It all began 11 years ago in Battrick Season 18.
Both King Whamo and Gloucester Gipsies had just won their respective First Class leagues with neither team losing a single match. They were about to compete against one another in the inaugural WhamGip Festival (now King Gips Bowl – http://whamgip.co.uk). There was a special bond between the two teams, run by former school friends Baker and Dinho … a friendly yet competitive rivalry. They were to congratulate each other and celebrate together during the festival alongside the two key legends of each club who had both played big parts in their teams’ successes that year, George Grewcock (GG) and Syed Burki. They too had a special bond, one which would later become tested…
Indika was born in Sri Lanka, to Sri Lankan parents who moved over after his father won a 10 year contract with shipping merchants Jamaica Steel when ‘Prince Visv’ was just 6. The nickname, given to him by the locals, was of course reference to West Indian legend King Viv.
Greg meanwhile was nephew of GG, although they were practically father and son. GG’s brother Gordon had gone AWOL when Greg was seven. It was all too much for his mother who left to join a hippy commune in Nepal and so Greg went to live with uncle GG.
The disappearance of his brother and the arrival of Greg as a surrogate son in GG’s life had made the great man think about his own life. He was now 32 and knew he didn’t have a great deal of cricket left in him. What would he do after this?
Himself and Burki would spend many a summer’s day (and many long summer nights for that matter) pondering over everything from life’s finer attributes to the stars and beyond. They were so often seen together chuntering away that they became know collectively as ‘the philosophers’.
Naturally at this point those discussions became more about their futures after cricket.
They’d come up with many great plans (too many to go over now, though the Monkey Tennis Institute must get a quick mention) but in the end it was one born from Burki’s association with Courtney Walsh that grew in to reality.
Having always played on opposing teams, one of GG and Syed’s plans had been to set up a new club in which they could grow old together. The idea of standing and muttering all day long as keeper and first slip really appealed.
However, they didn’t want to tread on the toes of their current clubs, the ones whose history they’d respectively played more of a part than anyone else to forge. So Burki contacted his pal Courtney and established links to set up in Jamaica.
The idea of a club in Jamaica would be perfect: Not only could they grow old together on the field, but they could do so beside the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean.
But it was their ambitions that were to get the better of them. As soon as plans started to become a reality their competitive nature kicked in and one night after many red stripes and rum, GG proposed to Syed that they set up a club each and make a lifelong race to see which club could first become crowned King of the Windies.
Burki had duly obliged but it wasn’t until a week later when Mrs Burki found a scrumpled up napkin in the pocket of his whites in the wash bag that things were realised.
Obviously too inebriated on the night to remember the next day, they had wisely, though almost ineligibly scribbled down a copy each of the details of the proposal.
The night had been the curtain call of the highly successful first WhamGip Festival. Burki had the day before come in at number 7 to hit a masterful 45 from 26 balls in capturing victory from the jaws of defeat with a ball to spare in the BT20 game King Whamo vs Gloucester Gipsies. The following day GG had shown similar panache in rolling back the years with a classy 36 from 30 in the OD game, also from number 7 Gloucester Gipsies vs King Whamo. Reason indeed for both to celebrate so wildly.
Apparently GG’s napkin had gone in the wash with his whites, never to return, but thanks to the eagle eye of Mrs Burki a key cornerstone in history was created. At all available moments between matches that following season both players were jetting to the Caribbean to get plans underway.
Realising early that all the to-and-froing would be no good for the wives and kids, and with their futures set in the Windies, the first thing they did was to move the families over and find the kids decent schools. At this point a 9 year old Greg Grewcock enrolled at Jamaica’s Excelsior Junior School where a mutual love of cricket saw him and fellow foreign kid Indika forge a lasting friendship.
The boys spent almost every waking hour that wasn’t spent in school playing cricket on the local beaches and trackyards. They both loved to bowl. Greg because he’d grown up giving his uncle knock downs and thus become accustomed to turning the arm over, and Indika because he had a bit of phobia of facing up to the ball himself. It wouldn’t be uncommon for him to run and jump in the sea straight after he’d got out in order to soak out the little wet patch he’d involuntarily created upon taking guard.
They’d go on hikes, each armed with a ball, selecting milestones (or 22-yard stones!) to bowl at. The closest each time would get to choose the next target.
With the help of their parent clubs in England, it only took GG and Burki 2 seasons to get their respective clubs set up with basic grounds and squads of 14. Each club, now effectively franchises of their English parents, duly opened on the same day on the 1st of February 2012 (season 21).
By this time, both GG and Burki, still both playing competitively in England, were so tired from 2 years of solid hard work that they decided that while the new clubs would be their babies they could not commit to playing in them. Indeed, GG announced his retirement from Whamo’s FC games just 3 weeks later. Still, the families were settled and the two presided over the running of the clubs.
From this point young Greg Grewcock, often now referred to as GGJ (GG Junior), got to practice at some real facilities against boys 4 and 5 years his elder. Naturally Visv partnered him and the two grew up with the privilege that could set them on their way to future stardom.
However, a year before the legal age of signing on for a club (17) Visv returned to Sri Lanka. His father’s contract was up and he had new work back in his homeland. It was an extremely sad day for the boys who had become inseparable for the previous 7 years. But GGJ had a lot to look forward to: A year later he could officially sign his first professional contract.
Despite being nurtured predominantly by King Havit in the West Indies, it was always made clear by GG that his nephew would return to England and play for parent club King Whamo when he reached 17.
GG knew best. He wanted to give his nephew the best chance possible. Although sentimentality would have had it that GGJ make his debut in the stadium now named after his surrogate father, Whamo’s Whamfield ground was a dust bowl far better suited for his progression. He’d have a better chance of standing out there and would also be learning from Whamo’s very own King of Spin, Daren Duck. Not to mention the generally higher standard played at the time by Whamo.
Such precursor to the events within the title. 12 chapters in and we’ve not yet heard a sniff from a liar, a switch or a ‘war probe’. Fear not, here they come…
The closeness of GG and Burki had meant that they were always intimately aware of each others’ dealings. It was known to Burki how much of a talent young GGJ was and similarly GG knew that Burki was aware. But it was unthinkable that there would be any kind of betrayal or deceit between the two of them. Besides they’d promised each other they never would.
And so came the day, the 14th of September 2013, GGJ’s 17th birthday, the day he is legally allowed to officially sign his first professional contract.
The 14th of September was a Saturday. It was in the off season, the day before the 9th Wham Gip Festival was due to kick off. The tournament was being held at the Gloucester Gipsies’ Bat to Nham Gardens so GG and Burki were over for it. Although no longer playing you’d never get a WhamGip Festival without those two looking on. This year they’d brought young GGJ with them to watch over proceedings and to get to meet his soon-to-be team mates.
Little did GGJ know, the whole family had flown over on a separate flight to be there for his birthday. That Saturday was one to remember. There were joyous scenes as the Grewcocks, together with the Burkis celebrated his coming of cricketing age.
The celebrations were carried out on a river boat followed by a picnic on the banks of the River Severn. Everyone was excited for young GGJ because they knew what was coming. The champagne was flowing and the presents began to come out.
One by one GGJ began to open his presents until finally all were done. But then GG turned to Burki, “Have you not got anything for the lad?”. “I’m sorry”, Burki replied, “I wasn’t sure if I should give it to him in front of everyone”. He then pulled out a neatly wrapped present in the shape of a slightly large CD case with thick edges.
GGJ tore off the wrapping. It wasn’t a CD case at all…
…It was a picture frame. A diamond encrusted one! That was odd. Everyone was a little taken aback. And moreso when they glimpsed at what was inside. It seemed to be an old worn out piece of cloth or something. GGJ looked closely and revealed, “It’s a napkin, and it’s got some writing on it, but I can’t make out what it says”.
Burki continued, “That, my lad, is the napkin that your uncle and I used to remember our bet.” He explained the story of the founding of the clubs and went on to say “Your uncle has won the bet because his club has produced one of the finest talents. That’s why it’s diamond encrusted, you’re a diamond”.
Everyone was touched, tears flowed, as did more champagne.
A little later in the afternoon, with the rest of the party now napping under willow trees or larking in a nearby pub garden, Burki who’d conspicuously been on the water all day, told GGJ to pick the frame up and come with him for a walk.
They strolled down a country track until they were far enough away not to be heard should any of the others wake up. Burki told GGJ to open the frame and look on the back of the napkin. He did, and on it he found terms of a contract, a lot more legible this time. The amount of money on offer was staggering. But the club offering was not King Whamo, it was Burki’s Gipsies.
“I have a pen. I’m going to slowly walk back”, said Burki, “Stop me if you like”
GGJ wasn’t dumb. He knew what this meant. He also knew what Burki meant when he said ‘stop me if you like’. GGJ had approximately 5 minutes to stop Burki if he wanted to take the lucrative offer. In 5 minutes time he’d be back with the group and he wouldn’t get another lone time with him before he’d have to go and sign on the dotted line with Whamo.
Thoughts rushed through his head: ‘The Gipsies don’t have a dusty track’, ‘But they play at a higher level’, ‘I won’t be getting half this much with Whamo’, ‘George will come round’, “WAAAAITT!!”. His cry woke everyone. Burki stopped. GGJ ran over, snatched the pen and immediately signed.
Burki took a photo of the napkin and sent it over to Sambo Dinho at Gipsies’ HQ who processed it with the BT authorities there and then. They strolled back over to the others who were all visibly confused as to what had just woken them. Nothing more was said. Burki drove to the Gispies’ HQ. GGJ was as white as a sheet, but in their state no one noticed.
Later that evening the truth unfolded itself to GG when his nephew’s contract with Whamo was rejected by the Battrick Cricket Council due to his registration having already been processed in Gloucestershire. Again, nothing was said.
GGJ was riddled with guilt, but fortunately had a eureka moment on the opening day of the festival…
He reminded his uncle about him: “Whamo can sign Visv, George! His last status update was that he’s bored in Sri Lanka and not enjoying the low standard at his local club”.
A good idea, it had softened the blow slightly and gave GG something to immediately distract his mind from the current situation. He got on the phone and within an hour, on the 15th of September 2014, Indika had signed for King Whamo.
“The fight is on now Mr Burki. You may have my boy, but I have the Prince. Bring it on.” That’s where GG left it. A lifelong friendship was in tatters and a state of war had been declared between the two sides.
The 9th Festival began with vicious undertones. At large the players were unaware of what was going on but staff and lifelong members knew something was up. Why weren’t GG and Burki together as always? Slowly, over the course of 5 days of direct battle between the teams, rumours and half truths began to filter out.
It was the most hostile tournament in history. The spirit of cricket’s boundaries were pushed to the limit while supporters acted more like 1980’s football hooligans than respectable cricket lovers.
This match had often been referred to as ‘El Clasico’ but now the two teams really were developing a loathing of one another akin to that felt by the Spanish footballing giants.
After events at the 9th King Gips Bowl, the Battrick Cricket Council had set up a committee, officially titled ‘The War Probe’ to investigate the bout of fighting, tantamount to war, that had broken out between players and clubs that had previously been so close.
This would be the last time the WhamGip Festival would be played. To prevent these issues arising again the Festival was disbanded the following year, reformed and re-branded as the King Gips Bowl – a well policed tournament with neutral umpires. Both franchise teams would now be included to diffuse the possibility of any two teams facing each other consecutively over the course of 5 days.
Whilst Whamo and The Gipsies have never come up against one another in a competitive fixture surely that day is not far off with both gravitating towards the narrow ends of Battrick’s league pyramids.
In fact, they could so easily have been in the same OD league this year had the Gipsies not failed to promote last season. Their eventual successors are now paired with Whamo.
Grewcock senior says The Gipsies failed to promote on purpose out of fear. That accusation is vehemently denied by Burki and co on the Gipsies’ board.
Two King Gips Bowls have past since the infamous ‘War Probe’ and it’s one trophy each between the rivals, with the franchises not yet able to upset the big two.
With over two seasons under their belt at their respective clubs both GGJ (England) and Visv (Sri Lanka) have been called up to represent their countries at U19 level. The two still hold a great friendship.
Meanwhile both King Whamo and Gloucester Gipsies, and indeed their franchises, have gone from strength to strength. It seems that the fierce rivalry is good for both clubs.
We wait to see what the next chapter brings. One thing is certain, when Whamo and The Gipsies finally do come head to head in a league or cup match for the greatest ‘El Clasico’ yet it will be with each of their young starlets on the pitch.