The ‘grassroots’ love of the game and Welsh postman

Phil Leeds is a name most of you will never have heard of unless you know another Phil Leeds – not the one playing for Wales in the Over-50s World Cup currently taking place in and around Cape Town. He is devoted to cricket and has been playing all his life, although he and his teammates can’t get onto the field much given the weather in his village.

Phil Leeds is the local postman in the village of Dolgellau in the far north of Wales where, apparently, it rains even more than in the rest of the country. But the weather has never been more than an inconvenient deterrence. Unless the water is above ankle height or the drizzle means visibility between bowler and batsman is problematic, they play on. For the love of the game.

For the next fortnight Phil Leeds is representing his country, and it means a lot to his teammates – and his fellow villagers. It was the inhabitants of Dolgellau, after all, who made this trip possible. “It’s a village of around 1000 people and they desperately wanted Phil to be here, so they paid for him. They sold cup-cakes and did whatever else they could to raise the money to cover his airfare and accommodation and, I promise you, half the village would have been on the edge of their seats watching the game when he bowled and opened the batting,” said teammate Steve Powell. (All 42 matches are being live-streamed on www.pitchvision.com.)

“It means the world to him to be here. Not all of us had the ability to be professional cricketers but most of us love the game to the extent that we have always played, never giving up, and now we’re representing our country in a World Cup. It’s very special.”

Leeds had a mixed day on the field bowling his leg-breaks tidily for a return of 0-38 in six overs before opening the batting and becoming the only player to reach double figures as Wales were dismissed for just 60 in reply to South Africa’s imposing 253-5 in their 45 overs.

“England have 40 or so counties to choose from, we have one – Glamorgan! But we are still a proud cricketing nation and we will compete as hard as we can. There are other countries with better players and we accept that, but we will give everything and bounce back from defeat by a very, very good South African team. They have five former internationals and almost everyone else has played first-class cricket. We don’t have that luxury, but we’re giving it everything. It’s an honour to be here that we don’t take lightly,” said Powell.

William Shakespeare mused well on the ‘cycle of life’ but cricket’s cycle from child to ‘senior’ is interesting. The Over-50 Veterans leagues are, we are told, the fastest growing demographic in the game. Faster even, than Women’s cricket – and certainly faster than any youth category.

The first day of the Evergreen Lifestyle Over-50s World Cup was remarkable for the effort, intensity and passion displayed by the players. A gruelling schedule of seven (or eight) matches in 13 days will take its toll on the players but, for Phil Leeds and many others, it will not matter. Whatever pain they feel will be embellished over a beer in the years to come and they will always be able to say they played in a World Cup.

Australia are the defending champions, Pakistan are red-hot having had a functioning Veterans League for over 20 years and England, likewise, are seriously experienced. They are the favourites. But South Africa are looking remarkably strong. This is a World Cup I’m following with genuine hope rather than the desperation with which I’ve followed most regular World Cups. And at least I know it won’t hurt (as much) if they don’t win it.

Oh, in case you missed the first game on Wednesday, Alan Dawson smashed 69* off 35 balls, captain Dave Callaghan made 52 off 73 and fellow Eastern Caper Dave Duncan made 57 off 79 balls. Rodney Malamba (2-16), Mlumgisi ‘Lefty’ Ngece (2-6) and Bruce ‘Cooky’ Wilson (6-2-9-4) made short work of the Welsh.

 

 

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