The Wind in the Wickets

Mystics versus Bagenalstown at Bagenalstown, 30th August 1992

Nobody seems to have convinced the inhabitants that their town is now called Muine Bheag: Bagenalstown it remains. Walter Bagenal had plans to build an Irish Versailles there, but you wouldn't know it.

The cricket pitch is cheek-by-jowl with a pitch-and-putt course, and there was nothing to protect it from the wind, More significant for the game was the sponginess of the wicket; but the wind had its effect too. It made the full toss into a dangerous ball, as Colin Cecil was to discover when he tried to larrup one to.leg. The safer tactic was the one employed by the opening pair -- the Martins Sharland and Miller -- after Jim Thomson had won the toss and elected to bat.

During the early overs, they played the overpitched balls ruminatively. In fact, they played most things ruminatively in the early stages. The styles are contrasting of course. Miller turns even a forward defensive stroke into a pirouette; Sharland uses the minimum of movement. His sudden six over mid-off was almost unobtrusive beside Miller's off-the-pads poke for one. These Irish pitches are probably not made for batting at the best of times. Rainsoaked, they blot the ball rather than bounce it. Under the circumstances, the opening partnership was a mighty good one. It ended when Miller played at a wide one outside the off-stump, edged it straight into the wicket-keeper's gloves and walked before the ball had time to settle. The bowler was a long-haired Butler, probably related (on the wrong side of the blanket) to the family that owned Kilkenny Castle until 1937. The wicket-keeper was definitely related to the Bagenalstown skipper, Father Pat Curran -- possibly his great-grandfather. He rarely used his hands, so this catch may have owed something to divine intervention.

Exit Miller, enter a bustling Cecil. Strikes Kavanagh for a firm single to off; receives from Butler that wind-surfing full toss; exit Cecil.

There followed another forty partnership from the Dunsford duo of Sharland and Sid Thomson, with the run-rate rising, despite the efforts of Father Pat, whose ability to fizz his medium pace yorkers made him Bagenalstown's best bowler. The serene run-gathering forced another bowling change. Harold Stevenson is in his mid-sixties, tall, weather-beaten and capable of talking batsmen out. He brings his arm around at just about shoulder level and has cultivated over the years an ability to look as if he knows what he's doing. Thomson wasn't going to be gulled. He took a long step down to strike the ball over mid-off for what would have been a six but for local rules (the off-side six had pints on it in this game). Two balls later, Stevenson had his weird revenge. He lobbed one in ten inches outside the left hander's leg stump. In what may have been an extravagant attempt to convert even that ball into an off-side six, Thomson missed it and the ball did a slow, sharp turn to take the off side of the middle stump.

But still there was Sharland. Not that he saw much of the bowling while 'Mad Dog' O'Shea was dispatching it to unexplored parts of the ground. O'Shea was another victim of the local rules that turned a tennis smash of a square cut from six to four. Later in the same over, still chasing that off-side pint, he was caught deepish at mid-off.

But still there was Sharland. It was he who supplied solid support for Dr Matravers, making an equal contribution to their partnership of nought. Having resisted the temptation to score, decent as ever, Matravers made his stumps available to the other Butler.

But still there was Sharland. Borley of the upright bat saw him through to the tour's first and only half century, before surrendering to what may well have been the tour's only lbw decision (Miller gave it, if I remember rightly).

But still there was Sharland. He was joined briefly by both the Price-Hughes, who were surprised to be bowled when going well. It took Chave to see Sharland off (once again a Butler did it). That brought in the skipper. For his first ball -- the last of Sajad's over -- a hush fell over the ground, and deafening applause when he blocked it. The spectators had ceased to expect such a long innings from him.

So there it was at the end of the forty overs. Under the circumstances an impressive run rate of over four per over. And the innings had passed almost without interruptions from the scorer, possibly because her jaw was frozen shut. It rained in the tea interval, during which Kevin Barron consulted his Dublin street map in preparation for the Guinness expedition and Des Foot prepared to umpire. Des is the non-playing father of the Bagenalstown team, and one of the nicest of the many nice people we met on tour.

The bowling was opened by the Price-Hughes, both of whom had initial difficulty with the wind (it's the Guinness that does it). Sajad, evidently a Windy protege, looked uneasy with Chave, but brushed him for a couple of big sixes to leg, and the opening pair had passed forty when the ball was tossed to O'Shea.

Throughout the tour, O'Shea regularly crashed through the batsmen's defences with balls of full length. He's a bit faster than the batsmen expect, partly because they think he's struggling to keep awake during his run-up. In no time at all, he had them at 47 for 3. Father Pat was the last of his victims. Presumably he administers the sacrament left-handed and mostly on the leg-side. He had to leave early to do it.

That left the Stevensons, father and son, to steady Bagenalstown. We learned later that this was the son's first game since a serious car accident -- a very important occasion for him and his parents. Not that you could have guessed from Harold's demeanour. No batting gloves for him, and nothing much in the way of style. What he did in general was flat-bat anything short to leg and get in the way of anything else. It wasn't beautiful to watch, but if he'd had attacking batsmen at the other end, he could well have won the game for them. As it was, he watched his son bowled by Cecil during a handy spell and Farrell caught by Sharland off a stopping off-break from Chave, who was in danger of getting over-excited by the amount of turn in the wicket. Chave's leg-spinner is still at the experimental stage, but he was a partner in one of cricket's great spectacles -- the sight of great-grandfather Curran missing ball after ball by the sort of distance that is called a 'near miss' by air traffic control.

It was to the advantage of the Mystics and Magicians that old Curran and Harold Stevenson stayed together long enough to bat their team out of contention. The Price-Hughes took the risk of getting Harold out (confidently pouched by Watts), but they enjoy a gamble. Kavanagh struck ten in the two overs that remained, but our total was out of reach before he came to the wicket. The news of the defeat was carried to Father Pat at Mass, and the host rose up and did smite him.

Food at the Manor in Bagenalstown; drinks at the Duke of Leinster; midnight cricket in the school gymnasium. Tomorrow to Dublin.

Peter Thomson

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