, which they achieved largely due to the efforts of A.D.Peters who scored 101 (the first recorded century in the fixture), and despite the School bowler Clever who took 6-40 and 3-43 during the course of the day. The two remaining matches prior to the outbreak of the Great War resulted in a victory apiece and then there was a break of four years during the conflict years.
Not unsurprisingly the immediate post-war years saw the Old Boys suffering from the tragic loss of life between 1914 and 1918 and the cricket results went very much in favour of the School between 1919 and 1929.In the first peacetime match the School won a close match scoring 102 (after being 35 for 5) and the Club failing to make it, with the nemesis Mr. Norton again proving to be too good when wrapping things up with figures of 6 for 38.
Thereafter the 1920s saw the School very much on top winning seven out of the next ten matches – most by a comfortable margin. In fact in 1921 the Old Boys mustered only 58 and 84 in their two innings against the School’s one score of 164. Skylark reported that “the Old Boys were not fully represented, and most of the side were out of practice. The School won easily.”
As an aside it is worth noting that at that time there was a small exclusive club within the Haberdashers’ Old Boys’ Club known as the Five Years’ Club. This was formed in 1920 for those who left the School during the war time years of 1914/1918 with the intention of forming “an informal club that will supplement the functions of the H.O.B.C. Its fixtures will aim at providing opportunities for meeting under more intimate conditions than in the main Club.”
A cricket fixture was arranged against the School in 1920 which the School won by 50 runs, and the fixture was continued for a further four years when it was held for the last time on 5th July 1925, a match which the School won by 1 run. According to Skylark this match was played on the same day as the full Old Boys match which the School also won. Gordon Melluish, who went on to represent the Young Amateurs of Essex and the Public School’s XI and eventually played for Essex and also a few games for Northamptonshire during the Second World War, managed something that day that will never be repeated when scoring 78 for the School against the Old Boys and also taking 5 for 26 against the Five Years’ Club!
In 1930, however, the School’s success in the annual fixture came to a halt and with the exception of 1932 the School had to wait until 1948 to win another match. The 1930 fixture saw an overwhelming victory by the Old Boys and it was somewhat disingenuously reported in Skylark. It was also factually incorrect, as the Old Boys had won the 1922 fixture by five runs.
The 1932 match was an equally bizarre event with the Club being bowled out for 14, and as already explained the match continued after the result had been decided. The final scores in a remarkable days cricket: Old Boys 14 and 129 – 6 dec, School 33 and 86 – 5. It was all the more remarkable as the start was delayed until after lunch due to overnight rain. Not unsurprisingly the Old Boys’ score of 14 is an all time low in the history of the fixture, with not a single batsman reaching double figures and J.N.Baggs taking 9 for 5 in 5.5 overs which must also be a record. The School collapsed to 35 all out and then when the Old Boys batted again they fared somewhat better, declaring and leaving the School 130 to win (Baggs again having success with 5-48 this time). Skylark reports that they were struggling at the close trying to force the pace but the School “thus won on the first innings.”
Apart from this blip the Club managed to win eight of the matches between 1933 and 1947 – although the fixtures in 1936,1939 and 1943 were abandoned – with the fixture still managing to be played throughout the war years of 1940 to 1945. Of note is the 1935 match when E.A.Littlefield scored 105* out of the Old Boys’ 259 – 2 dec. The School managed 49 in response and then batting again made 80 – 8 when time was called. Littlefield’s was not the only outstanding performance that day; David Gooch scored 49* in the Old Boys’ innings and then took two wickets and five catches in the School’s first innings and then a further four wickets and another catch in the second knock.
THE FOUNDING OF THE CLUB
In 1947 an embryonic Old Haberdashers’ Cricket Club appeared – to quote the note in the Old Boys’ section of Skylark for that year, ”What is believed to be the first side to represent the Old Boys at cricket (other than the annual fixtures against the School) played an Old Merchant Taylors’ XI at Croxley Green on Saturday 20th July. O.H. made 145 – 9 declared. The O.M.T. got the runs for 5 wickets a quarter an hour before time.
It is hoped to play five or six games in 1948.Provided that the necessary support and enthusiasm is forthcoming there is no reason why the O.H. should not run a regular cricket XI which would perforce play all its games on away grounds, probably on Sundays which would not interfere with cricketers who already play for a regular Saturday club.”
In the other fixtures of that 1947 year the O.H.C.C. had an easy win against the School by 121 runs dismissing the School for only 49.The third fixture was held late in the season on 21st September against Woodside Park which resulted in a fairly nondescript draw.
In fact only four fixtures were played in 1948 as well as the regular School match – this time the O.H. were well beaten, being bowled out for a paltry 30 runs, but at least had the satisfaction of making their juniors struggle by taking six wickets before they passed the total. In other fixtures the Club recorded its first two victories which included a win against O.M.T. in mid – July scoring 150 – 9 dec and then bowling Taylors out for 138.
By 1950 the Club was sufficiently strong to produce a 2nd XI on three occasions, winning one and losing the other two, and the whole fixture list rapidly expanded over the next six years until 16 Sunday games were played as a wandering side in 1953 – nine of them resulting in victories including successes against Totteridge, O.M.T. and Mill Hill Village. In these early years the most successful bowler proved to be John Stanley with 113 wickets from the Club’s first 79 games, whilst Glen Ward proved to be the Club’s leading run scorer and eventually going on to record the first century with 104* against North Mimms in 1955.
THE NEW HOME GROUND
The key event of the decade was the development of a home pitch – thanks to shrewd negotiation with the Council by Kenneth Blessley ( “coincidentally” the County Valuer!) and the physical efforts of a number of players – led by Donald Blessley, Arthur Kerswill and George Martin.
By 1952 the Old Haberdashers’ Rugby Club as head club was offering the Cricket Club use of the ground on a limited basis as “the rugger club intended to roll out a pitch and offer it for lease.”
From this a more ambitious scheme was proposed in mid – July for the “preparation of a cricket square” as it was recorded in the O.H.C.C. committee minute book. Due to the Club’s lack of funds it would not be possible to lay a cricket table and that there would have to be a considerable amount of work involved in the way of mowing, rolling, seeding and fertilising during the autumn of 1952 and the spring of 1953.This would all be done with a view to commencing playing at Borehamwood in 1954. Eventually the committee decided to use an outside contractor who did only a moderately successful job in ploughing the proposed cricket square and then seeding and top dressing it.
An initial survey by a representative of another firm suggested that
the work be started again but a personal contact of one of the committee was taken on as a consultant to rectify the poor condition of the work. From this point a lot of hard work was undertaken by the members during the autumn 1953 and the minutes of January 1954 noted that “Mr. Reed (the consultant) had inspected the table and was astonished to see such remarkable improvement.”
It was, therefore, on 9th May 1954 that the Old Haberdashers Cricket Club played its first fixture at Borehamwood against Sudbury Court, a game that was won by the Old Boys but which not unsurprisingly turned out to be a very low scoring affair. Sudbury Court scored 42 and the O.H. got them with two wickets down.
With the difficulties encountered during the construction of the square it is probably no surprise that Borehamwood in its first season did not turn out to be a batsman’s paradise. Of the seven home games in 1954 an innings total of over a hundred was only achieved four times, and that in the last two games of the year, with Millhillians producing the lowest total of only 33. The top score was in fact in the last game of the year when O.H.C.C. reached 159 – 9 in the game against Sinclairians that ended in a victory for the Old Boys.
It may surprise younger members to learn that in 1954 and 1955 the O.H.C.C. only had a lease on the ground for Sunday fixtures and that another club, Hunting Aero C.C. had the lease for two years from the Rugby Club to play cricket on Saturdays. However, by 1956 the Cricket Club was sufficiently well established and had sufficient playing strength to take over on both days of the weekend at the cost of £130 per annum.
In the same year of 1957 there were other performances of note – a fine win against Totteridge when chasing a target of 201 with O.H. romped home by nine wickets with Marshall Lumsden scoring an unbeaten 102. Later that year another win against Mill Hill Village saw David Maconachie take a hat – trick in his overall performance of 6 – 22 (O.H. 161 – 7 dec; Mill Hill Village 72). Overall 1957 was just about the most successful season in the Club’s short history with 34 matches being played and victories in 16 of them.
The latter years of the 1950s saw the Club continue to make considerable progress under the new captaincy of wicket keeper John Lidington – with Maconachie increasing his bowling record to 54 wickets in 1959 in a season that saw the O.H. playing a new high 37 fixtures and saw another hat – trick when Graham Jones achieved the feat in his figures of 6 – 19 in the defeat of Cuffley (O.H. 147; Cuffley 48). But that year also saw a particularly bad run of results in June when the Club only managed totals of 55, 65, 75 and 32 in successive innings- the last being an all day game against Radlett.
THE SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES
1960 was a notable year as the Club reached a new high 38 fixtures winning ten of them with one of them being a famous victory against old adversaries Old Merchant Taylors. O.M.T. scored 225 – 9 dec. with the O.H. running out winners by an impressive six wickets with Derek Kenward hitting an amazing 154 which remained the Club’s individual record for thirty years.
It also saw the start of O.H's Devon tours with the Old Boys losing only to St .Lukes’ College- thanks to the presence of the Somerset opening bowler on a dodgy wicket. However, O.H .at least had the satisfaction of not letting the home team bag all ten wickets - as two batsmen were in hospital! The 1961 tour saw an outstanding game of cricket against the Royal Marines at Lympstone which produced the highest score for the O.H. and also the highest score against the O.H. all in the same day. The Old Boys posted a huge 262 and then were unable to prevent the Marines knocking off the runs in 51 overs on the strength of 149 by their opening batsman.
1963 saw the start of the, now-familiar, problem of poor Sunday availability resulting in 16 of the seasons 38 fixtures being downgraded from 1st XI to Sunday team matches. This move met with typical O.H. success - with only seven 1st XI wins being recorded all season (including three on tour) even though June 1963 saw Tony Pettet take 10-46 against Pinner (the only time all time ten wickets have been taken by an individual in the Club’s history).In fact the 1960s were characterised by losing seasons in spite of fine individual performances. Even so, the spirit of the Club remained strong - typified by the story when injured first team skipper Maconachie went to watch the 2nd XI in 1967 only to end up playing with borrowed kit and helping secure a victory all the more remarkable as it was sealed with a six from Geoff Wheal - a notorious "rabbit"!
The last year of the decade was also the year that Maconachie’s record was finally erased from the record books. With two matches left in the season both Ian Smart and John Ridgley were within striking distance of the total of 54. In the penultimate match John took 6 – 40 to reach a new high of 55 and then in the final game against Totteridge, with John not adding to his total, Ian took 6 – 17 in a big three wicket win, but his figures could only equal the old record with John Ridgley one ahead.
Despite such occasional successes, the early years of the 1970s saw the fortunes of O.H.C.C. take a further turn for the worse, as many of the founder members of the Club began to reach the end of their careers. Recruitment problems meant that many of the more talented players from the School were channelled towards other, bigger clubs in the area. The problem was noted in the Committee's 1972 minutes that "the 2nd XI did not function properly until June, recruitment was barren and the tour unfortunately cancelled due to lack of support". Indeed, the situation was so acute that it prompted suggestions of mergers and opening the club.
The crisis eventually eased in 1973 when a huge recruiting effort by Barry Albone and Ian Smart produced enough new players from school and university for the Club to nearly field a 3rd XI. From then on the playing strength continued to rise throughout the decade - with the Club firstly becoming much harder to beat and then starting to acquire the winning habit; so much so that by 1979 the playing record showed 10 wins and only 2 losses from 23 starts.
Moreover, the increased playing membership of the club meant that the Club was able to restart the annual tour to Devon - with three fixtures including a wonderful, surprise win against a very strong South Devon side containing numerous county players. Prolonged celebrations took their toll and the next day O.H. stood at 5-2 before Higham and Wilkinson put on an undefeated 215 against Erratics.
However, the outstanding tour performance of the decade had already occurred when in 1970, Alan Phipps managed to dominate an O.H. performance to an extent unlikely to be equalled. Against Sidmouth he bowled unchanged for 22 overs taking 2-57, before opening the batting and scoring 95* out of a total of 119-8 - to which no other batsman contributed more than 8. The other notable performance of tour came at the end of the decade when Simon Friend -having sampled the delights of local cider at square-leg – then produced an umpiring performance which put even some of the current league umpires to shame.
The other amusement of the decade came in 1976 , after a thoroughly unpleasant match against Elstree (no change there then!) which saw our local rivals dismissed for only 45 and then resulted in captain Keith Smart being the subject of a vitriolic attack in the Borehamwood Post with the wicket described as a "coconut shy" (one hell of a change there then).
These years saw the Club recruit many of the members who were to be the bedrock of the playing strength for many years – Steve Cronbach, Simon Gelber, Peter Lidington, Jerry Gibb, Simon Friend and brothers Paul and Mike Filer and also saw the return of John Ridgley in 1977 after seven years service with Cheshunt.
It also saw a young Peter Lidington, in 1976 score the first ever 1st XI century at Borehamwood in a total of 204 – 5 dec. in a drawn match against Fencibles (103*) and then a fortnight later repeat the feat (100*) in a huge O.H.C.C. total of 264 – 2 dec against Richmond II in a match that also saw opening bat Keith Smart hit the first ball of the match for a massive straight six. The match was eventually won by an impressive margin of 206 runs.
Two years later Peter went on to break Doug Gainsborough’s seasons’ run aggregate with a new total of 662 in 14 innings (ave. 47.3) which included two more centuries (112 and 135*).
Despite the rejuvenation of the Club, history still damns the 1970s - the Club's failure to join the early move to league cricket was to lead to 15 "lost years" during which a number of the Cub's finest young cricketers drifted away - to other clubs and some out of the game altogether. A hotly debated E.G.M. in December 1974 - with parties divided down a very definite age line - saw O.H.C.C. decide that despite league cricket being a "viable proposition", a final decision would be put on hold until further, adequate discussion had taken place. The elder brigade had missed a crucial opportunity to put the Club's future on a solid base and be in the vanguard of league cricket. It was to be only in 1989 that the Club finally joined the third division of the Herts. League.
This was a pity as the 1980s saw some spectacular cricket and possibly the finest team in the Club's history, hugely strengthened by the return of Alan Phipps who returned to Borehamwood in 1986 after having spent a good few years at Cheshunt. Indeed, the decade saw a record number of 1st XI games - essentially as Sunday matches had to be upgraded to enable players to get a decent knock whilst Colverd, Downes, Lidington, the emerging Wellard and the redoubtable Paul Filer and Cronbach dominated the crease. Batting in the lower order often involved a peaceful afternoon with the papers before watching all the wickets being bagged by Ridgley, Filer or Gelber, the first two both setting individual season records for wickets taken, during the decade. John Ridgley’s total of 75 in 1980 being passed by Mike Filer in 1984 with a haul of 78 which he then raised by one in 1989.
The 1980s also cemented the revival of the Devon Tour - with up to 30 players, based at the well-hidden Throwleigh Manor, behaving badly and playing excellent cricket in the finest traditions of O.H. tourists. Indeed, the 1984 tour saw probably the finest innings ever from an O.H.C.C. batsman - with Neil Colverd's 125 in the gloom at .South Devon only increasing the regret that he was never let loose against the bowlers of Herts. Division 3!
INTO THE 1980s
Such folly became increasingly obvious to the younger members of the Club and finally the decision was made to join the leagues in 1989. Although the first thrilling last-over victory (courtesy of an extravagant boundary by Ridgley) confirmed that the Club was capable of performing well enough to beat any side, it soon became clear that the years in the wilderness of friendly cricket had left us without the strength in depth required for the challenges of league games. Too few players were capable of regularly making half-centuries or taking 5 wickets, which, combined with the lack of the nouse required to take the tenth wicket or up the tempo in the final 20 overs, meant that O.H. were unable to adjust collectively to the demands of league cricket during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Indeed, the first two years of the 1990s summed up O.H.C.C’s league nativity, as in spite of individual records being broken with bat and ball the Club failed to produce the all-round consistency required for league success. 1990 saw Rick Harris smash his own previous record (998 in 1985) for runs in a season (1,294) and Jerry Wellard break the Club's highest score (158* out of an unbroken 268 stand with Harris against U.C.S.) The following year saw Mike Filer take a record 81 1st XI wickets, thanks to 48 wickets in the first nine matches including 9-27 against Rickmansworth.
Such efforts saw O.H race to the top of Herts. Division 3 with six wins in the first eight games, but our first promotion challenge soon petered out - not surprisingly given one player was in the side purely as he could throw the ball back properly to the bowler! Our fate was sealed when De Havilland's number 11 (a bouncing Indian) smashed us around the park for the final 20 overs, and all that remained was for Rod Smith to live up to his nickname and deliver a 15 ball over against Southgate Adelaide.
Even without such outstanding incompetence, O.H. appeared to be in a rut and not surprisingly the Club slumped to an all-time low in league cricket - finishing 14th in 1992. The season is perhaps best summed up by the fact that the highlight of the season was having to play with 10 men at Old Owens as barbed wire prevented Alan Phipps from returning to the pitch after retrieving the ball from an adjacent field! Such a poor season was an unfair reflection of the tremendous efforts that retiring skipper John Ridgley had put into the Club - picking up 891 first team wickets in 26 seasons and recording a surplus of 49 wins during his six years of captaincy.
The arrival of a new captain, Keith Davies, in 1993 however saw a rebound in the Club's fortunes - with both the 1st and 2nd XIs finishing in the top five of their respective leagues. Indeed the 1st XI, boosted by the arrival of Aslam and Elias and starting to get to grips with the gritty cricket required for league success, could well have won promotion if they had been able to take the last wicket needed for victory on the four occasions the opposition drew with nine wickets down.
One such draw came at Southgate Adelaide, where responding to O.H's 262-8 the home side slumped to 45-8 but managed to limp to safety at 153-9. However, Adelaide were not the only team to limp - with injuries meaning O.H. finished the game with only seven players on the field even after calling up an emergency twelfth man! In stark contrast our visit to the other Southgate club, Compton resulted in a magnificent run chase in the rain where 39 from 16 balls from Friend ensured we achieved the target of 175 in 31 overs. Friendy's season, however, will always be remembered for his attempt at a skier at Sidmouth, which resulted in the largest crater yet seen on tour. Elsewhere, the 1993 season was notable for the club putting out four XIs for the first time in its history and for John Paskin's last over of the season being hit for 28 at Wraysbury.
Buoyed by Paskin's retirement, 1994 finally saw O.H. win promotion from the 3rd Division thanks to a remarkable run of six successive wins at the end of the season. Success was all the more remarkable given the inability of the skipper to win the toss and the team's inability to turn up on time (or in some cases even at the right ground). Ultimately, promotion was the product of consistent achievement throughout the Club, but two individuals stood out: Paul Eversfield (christened Bambi after unexpected collapses whilst fielding) took 48 wickets in his first season, and Alan Phipps whose 400 runs at 80 also secured him the League Batsman of the Year award. Innings of the year again only lasted 16 balls - as Aslam's "cultured" bat conjured 54* to win a seemingly dead game against Southgate Adelaide.
1995 proved to be a year of consolidation in the higher division, although Aslam's batting again was anything but stable - his run of five single figure scores being ended by smashing 73 off 29 balls against Northampton Exiles. Six wins saw O.H. finish a creditable 8th in their first season in Division 2 - with the highlights being a last over win over champions Abbots Langley and a scores – level draw with Parkfield. The season will also be remembered for the arrival of Haroon Ahmad - who scored over 300 runs in his first two innings for the Club, before running the skipper out for a duck (by 15 yards & without facing a ball!) on his first team debut. Elsewhere, Robert Wheal's 2nd XI were gaining a reputation as the Arrows team of the league - blowing up in the final promotion run-in for a third season in a row.
This was all to change when Whealy's boys finally secured promotion in 1996; a win against Sandridge in the final match of the season ensuring promotion as runners - up to Preston. The 1st XI however disappointed with inconsistency again becoming the norm - best typified by O.H. scoring 262 to tie with champions Rickmansworth one week and then being skittled out for 75 by strugglers Baldock the next. However, some common themes continued to shine through, O.H’s ability to start any game with only 10 players and Ahmad's continued ability to run anybody out. Such a reputation was however laid to rest in 1997 when skipper Davies was run-out in five of his first six innings of the season.
50 YEARS ON
The Golden Jubilee year of 1976 was both exciting and dramatic with a series of events planned to celebrate 50 years of the Old Haberdashers’ Cricket Club. On the field the Club suffered from irregular availability and an inability to score runs regularly. However, for once anything that went in the air was generally caught and with Mike Filer taking on all panel beaters with the ball the Club finished the season in seventh place, the highest ever league position, and the 2nd XI also achieved a top eight finish. More importantly there were several new faces with obvious talent and enthusiasm for the game which boded well for the future.
However, it was also the year that marked the end of a legend in the annals of Old Haberdashers activities. In the middle of August after a short illness, Nobbly Tanner died. His work on behalf of the Old Haberdashers’ Association was unsurpassed but Nobbly had also been treasurer of the Cricket Club for 46 of its 50 years and had scored immaculately for the whole of its existence and it is largely due to his legendary and surpassed record keeping that the Club has such an accurate record of its history.
Another innovation in that year was the change of venue for the annual dinner, this time to “headquarters” – the Committee Dining Room in the Pavilion at Lord’s Cricket Ground. A grand turnout for the evening was wined and dined in great style and entertained by Barry Duddlestone, ex – Leicestershire, Glamorgan and Rhodesia who told many an indiscreet tale about some of his former colleagues, focusing on that genial, happy go – lucky, laid – back Yorkshireman and ex – captain of Leicestershire Raymond Illingworth!
The whole event turned out to be such a momentous success in such an appropriate venue that the Club has held its Annual Dinner there ever since.
The centre piece of the year, however, was to be the Cricket Club’s first overseas tour. It was generally agreed that this would be the ideal way to mark the Club’s first fifty years. Two years of planning and a good deal of worry for the organisers meant that unbelievably twenty Old Haberdashers’ cricketers turned up at Gatwick airport on 27th December 1997 for what turned out to be two unforgettable weeks in Zimbabwe, in a country then less damaged by political turmoil than is the case these days. The tour is summarised by Mike Filer’s article for the 1998 edition of the Old Boys’ Notes repeated here in full.
O.H.C.C. TOUR TO ZIMBABWE - 27TH DECEMBER 1997 TO 10TH JANUARY 1998
“They said it would never happen!
As players kicked their heels waiting for the eleventh player (or tenth) to read a road map of Herts. by 2.00 p.m. on a Saturday how on earth would they get eleven let alone twenty to Bulawayo for a 9.30 a.m. start?
Well that is a very good question!
As Radlett C.C. traipsed to South Africa with a touring party of nine the O.H. party of seventeen players and three wise accompagnatrices convened at Gatwick shortly after Xmas.
2 for 2.30 p.m. start became check in at 4.00 p.m. and amazingly, in the absence of Aslam, Smith and Elias, there were no last minute panic phone calls, no lost passports, no forgotten bats or boots. So glasses were soundly charged as Tour headed further south than Devon, and some...
It was early the following morning when the party bleary eyed emerged into the Bulawayo sunshine to load up the hotel baggage truck, burdened with more kit than the average Everest expedition and to watch hopelessly as one of the rear wheels detached itself and rolled casually down the road.
Fortunately Bambi, Woodsy and Howie were keen to get the first available rays by staying to guard the valuables until assistance arrived.
Before you could say ‘that will be Zambezis all round please’ the party were off to Matopos for the first wildlife spot. The stalking of rhino, as we were led rather precariously towards a group of enormous beasts may have seen a premature end to Tour before it started as the guide casually pointed out that they kill more people than any other beast. Fortunately they were upwind of Gelbs’ famous kit.
The first game began in fierce heat, players welcomed with “plenty cream” invocations from one of many ruddy faced locals. As Rick Harris became an even smaller person under the beating sun by scoring what proved to be the only major individual effort with the bat on Tour, other spectators managed little more than a few cool drinks and a gentle perambulation.
When yours truly and the Mighty Nupe both took sharp gully and slip catches to pouch two early wickets things looked good but the constraints of having to use five bowlers meant that Messrs. Levy, Griffiths and Ahmad were harshly thrashed into the horizon and the game lost. Heavy rain overnight and into the next day meant that the same venue was used to showcase Keith Davies‘ spectacular blow back in mid-air whilst taking a remarkable catch. Bambi performed heroics in the outfield to the amusement of the locals and once again defeat was imminent. A B.B.Q. and copious amount of Zambezi eased the soon forgotten result.
The party headed on to Vic. Falls for New Year’s Eve spent awash with Zambezi in the hotel swimming pool, a fitting preparation for New Year’s celebration whilst white water rafting. It seemed a long way from Croxdale Road whilst slipping and stumbling down the spectacular gorge to the waiting rafts several hundred feet below. Rainbows bounced above the rapids as began a haphazard and wild day of madcap entertainment. Whilst Yorkie was battered by the mighty Zambezi, Bambi took it on wholeheartedly, Cronners lulled it into submission, Emma head butted a paddling oar, Phippsy scared it with his risqué attire and I was glad of the impermeable buffer of Nupe, John Griffiths and Woodsy which acted as a sun block of Factor Plenty as well.
Remarkably no long term injuries were sustained, nor heart attacks incurred whilst staggering up the 8ooft. gorge back to base.
Not even Bungee jumping could separate the party from Bambi, Jocky or Simon Levy, nor was anyone arrested whilst being asked to hand over all our passports at the Zambian border.
“We’re British matey boy etc...”
The height of the Bungee experience could be more clearly seen from the lawns of The Victoria Falls Hotel where all enjoyed dinner courtesy of S.H.G.’s local knowledge of the ways and means of the maitre d’. (100 Zim. Dollars eases all known obstacles).
As cricket defeats became a distant memory the party headed to the tree huts and lodges at Detema deep into the Hwange National Park. Soap dish eating bats and Yorkies ants could not put off intrepid early morning animal spotters nor all day adventurers for whom the appreciation of true wilderness was alleviated by being surrounded by huge elephants when least expected.
Jane Phipps did not need to be told that an angry female waggles its ears as dust rose from such an incensed Jumbo only feet away from her.
That evening heard tales trumped by spottings of Mammoths, Yetis, Big Foot, Sabre Toothed Tigers and worse.
The weather was a mixed bag but Keith and Fiona were slowly turning into mahogany statues as we moved onto Harare to resume cricketing endeavour.
The highlight of playing at the magnificent arena of Harare Sports Club, venue for the previous England—Zim. Test brought the best out of the O.H.C.C. when many had predicted slaughter at the hands of Zim. U19 and ‘A’ team representatives. Somehow the opposition were dismissed for 141. Lack of concentration as much as the fastest bowler many would have seen combined to effect a 30 run defeat but amusement and awe followed watching Trevor Penney lead fielding practice for said U19s.There were no volunteers to join in.
Two more games followed, each weather disrupted but allowed for the rare sights of bowling awards going to Messrs. Davies and Levy.
Whilst some tourists descended on local sculptors with great zeal, others golfed, visited the lions and cheetahs, the Balancing Rocks or caught the sun when it wasn’t raining.
The carnivores devoured anything from Impala, Kudu, Wildebeest, Zebra, Warthog and very few suffered any jungle revenge, and bars around town suffered Zambezi shortage to the sounds of ‘Kudu’ a rapidly concocted game of skill and noise.
By the time the party returned to the January London gloom it all seemed like a bit of a dream.
Haroon dreamt he’d gambled away his cricket bat on a game of squash, Bambi, Howie, Jocky, Simon and Yorkie dreamt they’d been accosted by Bulawayo hookers, and all were united in believing that it had been more successful and enjoyable than imagined or expected.”
PROMOTION AND A SMALL DIFFERENCE OF OPINION!
After five years of captaincy Keith Davies decided to call it a day and handed over the leadership of the Club to Haroon Ahmad and promptly headed off to Florida for a five year sabbatical. Inevitably the 1998 season was always likely to be something of an anti – climax after the jubilee year, but the loss of the first five games of the season and a league position of dead last was rather more serious than had been anticipated. However, matters improved with the return of key bowlers Mike Filer and Paul Eversfield and the beginning of the Club’s association with Ash Syed and eventually the Old Boys climbed to a more than respectable seventh place after a strong finish to the season that included a run of seven consecutive wins.
The 2nd XI was not so fortunate that year and after a season affected by 1st XI availability and some sheer bad luck they were left needing to win the final home game of the season. After overnight rain the ground was wet but, after a lot of hard work, in a playable state – but not in the opinion of the opposition who left the ground. The matter was reported to the league and it was at this point that the Club’s somewhat non – harmonious dealings with Committee began. In their unblinkered wisdom it was decided that the fixture should be regarded as an abandoned match and the 2nd XI were relegated.
And so, into the 21st Century where the first year of the new Millennium saw a change in the structure of the Herts. League whereby all teams – 1st, 2nd and 3rd XIs were integrated into a monolithic structure of 13 divisions with the Club 1st XI being placed in Division 4 and the 2nd XI in Division 9.
On the playing side it was a season of unparalleled success with the 1st, now under the captaincy of Paul Eversfield, finishing in fifth place of the league after an exciting season of cricket that saw a poor start (eleventh place at the end of May), an unstoppable June and early July and a moderate finish to the season. But the results were sufficient to enable the Club to hold on to one of the promotion places in to Division 3.That is until the infamous Herts. League committee sailed on to the horizon. Once again a piece of blatantly biased decision making based on hearsay and prejudice resulted in the Old Boys being denied their place in the higher division due to what was perceived as inadequate facilities. This injustice was imposed without warning and despite many appeals an ostrich like committee, in an act of hideous inconsistency rejected any chance of reconsideration and the 1st XI were condemned to a further season in Division 4.
What marked this decision for even more ridicule was the performance of the 2nd XI that year when, in winning the Division 9 title, received highly acceptable facility marks and had their promotion confirmed.
The 2nd XI in 2000, under the captaincy of Alan Newman, had a wonderful season being in the top three right through the year. On the back of a record breaking season with the ball from Simon Gelber, who broke the long standing 2nd XI wickets record with a haul of 51 for the year, the team entered the last week of the season requiring a win against Shenley Village at Borehamwood to win Division 9 of the League. Put in on a damp wicket the 2nd XI struggled to a total of 146 – 6 from their allotted overs, and then slowly worked their way through the Shenley batting. With the telephone constantly ringing as Flitwick, the eventual runners up trying to find out the result, O.H. came to the last over of the match needing one final wicket for victory. In an amazing finale, the fourth ball hit the pad and a huge appeal was answered in the affirmative and the 2nd XI were champions by a single point – the first title win for any O.H.C.C. side during their league campaigns.
2001 to the Present Day (2011)
The disappointment caused by the league’s decision to deny the Old Boys’ promotion during the winter of 2000 meant that the next season was a bit of an anti-climax. Again under the captaincy of Paul Eversfield a solid enough playing performance saw the Club finish seventh in Division 4 recording a respectable nine wins out of a completed 16 matches.
The batting star was again Rick Harris who accumulated 805 runs in 14 innings at an average of 53.40 including 128 in an easy victory against Bushey. The bowling honours for the year went to captain Paul who took 52 wickets at the cost of 857 runs and Mike Filer 44 for 715.
The 2nd XI consolidated their place in Division 8 following the previous season’s promotion finishing a very creditable ninth winning 7 of the 16 completed matches.
Prior to the start of the 2002 season the Old Haberdashers’ C.C. were hit with a triple bombshell when Paul Eversfield stood down from the captaincy and then departed to play cricket in Division 1 with West Herts.To be followed to Watford by prolific opener Rick Harris and finally opening bowler Mike Filer was injured and seemed unlikely to play until the second half of the season. Into the breach came Haroon Ahmad to captain the Club yet again and amazingly nearly achieve promotion despite all the hiatus of the spring. The Club were in third place mid-term and were still in contention late on in the season when the fixture following theDevontour saw the Old Boys at Sawbridgeworth. On a hot day and despite the dictum of ‘See Sawbo’ and bat’ Haroon won the toss and sent the home side in. 218 runs later it did not seem a wise move and although the Old Boys held on for a draw it ended any hope of elevation to Division 3.
The lack of bowling penetration early in the season following Paul’s departure and Mike’s injury prompted the selection committee to take the brave step of recalling 2nd XI captain Simon Gelber after three matches and their decision was rewarded with him ending up the season’s leading wicket taker with 40 victims at an average of 14.30.
One other noteworthy event was the Old Boys first ever match against an American cricket team. This took place in August when the British Officers’ Club of Philadelphia were in the U.K. on tour and played the Club, the connection being Simon Friend, who had played for them when resident in the United States for several years due to work commitments.
The 2nd XI had a bit of a struggle that year with inconsistent availability and only stayed up by two points on the last day of the season largely due to the bowling efforts of Oz Ali and Mark Coups who jointly took 59 wickets at an average of 18.00.
The following year again saw a change of captaincy due to Haroon’s departure to Dubai with a new career appointment and his place as captain was taken by Sami Ali with some early success. At the halfway point the Club was again pushing for promotion but thereafter inconsistent performances saw the Old Boys slipping down the league and on the final Saturday not absolutely safe from the drop and having to face Old Camdenians and the fearsome 6ft 7ins Wendell Roberts, who, at the time was also playing first class cricket in the Caribbean and could be seriously quick on his day. In a thrilling finale Alan Phipps played a truly remarkable innings scoring 62 and getting O.H. their precious 10 batting bonus points and then three late wickets in the Camdenian innings harvested the Old Boys enough bonus points to survive by three points when the league tables were published late in the evening.
The 2nd XI in 2003 prospered under the leadership of Oz Ali. With a mixture of youth and experience they finished 8th out of 20 with two batting highlights; Simon Friend who scored 102 against Reed in a match that ultimately ended in a draw and Matt Shorts who managed 148* out of a total of 245-9 in a match against Hoddedon that was lost in the last over.
But 2004 saw yet another change of captaincy in the 1st XI as Richard Downes took over and this time could not avoid relegation. Poor batting throughout the year contributed to the Old Boys problems and did not give the bowlers much to bowl at. Despite a bit of a rally towards the end of the season a total of three victories was just not enough to stay in Division 4.
The end of the season though saw the debut of one Akash Christian who starting in the 2nd XI and scored a princely six runs and on the strength of it was selected next week in the top XI and proved what a good player he is in compiling 79 against Cheshunt and the following week against a very strong Holtwhites attack 83. But more about Akash later.
The 2nd XI, with Oz still in command managed a remarkable late surge winning four of the last five league matches and jumped from a possible relegation to a very satisfactory eighth.
So just for a change a new captain took the helm for the 2005 season,Sami Ali returning for his second spell with the aim of getting the team back into Division 4 as quickly as possible. In that he was greatly helped by Akash who, after taking a while to get used to early season conditions in England on green seaming wickets, soon showed what a special player he is and ultimately finished with 654 runs including three centuries in 12 innings. He was aided in the batting department by both Atif Yusuf and Ian Pryor who also both scored in excess of 500 runs in the season. Akash and Ian broke the Club’s record opening partnership putting on 234 against Old Camdenians when the Old Boys’ recorded their highest ever score in the league finishing on 307-4 with both Ian and Akash scoring centuries. With steady bowling throughout the year, topped by Mike Filer and the returned Paul Eversfield, both with 34 wickets for the year, the Club finished third in the league and achieved its aim of regaining its position back in division 4 of the Herts. League.
For the 2nd XI that year it was not a story of success and despite everyone’s best endeavours a really poor start with one win and seven losses in the first 12 matches condemned the team to a slide down into Division 9.
Season 2006 was one of struggle for the O.H.C.C. with poor availability and despite Akash Christian’s haul of 1,075 runs in 14 innings at an average of just under 77 the team were never consistent enough in their overall performances and four wins and ten losses meant that for the second time in three years there was a relegation at the end of the season. One match was worthy of mention and epitomised the season as a whole. Against Ickleford a total of 294-6 (Akash 189) should have been easily defendable especially as the visitors were 34-3 at one point, but their number four bat was not stumped behind the wicket off a relatively simple chance and went on to flog the O.H. attack all round the ground and scored an impressive 192* as the Old Boys subsided to a terrible five wicket defeat.
With Sami Ali unable to captain the Club in 2007, as a short term measure, veteran Simon Gelber took on the role again some thirty years after he had first filled the position with the main aim being to once again to stabilise the team and bring in some new players. In what turned out to be a wet summer the Club performed well winning six out of 15 league matches that were played and just coming up short in the hunt for a promotion place. One event must be mentioned when in the last match of the season against fellow promotion candidates Hertingfordbury, Akash scored 201* out of 293-9, only the fourth ever double century in league history in any division. It boosted his tally for the year to once more over a thousand runs. In his spare time he also managed a most respectable haul of 36 wickets as well, to be the Club’s leading wicket taker for the year.
In the 2nd XI the retirement and non-availability of many long playing regulars made life very difficult for captain Richard Downes and the team could only muster two wins in the year and never managed to reach 200 in any match. Relegation was a formality and gave Richard the unenviable record of having captained both the 1st and 2nd XIs in relegation seasons!
To complete the 2nd XI story the team certainly showed signs of improvement first stabilising their position in Division 10 the following season under the captaincy of Jon Price and then in 2009 when led by Brian Walter the team lost four of the first five matches and then won nine of the next ten including handsomely beating all the top teams. The run meant that they went from almost last to fourth at the end of the year and promotion back to Division 9.
In 2008 Matt Shorts became captain for the first of his three seasons in charge which all seemed to follow a similar pattern of mid-table comfort. Regrettably, despite the depth of talent, the lack of consistent availability made the quest of promotion almost an impossible challenge in a division that was not lacking in competitiveness. 2010 was particularly frustrating when on five occasions the Old Boys bowling second had the opposition 9 wickets down and were unable to finish off the job, added to that the match against Botany Bay when O.H. needed four runs in the final over with wickets in hand and failed to win.
Even more frustrating was the foundation that Akash Christiangave the 1st XI. Playing for the full season in 2008, 2009 and 2010 he amassed 1,152; 1,535 (1,453 at an average of 103.79 in the league) and 1,420 runs respectively and his total in 2009 shattered the Club’s scoring record held by Rick Harris since 1990. In 2008 he scored three centuries all of them over 150 and one of them against Sidmouth on tour helped the Club to a 9 wicket win over their regular tour hosts knocking off the 209 in next to no time.
That Devon tour incidentally turned out to be the wettest in the Club’s history with only two matches played and four cancelled without a ball being bowled – it certainly stretched the imagination as to what you can do in Devon on a wet Wednesday (apart from going to the pub that is!). Still Friday did turn out to be a glorious sunny day and the victory on one of the finest cricket venues in the country almost made it worthwhile.
By the end of the 2010 season Akash’s record with the O.H.C.C totalled 7,014 runs at an average of 74.61 with a highest score of 201* and included 29 centuries and another 25 half centuries – a pretty remarkable record. And just to make sure he was worth his place in the team there were 168 wickets at an average of just over 20.00.
For a full record of matches between the School and the Old Boys click here.