The Neil Drysdale Column
Freuchie's triumph of 1985 (2)
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The Fifers of Freuchie suffered few scares in progressing from the Scottish section of the National Village Cup in 1985. Fuelled by the accuracy of their bowling attack (who gained the nickname “The Mean Machine”), the pyrotechnics of such roistering characters as Davie Cowan and Stewart Irvine (“The Animals”) and the tactical brainwaves of their stalwart skipper, Dave Christie, Freuchie were confident that they could realise their ambition of progressing all the way to the final at Lord’s. But first, there were stern challenges – and the weather – to overcome for the Scots.
Freuchie’s batting was never of comparable standard to their bowling during the epic summer of 1985. Many Scots, confronted with the sight of David Steele or Chris Tavare, Graham Thorpe or Jonathan Trott, would probably agree with Lord Mancroft’s assertion: “Cricket is a game which the British, not being a spiritual people, had to invent in order to have some concept of eternity”. Yet there was rarely any danger of the Fife line-up overstaying their welcome and, even as they cranked up momentum in the National Village Cup, their campaign was regularly imperilled by their top order vying with one another to see who could dash to the showers the quickest.
This failing almost cost them dear when they locked horns with the Englishmen of Etherley in a typically nerve-jangling tussle at the Public Park. There was little sign of trouble in store when Christie won the toss and chose to bowl, whereupon Dave Cowan snapped up two wickets with the game’s first three deliveries. Thereafter, the Bishop Auckland side were unable to stem the tide for the rest of their innings, as they succumbed to a meagre 93 all out, with Cowan taking four for 17 and Brian Christie chipping in with three for 30 on a pitch which suited the medium-pacers.
It should have been a straightforward pursuit, but the word “cakewalk” wasn’t in the Freuchie dictionary. On the contrary, they seemed determined not merely to flirt with danger, but invite it upstairs for an orgy, and the next hour brought a sorry tale of wanton self-implosion. Mark Wilkie exited for two, which was one more than Fraser Irvine managed, Dave Christie was caught by Paul Watson, off the bowling of Harry Allen for five, and the large band of home supporters could scarcely believe what they were witnessing as Andy Crichton and George Wilson both returned to the pavilion without troubling the scorer. At 21 for 5, a trip to Lord’s seemed about as remote as the Outer Hebrides, but fortunately, Cowan and Terry Trewartha gradually steadied matters and demonstrated to their colleagues that they weren’t batting in a minefield.
“We had been in these situations before, and the match was very much back in the melting pot, but we recognised there were loads of overs left, and we had the suspicion that their change bowlers wouldn’t be as effective – heaven knows, we had to believe that was the case – so I told Davie : “Right, we have to get our heads down here and graft, let’s have nothing fancy, nothing extravagant,” recalled Trewartha. “It wasn’t our natural game, given that we both liked to be aggressive and give the ball a thump, but there was no option and, mercifully, the rest of their attack wasn’t in the same league.
“That meant our task became more comfortable the longer we stayed at the crease. Davie finished with an unbeaten 44 and I reached 31 not out, so, by the end, it sounded like a relatively simple triumph. But, if they had possessed one more bowler with the ability of Watson and Allen, I’m sure we would have faced a genuinely testing examination. ”
That tussle was a microcosm of the virtues and vices in Freuchie’s armoury, yet, as the summer moved on, the club’s deficiencies were transcended by their camaraderie and collective resilience in the midst of adversity. Better still, although captain Christie had issued an edict, proclaiming that his confreres shouldn’t mention either of the “L” words, Lord’s or London, Trewartha had noticed the glint in the eyes and spring in the step of the Freuchie personnel. It would, he surmised, require a bloody good side to undermine their dreams, especially if the linchpin, Cowan, remained fit and healthy.
All these qualities were sorely examined in the next round of the tournament when Cleator, from Cumbria, came calling to the Kingdom of Fife on an afternoon straight from the worst excesses of the film “The Day After Tomorrow”. Heavy rain had enveloped the area for the previous 24 hours and it was a tribute to the commitment of both teams that they elected to play through conditions which were more suited to Ellen MacArthur and her seafaring odysseys than cricket on the village green.
“You can imagine what Test captains would have done in these circumstances, They would have stayed in their dressing rooms until the umpires had carried out numerous inspections before finally abandoning the game,” said Cowan, whose approach was based on the theory that if Freuchie had left the field every time the heavens opened, they would have fulfilled around three fixtures a season. “Fair enough, if you’re in a Test setting, and you happen to see Dale Steyn or Brett Lee sprinting towards you in the midst of a black-out. But Cleator were in the same boat as us and there was a serious incentive for them to disregard the weather, because nobody wanted a bowl-out at the finish. So we all knuckled down and adopted the attitude that the show must go on. Yes, it might have been a wee bit hairy and you had to be careful to avoid drowning when you dived for the ball. But it was the same for all 22 of us and we had worked our backsides off on the Saturday night, clearing rain from the outfield, to make sure the match went ahead. ”
Amidst the mud and glaur, with Freuchie being invited to bat by their opponents, there was a horrible sense of déjà vu, as the hosts slumped to 5 for 3 in the space of the first 30 fraught deliveries, with Fraser Irvine, Alan Duncan and George Wilson back in the pavilion. “We were in trouble, no doubt about it, and when we went off for 13 minutes, with the rain absolutely pelting down, it seemed for a wee spell as if the day was going to be a total wash-out,” recalled Christie, who had surveyed another miserable collapse, despite changing the batting order. “It was a nervous time for the lads, and I knew that the forecast for the rest of the day wasn’t brilliant, but I met up with the boys from Cleator and they were as desperate as us for the game to continue, and be settled properly, not artificially. So that was it, the die was cast, and, rather than throw in the towel – which was wringing wet anyway! – we all marched back into the fray. Seven-five overs were subsequently played in lashing rain, in front of several hundred supporters, who couldn’t tear themselves away, although they were soaked to the skin. ”
The ensuing action was engrossing, with fortunes fluctuating constantly, and the contest was enlivened by a magnificent display of derring-do from Cowan, who ignored the elements and blithely launched into a cavalier demolition of the Cleator bowlers when the proceedings resumed. Never one for sophisticated measures or mealy-mouthed gestures, the left-hander held his patience until Freuchie were 14 for 3 after 10 overs, at which point he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. The next ten overs yielded 48 runs, and the ten after that 65, as Cowan illuminated the darkness and cheered up the shivering masses on the sidelines. His onslaught lasted a mere 80 balls – and it shouldn’t be forgotten that he had been a paradigm of studied stoicism at the outset – but, by the time he was eventually caught on the mid-wicket boundary, his swinging in the rain had brought him 94 priceless runs, including six 4s and as many 6s, during a partnership of 132 with Andy Crichton, which dramatically changed the pattern of the match.
“They made us work hard at the beginning, but if the ball was in the zone, I decided I was going to give it a good smack and the longer the innings progressed, the more I felt in control of things,” said Cowan. “You shouldn’t underestimate Andy’s contribution, because he had walked to the wicket in a crisis, dropped anchor, pushed hard for the singles, and given me plenty of the strike. I was a bit annoyed when I got out, not because I missed out on a hundred, but because I was seeing the ball as big as a melon. Andy kept the momentum going and carried his bat for 57, and although we lost a few quick wickets in the final overs, 180 wasn’t bad in these conditions. It wasn’t great either, but at least we had given ourselves a decent chance in the second half of the contest, and we knew that we had the target on the board and that our bowlers weren’t drenched. ”
None the less, these Cleator performers were no mugs. They toiled in the early stages of their reply, with the ubiquitous Cowan taking a wicket in his first over, and finishing with two for 10 from his allocation. Yet, unfortunately for the locals, Niven McNaughton failed to find any similar rhythm, found it mission impossible to bowl uphill in the prevailing maelstrom, and was hastily taken off by his skipper after conceding 13 runs in his opening over. That proved the cue for the introduction of Brian Christie, who confirmed his burgeoning reputation with an economical spell, but Andy Crichton’s efforts at spin, amidst squalls out of “Force 10 from Navarone”, were ineffective and, for once, the Mean Machine were in danger of stalling. At the climax of the 28th over, Cleator were 115 for 3, with Jim Cummings in menacing nick, and with the visitors requiring 66 from 72 deliveries, the stage was poised for a feverish finale.
“It might sound as if I’m speaking with the benefit of hindsight, but, regardless of the scoreboard, I always had the notion we would find a saviour throughout the 1985 campaign,” recalled Trewartha. “All our games against the English sides were at home
and that was worth around 20 or 30 runs for starters, and apart from their cricketing ability, there were plenty of confident characters in our side, who never thought about the possibility of defeat. “Hard men” might be the wrong description, but guys like Davie Cowan, Stewart Irvine and Dave Christie knew exactly how to get the best out of themselves, and they weren’t scared of getting their hands dirty.
“There was also another element which can’t be disregarded, where the chance of beating the Sassenachs offered an extra incentive for the likes of The Animals and Geordie Crichton, and the truth was that the Scottish crowds increasingly backed them up. The “Battle of Britain” nature of these tussles definitely added fuel to the fire, particularly once we began to progress in the Village Cup, and it was no longer just about Freuchie, but a bandwagon effect took over. The same thing happens, whether in rugby’s Calcutta Cup, or whenever Scotland and England are pitched against one another in football, and I noticed that sense of nationalism rising as our victories began to stack up. ”
With the prospect of a highly-charged denouement looming, Dave Christie turned to the one person he knew could be relied upon to listen to sage advice and remain sensible. Himself! Disinclined to retreat from the spotlight when the pressure was rising, the veteran bowler backed his own judgment and, although the bedraggled spectators could hardly bear to watch – while those in their cars had switched on their lights, as the evening beckoned and the combatants took a necessary diversion into the Twilight Zone – Christie’s impact was significant, if quixotic.
In his first over, he went for 12 runs, but claimed a Cleator scalp; in the second, he celebrated a double-wicket maiden; and, in the third, he was pelted for 16, as both teams remained neck and neck. Trewartha, meanwhile, snared the menacing Cummings, who was trapped lbw for 60, but these Englishmen were a tenacious bunch and, with four overs remaining, they needed just 18 for victory and Cowan and Trewartha had both finished their work for the day.
It was time to go against the tide, hence the captain’s recall for McNaughton, who had been standing, agitated, forlorn and freezing, since his early problems. “I was cold and wet, but so was everybody else inside the ground and I jumped at the chance to get involved in the action again, because I was worried that I had blown it for Freuchie at the start,” said McNaughton, who passed away during the winter. “It was one of those situations where you are either going to emerge as a hero or an a**e, and I was in my own backyard, so I was determined that I wouldn’t be the man who spoiled it for his club.
“I found it easier to keep my line and length, coming down the slope, and I only conceded four runs from my first over and Dave managed the same, but I was growing a bit apprehensive when they scored four off the first five balls of my last over and had moved to 175 for 7, with seven deliveries left. We all knew it was time for a big push and I ran up, my heart pounding, but with the adrenaline flowing and, lo and behold, I clean bowled Allan McCartney for 9 and I went a wee bit berserk for a minute or so.
“That put the pressure back on Cleator – they needed a run a ball and Dave was a wily old fox in that scenario. Their tail-enders clearly hadn’t been told about the Freuchie fielding, because they went for a suicidal second run and their batsman never had an earthly of making his ground. That effectively sealed their fate, because the skipper wrapped matters up three balls later. But it was a damned close thing, it could have gone either way and everybody was shattered once they came off the pitch.
“There was a decent party in the clubhouse that evening and, the next morning, we began to hear one or two of the locals mentioning the dread words: “Next Stop Lord’s”. But we genuinely ignored the hype, because Dave had told us to focus on playing cricket and ignore the hype and we always took his advice. The village got more and more excited, mind you. But that was understandable and the atmosphere was terrific. ”
Freuchie’s hard-earned success had allowed them to advance to the quarter-finals of the competition, but thanks to the hard-headed philosophy of driven individuals such as Christie, Cowan and Trewartha, there was no fear of the players getting carried away. And, in any case, their adventure was only just beginning.