Batting and bowling for Iran's workers

Ben Lewis took part in an annual event that has become a key part of the extremely important work done for Workers Fund Iran

Around 40 people attended last Sunday’s third annual solidarity cricket match between Hands Off the People of Iran and the Labour Representation Committee - and raised well over £500 for Workers Fund Iran in the process.

Bathed in sunshine, the picturesque corner of leafy Islington that was Wray Crescent pitch made for a wonderful cricketing environment. But many were unfamiliar with the geography of north London and thus arrived slightly late. However, both teams were eventually able to field 12 (!) players each. After a quick inspection of the pitch, the umpires (Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson and Graham Bash of Labour Briefing) led the two captains out and after winning the toss LRC skipper Sean McNeill opted to make the most of the sun and bat.

With the pressure on after losing the first two matches to Hopi, things could have hardly started any worse for the LRC. There were more ducks in the LRC batting order than in the nearby pond: skipper McNeill was caught and bowled by Hopi regular Rob ‘the shrew’; Miles Barter was brilliantly run out by wicketkeeper Steven Evans; Jim Gleeson chipped up a catch to yours truly at cover and Conor Ryan was clean-bowled by the lanky left arm seam bowling of Luke McKenzie. All went without troubling the scorers. The LRC 11 were four wickets down without reaching double figures. It looked as if it would be game over before the spectators had finished their first beer.

True to form, the Hopi slip cordon, led by the particularly vociferous Nick Wrack (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition steering committee), did not miss an opportunity to remind the LRC batsmen of the trouble they were in! But the underdogs gradually played themselves back into the game. LRC joint national secretary Andrew Fisher patiently absorbed the nippy Hopi bowling and at the other end Rory Macqueen steadily accumulated runs in what was a stoic and intelligent innings.

When comrade Fisher fell, others offered further resistance: not least Labour Party Greater London Authority member Murad Qureshi - and Graham Bash, who by this time had discarded his umpire’s jacket and padded up. Some nice stroke play belied the lack of match practice of this former Leyton boys opener (circa 1960!). But when Rory Macqueen chipped up a catch to midwicket for 46, the LRC innings finally came to a close. Tantalisingly short of a much-deserved half century, comrade Macqueen’s knock constituted more than half of the LRC’s total of 83. The other big scorer was a certain ‘E Xtras’ - runs garnered by the LRC thanks to Hopi’s occasionally wayward bowling.

After enjoying an (overwhelmingly liquid) lunch, Hopi openers Gav Jacobsen and Tristan Kennedy sought to avoid losing early wickets and to slowly accumulate runs. This they did, pausing only for regular alcoholic refreshments brought out by their team mates.

Maybe it was the beer that undid comrade Kennedy, who was trapped leg before wicket by the LRC’s Macqueen soon after. In came Nick Wrack. He looked solid, but was then controversially given out caught behind by first-time umpire Liam Conway of Communist Students, who was now standing in for comrade Bash. And after a promising start Steven Evans got a bit over-excited and smashed the bat onto his own stumps off the bowling of LRC newcomer Emily Hilton. Cue tumultuous laughter amongst the crowd and a hint of optimism amongst the LRC fielders.

Hopi had already lost two key players to the demands of wage-slavery and only had 10 batsmen to call on to finish the job. Comrade McNeill rallied his troops: a few more wickets and they could sneak it against the odds. And the momentum continued to swing towards the LRC. Hopi’s key man, comrade Jacobsen, slightly miscued a shot and was brilliantly caught by Andrew Fisher off Macqueen. The score was 55-4 with only five Hopi wickets left. Game on.

To turn up the heat even more, McNeill reintroduced his early bowler, Joe Flynn. But his plan backfired. Perhaps keen to get off the field and enjoy a few more solidarity beverages, new batsman Luke McKenzie was in no mood to hang around. He smashed comrade Flynn to all corners of the ground: three consecutive fours were followed by a sneaky two and then ... two enormous sixes! Twenty-six runs came from those six balls - and it was all over bar the shouting. Hopi came home with five wickets and seven overs to spare. Following his two earlier wickets and an excellent catch, comrade McKenzie’s hitting left nobody in any doubt as to who would claim the man of the match award.

With the sun still shining and the ale still flowing, the players opted to organise a ‘beer match’ after the official proceedings (a ‘just for fun’ encounter where the losing team buys the winners a round). This 10-over ‘slogathon’ saw players from Hopi and the LRC in the two scratch teams, with several spectators joining in as well. This game was a rather closer affair, with my team just falling four short of the total of 52 accumulated by rival captain, comrade Macqueen. Both sides defied the elements - and cricket etiquette - by playing the last two overs in lashing rain.

The weather may have turned grim, but the mood was anything but. The match was played in the usual comradely spirit, and was not lacking in its comedy moments. Old friends were able to mull over the events of the day, and new friendships were forged.

This annual event has become a key part of the extremely important work done for Workers Fund Iran, raising crucial cash for Iranian working class militants operating under extremely difficult conditions. This and other events (like the forthcoming Berlin marathon on September 25) really help to raise the profile of the charity and the important political message it embodies: working class political independence; no to imperialist war and sanctions on Iran; no to the Tehran theocracy.

During the course of the day there was talk of a football tournament jointly organised between Hopi and the LRC: watch this space!

In addition to the £500-plus raised, we are expecting sponsorship donations from trade union branches and leftwing organisations. If you would like to show your support for this excellent initiative, then please get your union branch to donate to Workers Fund Iran or send in a contribution yourself. Email office@hopoi.info for more information.

See you next year! Surely Hopi can’t make it four on the bounce?