As a pupil at Abingdon School in Oxford, Gareth Butler had dreamed of cricketing success.

Never picked for the First XI, he was nevertheless judged a strong enough player to captain the Seconds. He was, by his own estimation, a cunning bowler, delivering a sharp, spinning ball which could take experienced players by surprise.

At Cambridge University, where he was awarded a First Class degree in history, Gareth played little cricket. His juvenile dreams appeared to have dissolved into the bourbon he would sip as he wrote his weekly essays.

Yet on moving to London, memories of his fleeting cricketing triumphs welled up again, like a Proustian biscuit (or, in Gareth’s case, like last night’s curry).

After a brief flirtation with softball, which he felt lacked the discipline, manliness and artistry of cricket, Gareth bought a full set of gear and persuaded several of his former college friends and current workmates to play a few games.

The standard was shockingly poor. Balls were tossed up like salad leaves to be hit with great heaving thwacks by men with little aptitude for the game, but big muscles. We played on grounds the size of a couple of tennis courts, blasting balls over hedges, never to be found.

But gradually, as Gareth’s ambitions grew loftier, the standard improved. He would ‘cottage’ on Hampstead heath, approaching men (or boys) who were having a net, or simply wandering around, and recruit them for our next match. He would pester his father’s Australian friends to send their sons off to London and play for us.

He even paid a (modest) fee to get an Australian guy over to England, with the promise of a job, if he’d turn out for us. He came, he played, and we won almost every match that season. Other stars, such as the man who was once a substitute fielder for New Zealand, and a Cambridge blue who had faced six overs from Glenn McGrath without losing his wicket, have helped keep us at a reasonable level.

Gareth himself was never anywhere near the top of our player rankings. He would take a handful of wickets each year and could block for half an hour as a tailender. But he was a tremendous captain, in the mold of Mike Brearley: watchful, astute, strategically gifted and engaging.

Alongside his burgeoning BBC career, which took him to flagship programmes such as The World At One and Newsnight, besides working for some of the top bosses, Gareth kept pushing away at the gates of the casual cricketing establishment. He secured fixtures at some of the loveliest grounds in England, including Eton College, Blenheim Palace and St Albans.

In the late 1990s the Butler XI merged with the BBC’s Radio News team, which was struggling to raise teams, and became known as Radio News for some years. This involved a healthy infusion of new BBC players, several of whom remain with the Club.

Foreign tours fell into two categories: the lads' weekend in Bristol or Dublin, where cricket would be followed by bars, night clubs and curry houses, much like a stag weekend. And more genteel visits to stately homes in France, on the fringes of Paris or along the Loire valley.

Partners were always welcome and encouraged on both kinds of trip, but fewer came on the former than the latter. Gareth’s girlfriend, then wife, Jessica would come on all of them, battling through the snogging throngs at Copper Face Jacks in Dublin, or lazing on the boundary at Chateau de Thoiry near Paris.

Then on 29 February 2008, Gareth suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. More than 200 mourners attended a memorial service, including newsreaders John Sopel and James Naughtie, Gareth’s widow Jess and his two children Sasha and Joel. Several of the team read excerpts from Gareth’s witty and perceptive match reports and personal end of season remarks. His death touched many many people.

In Gareth’s memory, we renamed the team the Butler XI, and resumed playing that summer. Two of our fixtures – against the Jack Straw XI and the Captain Scott XI – are held as memorial games. In the Captain Scott case, in a joint memorial with their own fallen founder, Harry Thompson (author of the funniest cricketing memoire, Penguins Stopped Play).

Now run by Gareth’s college friend, freelance journalist David Nicholson, with on-field captaincy from former BBC reporter Steve McCormack, the team has continued to thrive. Besides the dozen or so domestic fixtures each year, the Butler XI has toured to Geneva, Copenhagen, Corfu and the Loire Valley, attempting to combine the keen competition, the beery nightlife and the cultural delights that Gareth relished.

We always welcome new players, the higher standard the better (though goodness knows we can’t be too choosy!) and are always open to suggestions of new fixtures.

Thanks for visiting the site and please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Site © David Nicholson 2011

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer