As dark descended on the sleepy Portuguese town of Mirando do Corvo, a group of friendly Ploughmen convened in a small bar in the centre. As glasses clinked, old faces and new smiled and congratulated each other on what had been a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days. The mighty Plough were well on top. A birthday cake made its way to the table for one of the travelling party and the group erupted enthusiastically into a wobbly rendition of happy birthday. We all smile, we all sing.
Many of the party had been drinking since midday (it was said that two of the particularly committed had been on it that had been on it since 10:00) and as midnight approached shouts such as ‘cheers’, ‘virgin’, ‘come on then’ and ‘Plough on’ could occasionally be heard over the generally hum of excited chatter, laughter, witty banter and general good cheer.
The hesitant consumption of the initial two ‘Birthday’ flaming absinthes opened the floodgates for the countless others that followed. Only those with a close eye for detail noticed a slight difference in the shade of green presented in the various glasses at different points in the night.
Eyes gleamed bright and chests burned hot. The tiny square, a picturesque backdrop for the evening’s festivities, began to blur into the distance as a green haze slowly descended on what remained of the crowd. Before we knew it, ‘Plough on’ echoed across the quiet village, and wet Ploughfolk awaited our arrival, half naked, in the outdoor pool.
By the time, what was left of the travelling party, stumbled up the long hill in the lashing down rain, body parts that ought better to have stayed in boxer shorts, may have made appearances and body parts that really ought not to have been, may or may not have been licked.
Alarm set, four hours thirty ticks closer and my head hits the pillow hard. The room, slowly but surely, begins to spin.
The shrill alarm clock pierces the silence with a sledgehammer like blow and smashes into the throbbing head of the captain after what seems like no more than five minutes rest. As the realisation that it is time to wake up sinks in, he unsticks his carpet like tongue from the roof of his mouth and puts a hand on the washing machine that his stomach has become. An enormous grin from his wide awake roomy accompanies the opening gambit ‘ready skip?’ Hands and knees trembling, all he can taste, and smell, is absinthe.
The rain pours down and splashes into duck filled puddles as our heroes tentatively walk towards the ‘Golden Duck’ improvised bar. The key focus for the day is the beer total of 403 set by Swansea University but through the sound of the rain, still falling in hard, the smashing sound of leather on willow carries across the stadium. In the distance, strong, fast, athletic, silhouettes can be seen charging, time and time again, into the nets. All the way from Lisbon, The Gurkha XI.
After a brief meeting with trusted advisors Bush and Durex, and to a background of exclamations of ‘It is way too dangerous to play in this’, ‘Why don’t we just play them at football?’ and ‘I would play in it, but I wouldn’t start in it’ the captain stands tall, in the pouring rain, breathes a heavy breath and beckons for the umpires. The IPL trumpet/claxon rings out through the stadium. GAME ON. 15 overs each side. The Gurkha XI win the toss and elect to field.
Out stride Posh Tom and Nicky Niraj, to an incredibly hostile opening over. The ball flies past the bat on numerous occasions and the Gurkhas jump round and ‘ai’ and ‘ahh’. Posh survives and stares thoughtfully into the distance; it seems he is pondering his options. He and Nicky push the singles well in the second over and nerves settle ever so slightly.
Smash, four runs through cover. Smash, six runs over cover. Smash, another four runs. The opener runs in again. Posh, with a glint in his eye, takes one, two, three steps down the ground and he strikes the ball, clean as whistle, with full force. The ball flies, straight as an arrow back over the bowler’s head and disappears into the distance. It smashes into the top of the nets with an almighty thump and as the over goes for 20+, Posh has registered his entry for shot of the tour (and shot of the year), the crowd are on their feet and the Plough party train is well and truly back on its tracks.
Ably supported by a text book looking Nicky Niraj, the run rate is good for the next few overs; enter Tisato, a man possessed. After smashing a delightful hundred the day before, he wastes no time in carrying on from where he left off. Top scoring with a cracking innings he hits the ball all round the ground with blissful ease. To name one shot, a chest high no-ball outside off is dispatched for six over the covers with what could maybe be described as an extremely lofted, checked cover smash. We need to come up with a name for that shot if you are going to keep playing it.
The rest of the batting order make good use of the platform that has been set to keep the run rate moving along with decent contributions from Rob ‘Freeway’ Keogh (Day/Night, tour and 15 over specialist), Long-John Silvapulle and a classy showing from Kevin Chau.
Plough 117 off 15 overs. The skipper smiles a tired smile. ‘I think we have enough’.
Full credit goes to The Gurkha XI, who play the game from the off with serious intent coupled with decent technique. Opening bowler and all-round tour legend AJ is exceptional with the new ball, picking up three wickets including one bowled that dips and spins in such a way it falls firmly into the category of unplayable.
A revamped Matt Jones bowls with precision and nerve at the other end to pick up a three of his own at a crucial stage in the game.
Despite the best efforts of the mighty plough and the wickets that are falling, The Gurkha XI press on unwaveringly towards the required total. With Silva tearing in and causing the batsmen problems at one end, enter Tom Lonnen at the other. With pace, passion, skill and nous he produces a fantastic spell of bowling. With one delivery, he simultaneously smashes the spring back stumps (albeit he had softened them up a bit the day before with his bat) and knocks the proverbial wind out of the Gurkha XI’s proverbial sails.
Freddie Mule takes an excellent caught behind and keeps very well in dangerous conditions. Despite not contributing with the bat, his ‘can-do’ attitude towards the game is impeccable. The full backing that he gives the skipper, verbally and physically, during the build up to the game and throughout the game itself has an impact on the outcome that cannot be underestimated.
Despite the treacherous conditions the fielding has been exceptional. Kevin Chau, Silva and Freeway in particular, stop runs at all costs and raise the pressure on the opposition with a verbal onslaught.
With one wicket to get, we are on the verge of victory, but still not out of sight, and up steps Nicky Niraj. The atmosphere is electric, and all the crowd are on their feet. The first ball spins away from the left hander is hit high and far into the air. As the skipper looks around to see who is charging from deep towards him he sees, who else but Tom Lonnen run, dive and take a blinder. The skipper smiles a wry smile; he won’t be required to bowl again today. The Gurkha XI are 90 odd all out.
Tom throws the ball high into the air; the game is over, and the stadium erupts into celebration. It’s hugs handshakes and high fives all round. An excellent all-round team performance topples a worthy and fantastic opposition side in washout conditions.
The skipper sips four beers and looks on; proud of his team, delighted. The Plough march on, undefeated with one to play. 403 beers in sight. I didn’t even know Swansea had a Uni?