Retro Sport: The half crown which made me shudder

Joseph Bulmer

These days it is common knowledge that some of the better local cricketers, in Devon, get paid a 'sweetener' for playing for their clubs.

The subject came up in conversation the other day, and someone asked me if, during my 30 years of playing local cricket in Torbay, I had ever been paid.

I told him: “No! I was never good enough for that... but if you had asked me whether I had ever ended a match richer than when I began it, I would have said yes twice!”

The first instance was when I was just 13 years old.

It was in the summer term, and I was in my last year at Montpelier School in Paignton.

Cricket was taken very seriously at Montpelier, and, from the beginning of term, the 1st XI practiced twice a week in the nets.

In 1955, the school had a strong 1st XI captained by Roy Kerslake, who, in later years, would become both the captain, and the president of Somerset CCC.

I was Mann Ma - short for Mann Major - and my brother was Mann Mi - short for Mann Minor - and we were both in the 1st XI that year.

After a successful season against the other schools, we now prepared for the staff match, which was one of the highlights of the summer term.

Wooden benches were placed right round the boundary, and the whole school was there to watch.

Extra foldaway seats were provided for parents, and the sun shone down on the occasion.

When 2pm came, the 1st XI filed into the pavilion and were greeted with loud clapping.

As we passed the benches, boys whispered to us: “Make sure you get Mossy out first ball!” (Mr Moss was the unpopular maths teacher) and: “Give Fatso Phillips one from me!” (Mr Phillips taught algebra).

In truth, we were all in awe of the teachers, and our responding nods were just bravado.

Some of our teachers were quite good cricketers, and, in the staff match, they always batted first to set us a target which they considered would provide a close finish.

Today, they scored 120 for five and declared at teatime.

Mr Jordain, in blazer and neck scarf, took a plate of sandwiches around the ground to the visiting parents, and smiled and nodded, saying: “I thought the boys bowled splendidly, didn’t you?”

After tea, it was our turn to bat, and our openers, Roy Kerslake and Peter Cornish, gave us a good start.

The staff’s opening bowler, Mr Grundy the geography teacher, realised that it was time to take a wicket, and began to increase his pace.

At the end of his third over, he tried a bit too hard, tripped, and fell over in a heap!

I could hear the crowd gasp before he limped off in great pain.

Just as we were all feeling sorry for the popular teacher, Mr Jordain came running towards the pavilion and shouted: “Mann Ma come down and field for us please!”

I obeyed straightaway, of course, and he sent me to field at mid-off.

To my horror, the next over was to be bowled by Mr F.L. Green, the headmaster, who ruled the school with a rod of iron!

He was a short stocky Welshman with a loud voice and a face that never smiled.

As he paced out his run-up, I tried not to look at him, and just prayed that I didn’t mis-field anything that came my way.

He grunted and muttered through his over, and I was so relieved that when it ended, I could change ends.

The next over passed too quickly, and it was time to return to Mr Green’s end.

Luckily, he chose to chat to Mr Jordain, so I was able to walk past him, with my head down, but, just as I had done so, I noticed a shiny object in the grass.

I glanced around, and, as no-one was looking, I bent down and grabbed the half-crown coin, and, quickly, put it into my pocket.

Just as I was wondering which parent had dropped it, Mr Green had reached the end of his run-up, and suddenly stopped, and shouted: “Who’s stolen my damned bowling mark?”

Oh no! I stopped breathing and began to shake like a jelly.

For a moment, I thought about admitting that it was me, but I wasn’t nearly brave enough for that!

Mr Green stared at me for what seemed like minutes, and I thought he must see me shaking.

“We’ll find it later for you,” shouted Mr Jordain, and I heard Mr Green curse.

Two balls later, an off-drive fizzed past me, and I didn’t even notice it.

I ended that match richer, but the memory of it still makes me shudder!