Nuts in the Almond Valley

Mystics at the Almond Valley Tournament, 4th August 1996

It seemed not altogether inappropriate that the last games of the tour should take place in the grounds of a nineteenth-century lunatic asylum in the Perthshire village of Murthly. And it was the sunniest day of the week that had us assembling at 10.30 a.m. -- in good time for an 11 o'clock start. There were three teams competing (though the verb wasn't altogether appropriate) for the trophy -- a silver cup donated by a high-up in the Royal Bank of Scotland who used to play for Almond Valley. What struck me first was the dangerous youthfulness of the opposition. The first game would give us an opportunity of sizing them up.

Loosely speaking, the aim was to lose to the team that lost the first game and to beat the one that won it. But, as Rabbi Burns famously observed, the best-laid schemes o' mice and men are at the mercy of gefuellte-fish. Almond Valley, not without difficulty, amassed 100 in their 20 overs: and the Royal Bank might well have surpassed that were it not for the retire-at-thirty rule. Kerr Thomson (himself the result of a misunderstanding over and under a kilt, involving the tour manager's second cousin -- but that's another story... ) played several shots that can only be described as awesome on the way to his 30, and a left-hander called Tait looked decidedly useful before lofting a catch (as many did over the day) from a ball that stopped on the peaty pitch. Windy later discovered that the wicket was hollow: five inches of peat on top of an underground passage scraped out by the fingernails of an escaping Kelpie.

We took the field, then, with some apprehension. But the Royal Bank, colourfully dressed for the occasion (anyone wearing white risked a pay-cut), were playing for the Mystics. Two of them arranged to be run out in the first over. Thomson and Tait were numbers ten and eleven and never got to the wicket. Annie Thomson bowled three inexpensive overs, punctuated by Ernie's declining to move from behind the stumps to collect a dolly and Duncan's grounding of a catch which lesser mortals might have shied away from. The mystery player took his usual clutch of wickets (what constitutes a clutch? In this case, one). Freddie took a fine catch on the boundary. Ollie, kept in reserve for Thomson or Tait, bowled the final over: and the Royal Bank("how sweet it is to sleep upon this bank") meandered to 77, leaving the Mystics less than four per over.

Just in case the target might prove difficult, they then included fifteen wides in the ten-or-so overs required to overhaul them. There were two moments of note in our innings -- the first when Ollie was run out by a direct hit without facing a ball (even taking into account his almighty hangover, his contribution to the day was a slender one); the second when Ernie, served up with a ball of monumental ineptitude, pirouetted on the spot, missed, and collected a bruise on the inner knee that might have provided comfortable nesting space for a brood of auks. He lay on the pitch long enough to be filmed by Edie in a position they hadn't tried yet.

Lunch interval at last -- it was after 4 o'clock -- and time for strenuous team- selection. Sid, carrying the disconsolate silhouette of a slightly underfilled tea-cosy (and depriving the present writer of his rightful place as Fantasy League manager of the tour) and Ollie, understandably exhausted by his efforts in the previous game, stood down. Ernie limped off in search of a knee-surgeon. Duncan, fearful of dropping his twentieth catch of the tour, accepted his fate with a deferential shrug. Bryan was considered too tall for the wicket. That left Windy (politically incorrect as ever, saying "no" when he meant "yes"), Kate, Edie and me as replacements for the final. Donna was retained for her fielding -- until her back surrendered to the pressure in the fifteenth over (Annie came on as substitute).

We batted first, against (I swear it!) a naggingly accurate Almond Valley attack. Mystery went to one that stopped, in the first Over. Kevin, with the pride of double figures in the previous game swelling in his bosom, didn't last long in this one. Adi and the writer scratched to little effect, but I found the answer first. That had the beneficial effect of bringing a rejuvenated Windy to the wicket. Two splendid sixes into the u-shaped enclosure -- an unusual feature at the pavilion end -- crucially lifted the scoring rate, and stirred a somnolent Adi into action. Freddie slapped it around too, and we surprised ourselves by setting the Valley a winning rate of just under five an over.

Our bowling was opened by a penetrative Kevin and a flighty Jim, who delayed his inevitable wicket until the final ball of his last over. That made the score 32 for 4 and we looked at risk of winning easily when the Valley slumped to 34 for 6 (Nick having his second clutch of one wicket and Adi bowling a surprise straight one). But Jim's determination to get a tight finish out of this one was assisted by some stout hitting by Mitchell, and it took a lightning swoop and direct hit by Kate to get us back on track. In the end, Fred's accuracy took us home by eight runs.

The presentation of the trophy was gracefully handled, and the bottle of Scotch for the outstanding player went to our four women. Drinks in the Hunter's Lodge in Bankfoot were cordial, despite the fact that they ran out of beer and lager (and eggs). We found ourselves drinking Mystic Merlin Ale out of bottles. Good for Merlin! And not to forget that we ended the tour in possession of two cups, and a cornucopia of good humour.

Peter Thomson

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