And so, weakened by injury, fatigue and Erratic desertion, the Mystics hobbled and groaned their way up the drive at Killerton to meet Broadclyst CC.
For your correspondent this was to be a personal first; after years of chasing the ball around for Broadclyst in these fixtures, I had finally managed to swap teams in search of a victory. I was only slightly troubled by the Broadclyst captain's obvious eagerness to let me go.
Once again it was a hot, sunny day, so the mood in the visitors' changing room lifted visibly when birthday boy Jimmy Ton informed us that we were to bat. Early on, though, the signs were not good. Impressive new ball spells from Bridger and in particular Davey (curbing his natural over-exuberance to return 1-21 from his 8) sent Ernie and Sid back with a single run between them, and I was called into action halfway through my second can of Bass, with the score on 11 for 2 from 7 overs.
Joining Adi at the wicket, and leaving my tinny with the umpire in case I got thirsty, I found myself caught in two minds between steadying the ship and raising the scoring rate. Luckily for me, Captain Cliff soon made the decision for me by bringing on Sean Webb. What ensued was very much like nets practice, me giving every single ball the charge and Sean trying to land it on the square inch of ground that would leave me stranded.
It looked like I was winning the battle until I forgot that out in the middle there are fielders (and also that there are fielders of differing abilities, so it pays to notice when the opposing captain swaps himself with someone who can actually run and catch), and produced some gently-lofted catching practice for Bridger. "Still," I thought as I retrieved my tinny and trudged off, "I'll enjoy bowling at them..."
Luckily for the Mystics, Adi had also picked up his scoring rate, and he continued to accelerate as wickets fell regularly around him. First, Chris Squire was given out arse before wicket (look in the book - that's what it says!), then Graham was inexplicably caught behind off Rush. I thought briefly that Derek might be our saviour (well, I had been drinking...), but he was quickly dismissed for an attractive 0.
With the score at 118 for 6, our hopes rested with Adi, still there on 62, and the thought that eventually someone would stay with him long enough for us to post any sort of target. That person came Stewart-shaped, and the pair rattled along at nigh-on 8 an over for 10 overs before Stewart perished 7 short of a well-deserved half-century. Adi, however, pushed on to record his second Mystics ton, eventually falling for 112 (89 balls, 18 fours, 2 sixes).
A challenging total now assured, an 'unable-to-bat' Dunc could carry on sinking beers outside the boundary when the 9th wicket fell, and we retired to tea on 231.
Tea, always the main event at Killerton, was both delicious and epic in nature, all the more so for the fact that Bridger, the nominated tea-lady, wasn't allowed anywhere near its preparation. The sandwiches were rich and varied, the strawberries dipped in chocolate, the cakes home-made. Our thanks go to Ailsa for her supreme efforts.
Reluctantly we left the remains of tea and went into the field to digest. And that's about all we did for 12 overs that passed, like my twenties, almost entirely without memorable incident. Ernie and Graham bowled tidily, Ernie erning his 50th Mystics wicket, but with the score on 13 for 1 Jimmy Ton felt forced to bring himself on in a desperate attempt to make something happen. This he did immediately, hitting Paul Stewart on the head with his first ball. Stewart was thus roused into action, hitting a couple of fours off Chris Squire and then wisely getting himself stumped in the same over to avoid more skull music.
A wicket for Jimmy followed soon after, and that's when the trouble started. Blest strode cockily to the wicket and duly hit his first two balls for four. He quickly hit Chris out of the attack, forcing yours truly to come on and stem the flow...
Now, I wouldn't say I'm one to shy away from a cricketing battle, but it has to be said that there's only so many times you can watch good length balls just outside off stump disappear back over your head for 4 or 6 before you start to lose just a little of your fighting spirit. Jimmy had the right idea: "Bowl it at his feet like I'm doing", he urged me. Unfortunately Blest's feet were rooted so far outside leg stump that this tactic was simply alien to me, and the monotonous brutality continued.
Finally a wicket fell, Davey going for 21. The partnership had been 113, and he'd hit 17 of them. Jim came on to give the ball some air, and Blest responded by giving it more, aiming for the trees beyond the deep midwicket boundary. No - not the first set, the ones by the cattle grid about half a mile away.
Thankfully, later in the same over he hit one straight in the air and departed for 104 from 55 balls. As he walked off I asked Jim whether Blest might be a good recruit for the 2007 tour. "We'd never get a fixture in Cornwall again!" came the reply.
All of which left Broadclyst still needing 67 runs from 10 overs, and somehow we were still very much in the game. Unfortunately our battered bodies and minds told us otherwise and the sole highlight was a Mystics record 3rd stumping of the game for Sid. I forget the result...
Addendum: Cliff, himself usually so forgetful of results, has since reminded me (once or twice) how the game finished. With 4 overs left and 30 required, Jimmy Ton had run out of willing bowlers and, foolishly, I stepped in to bowl some 'spin' in the failing light.
Cliff scored 37 not out that day, over half of them from my two overs of gentle dobbers. Suddenly Broadclyst were on the verge of victory, and it came from the first ball of the last over. Broken, we returned to the consoling arms of our loved ones (read: the bar). It had been a thrilling game, but a harrowing personal journey. I've still yet to be on a winning side in a Mystics v Broadclyst fixture and, just to rub it in, I was fined for my bowling figures.
So, who wants me on their side this year?
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