By Joe Cavanagh

The Stragglers are rightly proud of a splendid reputation for tours of quality; among the many and varied destinations over the years the club has toured the Oxford colleges, the Cambridge colleges, the West Country, Holland, Denmark, Berlin, Hong Kong, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Cyprus, Malta, the Algarve, and India twice in recent history.  After a couple of false starts in the last handful of years the committee resolved to get back into the touring habit in 2018 by means of a well-planned and not too ambitious tour of South West France.

With the intent having been set, and with superb local advice and support from Wynford Hicks, John Ayling and Ian Brown in France, Ian Perry set about the administrative and logistic detail with great enthusiasm.  The scheme involved a baggage train (aka tour minibus) setting out from England; a hard core, flying easyjet; some ‘free runners’ making their way in private cars, with wives, and spending a little more time in France; the Suckling Supporters Club, in their droves; and, not least, Vinny ‘Ted Simon’ O’Neill riding in on his Triumph.

Thus by the evening of Thursday 30 August the following tour party had assembled ‘somewhere’ in SW France:

  • Joe Cavanagh
  • Tim Lerwill
  • Tom Calder
  • Will Russell
  • Tony Hooper
  • Will Blackhurst
  • Matt Suckling
  • James Melhorn
  • Ian Perry
  • Vinny O’Neill (candidate)
  • Ben Gunn (guest/candidate
  • Nick Hadcock
  • Billy King-Harman

We checked in to our excellent accommodation at Hostellerie du Perigord in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne and then set about a most agreeable, cheap and cheerful pizza.

After a swim in the Hostellerie pool on the morning of Friday 31 August and a splendid breakfast we set off for our all-day game against the “SW France XI” at St Aulaye CC. Where after setting a solid platform pre-lunch; the Stragglers managed an England style collapse from 111-3 to 175 all out. Despite some gallant work with the ball and in the field, it was not enough to prevent defeat by 5 wickets. A full report and the scorecards can be found in the Match Reports section of the website. 

After presentations and a few beers on the outfield after the game, we returned to our accommodation at Hostellerie du Perigord for our tour dinner, with wives and a few guests who had helped us organise the tour.  Al fresco, with great company, and all resplendent in smart tour ties, it was a most enjoyable evening.

After another swim on the morning of Saturday 1 September, under completely clear blue skies, and a good breakfast for the whole tour party, we set off south on a beautiful drive over the rolling hills typical of the area, past many huge fields of sunflowers, vineyards, and some forest, towards the Eymet area and our accommodation at Gites La Colombiere which was to be Stragglers’ HQ for the next two nights.  Checked in and with rooms bagsied and overnight bags dropped off, we drove on towards Damazan and our match against Damazan CC.  We arrived in time to enjoy our sandwich lunch while admiring the well-kept Damazan ground, with its good outfield, sightscreens, scorebox, and three charming small wooden pavilions.

The game was a close run thing, however despite  Matt Suckling scoring the first Straggler 50 of the tour and some penetrative bowling from Messrs Hooper and Lerwill in particular, Damazan emerged the victors by two wickets. A full report and scorecard can be found in the Match Reports section. After presentations and beers, we were treated by the Damazan CC skipper and his wife to an excellent curry supper on the outfield,  as dusk fell, wandered back towards Gites La Colombiere, weary now from two days of cricket in superb weather.

After yet another morning swim on Sunday 2 September, and another leisurely breakfast, we set off for a pre-match “net” at the nearby Chateau Lestevenie, kept by Humphrey and Sue Temperley, where we enjoyed a charming, most informative vineyard tour and tasting, with some delicious wines tried and later ordered, the tour minibus and private cars well loaded for the return journey to the UK.  Suitably loosened up, we then set off for Eymet, for our fixture there against Eymet CC. Where the Stragglers endured a warm reception: First, thanks to the hosts’ number four batsman who blasted an unbeaten double century (206 not out off just 84 balls). A full report is in the Match Reports section.  but more welcoming for the bowlers, a post match beer or two, before returning to Gites La Colombiere for our end of tour barbecue laid on by our host Richard.  This was soon demolished, and with beer and wine flowing nicely, we “set the world to rights” (or exchanged some views at least on the strengths and weaknesses of Stragglers of Asia cricket).  We said our goodbyes that evening, as the exfil from SW France was starting for some as early as 4am the following morning (alarm clocks set for “5 minutes before” naturellement).

Travelling back we reflected on a most stimulating and enjoyable tour, with particular memories of Wynford, John, and Ian Brown’s excellent and timely advice; Ian Perry’s (and Hannah’s) great work to tie down and deliver an actual plan; the loyal, patient support of the travelling wives and the Suckling family and friends; our president filming proceedings from the boundary, and sometimes inside; the variable but generally trustworthy artificial tracks; the bouncy, plasticised match balls preferred by the local teams; the hard, ‘no fear’ cricket played by our opposition, exemplified by Mohammed Adnan’s double hundred and brace of splendid catches; our own performances, notably the batting of Suckling, Calder, Hooper, and Russell, the bowling of Hooper, Lerwill, Blackhurst, Calder, and King-Harman, and catches taken by Hooper, Calder, Suckling and King-Harman, not to forget other highlights such as Perry’s first-ball 6…  Welcome also were the memories of time on the outfield with a beer or two after every game, not least for the positive, constructive thought and evident enthusiasm for ideas for future tours and the future of the club.

After a hiatus of more than 10 years, the Stragglers have regained their appetite for touring. Hopefully this will continue and it very much remains the plan to mount a full club tour back to our roots in India  2025; While that is still some way off, it is never too early for thoughts on planning such a tour to mark what will be the Club’s centenary.