Late yesterday afternoon I phoned a friend in the cricket club on some trivial matter and found him in distress. He’d just been informed that one of our teammates had collapsed while playing for the Hertfordshire Over 50s side. I called their captain, and was told the situation wasn’t good. A short while later, another call gave me the bad news. Dave Allen had died. He was just 49.
Dave joined Preston Cricket Club in 2007. Previously, he had played for many years for Ickleford Cricketers, and when they sadly folded he elected to make the “Field of Dreams” – and the Red Lion – his home ground. Of course, having played against Dave many times, we were delighted he chose us. Dave was a feisty, combative, highly competitive and skilled medium-pace bowler. Until the last couple of seasons he was the regular opening bowler for the Saturday 2nd XI in the Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League, and for many seasons also a regular for the Sunday 1st XI in the Chess Valley league. Latterly, he had dropped down to the Saturday 3rd XI and Sunday 2nds, and found himself once again playing regularly at the Cricketers’ old home at Hitchin Boys School. Statistics are dry and ours are very incomplete for recent years, but in 2007 he took 78 wickets, 2008 at least 62, and 2009 72 wickets. Last year, he took 42 league wickets in 16 3rd XI games at an average of just 14. His best figures, 7 for 41, came in 2008 for the Saturday 2nd XI at Southgate Compton on one of the few occasions we beat those arch rivals at their notorious ground.
Dave was an extraordinarily dedicated cricketer. He played almost every Saturday and Sunday of the season, midweek too if he could, and would even come back early from his annual holiday to play. He loved to bowl, and bowl, and bowl….. woe betide the captain who tried to take him off. Dave always believed a wicket was just around the corner, that he had the batsman’s measure and needed just one more over to prove it. His nickname, “Mad Dog”, was bestowed in his Cricketers days, and was well earned. Unafraid to speak his mind to his own captain or players, he was also not unknown to engage with an opponent if he felt cheated of an edged catch or lbw. But no matter how frustrated he might have been at the end of a game, brashly announcing that he might take the next weekend off, you knew he wouldn’t. He was always back, trying his heart out. And we loved him for it. “Top Dogging!” we’d cry from the slips as another leg cutter slipped past the outside edge, before disintegrating into fits of giggles.
Until he dropped down to the Saturday 3rds, I played virtually every match (Sat 2s, Sun 1s and now Sun 2s) with Dave. At times, in 2007 and 2008, it seemed as if the two of us were carrying the 2nd XI, me with the bat and Dave with the ball. Some seasons or games I was Dave’s captain, and can vouch for the difficulty and the courage needed to tell him it was time to let someone else bowl. Dave could also display little interest in fielding, and would wander around at fine leg if you didn’t keep a beady eye on him. But then he would take a sharp catch from nowhere. Only two weeks ago he snaffled a hard drive at short cover for the Sunday 2s at Boxmoor, and grabbed a slip catch against Hoddesdon 3s off Finlay Connah. Like any good tail ender, Dave loved to have a bash with the bat. Sometimes this would be utterly inappropriate, the concept of batting for a draw seeming to not register. On other occasions his swashbuckling would add vital runs at the end of an innings and dishearten the opposition (eg Flamstead 2012). In the recent Boxmoor game I just mentioned he came in at number 11 and was having great fun until yours truly at the other end chipped up a catch to spoil things.
When you play club cricket, you find yourself in the company of the same people for anywhere from 7 to 12 hours, depending on how early the departure for an away game or how late the celebrations in the Red Lion. Inevitably, then, you get to know your teammates and make strong friendships. Dave was a great friend and companion to many of us. I have spent countless hours walking around the boundary, sitting in the dressing room or at a table in the Lion discussing cricket, more cricket, and other things, including sharing our troubles and hopes, jokes and anecdotes. In particular, it was always reassuring to bat when he was umpiring. Not only was Dave a strong, knowledgable, fair and trustworthy umpire (and he loved to do it), but he knew my batting, and often a quiet word at the non-strikers end would help to settle my nerves, or point out a technical issue I might be having.
Perhaps appropriately, my last memory of Dave will be the catch I dropped at first slip off him on Sunday. Typically, he quickly turned on his heels and marched stiffly back to his mark, visibly suppressing the “Mad Dog” within.
Now, just like that, he’s gone. And I will miss him terribly.