Chairman's Blog

Much like an early medieval monarch (turning up late after a trip to the Holy Land) Patch Mitchell lead the Stragglers to a clean sweep of the former English possessions of Gascony in la sud-ouest.

Somewhat unusually for a touring cricket team, now often with more supporting physios, nutritionists and analysts than players, the Straggler party was accompanied by four sommeliers; their value at dinner was exceptional.  We were also accompanied by a limping Charlie, still on crutches after a nasty accident in the garden.  Charlie appointed himself ‘fines master’, and was ruthless in picking up the smallest cricketing indiscretion.  Among the many fines for dropped catches (and there were many, as the ball followed one fielder in particular, nameless in this report, unerringly around the field for three days), the one imposed on the Chairman for failing to catch a flat six as it flew through the scorers’ box, seemed a little harsh.  “Don’t let the weekend be defined by a drop” became the mantra.  The list of fines is too long, arcane and, without context, incomprehensible, to go into in greater detail; suffice to say that they went into every conceivable aspect of touring life, right down to a very late fine imposed on the senior sommelier, Nige, for failing to provide adequate transport home for his peers late on Sunday night.


It was something of a surprise to the Straggler tourists, heading to the Garonne, to learn of the new ECB advice about the importance of Guinness as a pre-match tonic; but they took it in good heart, and secured pole position in the Red Lion at Gatwick for a substantial liquid breakfast.  An hour flight, some delay at the Hertz counter at Bordeaux (they needed to know Olla’s inside leg measurement and didn’t have a tape of sufficient length), and an hour on the motorway in what proved very comfortable buses (avoiding early bollards), gave sufficient time for the early morning refreshments to have worked through the system for most.

With a lovely ground, beside a lake to the south of the village, Damazan owes much of its success to founder, Jean-Claude Rieudedat, a very rare example of a French MCC member.  JC’s contribution to French cricket, local and national, was recognised by the MCC some years ago.  Jean-Claude had noticed that the Stragglers dated from 1947, as did he, still taking the field for many games.

A very perky Straggler side, captained by Will Attwood, took to the field at Damazan CC for the initial T20.  Damazan opener, Moby, had clearly modelled himself on Virender Sehwag, and attempted to carve almost every ball hard and high over backward point – and with some success.  For a few overs the score rattled along, and a big total seemed in prospect.  Toby, opening the bowling, has a knack of getting wickets for other bowlers, bowling like the wind and not being well rewarded; on this occasion Jasper made the breakthrough, and began to slow the scoring momentum.  31 for 1 from 4 became 48 for 3 from 10; Moby (31) carved one too many, having been dropped twice, and Harry Gibson clung on.  Damazan stalwart, Mike Gear, was now at the crease, and dug in, certainly not batting as if he had spent the last few weeks watching the IPL.  A couple more catches stuck; Al took two in two behind the stumps off Ben Simpson, and the innings drew to a gentle close at 99.

Al opened for the Stragglers with Chris Lark, and made a statement clubbing the first ball to the fence.  He was then undone by a quite remarkable one-handed catch in the deep.  Shoab seemed to have lost sight of the ball and fallen over, when a long arm reached out to grasp the ball – winner of the day one champagne moment.  Patch Clews didn’t last long, bowled the Gagan Singh, Damazan captain and most effective bowler.  Chris continued to a steady 24, and the chase was wrapped up by Will Attwood (30*) and Harry Gibson (18*), for a comfortable 7 wicket victory with more than 5 overs to spare, aided by rather too many very wide wides.  Tour captain, Patch Mitchell, arrived from his tortuous journey in time for the celebrations.

The drive to the hotel in Bergerac, some 47 miles north of Damazan, took us through some of the loveliest country side in France, across the Garonne, the Dropt and then over the Dordogne itself.  The old town of Bergerac is blessed with a number of lovely restaurants; we had been advised to try L’Omlettaria, whose owner had played rugby to the highest level, and whose chef would turn out for the opposition on Sunday – he showed off his ‘5 for’ award from the 2016 season, just to make sure we would treat his leg-breaks with respect.  The late-night entertainment involved the involuntary removal of one of Ben’s kidneys in a town centre fountain – no more detail necessary, but Ben struggled with right turns in the bus for the rest of the tour, putting pressure on his wounds.


The day was cloudless, the market around the church full of rillettes de canard, artichokes and interesting goat’s cheeses, and, Patch M having done his research, a bar across the square was showing the Lions’ game live. Early morning beer had worked well on the day before, so was enjoyed once more.  Back to Damazan for a time game, where Gagan Singh generously conceded the toss to allow the Stragglers a chance to bat.  And bat they did, or at least a one or two did.  Jasper continued his recent form, and set about the Damazan bowling with great power and style, reaching his third century in 14 days, the only Straggler to have scored back to back centuries, to have scored three centuries in a season, and the first to have scored 6 Straggler career centuries.  At the other end, Olla Tennant began slowly, but increased the tempo, when he changed bats, and reached a well-deserved 67.  When Gagan finally broke through to have Olla stumped, the score was 169 from 27 overs and the fielders were looking weary.  Jasper retired on 117, but this only gave Ben a chance to blast 4 sixes from the final over – 227 for 1 declared from 31 overs.

Moby opened for Damazan once more, and his attacking approach was clearly not limited to T20 cricket.  With around 40 overs possible, there was time for the chase, but he was in a hurry.  In a somewhat streaky innings, with occasional good fortune with umpiring decisions, he smashed his way to 66.  Unfortunately, the support from the other end rather melted away. Not all the catches that went to Straggler hands were taken, but possibly the best catch of the weekend removed the likelihood of a real fight, when Gagan hooked a dreadful Patch Clews’ half-tracker flat to the deep fine leg boundary, only to pick out Toby with pin-point precision.  Wickets tumbled in a flurry, Patch C with 3 for 25.  Moby continued at the other end, but the support was not there. And Alex Reese struck regularly (4 for 21).  Highlights in the field included Patch Clews’ opening salvoes (well short of half-way), Harry’s front foot no ball from a two-step run up, and Olla’s throw from mid-off, which went at about 60 degrees from target to be collected at deep mid-on.  Ben Simpson finally bowled Moby, and there was a brief hiatus, as the last batsmen stuck around and made the Stragglers wait for victory – the final wicket a nice stumping by Al of Patch M.  Jean-Claude remained undefeated.  The relative inexperience of some of the younger members of the opposition was highlighted by the enthusiastic signalling from the square leg umpire, while listening to music on headphones.

Patch chose Gagan Singh to receive the man of the match for the opposition, in recognition of a really fine spell of bowling, while Jasper was making life very hard for bowlers – 10 overs, 1 for 37 was a resilient spell.  After sampling another interesting vintage prepared by Jean-Claude, and a salute to the MCC flag, we bade farewell to Damazan, and headed back to Bergerac (Toby very nearly taking out a lady on a bike with a flying bottle, as the “B” bus opted for maximal air movement with both side doors open).

We had been advised more than once to dine at L’Imparfait, and the party dined very well indeed – the senior sommelier’s assiette de fromage proving overkill.  A slight navigational error by the Chairman turned out for the best, as we enjoyed the loveliest of views of the old bridge across the Dordogne. Charlie had not spent all day working on ever more obscure reasons to fine cricketing ineptitude, and had fully researched the late-night opportunities offered by Bergerac.  The Windsor was selected from quite a short list, and the night became very long indeed – cage dancing, and aggressive Algerians to the fore.  So long was the night for some, that the Hotel doormat doubled as a bed for a couple of hours, until reception came on duty at 7am.


Breakfast was poorly attended by the playing party.  The Sommeliers, who had enjoyed a hard day at Chateau Montbazillac, en route to Damazan on the day before, and then gone for an early night, were bright eyed and bushy tailed.  The players were a less happy sight.  After Patch and Jasper had shaken a few unwilling bodies into the shower, a very bleary-eyed party set off for what we had been promised, would be stiffer opposition – Eymet CC. We had met Eymet President (and scorer, as it turned out), Ian Brown at dinner, along with leg-spinning Owais Muhammad.  And on Sunday morning they had turned up the heat.

Eleven hang-overs, 35 degrees C, a ground nicely sheltered from any hint of a breeze – we needed to win the toss and get into the shade.  Alex, with the Hotel logo still visible on his cheek, lost the toss.  The Stragglers were in the field, and this was for 35 overs.  Willing bowlers were hard to find.  Patch C had opted to be 12th man, and found himself umpiring.  Patch M and Jasper, who hadn’t completely forgotten that they were on a cricket tour, opened the bowling, as the heat continued to build.  Mobility in the field was compromised.  Heat and excess alcohol were beginning to have their effect. Jasper struck early with an LBW, and then Patch got the nod – 25 for 2. Apart from Patch, who bowled his 7 overs straight through, Straggler bowlers were unwilling (or probably unable) to bowl long spells.  The batsmen were now gaining the upper hand.  However, a well-tried combination of a Chairman’s grenade caught by Jasper at long-on paid off, and just enough wickets kept falling.  Our chef from Friday kept the score rumbling along, but every time a partner got in, he got out, two run-out when taking the on the long arm of Jasper.  163 for 8 from 35 overs was good for the ground (outfield quite long and supporting the fielding side). Eymet were quietly confident.

When the Straggler top order shouldered arms and surrendered meekly – 10 for 2, 22 for 4, and 48 for 6 – Eymet must have through they had it in the bag.  However, to ensure that everyone got a bat on tour, the order had been reversed to a degree, and the Stragglers still had some big guns to come. Patch M and Alex slowed things down a bit, and restored a sense of order. But both fell with runs still required, and it needed les freres Smallwood to ensure a Straggler victory.  Jasper (42) was not quite middling the ball as he had the day before, but still found the found the boundary enough.  Al (46*) was seeing it like a football, and, appropriately, hitting sixes into the football ground next door.  Jasper miscued one too many and was gobbled up at long-on, but that just brought Olla to the crease, and a couple of big sixes later, the last bouncing nicely off the roof of the stand, the game was over, 168 for 8 with 3 overs to spare.  Perhaps it was as well that the least keen to bat for medical reasons, had been saved the responsibility of finishing the job.

A slightly early finish gave the teams a few minutes in the shade for a beer and to compare cricketing notes.  The Eymet man of the match was Owais Muhammad for his excellent 62; it is not very often that skills with a tartiflette come into the reckoning in the man of the match selection.  Plenty of sleeping in the buses on the way back to the airport!!  A great tour to a lovely part of France, and very generous hosts at Damazan and Eymet.