If you had wandered down Ballater way last week you might have thought you’d entered a festival for barber shop a cappella quartets.
In actual fact, the resplendent red and white stripey blazers atop immaculate flannels were being sported by a 16- strong cricket club from Holland calling themselves the Fellowship of Fairly Odd Places CC.
This team assembles for one weekend each year, when they play a match in a fairly odd place; the list includes games in Madeira, Andorra (first ever cricket match), the Vatican (where the Pope blessed their match beforehand) to which was now added Crathie CC at Balmoral.
Their chief architect is called Erik Bowmeester, who sets the bar for eccentricity, sartorial elegance and lager-imbibing, and with his contacts has soldered the club’s reputation onto the pages of Wisden Almanac; so much so that he receives emails from clubs around the world wanting a fixture.
Cricket has a healthy existence in Holland, so Crathie were unsure what strength of side to expect.
Their online profile hinted at a certain well groomed proficiency, and if the visitors’ level of organization and enthusiasm was anything to go by their sporting prowess on the field would have to be respected.
The fixture was not so much about the actual playing of the game, although perhaps the writer is slightly skewed on this owing to the drizzly conditions, but rather it was about the camaraderie and gelling of like minds, the sheer indulgence of things cricket that the game can bring to enthusiasts across boundaries.
The Dutch were in town, for three nights, to enjoy themselves and seek out the splendours of Royal Deeside. That they drunk one bar dry of a brand oflager while disporting themselves in exemplary fashion, and were the talk of the town in their colourful presence, is testimony to the fulfilment of their aims.
Cricket could do with more clubs and individuals like this, with their infectious and endearing enthusiasm for the game: the FFOPCC is one of cricket’s life enhancing forces.
A game WAS played, and my report will be short. The morning was a miserable one, persistent rain with little breath of wind to brush it away.
With six months’ worth of planning, the match was never going to be abandoned easily, and after a squelchy two-hour wait, which not only allowed the two teams to fraternise but also for the pies to be cooked in case of an early tea, play got under way.
The ground was wet and the atmosphere very damp which made conditions unpleasant for both sides. Suffice to say that Crathie scored 135 for four in a truncated match of 25 overs, Matt Taylor scoring a fine 88 with the next highest score being 11.
The visitors scored 110 for six in their allotted span with the workhorse, Chris Bell, taking three for 16. Presentations were given on both sides and Crathie were presented with a fine framed montage of a varnished cricket bat, ball and bails which will hang proudly in their clubhouse.
The evening was rounded off at the Station Restaurant with John Edrich, the club president, providing fascinating insight into the ways and wiles of Test cricket. It is always a pleasure to hear such a colossus of the game share his intimate and expert knowledge of playing and coaching cricket at the highest echelon. The entire party felt touched with greatness and left the room inspired to playing with a straighter bat and with this important batting tip in mind: value your wicket as you don’t want to allow the opposition pleasure, afterwards, in revelling at how they got you out!
As a footnote, on Sunday Crathie entertained the Scotland 40s Club for their annual fixture at Balmoral.
Inclement weather gave way to a bright though chilly afternoon, and the game was played in fine spirit. The opposition were inserted and scored 127 all out in 42.3 overs, Steve Cadge shining with the ball taking five for 17 in six overs.
Crathie smote the winning runs in 40 overs for eight wickets down, Matt Taylor continuing his fine form with an elegant 50 and Rhod McEwan contributing some lusty blows for 56*. In days to come, Crathie’s two recent victories against the Dutch and now this Scottish 40s club may well morph into the week that Crathie beat Holland and Scotland; for now, they are happy to have recorded three victories (Orkney were their first scalp) on the trot against, on paper, superior opponents. Crathie’s season is ending on a happy and refulgent note.
Let me end by quoting this elegiac piece of prose written by another great (Scottish) enthusiast for the game and whose spirit suffuses the Dutch approach.
JM Barrie had this to say about our ageless sport: ‘It has been said of the unseen army of the dead, on their everlasting march, that when they are passing a rural cricket ground, the Englishmen fall out of the ranks for a moment to lean over a gate and smile.’ For Englishmen read cricket lovers, and this sentiment was richly embodied on the hallowed turf of Balmoral recently.