Rain doesn’t stop play in Chance to Shine celebrity cricket match

By Sky News Sports Presenter Jon Desborough

It had been a year since I had first come up with the idea of a special party to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. And here I was with 160 guests, dozens of celebs and a marquee sinking under torrential rain into Harpenden Common. Twelve months planning was in danger of a humiliating collapse. We reckoned we had prepared ourselves for every eventuality & but not the deluge that soaked us on Sunday September 4.

We’ll call it, Hitting 50, the fundraising manager at Chance to Shine, my chosen charity had said last September, when they agreed to let me put on the do. I liked the poetry in that. To celebrate my fiftieth, we would have a 50 over cricket match, to raise £50 000 for Chance to Shine. But no one predicted the Biblical weather that would hit Harpenden Cricket club that afternoon or the joy that the warming sunshine afterwards would bring.

“Count me in” said Alex Tudor, once a superfast bowler for Surrey and England, bellowed down the phone to me back in April. “That’s a great idea. If I’m free, I’d love to come, Ireland’s record-breaking batsman”, Kevin O’Brien told me soon after. And name by name, like scenes from ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the Jon Desborough Sky Celebrity XI came together: Jack Russell, Angus Fraser andJon Batty were among them. Cheering them on from the boundary were TV presenters Dermot Murnaghan, Kay Burley, Lucy Versamy, Georgie Thompson and Sarah Jane.But how would we raise the money?

You find out a lot about your idea and your reputation when you try to pitch it to friends and bosses on the phone. Entrepreneurs, managers, bosses, family all got the call. I sounded like Michael Caine at the back of the bus in the closing scene of the Italian Job: Listen lads, I’ve got this great idea. Miraculously, a full complement of table hosts came together, each willing to invest in my dream. A marquee draped with silk and chandeliers appeared on the common on the big day. And the marquee was the size of a tennis court. Of course, everyone had demanded to know who they would be having their lavish lunch with. You will be coming, won’t you? I had found myself checking with a list of Sky TV personalities and my Dream Team. No one let me down. So there we were, tucking into a three-course treat of salmon and lamb and cup-cakes all washed down with tasty wines and then the rain came. And kept on coming. And got so loud, no one could hear the celebrity guests in their Q and A.

The water took no prisoners.The electrical supply was in danger of a dousing. The microphones were silenced. “We’ve got to stop talking now Kevin in case we kill you!” our MC warned. But such was the entertainment, no one seemed to care.

Worse. Much worse was to come. As coffee cups were drained, I checked on the pitch. It had been a lake an hour or so earlier. But, miraculously, we were going to play. And we would have a dry pitch because the grounds man would roll it to get it ready.

And we would have started on time, had that heavy, mechanised roller not broken down. Right on the pitch. Disaster!You learn a lot about people at moments like that. I discovered I was surrounded by heroes willing to help. They were driving four by four cars and appeared on the outfield with ropes. They too wanted this game to be played. I almost had a nightmare that Sunday afternoon. Instead, I lived the dream. And I kept shouting that to my star-studded team, when after half an hour more, the roller was pushed, dragged and removed from the common; dumped in front of the pavilion, and the game finally started with warm sunshine to greet us.

I don’t remember the match score. I know the celeb XI beat Harpenden. But little else. People reassured me they had had one of the best days of their lives. And I do remember meeting a lady later that evening who told me it had been the best day of her son’s life. He was called Will and he had bowled out Kevin O’Brien, something England hadn’t managed to do at the World Cup in March. On the Monday afterwards, I got the call that the day’s fund-raising auctions and raffles had raised over £20,000 and would fund lots more kids in state school who wanted to play cricket.

Someone also told me that the roller had started first time when it had to go back to the hire company. It had been a very dramatic day that will live with me for a long time to come.

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