The Canterbury Bails

Mystics versus Breadalbane, 4th August 2001

There's a tale that they tell (has anyone telled ye?)
Of the friendliest battle that ever was fought,
On a field next the golf-course in Aberfeldy -
For Breadalbane and Mystics an annual resort.

Forty overs a side: there's no chance of a draw, sir.
It's a mystical pilgrimage. Just take a look.
The visiting team was selected by Chaucer;
A miller, a baron, his squire and a cook.

The host of these pilgrims is Adrian Borley,
And tradition demands that he start with a toss;
A simple enough task, but when it's done poorly,
Like Nasser Hussain, you can end with a loss.

Right from the start there's an aura of jollity,
Mostly because of the home skipper's chat,
Whilst Adi, who advocates social equality,
Opens with baron and cook, Kev and Matt.

Mr Stone, the home skipper (as mad as a hatter),
Has chosen to start off the batting with Finch,
Out of practice and breath, but an obstinate batter
Who prefers ones to twos, but runs two at a pinch.

Now Kev's an enigma, with some variations.
Four or five times this tour he has made the ball bounce.
Stone, the skipper, disarmed by Kev's quaint elevations,
Pops one up from Matt, and Clem's ready to pounce.

The next batter (a nice oxymoron) 's a Bowler.
It's 13 for 1 and Matt Cook's on a roll.
But Kevin's next ball clears the pitch, hits the roller
And Adi decides to give Duncan a bowl.

The baron's not finished. He'll see out his ration.
He'll remember in time how to bowl, Adi's sure.
And yes, a reward for the skipper's compassion,
Kev saves his best ball for his last of the tour.

15 overs are gone, and the score's climbed to 40,
But Bowler and Finch can't get Duncan away.
Bowler, frustrated, embarks on a sortie
And is pouched by Matt Cook who's awake for the day.

67 is the score in the twenty-sixth over.
Only two wickets down, but the scoring is slow.
Now's the time, Adi thinks, with the Mystics in clover,
To call up Chris Squire to give it a go.

(You'll notice here a blatant change of metre.
A poet's licensed if he's got a Muse.
You need to know why Chris is called by Rita
The squire on the hypoteneuse.)

Well, Finch, you'll remember, has been there for ever,
And Chris knows that the balls in an over are six,
But he reckons his chances - the maths here are clever -
Will rise if he bowls three yards wide of the sticks.

It's a method the pundits call ball-deprivation.
The victim's testosterone scorches like fire.
When the tenth ball is reachable, Finch in frustration
Lashes out, and the scorebook reads 'caught Cook bowled Squire'.

We're up against Simons, a family mixture:
And here, to praise Roy, your indulgence I beg.
He sticks in my mind from the very first fixture,
Planting bouncers from Matt Loades way over square-leg.

The score climbs to 80, ten overs remaining;
With three wickets down, Adi, just for a whim,
Decides to rest Windy, despite his complaining,
And tosses the impotent cherry to Jim.

Now, Jim's reputation - he's widely known rurally -
Is that of a man who buys wickets for fun.
Roy Simon's mouth waters, but this tour Jim's Murali,
Shane Warne and Saqlain all rolled into one.

Two high floating teasers, the third's a bit shorter;
Roy's leading edge doodles a sitter to Clem.
Tony Pitchforth slopes in like a lamb to the slaughter,
And in fact, his dismissal's the crême de la crême.

You could feel on the pitch a peculiar tension
When Tony propelled the third ball from his bat
Along bits of the body polite folk don't mention
Till it dropped on the stumps with a delicate splat.

One over - two wickets; and then in his second
Jim Thomson, relenting, conceded a run.
But Dame Fortune is fecund: mortality beckoned
To Douthwaite. Jim ended with 3 for just 1.

Now cometh the hour - on the brink of disaster
When six wickets have tumbled - then, cometh the man.
Up against it, Breadalbane have got to score faster.
Can anyone do it? Thinks D.Delph, 'I can!'.

It would help if the Mystics would start to bowl poorly,
But who do they have who knows how to do that?
If anyone, surely it's Adrian Borley,
Who can aim it right into the meat of the bat.

With six overs to go, 88 was the tally
And a Mystical doddle looked well on the cards,
But douty D.Delph led the kind of a rally
That is properly vaunted by cricketing bards.

51 in six overs. The wicket's a slow one.
One-forty to win. Who can knock off the runs?
Sid's tea-time prediction is gloomily 'No one',
As he munches the fourth of his 23 buns.

Meanwhile Adi, exuding an air of close scrutiny,
Is trying to determine the order of play,
Concluding at last, at the risk of a mutiny,
To give pride of place to 'the youth of today'.

A tea-time diversion provided by tennis
Pitched father and son in an uneven bout:
Uneven because the young Dennis the Menace
Would claim any ball that he missed was well out.

Back to business. The bowling was opened by Struthers,
And the batting was opened by Adam and Matt,
The fourth ball's a straight one, unlike all the others,
Which Adam, obligingly, lets miss his bat.

1 for 1, and Clem Hitchcock, who's clearly supposing
That holding three catches was quite a good lark,
And can justify, not so much batting as dozing,
Takes 17 balls just to get off the mark.

Exhausted, he leans on his bat. Meanwhile Cooky.
Who'd taken a wicket and held the best catch,
Is busting a gut. Has he been to the bookie
And laid down a bet that we will win this match?

Enervation embodied, young Clem hits a double.
It's his 24th ball, and he's shot up to 3.
Struthers bowls him a straight one. Says Sid, 'We're in trouble.
We're 15 for 2, and it's all up to me'.

Breadalbane don't know that Sid needs 27
To notch up his mystical thousand, and crown
A career that dates back to a boyhood in Devon.
You can tell that he's nervous. His cap has turned brown.

With Bowler (quite properly) bowling, the struggle
Continues till Matt takes the aerial route.
Caught Douthwaite bowled Bowler - a bit of a juggle,
But hey, what the hell! As the Scots say, 'he's oot'.

The youth of today have all sadly departed;
The flower of the future lies crumpled, forlorn.
The run-chase, it has to be said, hasn't started.
45 on the board, and the wicket's quite worn.

From out of the shadows Chris Squire is striding,
A man not renowned for his forward defence,
Who thinks, 'cos it's leather, the ball needs a hiding.
That's word-play, of course, but no wonder Sid's tense.

With some nurdling and gliding he adds to the tally.
The overs flick by, but they've added 13
When the red mist that's gathering over the valley
Descends on Chris Squire. It was bound to. I mean ...!

The bowler is Bowler, and Delph's sure to catch it.
I'll try to persuade Chris tonight in the bar
That the bat is an instrument - not like a hatchet,
A bludgeon, a sledge-hammer - more a guitar.

The score reaches 60: the overs reach 20.
Corinthian Chave has joined Sid at the crease.
'There's too little time', says Sid. 'No', says Dunc, 'plenty',
And fizzes a 4 as his first party-piece.

First slowly, then quicker, the total is mounting.
Sid passes his thousand; the crowd goes berserk.
4 overs to go. 1-2-3 runs. 'Who's counting?'
Asks Duncan, and Sid answers, 'I am, you berk'.

If these two stay in we can end up triumphant.
Sid reaches his 50 with 2 off his pads.
It's frabjous, and Fraser and Joe are galumphant.
They have every reason to be; they're their dads.

Last over is called. Only 1 run is needed.
D.Delph has the ball, and he's man of the match.
But the player of the tour's not to be superseded.
If Duncan were facing, he'd lob up a catch.

The first ball's a dot, but then Sid clips a single.
The Mystics have won with just 4 balls to go.
Time to go to the pub for some drinks and a mingle.
'We've got rooms there', says Fraser. Says Joseph, 'I know'.

Peter Thomson

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