I shan't write too much about the match - essentially an intra-club game between us and a scratch XI made up of extra players from the tour party and locals. It follows the same format every year. We bat first, make quite a few, then the opposition try to chase them, usually fail, hold on for a draw and we go to the pub and get pissed. Photos here, some videos of us getting wasted on scrumpy on this account.
I just wanted to talk about Bob. Here are some facts about him.
1. That picture at the top is the view of Keevil Manor ground from Bob's bench. It was put there after he died in May 2010, aged 77.
2. I like the thought of Bob sitting there, staring out over the cricket while gliders from the nearby RAF college float overhead.
3. When Bob became my friend he was 73, and I was nearly 50 years younger than him.
4. Bob and I read English at the same college. We both liked Tennyson. He liked Housman, but I've never got into him.
5. Bob was a brilliant pianist. He could play Chopin and Ravel as well as he could Fats Waller. He was also, by all accounts, a great singer, but I never heard him.
6. Bob and I both come from the West Country, and both batted and bowled left handed. He was much better than me, in his day.
7. After university, Bob worked for Shell, then became Personnel Manager at Bristol-Siddeley Engines in Filton. He pioneered a staged retirement scheme that is still a model of its kind. The college obituary of Bob notes that 'at a time when industrial upheaval was rife elsewhere, Filton remained at peace.'
8. He devotedly nursed his wife through a long illness, until she passed away, and never asked for any help.
9. Bob once asked me what the toughest ball was to face. Easy I said, right arm inswinger from over the wicket. It opens up every mode of dismissal. He thought for a while and then said, 'I like facing that ball. They've only got to get it a tiny bit wrong and it's easy to get runs.' Part of the difference between a good cricketer and a crap cricketer is that one sees opportunity where the other sees a threat.10. He really, really cared for his children.
11. The first time I went drinking with him he told me a filthy limerick which had a first line ending in 'Birmingham' and a last line ending 'Sperm in 'em'.
12. Bob retired at 55. He then joined eleven different cricket clubs.
13. I only saw him bat once. A fast bowler bowled him a wide half volley and he smacked it through the covers, even though we were clinging on for a draw. He must have been 75 then. I only saw him bowl once too. He was very slow by then. Apparently the year before he had wrapped his old fingers round the ball, given it a bit of a rip, and sent an awe-struck batsman back to the pavilion, bowled round the legs.
14. I once asked Bob if the 'fire escape' on his staircase at uni had been, as for us, a long bit of rope that could be suspended down the centre. He said it was, and in his day he'd dangled it out of his window so he could get down to see the local girls, who weren't allowed in the colleges back then.
15. He would often sustain a conversation while doing the Times Crossword, with no discernible difficulty.
16. I once hit 74*, with him watching. He didn't say much, other than 'Well batted.' I was hit by a joyous, unbridled sense of pride such as I'd not felt since I was about eleven years old. I don't know why, by the time you're an adult, most of your achievements seem to come with a bit of fear attached - as if they can only be bad news in the long run.
17. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.
18. Bob loved imparting knowledge. He'd have been a very good teacher. He once talked at me for 15 minutes, without pausing, about the Bedouin. It was fascinating. That was years ago, and I still remember the conversation.
19. He'd have been a brilliant writer too, but he lacked the confidence to do it regularly.
20. I only hit one good shot on Saturday, but it was very good - a length ball flicked through midwicket. And no one noticed but I looked up at his bench and gave him a wink, because I think he must've enjoyed it.