Chairman's Blog

A Straggler stalwart, RHB (Bobby) Neame enjoyed one of the longer Straggler careers.  Bobby made his debut in 1955 against Elham & Young Farmers in early May in a game which is in the record books for all the wrong reasons.  Batting at number 4, Bobby scored a modest 6, which doesn’t sound much until you read down the column of batting scores to see that the Stragglers managed a very much more modest total of 17 runs (the lowest total on record) and that Bobby was the top scorer not just in the Straggler innings but on both sides.  Elham managed to chase down the target for the loss of 4 wickets.   Bobby went on to play 6 more times for the Stragglers in that first season, scoring 117 runs.

When he finally put his bat down, Bobby had played Straggler cricket in every season from 1955 to 1994 (with a short gap before a finale in 1999); he had played 275 Straggler innings (with only Wyndham and Rodney having played more); and scored 4,669 career runs at an average of 19.95.  Following Wyndham for much of his Straggler career, Bobby was for many years second on the all-time list of run scorers, the 4th to reach 2,000 runs, the third to 3,000 and second to 4,000.  It is only relatively recently that he was overhauled, first by Nigel and then by Jonathan in 2018.  Of course, they are all now looking over their shoulder at Jasper approaching fast.

Bobby was in his pomp in (some of) the early ‘60s, leading run scorer in 1961 and 1964, and winning the batting award in 1964 (averaging 28.33) and then again in 1975 (with an average of 27.20).  At the time, in 1961, his total of 429 runs was the fifth highest scored in a season (and, although averaging 47.67 that year, Bobby was pipped for the batting award by A MacLachlan).  Something other than cricket must have been on Bobby’s mind in 1963, when he managed a very modest 22 runs at an average of 3.67.  It is possible that the arrival of one Jonathan Neame in January 1964 was contributory to both the poor run of scores in 1963, and the stellar performance the following year.  In 1964 Bobby topped the batting averages and warranted a mention in the books – “Neame batted very well” – high praise indeed from Wyndham.  This mention was followed in 1969 with “R. Neame was probably the best batsman of the year, with Burley giving splendid consistent support”.

It is something of a surprise that such a prolific batsman did not score a Straggler century, reaching his best scores of 94 in 1969 at Sheldwich and 89 in 1961 at Newington, along with numerous half centuries, the last scored in 1984.  With his younger brother, Rex, Bobby held the record for the fourth wicket (163*), scored in the Married vs Single fixture again in 1961, the record theirs for 56 years until the Neames were overtaken by a brace of Smallwoods in 2017.  Bobby’s last Straggler innings, in 1999 at the age of 66, saw him score 12 against a Committee XI (the Inter-Straggler fixture of its day).  Bobby sits at third place in the list of incomplete innings (41) behind Rodney and the current Chairman

Bobby was an occasional bowler for the Stragglers, propelling a modest 63 overs in a long career, and taking a respectable 10 for 332, with a best of 2 for 13 at Brookland in 1961.

Bobby sits at 7th in the list for outfield catches with 48, his most successful season in 1957 with 5.  In the days before Straggler sides could regularly boast four or more keepers of quality, Bobby was no slouch with the gloves and always keen to keep.  At least he did not, as far as I am aware, earn a metallic or non-stick soubriquet common at the time.  He sits at 11th on the all-time list with 25 victims, 20 caught and 5 stumped.  Perhaps the most remarkable is a stumping against the Wye Rustics in 1991 at the age of 58, when the keeper shortage was at its peak, and he had probably passed his.  A comment from the books of 1983: “RHB Neame is thought to show a credit balance between his performances in front of and behind the wicket”.

Bobby was invited to join the Committee in 1963 and served for 35 years.

Towards the end of his career, Bobby, along with most Stragglers of a certain age and girth, migrated towards the slips.  Indeed, Bobby was very much an early prototype of what eventually became the “Terracotta Army”.  When I started playing Straggler cricket in the ‘90s, it was not uncommon to see Bobby and Jonathan field side by side at slip, to form an impenetrable barrier.  When I say “impenetrable”, I am not really referring to electric reactions plucking balls from the air, but to a complete absence of gaps through which an edged ball might sneak by.

Cricketing Neames have a strongly competitive gene and Bobby was no different, “ferociously competitive” is a description relayed to me more than once.  He would set off for the sharpest of singles with a call for “two”, which would sow confusion among the fielders and alarm his partner, who had no idea he was batting with a greyhound in disguise.   Bobby’s stance at the crease was relatively conventional in his early years; however, as he matured as a batsman, gravity began to take over, and his stance lowered somewhat, almost crablike with a gimlet stare, before launching into the occasional cover drive.  Bobby also had a remarkable ability to regale any receptive audience at length with recollections of his former glories.

I recall batting once with Bobby, in a game at Boughton Aluph (very possibly the one in which Will Gow, pleading poverty, took the £20 note Bobby had kindly given him to purchase a train ticket back to town, and bought another round in the New Flying Horse).  The Stragglers were 9 down, batting to salvage a draw, and Bobby and I had made it to the final over.  The opposition brought back their fearsome left arm strike bowler, Slevin, to administer the coup de grace.  Bobby was on strike, and, confident that he was going to block out all 6 balls, I was all but unbuckling my pads at the non-striker’s end.  However, Bobby was not going to pass up the opportunity of a run, and when he hit the fifth ball rather more firmly than the previous 4, he called me through for an unexpected, and, in the circumstances, entirely unnecessary single.  The match was not saved.