Thursday, 21 July 2016

How it all began...

The annual cricket match between Matfield Cricket Club and Sherston's XI was held for the first time in 2006.  It was the brainchild of the late Bob Miller, a member not only of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship but of a number of other literary societies.

Bob was a remarkable man, who, despite his outgoing and jovial exterior, managed to hide a good deal of his light under a bushel.  The work of Siegfried Sassoon was one of many interests, ranging from golf to politics.  He even tried to found a club for bow-tie wearers! For his work in setting up the annual match, he was awarded life membership of the SSF in 2012 – an honour reserved for a select few - but sadly did not have much time to enjoy it, as he passed away in 2014 aged only 66. 

Not only was Siegfried Sassoon fond of cricket, but his friend and fellow-poet Edmund Blunden shared his love of the game, as did their mutual friend, the SSF President, Dennis Silk, who continues to attend the match, occasionally umpiring and often presenting the trophy.  It was at Fenners cricket ground in Cambridge that Dennis and Siegfried first met.  Siegfried continued to play cricket into his seventies, often as a member of the Downside Abbey XI.

Simon Knott, the captain of Matfield CC in the early years, was an enthusiastic supporter of the match, which, thankfully, continues, largely through the combined efforts of the present Matfield captain Peter Danby and his SSF equivalent Jeremy Lawson (Siegfried’s great-great-nephew).  "Deadly" Derek Underwood, now a local resident, has been another frequent supporter. 

The match was originally held on a weekday afternoon, which meant anyone who wanted to see it and was not retired had to take a day off work.  This did not greatly help attendances, but the move to a Sunday made it much easier for the SSF committee and other visitors to join the fun.  I say “fun” because I always enjoy it but inevitably some members are less enamoured of the game of cricket.  The new arrangement also makes it possible to combine the match with the fete weekend, with the Horticultural Society's marquee standing at the boundary opposite the refurbished pavilion.

The first match was recorded for posterity on an imaginative DVD made by Andrew Chapman, who played several times for Sherston's XI before moving to another part of England, making a triumphant return to the team in 2015. Andrew tells me that he hopes to repeat this exercise at some future date.

This year’s match was an absolute cracker, with the result decided in the final over when Sherston’s XI managed to get Matfield all out.  I generally consider a victory for Sherston’s to be little short of miraculous, bearing in mind that it is a scratch team with only half a dozen actual SSF members ever having played.  Chris Sutherby was a shoo-in for the Bob Miller Man-of-the-Match Award, for his century in the Sherston’s innings plus a fantastic one-handed catch to remove one of Matfield’s batsmen (the kind of thing you wish you could see an action replay of).

Although sometimes referred to as the "Flower-Show Match", it is not a faithful replay of the original, which, for those who are new to Sassoon, features prominently in his book Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man.  Leaving aside the fact that the names of the characters and places involved are changed in the memoirs of Sassoon's fictional alter ego, George Sherston, the match on which he bases his account was played, not on Matfield village green but at Brenchley cricket ground a few miles away.

None of this alters the fact that the match has now gathered its own momentum and Matfield Cricket Club seem to look forward to it as much as the rest of us do.  If only everything else in life could bring us such simple and unadulterated enjoyment.

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