BL16 - Page 58

Staunch medium-pacer Bill Knott recalls
a time when cricket’s hallowed tea break
took on a devious tactical hue
Illustration Wesley Merritt
his is a vintage year for
cricket. Not only are we
in the middle of the World
Cup, but England are
narrow favourites to regain
that precious urn that Australia took
from them in the Ashes in 2018.
Cricket is the only sport civilised
enough to be structured around meal
breaks – lunch and tea, to be specific.
The lunch served to the players in the
Lord’s Pavilion used to be cooked by
a small, fierce Irishwoman called
Nancy Doyle, who had the Herculean
task of keeping Mike Gatting’s plate
full. England captain Mike Brearley
once complained that she overfed his
players. She jabbed him in the chest
with a sharp finger and said, “If you
don’t tell me how to bloody cook,
I won’t tell you how to bloody bat.”
Nancy’s legendary roasts and stews
have gone the way of all flesh, sadly.
Players now have personal nutritionists
and tailored diet sheets, something
unimaginable even a generation ago.
Harold Larwood – one of England’s
greatest fast bowlers of the Thirties,
renowned for his “bodyline” style –
would warm up for bowling with a few
pints of beer; more recently, Aussie
legend Shane Warne regularly terrorised
England’s batsmen on a diet of toasted
cheese sandwiches and cigarettes.
Happily, the amateur game still puts
on a good spread, and nowhere more
so than in Devon’s village cricket clubs.
I used to tour there every year with a
London pub team, and the teas laid on
by the local womenfolk were superb.
Our most keenly contested match of
the Devon tour was always against Clyst
Hydon, a team who, after years of
renting a pitch, finally scraped together
enough money to buy their own ground
and build a pavilion. Our first match at
their new home was
memorable, in particular
for The Curious Affair of
the Clyst Hydon Tea Rota.
I was captaining our side
for the first time, my
presence relying less on
my trundling mediumpace bowling and utterly
hapless batting than on
my ability to keep the
scorebook and throw a
reasonably straight dart after
a few pints. Captaincy was far
above my pay grade. I threw myself in
to the task, up much of the night before
changing bowlers and setting fields.
The new pavilion was a thing of
beauty. The bar held a firkin of beer on
wooden chocks; trestle tables creaked
under the weight of a gargantuan
spread, protected by damp tea towels.
We batted fi rst, and posted a decent
total, declaring, as is the custom, at
teatime. The Clyst Hydon tea was the
highlight of the tour, but that year’s
spread was even more lavish than
usual. Their captain explained that
there had been a mix-up in the tea rota,
with the result that every woman in
the village had baked a cake or a plate
of scones. I thought nothing of it,
happily chomping on thick-cut ham
sandwiches, slathered with mustard;
toying with crumbly, rich fruitcake and
scones topped with clotted cream and
strawberry jam (in that order – we were
Our demon fast
bowler was reduced
to the pace of a
snail by beer & cake
in Devon, not Cornwall), all washed
down with a pint or two of Otter Ale.
Had I been more vigilant, I would
have noticed that our opponents,
generous to a fault in handing out cakes
and pulling pints, were far more
abstemious than our lads; sipping tea,
nibbling on cucumber sandwiches.
s I later discovered, it was all a
fiendish ruse: Fill the other side
up with beer, sandwiches and
cake, and wait for the results.
The inevitable happened. None of
my carefully-laid plans for victory
stood a chance. Our demon fast bowler
was reduced to the pace of a snail, his
athletic frame wrestling unsuccessfully
with beer and cake; meanwhile, our
catastrophically arthritic fielders
lumbered about like bears. Clyst Hydon
won at a canter, our sole success being a
freak run-out, the ball rebounding from
short legs’ distended stomach onto the
stumps. We were utterly humiliated.
Appalling greed and skulduggery
may have cost us the match, but nobody
seemed to mind. Everything in
moderation. Including moderation.
Food writer Bill Knott is the restaurant
critic of the FT’s ‘How To Spend It’,
known as ‘The Gannet’

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