On Saturday morning, I arrived back from my club just in time to see England’s batsmen involved in some kind of charity event in which whoever catches the ball in the crowd wins enough eggs to supply their local primary school for a year (or something like that). Jolly decent of the lads to oblige I thought – good PR, with the kiddies’ angle being so important these days and a chance for the locals to leave the sheep shears and rugby balls at home and meet the cricketers. Turns out I was wrong – it was an actual match, albeit Twenty20, so I don’t think Wisden will record the scores.
There was much huffing and puffing (and not all of it by me) about playing the match in a rugby stadium (and it was touching of Luke Wright to play tribute to the sainted Jonny by adopting his famous stance while batting). However cricket, if played at all, has always been played on irregular shaped grounds once you’re beyond Tasmania and but one step away from falling over the skeleton of Captain Oates.
It was on the ’56-’57 Tour I think, that Wally landed himself in a bit of bother with what passes for the Bench on a sheep station somewhere near (that is, within a day’s train journey) of Cargillness, after playing on a ground that was shaped like cigar with one end flattened out. (You would have thought, after the Rangoon imbroglio, that Wally would have known how to deal with shapes like that, but with Matron staying behind in Dundrinkin to prepare for the Test, in which it seemed likely that she might have to take the gloves, I’m not sure Wally was taking all his medication).
So, sensing that we needed a breakthrough with the locals 106-3 towards the close of the first day of three, Wally had crept in a bit closer at square leg and, as fate would have it, fielded a ball and attempted to throw down the stumps to effect the run out. He got it all wrong (like that Jane Birdbath did for England on Saturday in the final over) and threw it straight over the keeper’s head – who may not have been looking by that time of day anyway – and beyond the boundary just 30 yards or so further on, hitting a small child in the crowd. Nobody was too concerned about that – character building and useful training for the front row, was how they laughed off that minor concussion and the child did eventually regain consciousness – but the ball ricocheted into the midriff of the prize ram who, with the run of the town in its honour, had wandered onto the spectators’ grassy banks.
Despite the very best medical attention, the ram became impotent – which made it two of them – and Wally was sued for the loss of the town’s biggest (indeed only) asset. The Colonel managed to pull a few strings, call in a few favours and keep the whole sorry tale out of the Press, but things had looked nasty for a while with some suggesting that Wally should take on the ram’s duties himself – an irony not lost on him.
Last I heard, Cargillness had recovered from Wally’s blow (even if the ram hadn’t) and gone on to develop a thriving tourism industry based on its use as a film location. I think the film was The Sound of Music, as that looked a lot like South Island, only with taciturn Scots instead of Nazis – once you got to know them.