The second Allstars decade

As we look forward to our 21st Allstars season, here’s a look back at a highlight from each of our second 10 years as the Allstars … click on the links to see the match reports and photos!

2011, Barnes – KP goes nuts as Gents beaten

Victories over our great friends the Gentlemen of West London are the ultimate prize for the Allstars, and we began our second decade in some style by beating them for the second time. Paul “KP” Bowman was the star of the show, taking two wickets in a disciplined bowling effort to limit the Gents to 181-6, before playing one of the great Allstars knocks, a magnificent 91, to take us to victory with 7 overs to spare.

2012, Rock – Wedding bells in Northumberland

Only the Allstars would organise a cricket tour around the wedding of two of our own. After we celebrated Tristan and Liz tying the knot, we faced Rock on their beautiful rural ground in north Northumberland. Tony Grant’s brilliant 5-39 and a hostile three-wicket burst from James Hindle helped us restrict Rock to 135-9. Felix Haddow-Allen played the perfect anchor in reply, batting right through the innings for 21 not out while all around him swung merrily, as we chased down the target to win by 6 wickets.

2013, Ham – A stunning win over Baker Street Irregulars

Baker Street Irregulars have been a well-matched opponent for the Allstars over the years, and this contest of two innings of 18 overs each was to prove a classic in which everyone contributed. Matty Boa’s 37 led the way in our first innings of 123-6, but despite wickets being shared all round, Baker Street edged to a narrow first-innings lead of three. A dashing innings of 44 from Sam Macdonald and a second handy knock from Haroon Khalid set up a victory target of 123, and it was James “One Dart” Devlin who held his nerve with three wickets at the death as we got home with 15 runs to spare.

2014, Ham – Allstars take spoils after pitch Ham-up

For the second year in a row, Baker Street Irregulars brought out the best in the Allstars. After a change of venue to Ham Common (having arrived to find the original pitch triple booked), Ben Hampton, with three wickets, and Tony Grant, with two, led the way with the ball as Baker Street posted 220-9 off their 35 overs. It looked a challenging target – but a stunning unbeaten 136 from Clarence Marshall made it look easy, as we cruised to victory by 8 wickets.

2015, Barnes – Mighty Wanderers kicked into the long grass

On a difficult Barnes Common pitch with an uncut outfield, we avenged a humiliating defeat by Mighty Wanderers the previous year to win back the James Abrahams Trophy in an epic, low-scoring contest. Miserly bowling and fabulous fielding – including two direct-hit run-outs – put the squeeze on Mighty Wanderers’ innings as they limped to 83-8 off their 35 overs. Mighty Wanderers were to prove a much greater force with the ball, as our old nemeses Steve Tjasink and Maggie “the Cat” Page brought about a top-order collapse to leave us reeling at 17-4 – but a gem of an innings from Sam Macdonald, well supported by Chris Burke, took us over the line for a 4-wicket win.

2016, Aston Rowant – a strike out over Heartaches

Sir Tim Rice’s Heartaches have long been the glamour fixture on our calendar, as we rub shoulders with knights of the realm on stunning rural grounds – but they’re a strong side and we’ve suffered some heavy defeats. But this time was different, as we prevailed in one of the closest finishes in our history. With only 130-odd to defend, it looked like Heartaches would stroll to victory once again. Heartaches’ opener Torquil Riley-Smith has been a tough opponent over the years – we still haven’t found a way to get him out – but we showed there’s more than one way to win, starving him of the strike while drying up the runs at the other end, to edge to victory by just 3 runs.

2017, Mill Hill – Record-breaker Langridge stuns Edgware

2017 saw the beginning of the great rebuild of the Allstars on and off the pitch, and our new recruits combined with old hands to take us to a memorable victory over Edgware. On a tricky pitch, a classy 71 from Sachin Singh, well supported by debutant Darren Curry, saw us to 161-4 – but Edgware had got more than halfway to our total with seven wickets in hand. Enter Martyn “Lofty” Langridge to turn the game on its head with a superb hat-trick, finishing with figures of 6-20 – the best analysis in our history – as we won by 40 runs.

2018, Twickenham – A grand finale with the Weasels

Having finished the previous year in style, we did it again in 2018 with a close fought victory over our great friends the New Barbarian Weasels on a sunny September day at beautiful Marble Hill Park. A lightning fifty from Sachin, with good support all the way down, took us to 232-6. The Weasels fought bravely in reply, led by a hard hitting 80 from their league cricket star Iyas – but we weren’t to be denied and finished the job to win by 28 runs.

2019, Ealing – Allstars shine in epic victory over Gents

Our third victory over Gents – and, in contrast to the solo efforts which won the previous two, this one was an all-round team performance to rank amongst the finest in our history. After a sticky start, contrasting fifties from Sam Perera and debutant Vikash Choudhary got us to 178-3. The game looked up when the Gents were 98-2 at the drinks break – but spin twins Ashwin Rattan and Joe Silmon brought about a stunning collapse, taking seven wickets between them, as we went to a famous victory by 25 runs.

2020, Barn Elms – A New Hope

Perhaps the most important game we’ve ever played, as we showed that even a global pandemic can’t stop the Allstars. With barely a week’s notice from the ECB of recreational cricket resuming, we scrambled together an eleven for our fixture with Corridor CC and put all the COVID-19 safety protocols in place – and the game was to prove a classic. With fifties from Matt Biss and debutant Stuart Bruce and handy contributions elsewhere, we racked up an impressive total of 258-4 – but at one stage even that didn’t look enough on a perfect Barn Elms surface. In a nail-biting conclusion, Stuart Bruce proved the match-winner – finishing the innings with a hat-trick – as we scraped home by just 12 runs.

Rewind to … 2006 – Allstars’ first Northumberland tour

In July 2006, the Allstars added a new venue to our touring schedule, as we headed north to Northumberland. It was to be the first of a number of enjoyable tours to the North-East, combining cricket in beautiful rural settings with Newcastle’s lively night life. Club secretary Garreth Duncan tells the story of our trip to his homeland …

Our team at Rock. Back row, l-r: Tristan Haddow-Allen, Rob Jackson, Roger Pordes (joint captain), Garreth Duncan, Ian Fisher, Dave Halladay (joint captain), Chris Gould. Front row: Maxie Haddow-Allen, James Terrett, Richard Stephenson, Nick Chadwick, James Devlin.

Before launching into the story of what did happen on tour, it’s worth remembering that it almost didn’t happen at all. Although opposition, travel and accommodation had long been sorted out, the trip came close to being torpedoed by Bob Crow, leader of the RMT union, showing his usual contempt for the travelling public by calling a rail strike for the Friday and Saturday of the tour, prompting a frenzy of increasingly desperate contingency plans. Thankfully, as predicted by our insider Richard Stephenson, the action was called off on the Wednesday and we met up at King’s Cross on Friday lunchtime in good spirit.

The Allstars boasted a new face for the tour in Rob Jackson, our latest recruit from the world of patent law. Having studied at Durham, Rob was keen to revisit his old haunts in the North-East and eagerly responded to my eleventh hour request to the Informals list for an eleventh player. He quickly got the flavour of the Allstars banter when it emerged he was travelling to Newcastle first class (all of the cheap second class tickets having long been sold out), prompting a query as to whether the Allstars were returning to the era of Gentlemen and Players travelling separately.

Our accommodation for the weekend was in Jesmond, an upmarket area of Newcastle with some lively bars. The hotel had recently been refurbished and was certainly a vast improvement on those of previous tours. However, in view of Newcastle’s popularity as a venue for stag and hen parties, upon arrival we were confronted with a request for a cash deposit of £25 each to cover for one or more of us trashing our rooms. In the rooms themselves, a card prominently displayed the fines for bed-wetting, vomiting and many other things a bunch of thirty-somethings clearly get up to when away from home:

Editor’s note – if you know exactly what dastardly deed an ‘iron centre’ constitutes, please let us know.

After a couple of pints and a curry in Jesmond, the tour party headed for the city centre to get their first taste of Newcastle’s famous nightlife. The legendary Bigg Market, inspiration for a whole host of Viz characters, was our destination – and did not disappoint.

On Saturday morning, suitably woken up with caffeine, we headed off to our first match of the tour. Eglingham is a tiny village deep in the Northumberland countryside, with a lovely ground to match. “The field”, as the locals refer to it, was in good nick – even though the pitch had a lot of grass on it, this was still quite a contrast to when I last saw it on a scouting trip in April, when there were still sheep grazing on it.

From left, excluding the girl: Richard Stephenson, James Terrett, Dave Halladay, Nick Chadwick, Roger Pordes.

Having lost my third toss out of three as Allstars captain, I was relieved when Eglingham skipper Maurice Graham put us in to bat. Initially, it looked like he would pay for his generosity as, aided by some loose bowling, Tristan and James Terrett got us off to a flyer. Though James was soon caught at slip, Rob Jackson helped continue the momentum as he immediately looked to play shots on his Allstars debut. Rob middled a couple before he too was taken at slip, Roger, somewhat surprised to be promoted to No 4, following in a similar manner soon after.

Rob Jackson, making his Allstars debut.
Tristan Haddow-Allen batting.
Garreth Duncan, umpiring.

Dave Halladay joined Tristan in the middle, and the pair took us past 100 with the halfway mark still to come. They were beginning to construct a useful stand before Dave was run out. This proved to be the match’s turning point as a dramatic collapse followed, the last seven wickets going down for 19 runs courtesy of some accurate bowling and awful shot selection, with Chris Gould being the only of the remaining batsmen to reach double figures.

We needed early wickets in reply, and got them, Graham (jr) falling LBW in Nick Chadwick’s first over and Huganin being bowled by Tristan shortly afterwards. Chadders continued his immaculate opening spell by having Ord caught behind by Chris. However, this was one of the few catches to be taken on a shocking Allstars fielding afternoon, no fewer than five slip catches being dropped despite most of the team being tried there.

Eglingham withdrew from the local league last year in order to concentrate on friendlies and developing local youngsters, and Maurice had informed me before the game that he would “play some kids”. I was surprised to find out that this meant that at least half the team they fielded was under 16. Given that we couldn’t see their faces under the now-compulsory helmets, some wondered whether the succession of lads coming out to bat were in fact one and the same player.

James Devlin bowled his usual whole-hearted spell down the slope and was rewarded with two scalps, both caught at mid-wicket, and at 70 for 5 we were still in with a chance. Though I produced one of my better efforts with the ball, despite being hit for 6 just over Roger’s head at mid-wicket, our lack of a regular fifth bowler (not to mention our lack of runs) told as Eglingham got home with 13 balls to spare without losing another wicket.

Our disappointment was quickly forgotten, however, as soon as we hit the pub. The Tankerville Arms is a great pub renowned throughout the area for its food, and we returned to Newcastle in good heart, singing along to Terrett’s dubious taste in 80s pop. A lively play of our now-traditional tour game of 21s in the hotel bar rounded off the day in style.

In the beer garden, and at dinner, at the Tankerville Arms.

Sunday saw us head to the north of Northumberland once again, this time to the tiny hamlet of Rock, with many wondering whether we’d all fit on it, or if we’d be graced by the presence of the WWE stars. The ground was once again superb, though we were treated to the slightly surprising sight of full-size sofas and armchairs on the boundary instead of the usual plastic fold-away chairs. These were soon occupied by most of my family who kindly came to support us for the day.

Dave and Roger, elected joint captains for the day, promptly lost the toss and condemned us to field first on another scorching day. We once again got off to a good start, though, as Tristan and Chadders took a wicket each. But Rock are a proper league cricket side with some quality batsmen, and with the last two nights catching up with us, left-hander David Gray (one of four with that surname in the Rock side) and right-hander Tom Parkinson (a dead ringer for Paul Collingwood) put our attack to the sword. Parkinson was particularly ruthless against Devers and me as he raced to a hundred before being retired by his skipper. Following one massive six out of the ground, he helpfully assisted our search for the ball by telling us “it’s in the wood near the tree”.

Having lots of fun in the field at Rock.

Rob and Chadders relax by the pavilion…
..while Devers limbers up in the nets.

We faced a seemingly impossible target of 234 off 25 overs, but had another turbo-charged start as Tristan and Dave smashed 66 off the first eight. Tristan gave Parkinson some of his own medicine as he hit him back over his head for four, prompting his skipper to quip “if you’d had a pie less at tea-time, Tom, you’d have caught that”. But Dave’s departure, caught at wide long-on, signalled the end of a game as a contest: although all the remaining batsmen hit out bravely, the Rock bowlers showed an amazing accuracy at knocking over middle stump.

There was still time for Chadders to deliver the tour’s champagne moment, a huge six over long-on into the adjoining field, and for Ian Fisher, brought in as a reinforcement for the day, to mark his debut in the traditional Allstars fashion with a comical run out, going for a suicidal second run. I briefly gave the gathered Duncan/Smith clan some entertainment with a couple of fours, but it was all over when Maxie became the eighth victim bowled and we had lost by 81 runs.

A couple of sneaky pints followed before the party headed off to Alnmouth station for the train home, to conclude one of the best Allstars tours (if I don’t say so myself) and hopefully one to repeat in 2007. (And we did, and many times again …)

Rewind to … 2005 – Gents get Scratched!

The Gentlemen of West London are our longest-standing opponents, our friendly fixtures with them going right back to 2002. They’re great guys and our games with them are always played in a good spirit – but they are a strong side, and it takes something extra special from the Allstars to beat them. The first time was in our opening fixture of 2005, thanks to one of the greatest ever Allstars innings, from Simon “Scratch” Begley. James Terrett tells the story…

Sunday 24 April 2005, Victoria Recreation Ground, Surbiton. St Anne’s Allstars 153-8 (35 overs; Simon Begley 89*) beat Gentlemen of West London 114 all out (James Devlin 4-13, Nick Chadwick 3-7) by 39 runs.

Ever since the Allstars were founded, we have always lost to the Gentlemen of West London. It has been a constant source of frustration, as we feel we can certainly compete, but in the past we have capitulated and handed them victory on a plate, served with humiliation pie and embarrassment gravy. It was with a feeling of dread therefore, that Maxie and Andy Burman (his Gents counterpart) had decided to celebrate this fixture with a cup, known as the 42-11 Trophy (our total with 12 players against the Gents last year). The last thing I wanted to do was to embarrass ourselves once more on the cricket field and then applaud the Gents team as they collected the trophy for the 17th time in succession. My feelings were unfounded, as we finally put in a strong performance that brought the first silverware in our history home to Allstars HQ.

The game started as normal. We elected to bat and the pitch assisted the bowlers extremely well. Tristan was bowled by one that kept very low and Maxie decided we had lost. Adam Clements played well before being caught at deep-ish square leg to leave us 10 for 2. Felix was then bowled some overs later to leave us 19 for 3, and thoughts of a sub-50 total were on the cards.

There then followed a magnificent innings by Scratch, taking us to 55 for 4 before being joined by Paul Nicol. These two dominated the bowling and took us into the hundreds before Paul was very well caught on the long-on boundary for 28.

We then faltered, with the other batsmen falling quickly, but no-one had forgotten Scratch at the other end. In the last 10 overs he really cut loose, his unbeaten 89 guiding us to an eventual 35-over total of 153 for 8, ably assisted by Devers putting together a vital 9th wicket partnership and with it a very strong target.

It was difficult to pick out a highlight in the innings. Some people felt it was Scratch’s straight six back over the bowler’s, head but I feel it was the 28-run partnership between him and me from which my running of three wides simply took the spectators’ breath away. My eleven ball duck will certainly bring the crowds back to cricket.

After a very satisfying tea, we took to the field knowing we were in the driving seat. Tight bowling from Tristan meant the Gents, in just the first over of the innings, took on a suicidal second run to the athletic fielding of Chadders. The Hove-based demon bowler dived to half-stop a certain boundary before firing in to Tristan to whip the bails off. Devers followed up with a sinister line, encouraging the pitch to offer something to his controlled deliveries. One kept a little low to dismiss Justin Northcott and then a copycat delivery to James Lewis an over later ensured the Gents were in trouble at 15 for 3.

Paul Nicol also bowled one which wouldn’t have looked out of place at a crown green bowling tournament and Chadders bowled an excellent delivery to have the number five batsman caught behind. All this time the Gents danger man Kiwi Wayne played some aggressive shots and kept the scoreboard moving but he too succumbed to the tight bowling from Paul Nicol, ensuring we effectively had the Gents in a half-nelson with the crowd baying for blood.

The next partnership between Mark “Scibbo” Sciberras and “HP” Denton was a dangerous one. Both batsman played themselves in before being bowled some waist-high full tosses which were smashed to the boundary on a regular basis. Difficult and unpredictable bounces also cost us byes and missed run-outs and mis-fields started to creep into our game. Suddenly we’d taken our foot off the Gents’ throat, and they’d moved on from 45 for 6 to 100 for 6.

With Kieran Toohey bowling well from the pavilion end, Maxie turned to Scratch to mix things up and his leg-spin had the desired effect. Falling to a wide, short, looping ball that offered no turn, Scibbo launched the delivery high to deep extra cover. Adam, fielding at long off, set-off like a greyhound and took a superb running catch to rid the Allstars of the big hitting Scibbo. Cue a massive collective sigh of relief.

Once Scibbo was gone it was all about taking our chances. With the run-rate creeping higher, the Gents had to throw caution to the wind and after surviving some close run-out attempts, we made the breakthrough with Paul Nicol combining with Chris behind the stumps to run-out the number 7 batsman and we were into the tail-enders. Chadders returned, having Tony Buck caught by Clem in the gully, before “One Dart” Devers also returned to mop up the tail, clean bowling both to finish with four wickets.

The elusive win and the new trophy were ours. In the pub afterwards it was widely accepted that Clem’s catch was the highlight of the fielding performance, although I’m pretty sure they overlooked the way I backed up some of the long throws and my excellent throwing of the ball back to the bowler had the press box exchanging appreciative nods.

Man of the match plaudits go to Simon Begley for his heroic, imperious, 89*, and who batted unbeaten through 35 overs – including our amazing partnership. Played 1 won 1 – I sense an Arsenal season.

Rewind to … 2005 – Menorca tour

In 2005, the Allstars took touring to a new level, as our first overseas tour took us to the holiday island of Menorca. It was to be one of our liveliest as we enjoyed a fabulous five days in the sunshine, cricket with some generous hosts and some, er, interesting nightlife. Club founder Maxie Allen tells the story …

Menorca CC today. Still as impressive as it was in 2005.

The fourth Allstars tour, and for the first time, a foreign destination. The inspiration came from Garreth, who had seen an article in a newspaper travel section about Menorca CC in the Balearics, who host touring sides each weekend. I got in touch with the club, and the deal was on. It proved to be one of the easier trips to organise, and the combination of convenient dates and an attractive venue prompted a record-breaking tour party of no fewer than seventeen. As we looked ahead to the trip, we were all excited by the prospect – and we were not to be disappointed.

Most of us made an uneventful journey to the airport by train, apart from Garreth, that most natural of motorists, who decided to enliven proceedings by having his car break down on the way to Gatwick. You will notice that we are all wearing our Allstars tour t-shirts. These did not arrive from the screen-printers quite as envisaged. My idea was to stylishly combine the club colours by having a discreet red pinstripe run down the right side of the black shirt, in a way similar to the England 2002 football World Cup strip. This was rather lost in translation, and what we actually got was a fat scarlet oblong, which started somewhere around the nipple and ended above the waist. The effect produced was to make it seem as if we were all wearing our squad numbers, but each of us was number 1.

After we eventually landed in Menorca, we were very excited to discover that the minibus we’d booked turned out to an entire proper coach, enabling us to pretend during the drive to the hotel that we were some kind of real professional touring squad, or on our way to play in an FA Cup final. There then followed a startling scene at the hotel, when we walked into the lobby to be greeted by the sight of two hundred old ladies. It transpired that the hotel catered almost exclusively for people on Saga holidays. We were the youngest guests there by a margin of about forty years. It was as if we’d wandered on to the set of Cocoon.

Once checked in, we headed into the Menorcan capital Mahon in search of nightlife, only to find that almost everywhere was closed. We at length happened upon an interesting venue, in which we proceeded to enjoy one of the most celebrated nights in Allstars history. The in-house entertainment revolved around the simple axiom of taking it in turns to stand on a table and sing along loudly to rock songs. As you would expect, Jason Nixon was very much in his element, but it fell to Devers to steal the show. Atop his table, he led the way in a deeply moving rendition of the Smokie classic Living Next Door To Alice.

We spent an uncharacteristically civilised morning by the hotel pool, and after a spot of lunch headed down to the Saturday match. As 17 was far too many to fit into any one team, some of the tour party headed into town to watch the FA Cup Final – a snoozefest decided by penalties. More of those later.

The set-up at Menorca CC was very impressive. The club was formed in 1985, mainly from English ex-pats, and in 1992 opened their present ground in Biniparrell. In the process they have carved a lovely cricket venue out of what was originally a rocky field, and built a splendidly appointed pavilion and bar to boot. Much hard work and fund-raising has been put in over the years to maintain the facilities, which included a high-quality artificial wicket.

As ever on a gloriously warm sunny day, I lost the toss and we fielded. For most of Menorca’s innings, we bowled pretty well, especially Chadders, and took our chances in the field. At one point we had them 99 for 6, only to find, as if often the case, that the oppo had hidden their best batsman down the order. His name was Jeff Barker, Menorca’s captain, whose quickfire 46 from number eight helped the home side to a robust 40 over total of 215-9.

Sadly, our batting was a disaster. An early order collapse in the face of good bowling hastened us to an irrecoverable 17-4, and featured our trump card Chris Hipwell leaving a ball which took out his middle stump. Only Dave Halladay, with 43, made much of an impression, and after 40 overs we were 119-8 and had lost by 96 runs.

There was a nice little ceremony after the match, in which the Menorcans gave us a souvenir picture to take home.

Saturday’s team: (back row) Tristan Haddow-Allen, James Devlin, Mike Bovill, Adam Clements, Jason Nixon, Chris Gould, Dave Halladay; (front row) Nick Chadwick, Chris Hipwell, James Terrett, Maxie Haddow-Allen.

After drinks with the opposition, it was off to El Toro for the gala dinner. The meal closed in the traditional manner: the restaurant keyboardist struck up a sprightly version of Dire Straits’ Walk of Life, and we got up and danced hand-to-hand with the other diners.

On arriving at the ground for Sunday’s match, James Terrett, our captain for the day, had to choose a couple of players to leave out of the XI. Easy choice – I ended up playing for the oppo instead. The combination of a stronger home side batting line-up, and our bowlers’ collective hangovers, made for a tough session in the field for the Allstars. David Sheffield’s 58 and Morris’s 59 saw Menorca to a 40-over total of 224-5.

Menorca’s bowling was also stronger for this match, and their pacemen secured an early clutch of LBWs to effectively end the match as a contest within twenty overs. But pride was restored by a characteristically rumbunctious innings from Chris Hipwell – 64 from just forty balls, including ten fours and two sixes. The game was brought to a close by an entertaining little coda: with the Allstars nine wickets down, Menorca captain Russell Day brought me on to bowl, and with my seventh ball I had James Abrahams caught behind.

On Monday, we had a day to kill before boarding our evening flight home, and passed the morning around the pool and seafront. And then we went for lunch … after which we made our way to the S’Algar resort’s leisure complex, for a spot of pool.

The afternoon football match was a hearty affair, chiefly memorable for Garreth’s eye-catching goalkeeping. While awaiting our turn on the pitch, we’d watched some local youths play with great skill and not once allow the ball to ricochet over the perimeter fence into the trees beyond. When we played, we lost the ball four times in the first ten minutes. After one such occasion, when we’d finally retrieved the ball at great and painstaking length from the dense thicket, play restarted. There was an attacking move on Garreth’s goal, and the ball was punted towards him at some height. Garreth pinned his arms to his sides, and shot up like a jack-in-the-box – heading the ball some forty yards directly up in the air and then over the fence. It was a header of such genuine perfection, so truly and sweetly did his head connect with the ball, that it would have absolutely impossible to have done on purpose. But it was hard not to be puzzled by why he’d done it. “I thought I was out of my area”, he explained.

Deadlocked at 3-3, (like another game that month which we won’t mention…) the match went to penalties, with Roger’s strike sealing a win for his side.

We finished with a stirring tour awards ceremony at the hotel. And thus ended our first overseas tour. We’d got a taste for them now, and many more enjoyable overseas tours were to come.

Rewind to … 2004 – Belfast Boys

2004 saw us embark on the third Allstars tour, this time to Belfast. It was another cracking weekend where we were graciously welcomed by our hosts. The cricket was sociable and fun once again, and we also had the chance to enjoy a round on the golf course, as well a dip into Northern Ireland’s troubled past – though a victory on the pitch was to elude us this time. Club founder Maxie Allen tells the story …

Sunday’s team line up. Back row: James Devlin, Roger Pordes, Rahoul Bhansali, Tristan Haddow-Allen, Adam Clements, James Terrett, Andy McIntosh, Chris Hipwell, Alex Williamson, Maxie Haddow-Allen.

For this year’s tour, we were indebted to a remarkable man by the name of Robin Walsh. Well-connected in the Northern Irish cricket scene, Robin proceeded with extraordinary kindness to fix up two scratch sides for us to play, and even arranged a mates’ rate at the Europa, the province’s finest hotel (in)famous for being the world’s most bombed hotel. And so began our epic four days in Belfast, memorable not least for the unremitting warmth and generosity of the city’s people, and the almost unbelievable grace of the cricketers who so outclassed us. We had five tour debutants: Chris Hipwell, Alex Williamson, Andy McIntosh, Rahoul Bhansali and Nick Chadwick.

Friday morning’s activity was a taxi tour of the Troubles – a tourist staple of Belfast these days, but a fascinating experience nonetheless. First stop was the Loyalist stronghold of the Shanklin Road – where we had our first view of the huge murals dedicated to various aspects of the Loyalist cause. They are extraordinary things to witness – painstakingly executed with genuine artistic skill, they are beautiful yet sinister at the same time.

Between the Protestant and Catholic areas of West Belfast is the infamous Wall, erected during the Troubles to stop the opposing sides from hurling deadly projectiles at each other. Nowadays, in more conciliatory times, it’s sometimes referred to as the Peace Wall. We signed it, as all visitors do – the driver carries with him a marker pen for this very purpose. Of all the things written and spoken about Northern Ireland’s turbulent history, it remains to be seen how ‘Allstars were here, 2004’ will be interpreted by future generations. The people and taxi in the picture are on a tour similar to ours.

Murals are more closely identified with Loyalist rather than Republican culture, but the Catholic Falls Road has them too, albeit of a slightly different style. Many of these murals are statements of solidarity with communities in other parts of the world who fight for independence or freedom.

After the taxi tour we rendezvoused again with our host Robin Walsh. It is fair to describe Robin as a bit of a character, but he is also one of the kindest, funniest and most generous men I have ever met. He had put himself out to an extravagant degree to make our visit to Belfast possible.

We eventually arrived at Shaw’s Bridge to be deeply overawed by the splendour of its state of the art facilities. Assisted by lottery funding, the Instonians-Cooke Collegians ground is a mightily impressive multi-sports venue, replete with two proper cricket squares, hockey fields, a well-equipped pavilion, and even boasting an electronic scoreboard. All in all, a bit good for the Allstars.

Our opponents for Friday night’s twenty over a side thrash were the Instonians-Cooke Collegians XI, and their competency at cricket reflected the status of the surroundings. Their batsmen greedily tucked in to our bowling, with one in particular taking a fancy to Devers’s ‘even-slower’ ball. They amassed 133-2 from their twenty overs, but in reply we made a decent fist of it with the bat. Tristan made an unbeaten 33, and Adam and Chris Hipwell unbeaten 30s as we reached 119-7 to lose by 14 runs.

Friday’s team: Tristan Haddow-Allen, James Devlin, Roger Pordes, Nick Chadwick, Rahoul Bhansali, Maxie Haddow-Allen (capt.), James Terrett (wk), Chris Hipwell, Adam Clements, Alex Williamson.

It’s hard to convey just how friendly and hospitable the oppo were, and were in absolutely no hurry, Robin especially, to bring the post-match social to an end. They even laid on a barbecue.

As usual, Saturday was golf day. On this occasion, play was delayed by a long and acrimonious bout of negotiation between us and the course groundstaff, who were reluctant to provide each of eleven idiots with a set of clubs. We’ve had this problem before with mass golf trips on tour – you have to virtually beg the course to take your money. Eventually we brought them round, but problems persisted. The clubs available for hire comprised several hundred sand wedges, still in the wrapping, but not much else. This did little to improve anyone’s game, and the details of how some right-handers fared with a left-handed putter are too gruesome to be described on a family website.

The traditional Saturday night gala dinner. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant, or indeed much about it at all. I was asleep for most of it.

A slip cradle is an excellent tool for sharpening reflexes and honing fielding skills – with the proviso that you can aim the ball at the cradle in the first place. We just couldn’t hit it, reducing Sunday’s pre-match preparations to a farcical display of eleven twits pointlessly hurling cricket balls into the ground. This did not augur well for our impending 40 over a side match against Shaw’s Bridge Cavaliers.

The Sunday game was not one of our finest days on the field. The Cavaliers won the toss and batted first on a true and even pitch. A composite side of Robin’s cricketing friends, many of whom had played in the Friday game, the oppo were a lovely bunch of chaps, but proper club cricketers to a man and far too strong for our bowling even on a good day. After forty overs of retrieving the ball from the boundary, we’d allowed the Cavaliers to reach 214-6, and the total would surely have been higher had not batsmen been obliged to retire at 40.

Our innings was a shambles from the start. Tristan Haddow-Allen and James Terrett, opening up, both went for ducks, and 0-2 quickly became 27-4 after Chris Hipwell had shuffled his way to 11. Alex provided the greatest resistance, with a 23 ball 13, and Andy Macintosh top scored with 19. We were all out for 76 in 31 overs and lost by, ahem, 138 runs.

Once back in the bar, our mood was much improved, and drinks enjoyed all round. Our hosts, generous to the last, organised a little presentation ceremony, in which Chadders was awarded the Allstars player of the tour, and we were each given official Irish Cricket Union commemorative ties from the visits of Australia and West Indies. And with this touching and gentlemanly gesture, another classic tour drew to a close.

Maxie Allen