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Lord Bonkers’ Diary 331
14 February 2009 (15:21:52)

Lord Bonkers’ XI

When frost rimes the trees outside my Library window, I cheer myself by thinking of summers past and summers yet to come. Over the seasons many notable cricketers have turned out for me, and I shall devote a few pages of my diary to choosing the finest Lord Bonkers’ XI of all. Modesty dictates that I should not include myself, of course, but in reality I should be captaining the team, batting at number four and turning my googlies.

Let me tarry no longer: here is my selection...

Len Hutton

The inadequacy of his report into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly (it was forensically dissected by my old friend Norman Baker in his recent masterpiece) should not blind us to Hutton’s excellence as an opening bat. I recall a match against the Independent Labour Party at Worksop when, aided by a fighting 15 from Ray Alan and Lord Charles, he saw us home on a ‘sticky dog’. Seeing him stride to the wicket gave one much the same feeling of security that one feels nowadays when Vince “High Voltage” Cable gets up to speak in the House.

C. B. Fry

Sometime Liberal candidate for Brighton, Banbury and Oxford, “C. B.” was a brilliant scholar and an accomplished performer in every variety of outdoor sport. He captained England at cricket and we lost not a single test match whilst he was at the helm. He played rugger for Blackheath and the Barbarians, and association football for England against Ireland in 1901, as well as playing for Southampton in the F. A. Cup Final. He also set a world long jump record that stood for 21 years. Fry was once offered the throne of Albania, and had he succeeded in convincing von Ribbentrop that the Germans should take up cricket then the history of the twentieth century would have been different indeed. In short, Fry was the second most remarkable Englishman of his generation.

David Steel

With his grey hair, glasses and catchphrase “Don’t panic, Mr Greig,” Steel raised our nation’s morale during its darkest hour – I refer, of course, to our humiliation at the hands of the Australian fast bowlers Lillee and Thomson. Steel’s obdurate forward defensive prod became a symbol of national resistance: we had lost our steam trains, seen our currency defiled, but we were not going to let them get another wicket before lunch. I shall pass over Steel’s subsequent leadership of the Liberal Party. Though I was one of the first to spot his potential as a batsman, it never occurred to me to invite him to captain the team.

Violent Bonham-Carter

Something of a rough diamond, Violent was always an innovator in batting technique. One hears much nowadays of ‘pinch hitting’ and of Kevin Pietersen’s ‘reverse sweep’, but how many of today’s young people know that both were invented by my second selection? If a short leg fielder came too close or the umpire looked poised to give her out lbw to one that had straightened a bit, then they were likely to find themselves on the business end of one of these novel approaches. As Violent herself would have put it, she made the cricket pitch ‘her manor’ and anyone who tried to take her wicket was ‘out of order’ and ‘needed a slap’.

Mike Brearley

Quite where to bat him was always a puzzle – he once came in at number ten with two of the three Beverley Sisters at nine and eleven – but there was no doubting that he was Terribly Clever and quite the best captain England have had. These days he works as a psychotherapist and is well versed in the theories of Clement Freud.

L. T. Hobhouse

I thought of Graeme Pollock, Everton Weekes and John Farquhar Munro, but ultimately there was only one choice to complete my middle order.

Paul Keetch

A good wicketkeeper is the heart of any cricket team and I am always on the lookout for a good prospect. When he was first elected for Hereford I asked some people I knew there: “Can Keetch catch?” When I was answered in the affirmative, I knew I had my man.

Nancy Seear

Every side needs a seamer who is prepared to bowl into the wind or take a spell when the ball is not swinging or the opposition is on top. Nancy was never afraid of hard yakka.

Simon Hughes

There are many clergymen who have achieved eminence at cricket; one thinks of David Sheppard, Andrew Wingfield Digby and Archbishop Makarios. Funnily enough, the Revd Hughes is not one of them. When I appointed him to the living at St Asquith’s upon the assumption that he was the bright eyed, bushy tailed Middlesex opening bowler who had performed well for me on many occasions. He turned out to be quite another chap. I have never held this against the Revd, but it is the other fellow who makes my XI.

Phil Willis

With his fuzzy hair and 100mph balls, Philip Dylan Willis was a fearsome sight for any batsman and later became MP for Harrogate and Liberal Democrat education spokesman. After a particularly destructive performance, I once suggested that I should fetch him a cup of tea whilst he put his feet up on the pavilion balcony and watched our batsmen knock off their meagre target. It was typical of the man that he should decline my offer on the grounds that this would constitute a “two-tier service”.

Dobbin

Though his chief contribution was made pulling the heavy roller, Dobbin was always happy to turn out if we were a man short and once played out the final over to secure a draw against Mebyon Kernow at St Austell.

So there you have it: Lord Bonkers’ finest XI. Let us not, however, forget the contribution that many make from beyond the boundary rope. I think, in particular, of Meadowcroft’s sterling work as groundsman, of Miss Fearn’s delicious teas and of the Well-Behaved Orphans who swarm up and down the ladders all day to work the scoreboard. With their help, and that of our trusty scorer Mr Bernie Madoff, I have no doubt that this team would be hard indeed to beat.

Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder

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