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Bahrain’s favourite cricketing tourists, the Awali Camels, are at last back from their latest tour, this time of Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset, writes Abu George.
It was a stunning tour; a thorough success with brilliant cricket, brilliant weather and brilliant results.
Two millennia ago, the Romans invaded and conquered this beautiful corner of Ancient Britain. Now, it was the Camels’ turn to claim ‘Veni, vidi, vici’! Where Julius Caesar once walked tall, the Awali Camels strutted their inimitable stuff, beating all opposition and having marvellous fun doing so.
The one difference - while the Romans were never invited back, this team of cheerful cricketers have already been booked in for future visits to every club they have played.
First, it was Oldbury Cricket Club, nestling comfortably on the Severn estuary.
The locals were well prepared for the onslaught and put up a great fight, but in the end were edged by the batting prowess of Matt Rees (100) and George Axtell (94) and four wickets by Guy Parker. Of course, there were 11 heroes on the field, all contributing. If it wasn’t Tom Wooding’s all-round performance, or Haniel Robert’s cool-headedness under pressure, it was the tumbling catch by Gerwyn Caffrey and the athleticism of Fergus Shaw in the vast outfield (leading to a graze or two), also the quiet efficiency of ‘keeper Dave Mason. The sizeable crowd remained after the game well into the balmy evening, while the Camels were entertained by a harmonious Welsh choir. It couldn’t have been a better start to a tour.
On to Thornbury, a club steeped in history, founded by the great WG Grace’s brother, and with its own 300-year-old ‘WG Tree’ inside the boundary. This victory came on the back of curmudgeonly bowling by two Daves: Starkie and Hilton. Mumtaz and Charles Forward chipped in with outstanding catches. Then Mason (34) and Rees (75*) put the game beyond Thornbury’s reach, preparing the way for the final flourish of boundaries from Huw Caffrey.
The next venue was different – the distinguished playing fields of Bristol University.
After two matches played in glorious sunlight, this evening fixture was played in dim conditions that only got dimmer as the Camels chased down 137 in 40 overs – a target that could have been higher but for the tightest of spells from veteran spinner Steve Turner.
Wooding, skippering for the first time, now led from the front. Thanks too, to Graham Hoar, Dave Hilton and Fergus Shaw for guiding the Camels through to win in near darkness with just two balls to spare.
Next, it was off to the rural idyll of Blagdon for fixture number four. A total of 114 in 20 overs was a piece of cake for the strong Camels line-up. However, the pitch was tricky, with variable bounce and pace. The Camels lost six wickets in the chase and were grateful for the consistent Forward and Hoar who both reached 30 before their regulatory retirements. Mumtaz, Hilton and Starkie inched slowly nearer the target, and it was up to batsman of the tour, Rees, to smite the winning runs with two balls to go.
Not only was the fifth game by far the greatest challenge of the tour, it was also played in a completely different setting – the historic city of Bath. The city ground, home to the current leading cricket club in England, Bath CC, provided the perfect backdrop for probably the Camels’ best ever tour performance. That the home side didn’t exceed a daunting 150 in their 20 overs was down to a superb collective effort. To single out Fergus Shaw’s diving catch, or Rees’s two in two balls, or Wooding’s inspired spell of pace bowling, wouldn’t be fair to the exploits of the whole team. Still, 150 needed getting and the Camels were equal to it. Indeed, Charles Forward was in supreme command, crashing a cultured 50 to set them on their way, keeping Camels’ scorer, Kate Fellowes, busily recording fours and sixes and eliciting raucous cheers from the crowds of overseas tourists patrolling the perimeter. Robert, Rees (again), Hilton, Wooding and Hoar chipped in with valuable contributions to bring the Camels home with four balls to spare.
Now the talk on the team train back to Bristol was all about the grand slam of cricket. Could the Camels complete their tour not only unbeaten, but with six victories out of six? Only the knotty issue of Easton in Gordano CC (EiG) stood in their path. Injuries, illness and early departures left the Camels with a bare 11. EiG sensed a possible weakness and rattled up 177 in 30 overs, only losing two wickets. Things started badly for the tourists when Robert feathered an unplayable ball to the ‘keeper in the very first over. Now it was the turn of Mumtaz to step up to the mark and justify his eponymous ‘excellent Camel’ status. With exquisite cuts, drives and pulls the stocky opener guided the Camels home with his best score (79) of the tour.
At the other end, Parker provided solid support with 37 runs, the majority of which came from his trademark reverse swipe. It was fitting that skipper Charles Forward should strike the winning hit with four balls to go.
The Camels were almost too exhausted to celebrate after six consecutive days of cricket. Bahrain cricket can be proud of the Camels’ achievements. Touring every summer since 1995, the Camels have made friends wherever they go – leaving their trademark Camel in every clubhouse they have ever visited. The Camels can also thank the Axtell family; David, George, Sara, Charlie, Mick and Jem for organising, running and generally keeping the herd of Camels from straying in prep for the tour.
The name ‘Awali Camels’ is remembered in every touring venue and now the debate is – where to next year?