What makes an opening batsman? A strong heart, courage against the quicks, and an innate competitiveness perhaps, matched to flawless technique, the ability to build momentum, and the shots to get on top as the bowling tires? Or just a pair of pads and an ability to locate the pitch? This game suggested the latter, dominated as it was by two openers' innings of such relentless turgidity that Geoff Boycott himself would have been pounding the table in despair. For on this slightly sluggish wicket, Breadalbane's Tony Pitchforth (who to be fair likes the ball to come on to him) and Mystics' Clem Hitchcock (who likes innocent, short-sighted girls to come on to him) gave masterclasses in how to avoid scoring. Something by the way I believe Clem continues outside of cricket. But more on their contributions later. The game was notable for the return to captaincy of Derek Matravers, whose glee at winning of the toss and inserting was the beginning of a rollercoaster ride of fortunes. Kev and Jimmy D opened the bowling, but it wasn't long before Dudbridge minor had to leave the field - three maidens in a row and suddenly his back was gone. Cricket as a metaphor for life, Jim?
Clem and Jimmy T took up the slack, but despite a stylish 20 from Roy Simon, the scorebook still looked like the "Before" picture in an advert for acne cream, and after 20 overs Breadalbane were 42-1 (the wicket - Jim's 13th on the tour - a superbly disguised long hop spooned to square leg). It was all a bit painful. It was all a bit Scotland in the World Cup. The need for a change seemed lost on Deke, who appeared more interested in surveying his field settings (though with hindsight, he may have just been scanning the boundary for the arrival of his potential new boyfriend). Suddenly however he moved decisively to open up the game. First Charlie was thrown the ball (and it was explained to him what he was supposed to do with it), then Ernie was invited to don his bowling slippers. The effect was electric, as the Breadalbane No.3 H. Bowler snapped out of his own Tony Pitchforth impression (7 in 34 balls) and smacked 17 wild runs in his next 7 deliveries. Perhaps it was the tempting loop of Ernie, or just the odd line of Charlie that did it - we'll never know.
But Ern struck back (twice), as did Charlie, and again the game looked a bit worrying at 81-4 from 30. More genius from Deke saved the day, however, as Adie was called upon to "bowl". His first "over" bore no relation to any form of cricket known to man, or any other ball sport in fact, and several "deliveries" disappeared into the middle distance. His "bowling" did however successfully jam the Pitchforth Radar Defence System ("INCOMING MISSILE. UNRECOGNISABLE TRAJECTORY. RANDOMISE DEFENCE SHIELDS") and Dunc claimed a top catch. A fine cameo from Breadalbane skipper Stoney and it was all over, with 128 something to chew over with the sandwiches.
Perhaps it was embarrassment at his "spell", or a teatime pep talk from Deke, but when Adie came out to bat he went berserk, hammering 35 of the first 41 runs before being bowled. My own theory is that it was a software glitch in the Six Million Dollar Shoulder - he did take a lot of huge, unnecessary practice swings, and it would explain the "bowling" too. Whatever it was, it looked like it might ruin the game as a contest.
Fortunately, at the other end, Clem Hitchcock had decided to stage his own one-man tribute to Tony Pitchforth. Clem had decided to make his tribute in binary, scoring only a 1 or 0 off every ball. In fact when his innings is converted to ASCII text, it reads "HELP. OLD MAN TRAPPED IN BODY OF CALLOW YOUT2H". (The 2 was an aberration we'll come to in a bit).
Adie was replaced by Ernie, who batted with serene grace, caressing the ball to all parts. His calm belied the tension he must have felt at approaching his 1000 Mystic runs, a milestone he passed with a typically fluid cover drive. At 99-1 with 15 overs left it looked all over, but we were, as the Hollywood scriptwriters would tell you, merely at the end of Act Two; the bit where someone rips off their plastic face to reveal their true identity, and the real drama begins.
Cue orchestra then, as the innocent-looking bloke at fine leg peeled off his sweater and revealed himself to be the legendary McCallum, whose lifetime stats v Mystics are 35-32-3-18 or something equally ridiculous. God only knows what Stoney was playing at holding him back, but he immediately bowled Ernie, and Act Three began. Clem, who'd inadvertently scored a two (after nineteen successive singles) took one look at the fearsome McCallum and decided to run himself out. Sadly he got a bit confused and ran Jim out first before completing the job on himself (next time Clem - you're the one at the near end).
At this point the sympathetic male lead, one Derek Matravers, began to take some seriously dodgy advice, and thrust Sid and Dunc down the order. Suddenly Neil, Suzy and Deke himself were batting, and suddenly they weren't anymore. The crowd began squealing and gasping as the tensionometer rose. A calm 3 from Sid settled nerves, but then he fell to a brilliant slip catch by Pitchforth, and Kev, blinded by his eyelids, missed a straight one. The Mystics had gone from 110-2 to 122-9. The crowd were now wailing in a Greek tragedic type of way, and some were beginning to attempt self-mutilation. Out into the fray went the last man, the crippled and unwhited Jim Dudbridge. It was all very Cowdrey-like. Well, except for the obvious weight and age differentials. And the broken arm thing. And Cowdrey had at least mastered Brylcreem. But anyway. Somehow he kept out three balls and hobbled a couple of byes, to leave Duncan on strike. The sympathetic male lead, his reputation as a Brearleyesque genius of tactics and psychology somewhat on the line, now lay drooling in the foetal position behind the pavilion.
Dunc clipped the first ball for two, and survived a couple of nervy dots. But then, as the crowd flailed and gnashed, it all got too much for him, and he ran down the wicket and essayed an abject slog....
...straight over mid on for four. The crowd went "'raayyy" and started putting their eyeballs back in their sockets, the Breadalbane boys went "bugger!", and Deke sprung to his feet and began writing a new chapter in The Art Of Captaincy: "How To Keep A Straight Face You Jammy, Jammy Bastard".
And Clem? Clem went round gaily telling anyone who'd listen that the victory was all down to a solid anchor. Before getting two rubber bands out and proving that things which seem to be inextricably linked, may in fact be completely unconnected.
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