Mystics versus Boconnoc at Boconnoc House Deer Park, 27th July 2021
Driving up the winding path towards the little pavilion at Boconnoc is a lovely feeling. You know you're in a special place, playing a team who understand friendly cricket, and you can approach the day with reasonable expectation of an exciting contest. On the day we played this year, a mere 172 miles away, Boconnoc's local team Welsh Fire were hosting Southern Brave in the new The Hundred format. It's an interesting comparison. (A side point here, but if renaming limited overs cricket like this really changed anything, ODI's would become "The 300". And most of the participants would die in heroic hand to hand combat. I could accept this if it removed Dominic Sibley from the game.)
For Boconnoc, Kev Spencer had worked extra hard to rustle up 9 players, and we thank him. Still, Mystics captain Mark Hailwood was faced with tricky pre-match questions. Who to offer the oppo from the touring squad to make up the numbers? What kind of game to play? What did people from the 17th Century really talk about in the pub? Mat Ogley and Graham Sharland was the first answer. 35 overs was the second. Don't know if he found the third, though he could always just listen to some bell-ringers having a pint.
Ernie and Fraser opened, Kev rather cavalierly positioning himself at extra cover for both left and right hander, an adjustment no captain needs on top of everything else he has to think about. Before long the ever-helpful Ernie was telling him where to stand, which Kev took with great grace.
Youth was the opening gambit for Boconnoc. Luca Manuel bowled with swing and a bit of pace, and with Will Thomas at the other end kept things fairly quiet for a few overs, before some bad balls helped Mystics along to a 50 opening partnership, the crack of ball on bat echoing back from the trees around the ground like a miniature rippple of applause. The canny medium pace of John Thurston and Ryan Greenslade applied a little gentle braking, and we got to 94-0 at halfway, with Ernie even starting to advance menacingly down the track, as if trying to scare crows off his vegetables. (I was umpiring; don't worry, no-one need phone the RSPB. Age Concern possibly.)
The hundred partnership was looking inevitable, before Fraser nicked off to John, and Sam was cleaned up for a blob, injecting an unexpected note of jeopardy. But Sid calmly flicked his first ball for a single, Ernie pulled for 4, and serene progress resumed. Mat Ogley came on with Mike Rawbone and both bowled very tidily. Ern moved nervously to a wildly popular 50, tried to accelerate again, and was skittled by Mat.
But all still felt well with the world. Derek inscribed fines in his neat, delicate handwriting. Suzy updated Whatsapp for the salivating hordes. And Squire on-drove his second ball for 2. Serenity returned, even if the run rate was falling.
You can however get a little too much serenity. (And trust me, being tied down isn't quite as much fun as you might think.) Sid sensed the need to break free and essayed an expansive drive. He was replaced by Charlie Penny, who ran onto the pitch like a gazelle at feeding time at the zoo. Charlie flicked one to gully, where Graham brilliantly contrived a very realistic-looking dropped catch to give her another stab at getting off the mark. Kate meanwhile had decided her love for Chris was conditional on him making 12. The fevered cheering and applause that greeted his 12th run was extremely confusing for the poor fellow, and he was out two balls later.
Suddenly the weather introduced a new challenge, a clearing up shower sending the Mystics into an unseemly panic for shelter or waterproofs. Naturally Deke remained cool, his combination of blazer, cravat, North Face body warmer and Panama hat combining effortless style with discreet protection. But the Mystics' batters were clearly thrown and the innings petered out soon after, Mike Rawbone bowling Matt Crawford with the last ball to take a handy 3-fer. Still, 159 felt like it might be OK on a wicket that was never really easy.
Turned out it was more than OK. Before the Mystics Knowledgeable Supporters had even finished licking the cake plates clean (and it was a marvellous tea but I wish they wouldn't do that), Ben had done his own cleaning up, accounting for three of the top four with the total still in single figures. Incidentally, Ben's second victim was Toby Haley, who it turns out opens the batting for Cornwall, and is therefore by some distance Ben's biggest career scalp. I'm not sure the wicket should have stood though -- Toby came off telling his team mates the ball had swung away and then cut back, which I'm pretty sure is a no ball at Under 13 level.
(The other early wicket to fall was Ryan Greenslade, who came off declaring that Sean drifts it and turns it a long way. Hell of an attack we have.)
Step forward Kev Spencer and John Thurston, charged with the tricky task of keeping Boconnoc in the game without risking any more wickets. John stroked the ball around nicely, while Kev mixed caution with extreme caution for a while, as Sam Cook and Chris Squire notched off maiden after maiden (cricket as a metaphor for life etc). After a while they'd got a platform from which to launch an attack, but after a few overs of acceleration, left with a potentially doable 8 an over off the last 7, they started hitting fielders with unerring precision, and the target disappeared into the distance. The last half hour of the game's life took on an air of paramedics trying and slowly failing to resuscitate a heart attack victim. Rob Foot -- who'd arrived late on -- was unable to pad up and help out thanks to Hailwood's genius move of lending Boconnoc both of the required subs, and the Cornishmen eventually finished 26 short, cheerily accepting their fate on the wrong end of the result. (And trust me, being beaten isn't quite as much fun as you might think).
Nonetheless, John's unbeaten 71 was hugely popular -- I think he usually bats at no.11 -- and every boundary was cheered to the rafters. Boconnoc's Facebook page hosts video of him greeting the applause for his Fifty with what I can only call a curtsy; the 59 yr old finally walked off to ecstatic applause, red faced and beaming like a thrilled schoolboy.
If the contest did not quite make it to a suspense-filled denouement, it was still a decent game played in a great spirit. And even if we were denied a climax (and trust me, being denied a climax isn't quite as much fun as you might think), it was still a much, much better game of cricket than two teams of mercenaries dressing up in snack-sponsored purple shirts to see how many runs they can flog off a decimally-unchallenging number of balls while fireworks explode and Michael Vaughan takes a huge salary for claiming it's the most thrilling thing he's ever seen.
On the same day, Southern Brave's chase also petered out towards the end of their allotted overs ... or, rather, balls. Their not out batters did not leave the field beaming from ear to ear, nor did they receive rapturous applause from their teammates. Fans of the winning team did not hang out with the opposition afterwards. No-one left saying "See you next year."