Earlier this week, I was helping run a fielding practice for my school 1st XI along with the school’s cricket professional, a former fast bowler with over 20 years experience of playing First Class cricket and an equal length of time spent as a school cricket coach. Our conversation turned to discussing his mother’s recent move to sheltered accommodation close to the school. Having lost his father a couple of years ago, his mother had buried his ashes in her garden in an urn. Our pro had returned to the house that morning to dig up the urn so they could re-interned at some point in the future. Our conversation reminded me of a couple of incidents on the cricket field that involved the ashes of former team-mates.
The first incident involved a former team-mate called Ron. I had played with Ron at a club in Surrey when I was in my early 20’s, Ron had been the 2nd XI wicket-keeper and later in life, the 2nd XI umpire when his son had been captain of the side. As a young man, he had also been a professional goalkeeper. Ron and I had never really seen eye to eye as players and even less so when I was promoted to the 1st XI as he felt I had taken his son’s place. Rarely did I get a decision from him yet his son had more luck –“Howzat Dad” “That’s out, son!” When I batted my luck was even worse – run out when I had passed the stumps, LBW when I had middled it – you name it, it happened to me.
After a long illness, Ron sadly died sometime in the early 90’s and in his will he requested that his ashes be scattered on the cricket ground. We had a ceremony and a celebration of his life a few weeks before the season started and his ashes were scattered around the base of a large specimen tree that grew within the boundary. A couple of weeks into the season I was playing at home on a Sunday and was asked to field close to the tree. It was a fairly cool day with a gusty breeze and before long I had to field the ball close to the tree. As I approached the base of the tree, Ron’s ashes were still visible on the patch of bare ground and as I got closer a fairly violent gust of wind stirred up the grey powder and as I bent to pick up the ball, blew it into my eyes.
I immediately sensed a burning sensation with the gritty ash now under both eyelids and I immediately sunk to my knees, despite the shouts of my team-mates urging me to throw the ball back in. Fortunately, the batsmen stopped running when they realized all was not well and the other fielders came over to see what my plight was. When they realized that I had been near-blinded by Ron’s ashes, there was much jocularity. Eventually, I was helped from the pitch and tried to clean the ash out of my eyes with little success, so I was shipped off to casualty to have the grit rinsed out of my eyes by an ophthalmic specialist, who also found the incident very amusing. Was this Ron having his last laugh at my expense, I am sure it was!
My other ‘ashes’ incident also involved the cremated remains of a former player. By this time, I had moved house and clubs and was chairman of a well-known Middlesex club. A request came before the committee from the widow and daughters of a former player, John, who I had played against many times. They asked if they could scatter his ashes on the ground that we duly agreed to. The ashes were actually spread on the square that the groundsman didn't see as a problem as the rain would wash them away over the course of the winter.
John had a couple of daughters, who could best be described as ‘accommodating’ and many of the lads in the club had brief liaisons with them, most of which were not approved of by John. In one match in the middle of the season played on an absolutely belting wicket where over 600 runs were scored, one of the lads, Tony, who had not met with John’s approval after having a brief fling with one of his voluptuous daughter, was going along nicely with his score in the 90’s. He was delivered a half-volley on off stump that shot along the floor and bowled him all ends up. It was the only ball that misbehaved all day (and probably all season too.)
Tony was adamant that John too, had the last laugh and got in his own back on him for his previous misdemeanors. We all had a good laugh about it but given my earlier experience, I often wonder whether Ron and John were sitting in that great pavilion in the sky enjoying a pint and passing judgement on us all.