In 1964 Cy Endfield made the film “Zulu”. In this film, a tiny garrison of brave-hearted Welsh soldiers defeat thousands of Zulu warriors at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. This game had many similarities to that story. The Dulwich 7th’s arrived at Wandsworth Common bruised and battered after a number of defeats at the hands of the likes of Burgh Heath, Kingstonian and the Bank of England. President and captain Smith withdrew from the game through injury and it was left to vice-captain Gibson to metaphorically lead his team into a chorus of “Men of Harlech” at the start of the match.
Readers may wonder at some of the more tenuous connections between this match and the film. The Unavoidables arrived with nine players: the Zulus had considerably more than this number batting for them. However, the heroic nature of Dulwich’s victory, is worth noting. Gibson (alias Michael “Don’t throw bloody spears at me” Caine) won the toss and departed from normal practice by electing to bat first. Dulwich’s early batsmen were mediocre. The litany of failure extended down to number five in the batting order: Blench 1, Griffiths 8, Rochford 0, Branch 2 does not suggest a winning total was on the cards. But the Unavoidables had not reckoned with the estimable skills of newcomer Nikhil Lalwani, who proceeded to play an innings of match turning significance. This young man was quick to make his mark on the game with a series of well-timed boundaries, including a six. The fours were especially significant as the outfield was large and had not been recently cut. In fact, it resembled more the savannah lands of Natal (see the above allusion) than a public park in South West London.
The Zulus returned with another wave of attacks and dismissed Rob Webster for four. Dulwich were left apparently bleeding and dying behind leaky sandbags at 54 for 6. Michael Caine entered the fray intent on defying the native hordes. The vice-captain has always prided himself on his ability to bat in a crisis and he and Lalwani wasted no time in wresting the initiative from the Unavoidable warriors. Nevertheless, when Gibson foolishly and unnecessarily ran himself out on 23 with the total still only 115 there was much to be done by the Dulwich tail. They proved more than up to the task: Lalwani continued to flay the Zulus to all parts of the valley and ended with what turned out to be an invaluable 52. A great start from a clearly very talented cricketer. Pylas (James Booth) made four singles and then Lalwani was joined by yet another name for the future: William Spencer. This lithe and willowy framed 18 year old essayed some excellent strokes for a classy 10 not out and Dulwich’s innings finished on the not unsatisfactory total of 139 off 34 overs.
An al fresco tea was taken of mini scotch eggs, baby bels and doughnuts, and the Zulus started their counter attack. Webster and Lalwani were both frugal in their opening spells and Webster ultimately dismissed Thornton: lbw for 6. Gilbert arrived at the crease and it was clear that he was a cut above the other warriors. Could M. Caine marshall his slender resources with sufficient acumen to withstand Gilbert’s assault. With each bowler only allowed 7 overs the Captain took a gamble by introducing newcomers Wilson and Spencer to the attack. This proved to be a very effective ploy. Spencer bowled a flawless 7 overs of well-flighted leg spinners and undetectable googlies and returned the excellent figures of 7 overs, 4 maidens, 12 runs and 1 wicket. 16 year old Frank Wilson, at the other end, turned out to be another revelation.
Bowling a brisk medium pace he tied down Gilbert and Webb with equal aplomb. Wilson finally reaped his just deserts by taking 3 wickets in one over including 2 in 2 balls and finishing with figures of 3 for 33 off 6 overs. Pan Pylas caught a very easy catch behind the wicket off Lalwali. The 35 over restriction left Caine/Gibson with something of a problem, however. To whom could he entrust a further 7 overs? The choice was unenviable: should he enlist the aid of the tattooed insurance broker Owen, with his sub-Coneyesque “dibbly-dobblies”? Owen had wasted no time in informing Gibson/Caine that he had taken 4 wickets against the same opposition last year.
To improve the credibility of his case he had even gone to the lengths of carrying in his pocket, his personal plastic bowling marker. This latter ploy had no effect on Gibson: a captain with no susceptibility to such thinly veiled ruses. The other alternative was Gibson himself: a bowler never known for his frugality. “Pie-chucking crap”, is just one of the more printable phrases that have been used to describe Gibson’s unique brand of flighted off-breaks. If Gibson should find himself bowling “a load of ordure” all may be lost. Gilbert was still at the crease and batting with increasing authority. At such times, men of steel grasp the nettle, stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood. Gibson measured out his run and bowled. To everyone’s astonishment his first over turned out to be a maiden and his second conceded only 1 run. At which point, a loud and audible wail was heard from the watching teammates of Gilbert and Webb: “We have to score 140 to win chaps” was the refrain. But all was lost for the Unavoidables: increasingly desperate and improbable singles were run and it was from one of these that Gilbert was run out thanks to a brilliant throw by Branch at deep mid-on, which hit the wicket direct and left the hapless Gilbert stranded.
The troops of Dulwich closed in for the coup de grace, which was not long in coming as Wilson and Webster did their work in dismissing the last four batsmen for 1 run. Dulwich triumphant. The Unavoidables were left to bury the dead amidst the carnage of Wandsworth Common as empty mini egg cartons were blown away by the four winds. Both teams repaired to the adjacent County Arms where pints of Young’s Waggle Dance were quaffed with great relish in the pub garden.