Malta Tour 2019
In late September 2019 a dozen or so Refreshers and a cadre of WAGS sallied forth across the Med to land on Malta, a lovely warm island with a long history, beautiful architecture and close historical ties with England. Among the many alternatives to cricket watching are fabulous cafes and restaurants, along with some outstanding churches, cathedrals and museums, including the Lascari underground bunkers from which the Allied invasion of Sicily was planned in 1943. Some Refreshers arrived early to soak up the sun and the sights and get some SCUBA diving in before the cricket began in earnest.
First outing on the pitch was a 20/20 against a handy (and wristy) Maltese team, playing under the colours of the Marsa Cricket Club. Marsa, just outside Valletta, is a splendid country club, founded in 1902 during British rule and looking exactly as one would expect – an elegant main building with an arched entrance, lofty high ceilings, big pool, manicured golf course, tennis courts, cricket pitch, gate security, long bar – all most resonant of London’s Hurlingham Club. Out on the grass, under the burning sun and a temperature in the high 30’s, we had to wait for our tour manager who, having urged everyone to arrive early and dress in blazer and tie, finally rocked up with a few cohorts 15 minutes after the game had been due to start, wearing shorts. His credibility was not improved by an ambiguous excuse that he ‘got tangled up with an octopus’ – a euphemism, we gathered, for a grand bouffe lunch at a waterfront restaurant. The fines committee was busy later in the evening. Back to the cricket, however, we learned that the oppo wanted to bat first and thus when we won the toss we too made that election. Unfortunately only two of us reached 20 (Jon Willatt and Richard Saunders) and a score of 100 was never going to be enough – as Marsa CC demonstrated in 11.3 overs, flying over the line with eight wickets still standing. Most of their runs were scored by M Khan and A Khan. Saunders was the pick of our bowlers and indeed the pick of our fielding, pulling off a brilliant running (well, strolling, really) catch on the line at deep midwicket, upon which the astonished A Khan ran across to Richard to shake him warmly by the hand. Sportsmanship, albeit a bit noisy on occasions, was evident throughout.
After our trouncing, and while the sun was still warm in the sky, the big cool pool and cooler beers were much appreciated. Later the tour manager began his long process of redemption by securing a bus to take us to and from a charming restaurant in central Valletta (think Harry Potter in the Shambles in York), which was excellent – so good in fact, that the tour manager, for his own order, went off the fixed menu he had organized for the rest of us. Tom Dumont captained the fines committee, which was much exercised by the culinary elitism of said tour leader.
On Saturday we had a 40 over ODI to contend with against a similar but not identical squad from Marsa. Confidence was running high (we couldn’t play as badly as we had yesterday, could we?) and the presence in Marsa’s team of the captain of the national side was no cause for concern. Once again we won the toss (tour manager working hard on the redemption package) and decided to bat. At 9 for 3 and 25 for 4 some of the bravado was wearing a bit thin but happily our middle order showed a bit of character (Willatt 14 and Spurr 22) to stay with Rowan Clapp who was making the game his own; when Joe Cannon joined him they picked up the tempo with some sharp running and classy stroke play, putting on 56 in 7 overs to give us a chance of a defendable total. In the event Rowan had reached 94* with one ball of our innings left, and duly dispatched it into the flower-beds surrounding the ground. A fabulous unbeaten century, and we had scored 203 – not a shoe in, but we had something to bowl at. And bowl we did – 43 wides in total (to their 17), although we did feel that the local wide rules were somewhat uncompromising. Anyway, at 63 for no wicket it was not looking good, but Saunders and Willatt (wk) made the breakthrough and there followed a curious procession of ‘bunny suicides’, of which Cayford was the main beneficiary (4 for 51). Belief was growing, we held (most of) our catches – Spurr, Clapp and Dumont in particular – and we had them 9 down for 164 – a victory was more than possible. But…the national captain displayed nerves of steel as we continued to pepper him with wide after wide, and with their no 11 he brought them over the line. A frustrating loss, and largely self-inflicted.
Every tour has its magic moment and ours came early in our innings when Rachel Godschalk clipped into the leg-side and set off for a quick single, running down the leg-side and watching the ball at the same time. Dumont, responding, ran hard down his off-side, also watching the ball. They collided with a bang that resonated across the ground and both collapsed, heaving, onto the pitch. With enough time to run out both of them, Marsa’s skipper sportingly called dead ball and laughed for a full minute whilst they staggered back to their feet.
At the post-match presentation ceremony we offered Marsa a couple of ties, shirts and hats and they did something similar, thus infusing the mood with bonhomie and warm invitations for a return match.
At dinner, as good as the previous night, the President gave one of his state of the union addresses which included copious thanks to the now restored tour manager (Joe Cannon), the presentation of a captain’s tie to Rowan Clapp (two centuries in his debut season), a discourse on serendipity and the art of winning cricket matches (and losing gracefully, if absolutely necessary) and a vote of thanks to the WAGS and supporters (including his own son who played on the first day). He concluded with the oft-repeated mantra that his body could not tolerate any further abuse (of the cricketing type) and that this time enough really was enough – a proposition that was met with weary shrugs from all who had heard it before.
The toast was The Refreshers, whom, it was agreed, are in good heart. Some retired after dinner, but the bars in Valletta, a most beguiling city at night, stayed open late for those who preferred to soak up the balmy atmosphere.
Joe Cannon (manager)
Philip Cayford (President)
Richard Saunders (VP)
Tom Dumont (QC)
Sir Jonathan Cohen