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"Yesterday he [Basil] led his cigar-smoking, fatigue-trousered, gum-chewing American team against an R.A.F. side resplendent in white flannels.
"Thirty minutes and several baseball swings later the innings closed for 27. And three occasions were recorded on which batsmen dropped their bats and ran to cover point—which was a baseball reflex but Not Cricket.
"The R.A.F. put on 70 for three and declared. They said it had been a 'jolly good show' and the Americans agreed it had been 'swell fun.'
"But the silence had them unsettled. Said a sergeant from Arkansas: 'This "Howzat" business is what I like best.' "
During the next weeks Bushey Park's cricket team was invited to play all over Surrey and Middlesex. Usually they took along softball equipment and, after the novelty of Americans fumbling at cricket palled, they would hand out their bats and gloves and play the cricketers a few innings of softball, which is enough like the British children's game of "rounders" so that the sides became evenly matched. All this was good for Anglo-American relations, as well as achieving the intended goal, providing good stories to edge out bad ones. Several weeks after our first game England's leading newspaper cartoonist, Giles of the Daily Express, drew a typical English village cricket pitch being invaded by an American Air Force baseball team. And in July BBC-TV sent cameras out to Bushey Park for our return game with Uxbridge.
This time our men remembered not to drop their bats and this time the R.A.F. team did not have to play in slow motion. One of our batsmen, Al Negrete, actually scored 45 runs before being put out, which, if not exactly test match stuff, was not bad for an American who had been playing the game only a month. Writing about this in our own newspaper, the UK Eagle, I quoted Lieutenant Bell: "We have a long way to go before we can play test matches. But if we had two complete teams and more practice sessions, I think we could give any regular cricket team a good match." I called Bushey Park's players the "top American cricket outfit in England," the safest of assertions.
In fact, the R.A.F. beat us by only 111 to 97—thanks, it must be admitted, to our bowler, Airman Cummings from the U.S.A.F. hospital at Northwick Park, North London. Cummings, a black, fascinated the BBC cameraman. Instead of winding up and tying himself into a knot like a baseball pitcher, he raced forward with the ball and hurled it overhand, straight-armed, in the correct cricket manner. This startled the first R.A.F. batsman who swung, missed and heard the wicket fall. Cummings then bowled out the next two batsmen. In cricket, I noted down for my article, they call this a "hat trick."
After the game the British spectators and pressmen crowded around our hero. Had he ever played the game before? Cummings shifted from foot to foot, then finally admitted that he had. "Much?" somebody asked. Cummings looked at me, and I nodded. Yes, he admitted. Rather a lot. "Who for?" somebody asked. Cummings again looked at me, and again I nodded. "I'm from the West Indies," he said. "I used to bowl for a pro team that played demonstration matches all over the States."
By the time my own tour of duty in the Air Force ended two months later, the great American cricket team was no more. The enthusiasm of one bowler and one public relations-minded lieutenant had not been enough to keep it going. But if our exploits on the cricket pitch were forgotten, also forgotten were our airmen's conquests on the street corners of Kingston and Teddington and Hampton Wick.