The sleepy town of Banstead, a nondescript exurb of London, is full of surprises. Take the grounds of the Banstead Cricket Club for example, the site of the Sunday Ploughmans game. Tucked away behind a nondescript playground is a fabulously flat track in a green-girt field abutted by an impressive pavilion (albeit now defunct) built in the 1840’s. No lucky accident as it turns out: Banstead CC has a storied past and, as we would soon find out, a very promising future.
Having lost the toss, the men of the Plough, led by the unflappable Grant Wolledge, took the field against a Banstead side that comprised almost entirely of school-aged children possessed of frightening alacrity. As the opening pair of bowlers (Maitra and Hopper) toiled against a pair of solid bats, one of whom was scarcely taller than the stumps, it became clear that this would be no walk in the park. The first ten overs yielded few runs for Banstead yet, with the exception of a difficult chance in the slips off Hopper, the opening batsmen did not seem particularly troubled. Wolledge turned to the experience of Tom Lonnen who, bowling with remarkable guile and accuracy, promptly delivered. Lonnen bowled out two of their bats in devastating fashion and then, unsatisfied with his contribution, ran out the remaining opener who looked to have settled in for a long inning, with a sharp throw.
For a moment it seemed Banstead might be tottering on the brink of a collapse. But the new bats dug in and the Plough struggled to hit upon an effective line of attack. There were glimpses of hope but nothing took. The Plough leaked runs much like the Titanic took on water; imperceptibly at first, and then all at once. The opposition piled on a total of two hundred forty-one for the loss of three wickets (all courtesy of Lonnen) at the end of forty overs; a formidable challenge.
Still, the game was far from lost. Lockhart and Lonnen strode out to the middle steeled to give chase. Lonnen looked in good touch, until he drove a full-toss furiously to the man at cover, an omen of what was to come the very next ball when he was bowled by what he readily acknowledged was a nut. That left the Plough on twenty-five for one. The fall of Lonnen’s wicket brought a pall upon the team; most of us worriedly admonished Suri, the next man in, to play prudently, which is like asking a cheetah not to run – it’s constitutionally impossible.
Predictably, Suri’s swagger and panache buoyed the innings right away. The sun shone through the clouds and all of a sudden, the insurmountable target seemed easily within reach, and indeed, as long as Lockhart and Suri batted, it was. With Suri springing the innings into higher gear – he unceremoniously creamed the second ball of his innings to the square-leg boundary – Lockhart anchored, according each ball he faced the respect it deserved. The pair put on runs at a pleasing pace. Lockhart dazzled with a seemingly inexhaustible array of cover drives and cuts. Suri, on the other hand, adopting a more catholic stance, dispatched the ball to all corners of the ground with a collection of strokes that ranged from the sublime to the inscrutable. Not content with boundaries, the pair ran admirably; the differences in approach reflecting the character of each. Suri bellowed “Run two!” almost every time the ball was hit, to which Lockhart, ever solicitous, would proffer a polite but firm, “No, stay,” even as he sometimes, begrudgingly, ran the second.
The pair put on a monumental partnership of one hundred seventy-one before Suri was stumped on ninety-two. And just like that, a brilliant, ebullient and unapologetic innings ended before its time. Lockhart was joined at the crease by Saha, and the two continued to put on runs until the reliable Lockhart-legs finally gave out. And thus, was a magnificent and balanced inning of seventy-two cruelly cut short by a run out. Both of our mainstays gone, a tough task turned insurmountable with the introduction of a crucial bowling change and an uber-defensive field, both of which made critical boundaries impossible to come by. Nevertheless, we saw out the overs and came up nineteen short – an honorable effort against a team that is certain to produce at least a couple of first-class cricketers. Over drinks at the end of the game, when asked to comment on his knock, surely the highlight of the week, Suri sheepishly confided to us that he and his wife had found out, just the day before, that they were to have another child. Still, a knock of ninety-two is no mean way to mark the occasion!