The Shire Cricket Chronicles

... with personal pennings as well

2011 Jeff Lynch



Part One: The Secretary Writes
I wish to extend the sweetest and dearest greetings to you my friends. I sit down here in the comfort of my own home in the cordial village of Bywater within the bounds of The Shire. I should tell you that I'm writing this all down in such a warm hole of a room. It is a typically freezing mid Winterfilth day.

There is nobody here to disturb me at all. Nothing at all in my seven underground rooms, save a friendly dormouse or two. I must confess that during the cold months I do feed them. People say that you shouldn't but I can't help do so. A muffled up friend is expected in two hours time at my round door and a beer or four will be most welcome.

And as I write this, I have my pipe of Longbottom Leaf Best to hand. And the fire in my warped old grate is crackling aloud with a cricket chirping behind it as well. If Winterfilth be hard with us, why there is always next Summer's cricket to look forward to.

I have plenty of beer in my cool larder too. I might prove necessary if added friends should pop in. Ah, and what more could a Hobbit want then?


Well I suppose if it comes down to wanting then, you will need to know that my name is Bungo Willowbottom.  Although I do expect that you have never heard of my name. Not that it matters of course. That is I mean, except to me.


I have the pleasure of being the Honorary Secretary to the Shire Cricket Association. These days our President is the very nearly famous Hobbit Peregrine Took.


Our immediate past President was course the extremely famous adventurer, batsman and Mayor of Hobbiton the one and the only Sam Gamgee. He was my friend as well you see. His name be legend here I say. He is a man capable of extinguishing a dragon's fire or so it's said. But as everybody knows, he has now passed over to be with his comrades. And it was indeed Sam's crossing over with Cirdar steering that prompted me to sit down and write these chronicles.


And so I most heartily invite you to join me in experiencing the last forty five years in the game of cricket played here in the Shire. My family name of Willow bottom is a locative one for most of my forebears came from farms around that little settlement.


In fact you will hear a lot of the small villages and outlying settlements of our beloved Shire in these chronicles. Names, such as Pincup, Buttercup, Needlehole, Budge Ford, will arise. As will places like Hardbottom, Scary, Crickhollow, Little Delving and Scary too.


You see I have decided to record most of what I know of the life and times of the generations of the famous and infamous flannelled fools of the Shire. In my rambling and old time spinning style it will hopefully be a personal account of the Shire Cricket Association during my lifetime.


To tell you the truth, I was most nervous at setting out to write these chronicles. The fact is that while it is true that I am occasionally considered to be a poet, I have very little experience at setting down a history. In my salad days when I was lucky enough to be playing for Bywater on those green pitches of old, I attempted to be a leg spinner.


I was not the best bowler in our team by a very long chalk but when Sam was only an up and coming batsman I did take his wicket two times. The first time was a clean caught and bold with quite an ordinary ball. Or so I did suppose. Sam vowed that the ball had almost magically slowed up on him. But the second time I took his wicket gave me a great deal more satisfaction. For it was with my wrong'un on the sloping fields at his own beloved home ground at Hobbiton.


Sam and I grew up together and we knew each other inside out so we did. It was in the second innings I recall...ah but shall I ever forget that single ball?


The ball looked so gettable to Sam on the rise, but then it suddenly straightened up on him; passing his left leg just like I'd planned. Off stump goes a flyi'n backwards with a single clunk and lies there on the foot-stamped grass like a question with no answer.


And that left old Dada Proudfoot with nothing to do but to put his crooked index finger upright. And did I cry Owzat for it, or was just a general roaring from my team that I was hearing?


Doughty Sam, he looked down the pitch at me and said slowly in his ever honest voice....
'Well Willow old chap, (for such was my nickname.) I do declare that ball surely was as sweet a delivery that a Hobbit might ever have to face and on a good wicket at that. Willow beats willow eh?' He laughed and shook his head and then off he strode to the boundary with a strange kind of smile left on his handsome dial.

The days go by swiftly and years later Sam would recall the ball when we were both in our cups. It always helped me along in my darker moments for that was just his way you see. 'Willow beats willow.'


Ah, but what wonderful Hobbit he was and all; so straight and standing tall with  you; yet so powerful and yet subtle with his own willow he was. Ah, but I do miss him so much... still in these days.  But on that one shining day, so, so sweet it was and all for me in my greengage summer and all those romping times of youth.


I'm sorry to say but it is only the unvarnished truth that I was a right-regular bunny with the bat.


However, I am well enough known in the Shire as the long standing Secretary of the Shire Cricket Association and scorer for Bywater. And if I knew how old I was, I would straight off tell you my age. But I don't and that is an end to it. Folks tell me that I am efficient but perhaps they do say behind my back that I'm a bit of a fuddy-duddy too. But I've many friends and that's a fact.

And I have been busily recording our normal events and the occasional abnormal ones, in what might be described as almost a lifetime's work. But still it is all play in the end is it not?


I imagine that you have not often read our local paper. It is called 'The Halfling Clarion' and while it is true that I do have issues with the editor Mr Pongo Cotton of Hobbiton.


Pongo is a cousin to Rose Cotton whom we all know is the more than charming wife of our past Mayor Sam Gamgee. But I swear to you that Pongo Cotton never did love his cousin as half well as I did. Oops.... but that was supposed to be a secret. Well I suppose that a lot off people knew about it in any case.


I still like to think that our games of cricket form a large part of the Shire's paper newsworthy content. Nearly every week brings forth a new story. And I have legions of pub goers to back me up on that too. The paper's back-files on Sam alone would fill many a drawer I'm thinking.


He does seem to concur with me in this matter of cricket's place in The Shire's society in any case. And once again, the case of Sam Gamgee will tell us everything. Even after all these years his memory lingers on so. And it really does that ornery customer Pongo Cotton in the sale of his newspapers of course. He needs us it seems and the truth is that we need him too. Such as he is I mean.


The Composition of the First Shire Cricket Association
It is a matter of fact that we have four local hotels here and each one of them supports a cricket team very vigorously. And there is not a day goes past in summer but our local cricket is not a part of decisions, arguments and celebrations in all our locals.

Firstly, 'The Ivy Bush' is the undisputed if only slightly unofficial headquarters of   the Hobbiton Cricket Team. And then there is my own local at Bywater 'The Green Dragon' is it's fighting name. This famous pub has long supported the Bywater team. I must disclose here some occasional bias to both my watering hole and the Bywater cricket team itself. I take this stand regardless.


It is partly this bias that leads me into disputations with Pongo Cotton from time to time. He supports the Hobbiton Cricket Club whilst I am naturally a Hobbit for the Bywater Cricket Club. (BCC)


And then there is the estimable 'The Floating Log' at Frogmorton. Nobody in the Shire would readily step up to the bar in that fine pub without taking a care not to say a bad word of the Frogmorton Cricket Club. (FCC)


Finally but by no means the last in reputation, is that fine pub The Golden Perch. This establishment has long been the beginning and the end of the two villages of Stock and Tuckborough. Their cricket team finishes most of their games off in that well stocked inn.


Although situated in Stock in the marsh country, the cricket field shares the slightly raised lands which makes Stock a much smaller version of the city of Ely in Britain. Not that anybody has ever been there.


To start not at the start but with my father's day I will first list those teams which made up the official clubs of the time. There were six original teams in the Shire back then. They were as follows....


1.    Hobbiton
2.    Frogmorton CC
3.    Bywater CC
4.    Overhill CC
5.    Little Delving/Hardbottom CC
6.    Oakbottom CC

From this listing, you can see that The Golden Perch had not yet delivered us the Stock/Tuckborough Cricket Club as yet. The last name team Oakbottom was to drop out after seven years of competition. It's surely true that they always did struggle with the very small population of the farmlands around Dwaling and Long Cleeve.

In fact the Poodfoots made up a majority of the club for donkey's years. And the Poodfoots often made donkeys of visiting teams to their ground. I am sorry if I have offended any donkeys by the way.


I know only too well don't I? For that bustling left hander Pondly Poodfoot bowled me for a duck there did he not? I recall that it was in the first innings one surly summer's play out there.


Unfortunately for the club, there was a slow starting but lingering outburst of bachelor farmers around the area. One of the consequences being was that there were no young up and coming cricketers in the district.


The Second Composition of the Shire Teams
It was then that 'The Golden Perch' stepped up to the crease and the Stock/ Tuckborough club was admitted to the Association.  The teams then were...

1.    Hobbiton CC
2.    Frogmorton CC
3.    Bywater CC   
4.    Overhill CC
5.    Little Delving/ Hardbottom CC
6.    Stock/Tuckborough CC

Now some sharp observers may express there surprise that the reasonably large village of Bucklebury/Buckland are not considered in these teams. There were cricketers beside the Brandywine River but most folks in the Shire were in the habit of thinking that the people around Bucklebury to be very queer folk. You have to understand that this was long standing prejudice. That is until Peregrine Took came along one fine night at The Floating Log that is.

And then there were the problems associated with the geographical distance between the centre of the Shire say at Bywater and Bucklebury. It was a goodly step or ride.


It was not until much later when Sam Gamgee came up with the idea of a regular horse drawn omnibus to travel the length of the East Road to the Brandywine and back the players saw that it was indeed possible to play there and return on the same day.


And so without very much fuss was born, the Gamgee and Cotton Omnibus Company out of this simple notion. This was operated by Sam's oldest boy until he went off a somewhere searching for his fortune. And Great Aragorn only knows where he's gone and got himself to. Some place dangerous I'll be bound.


He bain't been seen for four years now come this Winterfilfth. I do hope that he has not got himself to close to any of those roaring Dragons or whatnot.


That young whippersnapper Tangles Willfoot operates the omnibus right now but I think he gets himself into too much strife at places like The Golden Perch. And just to think that his grand daddy was once the Mayor of Hobbiton too. But there I go sinking into too much gossip once again.


This was all started when Sam was the Mayor of the Shire and that leads us to the third composition of the Shire's teams....


The Third Composition of the Teams (1490)
It was in the bumper harvest year of 1490 that Bucklebury put in 'an expression of interest' in fielding a cricket team in the Association. They had been playing local friendlies for two years by now even before the time of 'the scouring' and as they would have it..

'We are really being as it were, quite close to being up to scratch.' This was from their Secretary Peregrine Took. They clearly signaled that a start in 1491 would be their heart's desire. But for now the Bucklebury Tooks and all their comrades had to wait a while. In the bumper year of 1490 then, these were the teams in the recommencing and post scouring Association...


1.    Hobitton CC
2.    Frogmorton CC
3.    Bywater CC
4.    Overhill
5.    Little Delving/ Hardbottom
6.    Stock/ Tuckborough

It will be clearly seen that the proposal of Bucklebury for entry created an unprecedented problem for us now. There were six teams in the competition and the extra team would create a bye for us. The committee met at the Ivy Bush that time and there was much debate on the matter.

I regret to say that Pongo Cotton was rather somewhat more heated the subject than he should have been. Some of Bucklebury's finest citizens were maligned by this so-called erudite town editor. In fact it is the honest truth that Sam as the President, twice had to rule him out of order.


Sam Gamgee was all for Bucklebury's entry in any case. He argued...  
'Why there had been no proper cricket at just last year and on bye or even two byes a year, would not hurt a true cricketer's soul.'

A lot of people who had long held views on the subject of the strangeness of the Tooks and the Bucklebury folk in general did not quite know whether they should support Sam on this matter or not.


Sam quickly saw which way the wind was blowing and craftily suspended the meeting for three weeks.


They would meet at Frogmorton in three weeks time and he would issue an invitation to Peregrine Took be their special guest.


Afterall said Sam...
'He and his team are the ones with the most to win or lose out of the situation. And he should rightly be given the chance to explain Bucklebury's case as best as he might.'

The above has been abstracted by me from the minutes. This motion of Sam's was carried in the end and the meeting went to plan at Frogmorton. This town being nearer to Bucklebury and thus was sparing Mr Took some weary miles travel.

That night at The Floating Log, Peregrine Took stood up and boldly delivered a most patient, even a nerve tingling speech.  It also happened to be an all round persuasive speech to all who would hear him. Sam declared quite loudly....
'Why in all of my travels I have hardly been ever moved so much.'

Probably he said this in the heat of the moment to warm up the rest of the Committee. And this worked just dandily at that too.


When Peregrine plonked enough money on the bar for several round s for every Hobbit they chaired this Took all round the room three times before they all came back to stand at the bar for three hours.


And so it came to be that in the year 1492, Bucklebury's fine cricket team was entered into the lists of our noble Association. It wasn't all that long after that when Peregrine was elevated to the Presidency. I must say it was a very fine choice too.

                     
The Bumper Year of 1492 and Onwards
Bucklebury had only played their very first game when the goddesses of fate lent a hand to obviate the necessity of a bye in the competition. The Golden Perch Hotel had the misfortune to suffer a bad fire early that summer. There was considerable damage done and the pub was put out of action for almost thirteen months.

While at the same time, some of their best cricketers were attracted to two of the other active clubs. Thus it can be seen that Bucklebury's admittance to the competition that year was a most fortuitous piece of timing.


I hope it will amuse you if I relate what I might call some of the cricket games and incidents which, after all these years are still glued to my mind so stickily. Here one would have to start not chronologically but in the bumper harvest year of 190. That year the harvest was one, the like which had not been seen in a gross of years.


You may remember that this year was the one that immediately followed the scouring of the Shire. The Shire was very lucky indeed that year in many ways.

After all the burnings and the general destruction throughout the Shire, we were blessed by perfect weather and good timing. The devastation wrought by the uprising against Sharkey and his evil bosses which of course was a most necessary thing, was quickly put to rights.


Of course the Cricket competition had to be suspended during the troubles of the year of 1491. This in itself was the cause of much misery among the male Hobbits. But there were far worse things for us Hobbits to cope with then.


Our old Mayor Willfoot had been imprisoned in the lockups at Michael Delving for a considerable time. When he was freed he needed a great deal of care and attention to bring him back to health. But he returned to preside as Mayor of Hobbiton once again. And he is still remembered as the leader in that greatest bumper year of all.


Now the year of 1491 just happened to be an Overlithe one (which is a leap year.) And these years were normally celebrated with extra large harvest festivals. It was also the year that Sam and Rose Cotton married. I shan't forget that day quickly. Sam chose me to be to be his best man at the wedding. And while I surely considered that to be a regular honour it also carried with it the seeds of some personal pain.


I was at your wedding Rosie, but I was not the best man. For you see, there was a matter that I've already alluded to. Rose and I were quite attached to each other in a way. Perhaps it was more on my side than hers; that could be so. And it was not a thing that I soon got over. Sam and Rose did have an understanding and I knew that only too well for my pains.


But Rose and I and Sam, were all kind of tangled up together from way back in our early grade days of school. Now this happened to come to a head while Sam was absent on his 'great adventures' in the East.


We none of us knew if he and Frodo would ever return from those Dragon inhabited  lands of Black Orcs, Elves and great hopelessly high mountains as we used to say. I was not all that backward in coming forward as my other commented when it came to Rose's affections. There was nothing between Rose and I that you could actually call untoward you understand. Though I might have been willing you can be sure.


But I can remember kissing her one night outside a dancehall in the moonlight. And a full moon it was as well. She wore a yellow frock I still recall. She dropped her small bag on the ground in all her confusion when we kissed.


This being after we had two dances together at the ball. But of course, Rose had to hold true to Sam for a little longer.  And it just a truth that I was more or less forced to give way.


And you know the rest of the tale. But it's my simple guess, that sweet Rose did remember that one kiss as well I do. At least I do hope so.


Sam and Rose were soon engaged. And their marriage coincided with the greatest Harvest Festival in the living memory of all Hobbits in the Shire. The day shone so bright and the guests piled in like swarms of happy summer bees . It was if their union was seen as the epitome of the days of plenty, after the awful troubles and the great disasters of the previous year.


And then the cricket games started up once again. And the hotels some of which had been damaged made repairs and as we say here in Bywater at The Dragon, the bumper romping booming days were back.


Best ever year for beer brewing it was. In later years folks who might have just enjoyed a delectable beer would mutter to their mates at the bar...
'Ah but that was a right fourteen nine o one.'

At Longfarthing where the best barley grew, the farmers were almost hidden in the depths of their crops. And in the same manner in the Southfarthing the tobacco (or as we say here pipeweed,) was most prodigiously fine that season.


The tobacco harvests laid down a classical Longbottom Leaf that would never be equaled in the years to come. The grain harvest rocketed up in all regions however and the grapes grew to amazing heights and breadth. Hobbits sharpened their scythes and worked all the harder at high-piling the stacks and the sheaves of wheat and barley.


There was malt and honey and heaps of wine and roses to spare for all in Lithetime. There was plenty of water and babies grinned everywhere you walked in the Shire. And the balls that were held were talked about by Hobbits for years to come.


Even the jump and start one-two-three music at the dances and balls seemed better than ever. Old folks shook their heads at these new fangled dances and also at some of the girls' daring dresses. Older men stay young in their hearts. As the years rolled by, you might hear the men say things such as....
'Ah but can you remember the way that Serandippa Took looked like when she came  all the way from her home by the ale brown stream of the Brandywine to that ball? Ah, that night she was in her glory in that low cut red ball gown? '

'Cor but I can remember her that night.... I'm telling you man It was simply punishing.


She sure kicked up a high old shindig at the ball that night boy. They sure don't come like Serandippa these days then eh. I think that went home twice that night. With two different lads I mean.'


But as for me, I was still remembering another ball wasn't I? A ball on another night I mean. And that was a ball that had taken place in the year before.


By the month of Rethe (or March,) when we held our annual pre-season cricket meeting you could already tell that high summer would bring the Shire abundance and joy. Not long after the first round of cricket was played old Willfoot retired and Sam was made the Mayor of Hobbiton.


By the time that the month of Astron came around the startling burst of bud and leaf springtime had lovers all gasping for cooler air.


As our days grew longer, so did our hearts grow all the merrier in both work and at our play. I would be only four weeks now until we could play cricket even through the evendim as the slow falling curtain of night lowered over our sweet land.


A cricket game that was played at Bywater that year comes to mind to me as I sit here in my warm and snuggy study by the open fire. And as usual, Sam was the great star of this wonderful game. He was by and far the best batsman that I ever saw with my own eyes. And I believe any other contemporary Hobbit would likely say the same thing... come to that.


We were playing two day matches by this time and when our Captain Lollo Proudfoot won the toss he sent Hobbiton in to bat. And oh boy what one big error that turned out to be by our captain. Sam who normally batted at number four, elevated himself to one of the opening batsmen.


This was partly for the reason that one of their openers was injured and could not take his place. But all the same, I have a sneaky feeling that Sam felt something special in his bones about this particular match. Like a party of old, the fireworks were about to begin. 


Unfortunately for me, the fireworks started from one of my leg spinners. We used  to bowl eight balls an over back then.


It all began with the second ball of the over. Sam cut a not so bad ball of mine to fine leg as quick as blinking. It quickly sped down the sloped ground towards the Green Dragon corner for an easy four runs. Old Dada swept his arm length out to the horizontal to signify.


On the third ball, I started the ball out to wide and by some prodigious athletic feat Hamfast Gamgee's son approached the ball inside out and clipped it over cover with such power that it cleared our wooden railed fence by more than the height of three Hobbits. Six runs were given him for that.


On my fourth ball Sam almost casually stroke-played on the offside.  And he easily managed to run a two for his troubles. This now made twelve runs from four balls. Not good Willow, not good, I hear Proudfoot saying out of the corner of his mouth from while returning to second slip. He sets the field a bit more defensively with not a little discomfort and he tells me to have a care.


Have a care? But I have to tell you that it got much worse. Sam smoothly played the same stroke twice with my next two balls. Both of them went hot-foot sizzling to the boundary for four runs. Captain Proudfoot is now positively squirming all over.


Twenty runs have come from the over....so far that is. Sam walks back to his crease after running some yards before he sees it's another four. But he says not one word for the moment. He is concentrating.


I beat him completely with the next ball. All ends up it was and by rights he should have been out. Missed his bat by the proverbial moggie's whisker it did. But alas, it went through harmlessly to the keeper. Sam yelled back down the pitch at me....
'Eh keep it up Willow... that was a damn fine un I promise you.'

And I damn well knew it was too and all. The last ball of the over brought Sam's total off the over twenty six. And I still reckon that my delivery was a dangerous ball....for most batsmen that is.


Sam lifted this harder bouncing ball which was coming back quite sharply at him. I have to say that I reckon only Sam's eye could have done it. He lifted the ball on the onside with a rising hoick that was far, far more effective than it was pretty or artful. Anyhow as that may be, the ball went sailing higher and higher over the fence to the square of the wicket. But it did not stop there.


It landed on a hard patch some twenty feet over the boundary. And it made a strange whacking sound as it hit the hard patch and all. And then with only that single bounce it sizzled further onwards and upwards.


There was a completely different kind sound that followed. There was a sharp crashing followed by some tinkling noises from afar. Yes you are right; a window was caved in.


For the ball had been struck so hard that the bounce had seen the ball right on to the Dragon itself. It smashed a second storey window in the pub some forty eight odd feet from the boundary in total. Captain Proudfoot took me off for the day without even saying one more word to me.


And naturally Hobbiton was twenty six runs to the better when our next bowler came on. When their innings closed midway through the next morning Sam had scored three hundred and twelve runs. This was to be his second highest score ever for his beloved team.


Nearly every Hobbit remembers that Sam's revered father Hamfast scored three hundred and six runs on the Hobbiton ground in almost even time in his day. Like father like son one must suppose. I'd have to guess that Hamfast scored those runs in quicker time than his son did but I just cannot compare the innings, for I never did see his father's knock.


As you would imagine, Hobbiton CC was surely pleased to declare their innings at five hundred and one runs for the loss of seven wickets. Needless to say the weather stayed fine right into Evendim that day. So there was not a snowball's chance in hell of a draw that day.  And Bywater lost the game comprehensively and Sam's golden tale goes on and on.... just like the road does.


Part Two: The Famous Bucklebury Match
Another great memory was that almost infamous trip by the Bywater team to Bucklebury on the Gamgee and Cotton Ominbus Co. Disgracefully enough after setting out very early on by the Saturday morning we didn't get back to Bywater until late on the Monday evening.

As people would say later on, it was almost Friday the First when we returned.1 Sam's oldest boy was the driver of the first coach drawn by four ponies whose names were Lantra, Sendledon, Benethadon and Tuk. I know this because we had bred several of these specially trained ponies ourselves.


It was crisp morning in the Lithetime of 1497. The day loomed bright. The second coach, which was only employed for the carrying of the cricket teams, was handled by the bandy legged and rather careless fellow by the name of Tangles Willfoot.


I recall that Aragorn had just banned all men from entering The Shire in order to protect the integrity of all Hobbits in that year.


We packed all our gear aboard the coaches and Tangles who was always one for making a great deal of noise, blew the clarion call of the coaching horn. The ponies stood there snorting, steaming and stamping in their harnesses all ready for the take off.


We all clambered aboard the coaches and with a clucking tongue and a gee up from young Gamgee, we were merrily and clinkingly on our way in good weather and condition. Everyone of us expected to defeat Bucklebury in this game. Even on their home ground. Our doughty captain Lollo Proudfoot was even telling all who would listen, that he might have a wager on such an outcome with Perigrine Took when we got there. And this betting notion of Lollo's was start of all the rot really.


Betting on things was not really a part of our Hobbit's everyday makeup or doings.


But Lollo Proudfoot had always had a flea in his ear about the 'mad Tooks' of Bucklebury. Lollo's folks had also originally hailed from the Brandywine region. Lollo reckoned that since the days of 'the great adventure' the Tooks had took on so.


And then to top it all off Peregrine had finished topping the nob by becoming President. According to Lollo's lights, they all needed to be taken down a peg or two or three. And he'd be the one to do it this weekend. I settled down in the coach with my own thoughts and smoked my pipe without saying a word. And our ponies rattled on easily down the East Road towards Frogmorton.


Pergrine had been the Cricket Association's President for several years now. As a Hobbit born and raised in the Brandywine region, he had been instrumental in getting Bucklebury into the competition.


Now as I said, Lollo was keen to try and show him up. But as Sam Gamgee had discovered many years back, some of the Tooks are not as silly as folks make them out to be. Even if they are fond of boating that is.


At the first halt at The Golden Perch, we got out to stretch our legs and scratch ourselves. The morning was still little fresh with a light breeze from the North that told us that good weather for the weekend was almost a promise.


The landlord of the pub Tanta Lightfoot came out from the early morning warmth of his pub to greet us all most heartily. He was universally known for his cheeryable countenance and good mein. But Tanta was not a very rich publican by accident.


He wished us much luck in the game and was of the opinion that Bywater would beat Bucklebury by an innings. If things go according to ability that is, quoth he. I did not know it at the time, but these days I believe that Tanta handed Lollo a small wad of money before he got back in the coach. If I am right in this, then the plot was thickening from that moment on. They were up to thing then I reckon. It was not to be a good move by our captain.


We took off and Tanta stood there waving at us as his figure diminished behind us. Butter would not melt in this landlord's mouth I say.


The game started promptly at eleven with the sun already high. Bucklebury won the toss and elected to bat in the fine conditions. Never did a cricket game have a better combination of wicket good, wonderful weather, fine food and ale awaiting indoors and an almost tangible mystery going on in the background.


Before the game opened up, I saw Lollo chatting quietly with Peregrine away
from the others at the back of the ominbus.

I watched on, curious to see if I could detect whether or not Peregrine would accept the bet or not. I saw Peregrine listening closely to Lollo. Once he rocked his head back with laughter and then he called over to one of the veteran cricketers. This was Lotho Boffin (The Second). Lotho casually walked over to the couple and the conversation took flight once again. They seemed to confer on the matter for quite a time. There seemed to be to-ing and fro-ing until finally Peregrine shook Lollo's hand, patted him on the back and they quitted each other's company. In my opinion, as far as I could tell, the bet had been laid and the game was afoot.


As we walked out onto the field I asked confronted Lollo directly. I said to him a bit testily...
'Before a ball is bowled Lollo... I want you to tell me what's going here?'

He looked askance and for just a minute. I thought that he was going to balk at the matter because for a moment he seemed to be counting birds in the sky.

But then he said quietly.... 'Peregrine and I have had a wager on the game Willow.'

'Yes I know, but I think that you laid some of Tanta's money too Lollo?'


He looked hard at me again....
'Well I must say that you do have sharp eyes on you Willow. Well it's true then. Tanta did put his money on us.'

I asked Lollo the terms of the bet and why Peregrine had called Lotho Boffin into the matter. He replied...
'Peregrine reminded me that Bucklebury had never beaten us. He also pointed out that the same was true in their record against Hobbiton. They have only won against the lesser teams in the competition. Once against Stock and two times against Overhill and the best that they had done was a draw with Hobbit Peregrine wanted some odds in his favour you see.
And that's why he had Lotho come up and join us. Lotho then came up with the proposition of the winner takes the money but the odds would be, that if the game was to be a draw then Bucklebury would also be declared the winner.  Not on the field of course but in the matter of the bet I mean Willow. I tell you that it was a clever enough move by Lotho for certain. In the end, we agreed to those terms mate. That's the whole deal..I swear it. If we are to win the bet we have to win the game.'

I said to him..  
'No you have got that wrong Lollo.. we don't have win the bet...for 'we' meaning the rest of the team, did not lay the bet. Only you and Tanta did mate!'

Lollo started to say something..
'Well then under the circumstances...'

He faltered and then stopped speaking altogether. For one brief moment I thought that Lollo was going to ask me outright to keep the matter under my faded cricket cap. But I could not be at all sure of that. I was angry quite with Lollo. Yes, I was not very well pleased with all of this set to at all was I? But of course it was too late to do anything about the bet now.


I came to the conclusion that I basically believed that Lollo had told me the truth of the affair. It was not good tho' by a long stroke at any wicket. I do not like betting on cricket. I do not like betting in any form under the Shire's variable skies. I surely do not want to harp on a moral argument here. Some Hobbits will say that I have said too much already. And I do not wish you to get the idea that the bet was corrupt. Not at all, for it was more or less a fair wager no more than that.


The backers of the Bywater team had to see their team win the game to win the bet. So there is no implication of any form of cheating on their part. But was it the same for the Tookish and Boffinish people here as well? Well I shall leave you to be the arbiter on that one dear reader.


And I think in all fairness, that I did have to tell you how the most chaotic cricket weekend in my own lifetime came into being.


By now the Bucklebury openers had taken block and it was definitely 'game on for both teams.'  We would simply go about our normal business on the playing field.


To play up..play up hard in our chosen sport.  And we would play hard to win as well. But we must always remember to play to enjoy the game as well. Life is too short for aught else! This was no more than our usual business on the green fields of The Shire.


As for the game itself, there was little of note to describe on the first day except to say that the match was still wide open when stumps were drawn late in the Evendim. Peregrine Took had made the highest score in Bucklebury's first innings and our captain batting at number four was our highest scorer. But it was clear by the end of play that neither side had any real advantage.


All contestants were quite naturally very thirsty and a hale and rollicking time was had by both sides in the inn before a second set of stumps were drawn. I looked up at the Evendim sky and sighed. Was that some small sign of rain up there?


But on the morrow came a terrible surprise. And it was not only the fact that it had rained for much of the night.


The Bucklebury cricket field seemed to have been invaded by a small herd of cattle. And a very restless herd too. And what with the rain on top of that, the ground was simply nigh on unplayable.


When the cows were herded off the pitch itself, it was seen to be quite messed about. Holes and scuff marks were abundant all down the pitch. And what's more, the bowling approaches were even worse.


Was I suspicious then? Not at first was the answer but I kept on dwelling on the matter. The cow dung could be easily gotten rid of but the pitch was in a terrible state. And were there signs of some straw having been strewn about on the grounds? It was not a laughing matter I might add. The sun began to shine wanly once again. Would play be possible we all wondered?


And long before any possible start of play discussions were held.. Could the game go on at all was the main topic. Naturally the Bucklebury team was extremely embarrassed about all of this. No apologies could be enough to excuse this uncommon lapse in form. Nobody could explain it.


The local groundsmen were busy patching over for nearly two hours, but still it was touch and go to ready the pitch. The Sunday's start was delayed by almost two hours and twenty and twenty five minutesi. Not all was well at Bucklebury that morning I can assure you. But eventually the decision was made and the first ball was bowled.


The delayed morning's play was about as undecided as the total of the previous day. The pitch was still not in order but both sides were being affected almost equally.


The bowlers were unsettled by the poor bowling approaches and similarly the batsmen found themselves on a cross between a sticky wicket and an ill prepared one. By the late afternoon, it seemed that a draw was imminent which meant that Lollo's wager would be lost.


We were batting and after losing six wickets Polo Bracknboring was facing the bowling while I was at the non-facing end. Seeing they must get four wickets and there was only an hour left of play, it would seem that a draw was looming.


Suddenly on the next ball, there was a loud appeal as the ball went past Polo's bat and their wicket keeper gloved the ball cleanly. I thought that Polo had possibly snicked it and the umpire was of the same opinion. Polo was given out. Two balls later we lost our incoming batsmen to a simple offside catch. We were eight wickets down.


Now as is so often the case in this game, a result might be possible. And the odds were by far in favour for Bucklebury. We were eight wickets down with seventy runs to win and some forty three minutes of play left. And what's more I was not the man to get a lion's share of seventy runs and neither was my new partner Alby Whitfurrow. For Alby was possibly a worse bunny with the bat than I.


But oddly enough in the next two overs we managed to scramble a creditable seventeen runs between us. Tom had scored twelve runs, while I had managed to get five.  Now there were fifty three runs to get within some thirty four minutes.  The runs needed stood at forty nine. Not a soul there that day would have backed us in to win from here now.


I had suffered four appeals and survived them all and my partner Alby Whitfurrow had been dropped twice in the outfield. Plus the fact that a sure enough ball had already passed my bat but hit one of the hoof marks and deviated away before striking my wicket.  One to the cows I thought. But we survived and what's more we scrabbled together another thirty eight runs. Now we needed but eleven runs to win.


Bucklebury brought on their tear-away quick the young Mordy Boffin to bowl. I was facing and did not have a clue about the first of his sizzling deliveries. The ball freakishly hit my cricket bat's handle about half way down the grip and ballooned over the second slip.


The ball slid down over the grimy field for a four. Seven runs was what we needed now. The second ball missed everything including the stumps. I managed to survive yet another appeal for a leg before wicket and I blocked the other balls except the last.


Once again I knew nought, nowt, and nothing about this extra fast ball as it came in to me.  It struck my thigh and skidded just beyond the reach of the keeper. And we managed to take one run off the ball. Mordy Boffin scratched his head as he might, as he strode off to his position in the outfield. Seven runs were now needed.


The umpires moved into position and of course this meant there was to be a last over. Eight balls for us to face and if we were still there at the end of the over but had not scored seven runs it would be a draw.


If we did get the runs we would take the game. I thought our chances were now almost even Steven. But I didn't know then that Peregrine Took was to come on. or now Peregrine was indeed given the ball for the last over. I was to face the bowling.


He pinned me down for almost all of his first seven balls. I did not score one run in seven balls. Two balls I had blocked and the rest all sailed past me like a whistling train. And there were still seven runs to get.


We were done at last thinks I to meself. When the last ball of the innings was about to be released by Peregrine, an extraordinary thing happened. For a moment I thought that I was seeing things. As he was coming in to bowl, the ball flew out of his right hand and flipped into the air a while to land square on the sticky pitch.

It lay there about a three quarter way down the length of it.

The ball was not moving at all by this time. There had not been a no-ball called by Aldeberry Took the umpire at the bowling end either. Now one of the fielders swiftly went to pick up the ball but Aldeberry spoke out and prevented him from doing so. Now Aldeberry Took spoke up again with the voice of authority but not at all pompous like...
'The laws of cricket allow the batsman a fair strike at the ball now. Uninterrupted I mean. The one strike only ye ken Willow... if you please.'

What a to-do it was all round. It seemed that I was required to hit the ball in any direction I desired. The thought passed through my mind whether or not our old Dada Proudfoot would have known of this arcane law. All the fielders looked around the cricket ground with extremely nervous faces.


They all wanted to know where I might aim the ball. I could not have told them myself as it happened. When I studied the ball more carefully I could see that it was sitting on a ridge of a hoof mark made overnight. This meant the ball the ball was perched just a little clear of the flat surface. It was more luck for me because I might just be able to smack it from that position.


I went up to it and drew back my bat. I was not all that sure that would be able to strike the blasted thing at all. My bat came down and like some kind of unseen magic it seemed to swing in a perfect arc all of it's own accord. On impact the ball took off like a rocket and sped at a very odd angle towards the boundary.

Nobody was more surprised than I was and I actually saw it running away from me. It was certainly going in a different direction than the one I was aiming for.

Few of the fielders could actually see the ball as it took it's odd and unknown path across the field.


The young tear away bowler was the nearest to it and Mordy Took took off after it going at full pelt. But even he had to sprint for a full forty yards before he could gather in the ball.


By this time we were coming back for our third run. As I hurtled towards the crease, Mordy released the ball with a great heave of his powerful young shoulder. I started to stumble as I approached the safety of the crease. Although I couldn't see the ball at all, it went hurtling towards my end.


I felt something strike my bat as I was falling past the wicket. Instinctively I now realized that it was the ball that Mordy had thrown to my end. And then from the safety of the ground on the other side of the crease, I began to appreciate rather than see, that the ball had managed to richochet off my bat and start on it's way towards the opposite boundary.


Two Hobbits flung themselves uselessly at the ball but the ball slid by them to keep on rolling downhill to the fence. I also saw Peregrine Took throwing his cap to the ground in great disgust. He knew what was coming now. Then I witnessed Alderry Took our undoubted savior, lift up his right arm. Without his fine and correct knowledge of the laws of cricket we would have lost the game. Now he lifted it up to the horizontal to signify by a waving of the arm that the ball had run on to the boundary for four unexpected otherthrows.


We had run the three runs and now we were being awarded the four overthrow runs from poor Mordy's attempt to throw down my wicket. We had the score of the seven runs in the bag. And Bywater had just won the match.

The celebrations were wild that night and little by little things got a bit out of hand. It is very hard to keep secrets in a Hobbit t out about our captain Lollo's wager and this had it's own consequences in the end.

Some of our players started accusing Bucklebury players of attempting to sabotage the pitch and indeed the whole field by opening the gates and letting the cows onto the pitch and the grounds. I personally could not see that that Peregrine Took would have anything to do with an underhand act such as that.


All the same it did look kinda suspicious seeing that according to the betting agreement, a draw would have been sufficient to gain the money for Bucklebury

Of course we were  supposed to return to Bywater on the omnibus that evening. But what with all the rowing and carousing and Lollo shouting the bar with his winnings things did not go to plan. In the end we found young Tangles Willfoot slumped down in a corner. He was totally unable to move, let along drive the coach and four.

And so it was that we had no option but to allow him to sleep it off. Some of us went back to the bar for a while where Peregrine was doing some hand stands on a chair. But it was long before the rest of us sought after a bed wherever we whist. Some of us were lucky enough to get a regular bed in thre inn while others slept in the stable with the ponies. It was eleven am the next morning when we pulled up the omnibus coaches at Bywater.


Part Three The Latter Years
Over the years I had made great friends of Milo and Peony Baggins. They were married but somehow they just sort of clicked with an old bachelor like me. Milo who was a cousin of Frodo, was most unlike Frodo in that he loved cricket almost as much as I did. They were always looking for a hand of cards over Longbottom best, beer and lashings of food and good cheer.

Anyway, Milo and I both played for Bywater and many a time after just enough beer at the Dragon, I would end up at Peony and Milo's snug Hobbit hole down by Bywater Pool.


Milo and I had another thing in common with me. Although he hadn't gone to school with Sam like I had, he and Sam were on very good terms.


Sometimes Rosie and Sam would join Milo, Peony and I at dinner and playing cards at night and the like. I cannot deny that Rosie's presence always did lift my spirits. But then having said that, Rosie could make an Orc smile I reckon.


Of course Sam played for Hobbiton and we'd all established the fiercest but friendliest rivalry that was possible in this here green Shire of ours.


Playing cricket does not last for ever. Games have an end and so do the playing lives of cricketers. I got a bad knee and although Old Dada treated it by both heat compresses and manipulation, it soon packed up on me. I had to retire from my beloved Bywater team.


Milo played on for one more season after that..  Sam, who was made of a tougher mettle than either of us played on for five more seasons for Hobbiton. Now all the three of us were often seen helping our clubs out in various ways off the field.  From time to time we would be asked to take a mild part in social games of cricket. Beer-knocks we called them in those days. As we grew older those events got rarer. We settled for cakes and ale and stuff like that.


It is was a stroke of good for me that upon my retirement from playing Oldo Boffin gave notice that he would relinquish the job as The Shire Cricket Association Secretary. To cut a long story to a shorter version after some politicking up and down the Shire I was appointed as the new Secretary.


Now as the years ground on towards our greyer elven days, in the order of our Hobbit ways our lives started to change. Sometimes the change would be for the better. Bywater would beat the socks of Hobbiton. Or Rosie would have another child and so on. She ended up having thirteen children you know. 


And in the matters pertaining to our Shire's cricketing life, we saw the Association grow with two new teams.  Now there were eight fine teams.


In the Brandywine region Buckland was admitted joining Bucklebury and was now the second team in the region. And back further to the west of the Shire, Little Delving returned to the Association when it combined with two more villages, Michael Delving and Hardbottom to make a strong and viable team. They were admitted to the Association a year after Buckland was admitted.


One of the great cricketing occasions of these times was the vast and rather wild celebrations that went with the Sam Gamgee Testimonial Cricket Match held two years after Sam retired from the game.


One of the highlights at this event was the return of Gandalf to the Shire where he repeated his success at a well known party held quite some years before. Yes he set up a wizard fireworks display to rival the first one. Complete with another sky-riding Dragon and all.


The match itself was rather cheeky affair with Hobbiton pitted against a combined 'rest of the Association' team led by Peregrine Took. Nor did Sam disappoint his many fans. His well balanced Hobbiton team narrowly won the match by four runs. And Sam was highest scorer with a not out 98 runs to his name. There were beer and skittles for young and old that evening and many folks did not get home until two in the morning. It was just a lovely party.


I was particularly fond of Goldilocks, who was Sam and Rosie's sixth child. It was she who helped Rosie to raise up so many children in such good grace and order. Some might even call this "the mooch of life.'

But naturally enough, there had to come to us all something else. I mean the changes for the worse that were to come to us.  Rosie died and it was so painful to see old Sam grieving so. I will confess to be almost no better. But Hey Ho and hobbit life must go on with a smile at least.


For many years now we could see that Sam was doing things differently. He'd undertaken a tree planting program throughout the Shire for one thing. He had been a wee bit secretive about some substance that he had brought back into the Shire with him.


It seemed to be some kind of dust that promoted good growth. In the end he had confided in me that it was a magical elven substance which had been handed to him by Galadriel. Certainly of all the plantings across the Shire we never saw any failures. The Sam went away for the last time. Never to return I mean.


For a while Milo, Peony and I did not really know what to do with ourselves but things often work out in most mysterious ways. I had watched Goldilocks grow up in Sam and Rosie's household for years out of mind. She seemed to me to be the pick of Rosie's bunch by far. She had been married at quite a young age to Fain.

But after only fours years of marriage he had been killed in a farming accident out at Whitfurrows. There were no children from this union. I think that she was lonely for some years but Milo and Peony helped her a little at least.

Now after the passing away of her father, Goldilocks had got into walking from her marriage hole up on the higher grounds at Bywater, to Milo's place down by Bywater Pool. She would sometimes join us in an evening meals and the occasional game of cards to pass the awkward times away.


One night I looked at her and she looked back at me, if you know what I mean. Just across the table. She looked at me both hard and soft all at the same time. I'm positive that it's happened to you before this. Well I hope so.


At the end of the card game she said to me quietly...
'Willow would you please step outside with me for a while?

Of course I only did what I was asked like a good Hobbit should. When were alone out there, Goldilocks looked at me once again in the moonlight.


She spoke quietly one more time...and I now realized that it was possible that I'd been a mite too slow on the uptake for a great length of time. I've been known to be that way with women before you see and could be a part of the reason that I was still single.


'Willow, I must ask you this ...do you think that you could come to love me in time?'


I was startled not so much by her question, but by the sight of her standing there in the stark-striking moonlight. It was a full moon you see and I suddenly knew that I had been stupidly blind to what I should have seen all along.


She was a beautiful Hobbit girl and all. And I had loved her for so long.


Well finally I found my voice. I did find a voice that had been sadly lacking for almost three years. I said simply..  
'My dear, I do not think that I could love any other in the whole of the wide-green lands of The Shire.'

And so it was that a late-life marriage was in the offing.


We were married the following month and Milo was our best man and also gave us away at the same time...you see, we Hobbits always have a sneaky way of things when the crunch might come down on us?


Peony was the maid of honour and doubled up by doing all the wedding decorations, bouquets and such.


And did we live happily ever after in this cricket loving Shire of ours? No such luck I'm afraid. For arguments happened about as frequently among us as with most married folks. But no more than that I will gladly add. And we always would worry a lot about all the four kiddies and the bills.


But then we never did say it was going to be one of Sam's almost perfect gardens complete with Galadriel dust and such things. But if you ask me were we happy in our marriage? Ah, that is a different thing now dear friends. Why, it was almost as good a game of cricket.


End


Note: 1. Friday the first does not occur in the hobbit Calendar....meaning much the same as 'pigs might fly.'
 


 

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