Elphick – Private Eye.

It was another hot day, a real scorcher. Burgess Hill looked swell in the early afternoon sun. I sat back in the seat of my trusty old ride, the leather burning against my shirt covered back. It was tough earning a few bucks as a gumshoe in this godforsaken town, nothing much happened and that was on a busy day. Somewhere, a fly buzzed lazily and I surveyed my assembled team , some of the usual suspects, through my windshield. I’d gotten a tip off about a heist going down in nearby Cuckfield. A pay off of thirty points couldn’t be sniffed at, and by my reckoning we were in with a chance. I took a swig from my hip flask, and savoured the familiar burn at the back of my throat. Only the good stuff on match days. Tizer.

We gathered at Whitemans, anticipation in the air. It reminded me of downtown Chicago during the prohibiton days, our run down little shack of a pavilion our very own speakeasy. Except today, we’d be going toe to toe with the mob from Lindfield instead of booze smugglers and gunrunners. I stared down their skipper as he approached, a candy stick cigarette in the corner of my mouth. Kinda felt I shoulda dressed for the occasion but I’ll let our boys do the talking for me. I won the toss and bowled. Time for the showdown.

Lucky Freddie opened the bowling from the hedge end, Jacko the Lad was late arriving and our bowling options were thinner on the ground than Chubby Al, starting at the pavilion end and trying to keep things tighter than a gnat’s chuff. It was going to be tricky, he was bowling into a wind the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Rich ‘The Bartender’ Mamoany disappeared earlier in the day. Somehow, they kept the scoring rate down early on, with Dorothy patrolling the covers looking like a dame, next to our genuine broad, Isobelle ‘The Fringe’ Deamer. With G-Man (no-one can be that polite and not work for the secret service, he’s gotta be some kind of plant investigating dark cricketing deeds but hell, as long as he’s on our side he’s good enough for me) behind the stumps vocal with his encouragement, Lucky Freddie struck early, inducing a false stroke from the Lindfield opener who picked out Jacko the Lad who was straight, at mid-on. The Lindfield number three got away with a few loose shots, compiling a quick twenty-odd before Jacko deceived him with a slower ball, crashing into his timbers and sending the bails flying.

Lindfield rebuilt, plucky and aggressive as our attack began to wilt in the sun, no lack of effort from our big guns and younger shooters. Drinks came and went with the oppo well placed and not a bourbon in sight. Lucky Freddie switched ends and the Lindfield opener drove hard to Big T at mid-off. Big T leapt high and dived full-length on the spot, heck of an achievement for a young ‘un, and clung on to the ball. Two balls later and Lucky Freddie had a third scalp, the danger man, Tolchard gone for a duck. A real cut and thrust ensued, broken up by the no longer straight Jacko the Lad disappearing into the bushes holding hands with Dorothy and Jimmy R taking a ball to the face from a ricochet off the stumps, meaning that I had to finish his over off.  I thought my bowling days were way behind me and maybe they shoulda been. I was even forced to turn to Dorothy for an over. With our number reduced by one we struggled but Camp Ryan and Chubby Al (screaming blue murder for a couple of dodgy leg before appeals) bowled gamely without much luck, burgling three more wickets between them but still going at a bit of a lick. Still we stuck at it in the field in the heat of the sun, the Bartender’s full length dive an example to the kids. Word on the street is that there’s movement in the tectonic plates. Not the only deep movement the Bartender has been responsible for, especially after his Friday night curry. Before we knew it, Lindfield had closed on 253 for 7 and we dragged our tired bodies off to the speakeasy for squash and sandwiches, thanks to Dorothy’s mum.

I looked around at tea. Had we let them get too many? It had been tough out there and we’d made a few mistakes. Chubby Al was struggling with more injuries than a bus full of extras on Casualty but insisted he was fine to open. G-Man sat quietly, chewing thoughtfully on a crusty hunk of bread, inconspicuous yet alert and poised. It was these two, I thought. These guys who I trusted to take the attack to those Lindfield punks and get us the payday we’d been hoping for. 30 points can buy you a lot of liquor these days and there was no way we were going back empty-handed.

Chubby Al started well, drilling a four straight down the ground and flicking another through midwicket while G-Man countered watchfully against the dangerous Pedley (younger version). Chubby Al cut and swiped aggressively mixing power with the gentle touch of a couple of late cuts before clubbing a six over midwicket. Lindfield turned to their leggie, Choudhury, who had taken nine wickets against us last year. This time, the Podgemeister had a plan. Sweeping like a rubenesque road cleaner, he disrupted the spinner’s length and then picked off the short ball. G-Man fell for 23, getting a leading edge to Pedley Junior. The Bartender came in and guided a couple of boundaries away before Choudhury called ‘last orders’ and ended Rich’s afternoon. Billy (I asked for the bill in a two-bit downtown restaurant and this is what I ended up with) was next in meaning that Lindfield had to contend with two left-handers. Chubby Al went to his first league fifty of the season, raising his bat to acknowledge the applause before it had begun. Billy began watchfully against the spinner before settling in and unleashing some attractive-looking strokes. At drinks we were well set, our partners in crime eyeing up those thirty points that were glittering on the horizon, well within view. And still no bourbon.

The drinks break brought disaster in the form of a wicket, Billy chipping up a catch to mid off, departing for an excellent 27. Dorothy joined Chubby Al who by now was flagging, sweating more than a Leave campaigner reading The Observer. Dorothy got off the mark with a beautiful straight drive before attacking once too often, a ball from Pedley senior crashing into the woodwork. That’s where I came in. Been in reasonable nick of late and wanting to push on towards the win, knowing this case might make or break my season, maybe even my career as a P.I. A coupla balls later and I’m on my way back to the saloon, in a heartbeat, Pedley senior having snuck one through my defences leaving me no option but to pick up my pen and start plotting my revenge, or at the very least, filling in the scorebook. The Fringe took over and hung around before she popped up a catch to short midwicket, a plucky little knock from our plucky broad. Pedley senior had ripped out our middle order and thoughts of the win and those thirty glorious points were a distant dream. Jacko the Lad swung mightily at the leg-spinner Storer, missing the ball by a country mile and making the long walk away from the wicket. This brought Big T in, joining his old man at the wicket. Chubby Al took charge, looking to hit boundaries from the first four balls of each over before rotating the strike off the fifth or sixth. Thirteen overs left to bat and just one more batter to come, Jimmy R having been pensioned off with a worry of concussion. Watchful defence and more sweeping, including a couple of reverses which missed the ball, took Chubby Al to 99 before he punched a ball through the covers to reach his first ton in two years. He raised his bat to his teammates and to the heavens before settling in once more. Big T wore a short ball on the arm, all in the line of duty as he battled to not only rein in his attacking instincts but also hang around and support his father. In the forty-second over, Chubby Al’s long vigil was finally ended as Pedley junior swung a full ball into his leg stump to finally remove him for 106. The Wagnerian opener dragged his weary body from the middle, apologizing for not seeing the job through. It was left to Big T and Lucky Freddie. Could they see us through to safety with 22 balls left to face? It was a helluva ask for two young lads who had suffered disappointment and shenanigans in their midweek youth game. Lucky Freddie ran the ball into the gaps and in the final over Big T finally got off the mark, the best one not out you’ll see this season. It was left to Lucky Freddie to see out the remainder of the over as we hung on for the draw. Let no-one underestimate the importance of what these two kids did at the eleventh hour, if they were old enough I’d have even bought them a drink myself as a reward for their endeavour.

Handshakes ensued and compliments were exchanged. Play it hard but fair in my town, that’s how I like it. Was the draw a fair result? Some might say yes, some might say no. Doesn’t matter in the end. We got some points and enjoyed a cracker of a game of cricket between two well-matched sides.

We move on, there’s no room in my life for coulda-been’s and a whole load of maybe’s. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I’ve got another team to pick on a shoestring budget, without some of my heroes from this week and I guess we’ll have another round of ‘Maybe I can play, maybe I can’t’ from Curly. Be warned, Curly. There’s no hiding place from the long arm of selection. G-Man is off on some secret mission, Lucky Freddie will be sunning himself somewhere and Jacko the Lad is off to cruise around Europe. But we’ve got bags of talent in our town and ours is a broad church to worship at. For now, my glass is empty and I need something on the rocks before my phone rings again and I’m offered another case and another thirty points. This is Elphick, Private Investigator signing off.

No one got the linking theme last week…it was chapter titles from the Harry Potter novels. Much easier this week, 18 linked words or phrases and a couple of really obvious ones.