Phil’s Forty, 27: Still on a hat-trick

Now I’m no Joe Denly* but I did take a wicket with my first ball in my first match in Hull.

It was a 20-over slog between a Hull Daily Mail XI and someone else at the Northern Foods sports ground in Cottingham, now Hull City’s training ground and close enough to my house for me to want to move the car if Jos Butler ever plays there.

Phil with cricket mates in Bermuda.

Or at least it was meant to be a 20-over slog. The truth is we only set a target of 100 to win. We didn’t use all our batsmen and two of us on debut were among those to get nowhere near the crease. 

But we’d obviously shown something in the warm-up, with ball in hand, to impress the captain. As our opponents moved effortlessly to 90 without loss, he tossed me the ball and invited me to try and break the partnership.

There are looseners and then there’s that maiden delivery. The batsman was truly salivating as he stepped across the wicket, thrashed the ball on the third bounce – and was caught neatly on the square leg boundary. 

Ninety for one, a cocky batsman bemused and a gobsmacked captain chirping: “Keep ’em like that Phil!”

The batsmen crossed. The next ball went for six, the one after that for four and we were soundly beaten by nine wickets. But it’s fair to say my performance lived long in the memory.

Many years later we had a combined media team with colleagues from my second spell at the Mail, demon spin bowler Charles Penty from the Yorkshire Post and some stars of Radio Humberside including Burnsy who, like me, fell into the category of… erm… all-rounder. Phil Squire was our fast bowler and the news editor, Mike Fennell, was captain and wicketkeeper. When Mike was unavailable the gloves went to Andy Buncombe, now the Independent’s Chief US Correspondent. Martyn Ziegler, now Chief Sports Reporter for The Times, also played a bit. 

We played at the annual Town and Country Day at Bishop Burton College, a lovely ground and a decent crowd combining to create an irresistible urge to show off. When one Sunday morning a bowler did what I’d done 10 years or more before, I replicated what the batsman did, took a step across and hoisted the ball high over square leg having failed to spot the fielder, a farmer with hands like buckets, lurking behind the umpire.

We also had some great afternoons on the village cricket square at Leconfield, where I once retired on 25 not out, a career-high which included a match-winning partnership with Burnsy. One Sunday we played at The Circle in Hull against a team from Humberside County Council, which ages us a bit. 

Noticing that the wicket was as dead as the County Council’s long-term prospects I bowled a straight one for the Council Leader who swung, missed and was out for a duck. I didn’t fare any better than him with the bat, falling third ball without scoring after being promoted to opener because we had tickets to see Prince in Sheffield and needed to get a flier.

The Police Club down Inglemire Lane was a favourite venue. It was closer to home, had a good bar with cheap beer and in those days wasn’t next to a Covid-19 testing centre. We had a good record there, I generally got a few runs and I finished my playing career on a hat-trick.

The rule was that most of us would bowl two overs but a couple could have three. When in my second over I removed their best batsman with a devil ball which bowled him round his legs, Captain Fennell gave me a third over.

Our opponents had displayed a talent for hitting the ball high, but not very far, so the tactics were simple. I tempted the batsmen to go for glory and placed our best fielder, Charles Penty, on the edge of the square to snaffle the catches. Safe hands, two wickets with my last two balls for the Hull Combined Media XI, a good time to retire.

Cricket in Bermuda.
Cricket in Bermuda.

The standard was higher in Bermuda, and as a result my playing involvement was limited to fielding on the boundary in the annual match between the Royal Gazette and its sister company the Bermuda Press. 

We lost the first match to the weather and won the second one, our secret weapon being a Canadian journalist who wielded the willow like a baseball bat. We celebrated with a gleaming trophy overflowing with a lethal cocktail created by someone who had clearly never had a drink. One ingredient was Gosling’s Bermuda Black Seal Rum. Another was Carlsberg Special Brew. I can’t recall the outcome of the third game, which makes me think we probably won that as well.

Cricket was at the heart of the entire community and the biggest event in the sporting calendar was Cup Match, a two-day contest which warranted its own Bank Holiday and brought together the cricket clubs of Somerset in the west of the island and St George’s in the east. Rum, beer, fried fish, mussel pie and Crown and Anchor, which was a dice game and one of the few gambling opportunities in Bermuda. And a bit of cricket as well!

For various reasons the UK has never had anything quite like it. The weather is one factor and the mainstream media obsession with football another. The evening works leagues have gone and very few children get the chance to play proper cricket at school. One of the saddest sights of my Holderness day trips during the summer was the field on the banks of the Humber at Paull. It used to be a cricket pitch but doesn’t look like it’s been used for years.

Paull cricket ground.

There’s another piece coming along soon about some of the joys and frustrations of sports reporting. All the highlights are from cricket. It really is a sport to savour but in a world of impatience and immediacy fewer people make the time to enjoy it.

* Joe Denly was the first English bowler to take a wicket with his first ball in a T20 international.

Phil Ascough

It’s 40 years this year since Phil Ascough, our most prolific freelance contributor, arrived in Hull to begin a new episode in his journalistic career. Having spent two years on the weekly Doncaster Gazette, Phil headed east to the Hull Daily Mail. Apart from three years on the Royal Gazette in Bermuda and a short spell at the Teesside Gazette, he’s been here ever since. He worked for the Yorkshire Post and the BBC before returning to the Mail and becoming business editor. He moved into sports media with the Press Association in Leeds and then Howden, and set up his own PR consultancy in 2010. To mark the anniversary he has set out to write 40 essays looking at his career, our city and its people.

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