The England tour of India you did not know about: the Over-60s World Cup

England over 60s batsmen enter the pitch
England will be aiming to capture the Over-60s World Cup in India next month - England Over 60s Cricket

Ben Stokes’s players will not be the only England cricket team hauled over the red-hot coals of end-of-season Indian pitches in the coming weeks.

England are also playing in the Over-60s World Cup in February in Chennai. The one difference is that Stokes’s players, win or lose, will be well remunerated. England Over-60s – never mind a match fee – have to pay for their own flights and accommodation.

And the World Cup schedule will be just as taxing as the five-Test series which starts on Thursday. Stokes’s players have an eight-day break between the second and third Tests, when some will rest in the UAE, and another eight-day break between the fourth and fifth – though the end will not come soon enough if they are in the grip of the four top-class spinners India have picked in their Test squad.

England Over-60s are going to be no less busy if they reach the World Cup final: two warm-up games, one of them against India, and six qualifying games, hopefully to be followed by two “cross-over matches”: the country that finishes top of Group A will play the team finishing second in Group B, and vice versa, with the two winners contesting the final. All that in 21 days, in the heat and humidity of Chennai, with 9am starts and the grounds spread around the city and its outskirts, up to 90 minutes’ drive from the centre. All for nothing financially.

No wonder the captain, Richard Merriman, says: “We’ve got seven specialist spinners in our squad of 18, and if we’re going to win this World Cup, we won’t win it as individuals or as a team but as a squad.”

Australia over-60 and England over-60 captains stand for a photo in blazers and whites
England over-60s won the 'Grey Ashes' in 2023 - England Over 60s Cricket

Merriman was opening the batting for Dorset in that immortal match at Sherborne in 1988, when their artful captain Reverend Andrew Wingfield Digby did not want Cheshire to shut up shop after slipping to 49 for six in pursuit of a target of 201 (a four-innings match). So he brought on an all-rounder called Graeme Calway, and instructed him to begin his over with 13 consecutive wides to get Cheshire back in the chase. Calway’s bowling analysis: 1-0-60-0. Dorset won by 18 runs. Calway emigrated to South Africa.

“I had a dabble with county cricket at Leicestershire and Derbyshire but never made it,” Merriman, now 65, remembers, “so I became a teacher and played Minor Counties for Dorset and Cambridgeshire.”

It was through knowing “Wingers” [Wingfield Digby] that Merriman toured India with Christians in Sport back in 1990, playing against Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar. The only other England Over-60s player with much experience of India is Mel Hussain, the elder brother of the former Test captain Nasser. Their family grew up in Chennai, and spent time at the Madras Cricket Club where their father was a member. Mel is not only a batsman but one of the seven spinners, firing in flat off-breaks.

While Merriman concentrates on strategy and tactics, his vice-captain Ed Gordon-Lennox, who hits a long ball, will concentrate on the people side: and there will have to be a lot of selecting and liaising done when England Over-60s play their first four qualifiers in the space of five days.

Eleven generations ago, the forefather of Ed Gordon-Lennox was the fourth Duke of Richmond and probably the finest cricketer in England in the 1790s, and in Ireland too. As captain of The Garrison in a game in Dublin in 1792, the Duke “astonished the spectators with a display of agility and skill” when batting, according to a local newspaper, and his “subtlety” in bowling was also noted: he clean-bowled a man who went to become the most successful of all international captains, the Duke of Wellington (won 49 battles, lost one), for five.

Gordon-Lennox’s grandfather, “Lord B” (short for Bernard Gordon-Lennox) played a first-class game for Middlesex in 1903. He was killed in Belgium in the Great War, as early as November 1914.

Paul Farbrace, the former England coach and now director of cricket at Sussex, has been advising the Over-60s. “I’ve known Farby since he was about 14,” Merriman said. “He inspires, he motivates, and it has been great to call on him for telling us about switch-hits and reverse-sweeps, on the basis that you can teach old dogs new tricks.”

Richard Merriman, England over 60's cricket captain listens to coach Paul Farbrace at Loughbrough
Richard Merriman takes advice from former England coach Paul Farbrace - England Over 60s Cricket

Gordon-Lennox also enthuses about Farbrace but adds: “I played one reverse-sweep last summer, against Worcestershire at Frocester, and got bowled. I’ll stick to ordinary sweeping, and using the crease, and running down the track.”

Having to pay your flight and accommodation, albeit with some sponsorship, tends to deter former professionals – who might also sense the amount of hard yards which are going to be involved next month (England’s games can be seen on YouTube). But Zimbabwe Over-60s have a former Test player in Eddo Brandes, the chicken-farmer who plucked England’s feathers with a hat-trick on their ill-fated tour of 1996-97.

It is hard though not to think that the fully acclimatised home side, India, having missed out on a World Cup last autumn, will miss out on another.

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