The Corridors of Uncertainty

Mystics at the Almond Valley Tournament, 3rd August 1997

My one reservation about learning how to play cricket had centered around a small but relatively significant part of the game: the ball. You see, all these people who'd grown up handling something which, to me, resembled a small, spherical object filled with concrete just didn't understand. Their youthful indestructibility and blase views towards this missile lay in stark contrast to my "Get the hell out of the way" attitude. I mean, I always thought cricket was supposed to be a gentlemanly game: an attitude reflected by my performance in the nets. With Ollie bowling, his face contorted like the 'Demon Eyes' campaign, I naturally thought the gentlemanly thing to do was to stand to one side and let the ball past. "Don't worry," Chris Healey reassured me (albeit at a much later date, but journalistic licence prevails here), "your body won't let itself get hurt." I guess we all have different pain thresholds. And I suppose that the fact that the end of the tour resembled the aftermath of a group visit to Ms Dominatrix the Inflictor merely emphasises the point.

So it came to be that the final day's play was held at the appropriately named Murthly Loony Bin. A still but overcast day was reflected in grey, austere buildings. One could imagine hoots of manic, deranged and derisory laughter twisting through lino-floored corridors. Or was this just paranoia at being picked to play in the first game? A newcomer who had yet to prove his cricketing credentials, I was safely locked away at number nine, straitjacketed in between Jim and Donna with a veritable padded cell of fine batsmen ahead of me. Ernie; bowled for one. Dan: bowled for three. Adi: bowled for three. Fred: caught for 12. Neil (oh, Charlie, we'd been exchanging batting tips, and then this): bowled for four. We were 29 for five with Peter and Derek at the wicket. Solid middle order batting was required. 29 for six as Derek became Mitchell's third victim of the day. Donna approached the crease ... please ... oh, dear - caught and bowled. And then me ... no one had been injured ... nothing looked too fierce ... I popped a piece of nicotine chewing gum in my mouth and ... "Cry one for God, King Jim and the Mystics" ... I strode out to join Peter at the wicket. Get out - the consequences didn't bear thinking about. Stay in and win the daughter.

We batted ... and I had a thoroughly good time. 27 runs were put on the board as we scampered up and down the wicket. No boundaries, merely ones, twos and a three. Peter was eventually caught for 17, leaving us on 59 for eight. Jim joined me to help bat out the remaining two overs. "I never hit fours," he announced shortly before pulling a ball to the far-side boundary (unfined, as I recall).

The innings was over and we walked off at 67 for eight. For a moment I felt like Grace, Gower, Gooch and Gatting (and any other batsmen beginning with G) and, in that instant, the lino-floored corridors were silent.

The Almond Valley side took the crease and a ray of hope lifted proceedings as Yellowley was caught Dan, bowled Neil for 0. Almond Valley were four for one and the Loony Bin was turning into a Happy Farm. My excitement turned to deliriousness when we had them 13 for two (bowled Neil). Jim must have seen the merciless glint in my eye as he threw the ball to me in the ninth over. This was it.

And it was as I promptly gave away nine runs followed by 10 more in the 11th. The corridors were filled with tears.

Ernie bowled Taylor at 48 and the final wicket of the innings fell to a run out (Neil). Well done to Fred (4-2-4-0), Neil (4-0-14-2) and Ernie (3-1-3-1). Af- ter my bowling, I decided to wait a few months before claiming the daughter.

The second game beckoned and batsmen were called for. This was one we needed to win and Healey was padded up. Like Pearce, and Batty (wrong sport, apt analogy) I stepped forward. The two Chris's marched towards the wicket - God, I felt proud - and Chris H. turned towards me and asked me what I thought my role was. "Hit it and score," I replied. Simple, but effective tactics. This was going to be Butch and Sundance at the crease. The first over was a maiden - my turn to face ... the first ball raced past ("Get thought of Ollie in the nets out of my head"). My bat connected with the second and the ball shot towards the bowler's face. Now, some of us would have ducked in this position, but not Johnston who rather unsportingly put his hands in the way. The corridors sounded like a gibbon-infested rainforest.

However, I was the Trojan Horse to Duncan's forthcoming onslaught - 31 was scored off 32 balls faced before he retired. Fred hit a mighty 26, ultimately contributing to a respectable 81 for nine.

So, the eventful final innings as Innellan took their turn at the crease. Fred bowled splendidly, taking the first wicket with three runs on the board. And then Annie was given the ball. Her first over yielded a victim, caught by Derek. The next over saw another one go, bowled by Chris. Annie returned to the attack and Jim moved unapprehensively to mid-off. A ball was flighted to McKissock (a lovely name masking leather and willow induced carnage) who struck it ... Jim leapt to the right ... the ball connected with his ring finger ... the ball dropped to the ground ... Jim held his hand and gently uttered, "I've broken my finger". God, that would've been it for me - in the future I'd have shirked away from aa table tennis ball, but Jim ..? He calmly went to hospital whilst I would've been running through corridors seeking out Nurse Ratchett and the Great Combine. Well, that was it. Annie decided to play safely and bowled McKissock. But the effects were still being felt as Duncan later dropped a catch off Annie's bowling (fair enough in my book. After all, how many players did we see putting their face in front of the ball after Windy's mishap at Falkland?)

Dan got the Mystic Moment for a wonderful catch off Chris's bowling and Sid chipped in with the stumping of Johnston. We won by 11 runs. Superb bowling by Fred, with tournament figures of 8-4-6-1.

Fortunately, I missed the final injury of the day, as one of the home players guesting for Innellan against his own side received a full-strike to the face. I was still running around the corridors with two pencils up my nose and singing "I'm a little tea-pot." You don't have to be mad to play this game, but

Chris Squire

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