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Celebrity Cricket - A grand occasion @ Fenner's

A T20 fixture played at the Fenner’s - home of Cambridge University cricket – on Sunday 8th July in sweltering heat with the temperature soaring above 30 degrees, was a day to remember. The venue that first hosted a first-class match, way back in 1846, was an appropriate choice for a match with a worthwhile cause. The two line-ups – Cambridge University President’s XI (led by Zafar Ansari) and the Royal Anglian Regiment’s XI (led by Lt. Col Bruce Weston) – took the field to raise funds for the Royal Anglian Regiment Benevolent Charity, to mark the centenary of the end of World War I (1914-18).

The match kicked off after lunch, served in the pavilion, to VIP guests that featured three Cambridge Blues - Henry Blofeld, Majid Khan and Roger Knight.

A crowd, estimated close to 600, witnessed a punishing hundred posted by Darshan Chohan, a left-handed opening batsman, who was severe on anything short. He carried his bat with an unbeaten 107 (20 fours) to his name, dominating Cambridge University President’s XI total of 182 for 4. He shared a 96-run 3rd-wicket stand with Rob Andrew (36). Rob, better known as an England Rugby International, is now CEO at Sussex CCC. In reply, Royal Anglian Regiment’s XI, helped by some friendly bowling, still could only muster 114 for 9 in their allotted 20 overs, thus losing the match by 68 runs. Win or lose simply did not matter, on the day, as both teams played the game in a spirit, appropriate to the occasion.

Seventy-eight-year old, Henry Blofeld, having retired in 2017, after a distinguished broadcasting career in BBC Test Match Special team, arrived at the ground alongside former Pakistan great Majid Khan, in a bus hired for the occasion and greeted by Cambridgeshire Army Cadet Corps of Drums. Dressed informally in what could be described as bold and jazzy, Henry sat himself in the commentary box and delighted, all present at Fenner’s, with his wit and humour. The highlight of his brief playing career being an innings of 138 for Cambridge against MCC at Lord’s – a warm up match prior to the 1959 University fixture against Oxford. He signed away his latest book – Over and Out – My Innings of a Lifetime with Test Match Special - both during the lunch and after the match.

Majid Khan, the chief guest on the occasion, having flown in from Islamabad the previous day with wife Seema, remained a star attraction on the day. The affable and charming couple, mixed and chatted with the crowd whilst circling the boundary line, pulled in specifically for T20 demands. Majid’s host, in Cambridge, Warren Dosanjh, a local entrepreneur, introduced to his guest, a fellow traveller and friend John Murchington, who back in 1966 cycled from U.K. to Istanbul and following a breakdown in his journey was back on his bike whilst in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. On this particularly hot afternoon, the best vantage point to enjoy the proceedings seemed to be under the shade of the trees, with a cool breeze blowing across the ground, also favoured by Majid and Seema.

Over the weekend, Majid shared his memories of the three year-stay (1970-72) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and happily obliged for photographs and autographs. In his post-match speech, he mentioned following in the footsteps of his father Jahangir Khan (Cambridge Blue 1933-36) and the supportive role of Cyril Coote, the legendary groundsman at the Fenner’s.

A gentleman cricketer and one of the most sublime batsmen to represent Pakistan, Majid retains that unmistakable trademark air of calmness. A proud and introvert individual, who refused to compromise, on high moral grounds, both on and off the field. His stature in world cricket, both as a player and administrator, has few equals. Majid enjoyed a considerable following and the news of his being at the crease would see students, rushing to the Fenner’s to catch a glimpse of ‘an artist at work’. Since the end of World War II in 1945, no less than ten Cambridge Blues – Norman Yardley, George Mann, Freddie Brown, Peter May, Ted Dexter, Tony Lewis, Mike Brearley, Majid Khan, Deryck Murray and Mike Atherton – have had the honour to  lead their country.

Amongst the crowd, one spotted Derek Pringle, Cambridge and England all-rounder, now a reputable journalist. A distinguished gentleman, Taher Memon, who played a pioneering role whilst managing sponsorship deals on behalf of Pakistan Tobacco Company with Pakistan cricket Board that remarkably lasted for over two decades, too had arrived to enjoy the cricketing atmosphere at the Fenner’s. Taher’s timely arrival on the scene in 1977, with the world of cricket in turmoil, courtesy of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, provided Pakistan cricket a much-needed financial impetus, for it to stay at par with other Test playing nations.

Lee de Gramont, a rather young looking Head groundsman, did a splendid job in producing a pitch that rewarded the efforts of both batsmen and bowlers. Lee, in his fourth year at the Fenner’s, was up against it, for the last drop of rain at the ground had been on 9th  May, with now hardly a speck of green grass in a hay-coloured outfield. Cambridge and a number of counties in the south of England are in the middle of an extremely dry spell of weather, having drawn comparison with the summer of 1976, that marked the beginning of the two-decade-long domination of West Indies cricket. The footage, particularly of the final Test at the Oval in late August, with the all-time greats, Vivian Richards and Michael Holding, at the pinnacle of their powers, remains afresh in one’s mind.

The tireless efforts of the management team that included Vanessa Burkitt of Catherine Jones of Cambridge and Warren Dosanjh, ever since the idea was floated in October 2017, bore fruit with great weather and a sizeable crowd, not witnessed at the Fenner’s for a long time. The news of the proceeds exceeding £10,000 for The Royal Anglian Regiment Benevolent Charity, makes it all worthwhile.

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