In the dark days of the Brexit wars, when Britain was run by a woman who knew not how to curtsy and ruled by the cruel press barons and their private schoolboy puppets, cricketers from all walks of life across the land were evacuated and sent to distant pitches for their own safety. Food was in short supply and people were stockpiling supplies for the terrifying days ahead as the cost of a week’s groceries skyrocketed and families were forced to cook and eat their beloved pets. Front-page headlines spewed out bile from supermarkets and petrol station forecourts as tensions mounted and ‘the will of the people’ took a firm hold on this land and reason, compassion and kindness caught the last bus away from the empty, barren streets of the UK, disappearing into thin air.

In a small corner of Sussex, 11 brave evacuees gathered at the starting line, battered by scorching heat and rainstorms, huddling next to a run down old shack when it was discovered that the wrong keys had been brought on their journey to this strange land. Fortunately, the keys arrived soon enough and our cricketers set about preparing for their match. Ryan Jackson, returning from a trip to a dark and forbidding foreign country where the streets were paved with gold and people could enjoy a pint without selling their souls and their families, saw a strange, green door at the end of the pavilion.

‘That looks like a good place to hide’, thought Ryan to himself, as he didn’t want to place boundary markers on the outfield, let alone have to be on ‘dog poo duty’, for this was Whitemans Green, where rabid walkers would let their ferocious hounds off their leads to poo wherever they wished. So Ryan pulled open the door and stepped into the gloom. It was dark inside and Ryan could not see where he was going, feeling disconnected from reality. There was a smell of sweat and deep heat that pervaded his senses and as he pushed further into the darkness he became aware of his surroundings changing. Goalposts and netting became umpires coats and stumps and a peculiar dry atmosphere settled all around. He tumbled out of the darkness and onto a sun-baked outfield where boundaries would be easy to score and runs would be gained at an incredible pace.

‘This is indeed a strange place,’ thought Ryan.

From across the pitch, an odd-looking figure approached carrying scorebooks and boxes of match balls and a kindly smile. He strode timidly, head bowed and didn’t see Ryan until it was too late and he bumped into him, spilling books and match balls everywhere. Ryan helped the stranger collect his things because he was a kind individual.

‘Excuse me,’ began the stranger, ‘forgive me for asking, but are you what is known as a Son of Anderson’?”

Ryan was confused. As usual. He shook his head in confusion.

The stranger was nonplussed but continued.

‘Are you what is known as…a bowler?’

“Yes I am. Very much so. I don’t have time for batters and their run-scoring nonsense. That’s why I wear toddler’s pads. Give me a shiny ball and cloud cover any day!”

The stranger sighed, a mixture of relief and concern.

“It’s such a honour to meet a bowler. I’ve never met a real one before, only pie chuckers and medium pace trundlers.”

“But what about seamers and swing-bowlers, bowlers of the knuckle ball that commentators go on and on and on about, genuine pace merchants bowling with fire in their bellies?”

The stranger’s eyes lit up at these strange and beautiful words.

“No, I’ve never met any of them. For it is always summer here, always hot and sweltering with flat batting tracks prepared on a daily basis. You won’t get a single delivery to move in this world, sunshine. It is never overcast and certainly never helpful to bowlers.”

“That’s terrible!” Ryan was shocked and saddened by this world into which he had stumbled.

“Isn’t it?” replied the umpire. “Let me tell you more over a cup of tea and a scone. We can even watch the Newcastle v Spurs game on your mobile…”

So Ryan watched the football with his new friend while back in the real world, Hurstpierpoint 1’s won the toss and elected to bat. As the evacuated 3’s prepared to take to the field, the changing room door burst open and Ryan tumbled out, flushed from his exertions behind the closed door.

“Guys, it’s ok. I’m back. I’m back!”

Everyone looked at him as though he were a colossal moron.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been away for simply ages, I went to a strange world where it’s always sunny and never muggy and overcast. I had tea and scones with a fair and kind umpire.”

No one believed Ryan, for many had been struck down before by dubious umpiring decisions. It was agreed that all should inspect the changing rooms with the exception of Charley for obvious reasons.

“You’ll have to find somewhere else,” she was told. “You certainly can’t go in there while everybody’s changing, you may see terrible things…”

A peculiar and unpleasant smell washed over the group as they discussed tactics and plans. Adam Hughes stood sheepishly to one side, his whites caked in dry mud and tainted with three-day-old sweat, emitting a stench that could have peeled paint from walls. So bad was it, that had he not been stood apart from the team, several of the players would have been in danger of passing out and the Trump Administration would have shown an interest in harnessing Adam’s clothing as a biological weapon to arm their Space Farce rockets.

Before too long (and finally, dear readers because this is taking forever), both teams gathered in the middle with Rappo opening the bowling from the Run Down Shack end. He bowled at a lively pace, gaining bounce and movement, troubling both openers, one of whom was polite and respectful and the other who was less so. With Ryan bowling well at the other end, his head swimming with dreams of tea and scones and being straight in the field, it was a cagey opening. As proceedings rolled on and grey clouds drifted endlessly across the skies, it was Rappo who made the initial breakthrough, cleaning up the less polite opener who tried to pull a ball that just wasn’t quite short enough following a strange and mysterious chirping from the slips. Bernie Thys strode out to bat, proving to all that it is possible to be on an opposing team but still be pleasant those playing the game. The two Hurst batters recovered well to rebuild their innings despite the introduction of Adam ‘The Whiff’ Hughes into the attack to try and sniff out some wickets, disturbing the batters with his offensive aroma. From the Overgrown Foliage end, Murph toiled away as he often does, using all of his guile and skill in search of the elusive wickets. Despite the lack of batsmen being dismissed, the expected acceleration in the innings didn’t materialize. After drinks the game still felt evenly poised and Elph felt that this was the perfect time to introduce Charley ‘Dangerous’ Hepburn into the attack. Despite initially struggling and delivering a ferocious slow waist high full toss (with no official warning) that was dispatched to the boundary she tried to settle, finding a little bit of unpredictable bounce. What no-one could have foreseen was that with the unleashing of a second VERY SLOW but clearly terrifying full toss to the two helmeted and well protected batsmen, the square leg umpire intervened, revealing himself as an agent of the Wicked King of Local League Cricket and the Emperor of Crazy Rules That Shall Not Encourage Young Players to Continue Playing Despite Teams Struggling to Get Sides Out at The Weekend. Charley was mortified at the casting of the ‘You Shall Not Bowl’ spell, reduced to tears before being banished to the covers and turned to stone, despite the support of her teammates and protection of her captain.

A loud roar emerged from deepish extra cover and a large figure appeared, his mane (well, mullet) blowing in the wind. This was Charley’s protector, Dadslan who comforted her and breathed self-belief and calmness over her as the spell, which had calcified her tiny form, dissipated.

“I have known this game for many years,” spoke Dadslan. “You are young. You still have a part to play for there is deep magic from the Dawn of Time at work in these lands. You are better than this, do not bend and break. Let us gather at the Not Very Good Wicket and strike back against the Wicked King.”

“Is it any wonder that teams are struggling to play fixtures?” growled Dadslan to himself, his fury bubbling away beneath his mullet.

Elph opted for Toby Wardrobe to complete Charley’s over and have another one in the hope that the aptly named medium pacer could produce some deep magic of his own to prise out a batter or two or at the very least conjure up some amusing Narnia related banter. Alas, it was not to be so Elph turned back to Rappo who returned from the Bomb Shelter end. The change brought immediate rewards as he first induced an edge from Bernie, who gallantly walked in the true spirit of the game, and then hurrying a rapid delivery through Hurst’s other opener, both batters retreating following well made fifties. Ryan replaced Murph as he and Rappo bowled tight lines giving nothing away. In an attempt to accelerate the scoring rate, the Hurst number 5 ran the ball away to point and called for a quick single. Charley, still smarting from her banishment returned with fury, swooping as the ball slapped into her weaker left hand and having the presence of mind to transfer the ball to her stronger side before launching a Not Dangerous At All throw into Gerard’s gloves. Gerard completed the run out with Matt Parsons short of his ground, although in the process, one of the bails struck Matt in the eye. Amidst the celebrations, it was Dadslan who noticed the batter struggling to make his way back to the pavilion and with the help of Gerard, they did their best to make sure that all was ok and that Matt was looked after by the assembled few.

Rappo claimed his fourth wicket as Dadslan pouched a straightforward catch in the covers and continued to bowl with pace and accuracy as he sought after a fifth scalp. Ryan finally got a fully deserved reward of a wicket and on other occasions will bowl worse and get more value for money, putting the ball in good areas again and again with little luck. The Whiff replaced Rappo and picked up his first wicket of the match as a leading edge went spiraling up into the grey sky, higher than the sun, before Charley ran around to claim a well-judged catch. With the skipper needing to find a couple of overs from somewhere, he turned to Dadslan who had been prowling the covers. With his second ball he flighted a delivery beyond a wild slog-sweep and three balls later found the outside edge of the Hurst number 9 and the ball nestled in Gerard’s gloves, an excellent take given that he was by now really struggling with a bad back. A couple of lusty blows took the Hurst total to 189/9 but the feeling was that it had been a very good bowling and fielding performance.

A McNiven tea was provided and enjoyed by all (with thanks to all who helped prepare while Andy was on the field), with the exception of one opposition player who loudly proclaimed that teas were ‘always not very good here’ or words to that effect. Sadly, the Brexit wars had hit hard and caviar was in short supply. We had even tried selling our children in the days leading up to the game in the hope that we could provide suitable sustenance for our silver-spoon fed opponent, but we could find no takers. He was to be further disappointed as Oysters and Truffles failed to materialize and if reports are to be believed, he was in tears later that afternoon during a phone call to Jeeves, his Butler.

“It’s absolutely criminal, Jeeves. How is one expected to survive when playing with the ordinary folk? Frankly it’s not on and I shall be having words with Mummy after this.”

Despite this, most of us ‘slummed it’ and tucked into an excellent spread. Some were of the opinion that the ‘Rude Opponent’ had partaken of some enchanted Turkish Delight without knowing that it was enchanted, for eating food that has been bewitched can have that effect on cricketers, especially those who are Better Than Everyone Else.

So the scene was set for the battle against the Wicked King of Local League Cricket and the Emperor of Crazy Rules. Dadslan led the first charge out to the middle on the Not Very Good At All Wicket, which by now had been beset by demons of indifferent bounce and inconsistent pace. Dadslan edged a ball on to his stumps for 2 before being joined back in the pavilion by Gerard who feathered one through to the ‘Rude Opponent’ for 6. Ukesh provided some stability to the innings, playing watchfully with the occasional swish but before long we were in further trouble as Toby Wardrobe left the door open to a potential batting collapse, adjudged lbw for 1. Andy popped a catch up in the cover region, which was gratefully received and the skipper, confident after his stunning 155 last week was also a victim of the indifferent bounce, chopping the ball onto his stumps.

Charley played a swish at a ball that wasn’t short enough and was bowled and was followed back by Whiff who also played on. It was left to Ukesh and Murph to try and salvage some respectability mixing careful defense with considered aggression as they both joint top-scored with 18 each, Murph the last to fall following Ukesh’s dismissal and the run out of Rappo for 8. 67 all out and the Wicked King of Local League Cricket had triumphed as the brave band of evacuees retreated on the road to Cair BurgessHill to lick their wounds and gather more troops for the next game, ready to try again.

“On a day like today,” growled Dadslan, “all you can do is take it on the chin and put it behind you. We must stay together, as one, especially when there is a wolf at the door.”

Perhaps it had all been a bad dream.

As the dust settled on the battlefield it was acknowledged that it had generally been a fair fight, although the disappointment of most of the players on both sides regarding the implementation of the waist high full toss law was to rumble on into the days that followed along with the behaviour of ‘Rude Opponent’ at tea. What stood out to most though was that despite the potentially divisive moments in the game, the majority found a way to play in a respectful manner, commiserating with those who had suffered bad luck, injury or disappointment at the hands of the laws. There would be other fights to be fought and harsher times on the horizon.

Eighteen connected words and phrases this week, I reckon this one is pretty easy. Again, please treat this as intended, just a light-hearted reflection on the weekend’s events. The requested ‘Top Gun’ themed report has been held back, I couldn’t resist ‘The Ryan, The Whiff and The Wardrobe’!