The Canterbury Bails

Mystics versus Breadalbane, 3rd August 2002

This is the story of three strong Baxes,
The Father of whom led the Breadalbane attackses:
Together with Bowler he scored lots of runses,
So their team scored one hundred and forty oneses.

At Aberfeldy after batting, they bowled in the rainses,
(Much aided by the Mystics who were batting like drainses.)
Twixt Bowler and Baxes they took a lot of wicketses,
And so easily won this wet game of cricketses.

So thus ends the tale of the three strong Baxes,
Who didn't need rollers or very fast trackses,
Who together with Bowler earned a loud three cheerses,
And then went to the bar to drink lots of beerses.

Arriving into Aberfeldy after a mostly rain-sodden week put the Mystics into a better humour. Mindful of the Strathtay microclimate which, over the years, had served us well (who can forget the balmy post-match dip in the Tay all those years ago, when hot showers were viewed as unnecessary Mystic luxuries, or the post-match glow that enshrouded the revellers at Ailean Craggan barbecues of yore). We were hopeful that the traditional curtain-closer (how appropriate that the Mystics should end each tour not far from Dull) would provide us with a complete match for only the second time in the week.

When we arrived at the centre, after a car journey spent in turns admiring the stunning Perthshire countryside and trying to construct improbable sentences containing the word "Crieff" (of which the winner went along the lines of "Could Crieff, Charlie, brown as it is, be the home of Peanuts?"), I settled upon the task of decorating three egg-cups for my daughters, theming them with an orange and yellow Mystic flower motif. How I'd missed having my wee ones around all week : I'd had to carry my own golf clubs and cricket bag everywhere. Meanwhile Family Sharland set about mass-producing an entire set of tableware with artistic flair inversely proportional to their ages.

Back across the jewel of a route via Scotston, where the meandering river flirts playfully with the nervously indecisive road, we descended into the welcoming bosom of Aberfeldy, hopeful of escaping the damp and leaden morning skies over Crieff, but finding instead the ground being prepared in half-light and something which, had we not been so far from the coast, I would have described as sea mist. Still, we consoled ourselves that at least it wasn't cold or windy.

A chill breeze blew up along the valley, shredding our consolation like a badly pegged tent in Ireland. Nevertheless the determination of the Breadalbanians to play this fixture was there for all to see (or at least make out faintly through the grey). It was agreed that the home team would bat first, an innings whose every ebb and flow was echoed by a repertoire of meteorological versatility supplied by the local Weather Gods. The scorebook entry under weather for the first innings reads : "Warm, humid, squelchy and cloudy and bright and dark", a description that an unkind observer may equally have applied to the Mystic fielding performance.

The early pace was set by Bax the elder, and Bowler (the captain, who cleverly tormented the opposition players and scorers by dispersing his three Baxes through the order, such that barely one-fifth of the innings was played without a Bax at the crease). Carefully putting on 44 for the second wicket, there was a steely determination to post a defensible score, punctuated at both creases by some striking boundaries. Healey, the recipient of the oft-poisoned chalice that is the Mystics captaincy, shuffled his bowlers like a magician shuffling a deck in the vain hope of producing an ace that he remembers is in his other cape. Thus, part bluff, part confusion, did the Mystics strike gold with Hadley, the 8th of 10 bowlers to be used, and J Bax returned to the pavilion 48 runs to the good.

Bowler stood firm while a succession of partners were first seduced and then poleaxed by Squire's combination of wides and wicket-takers. Chave was treated without mercy by his captain who made him toil through 3 spells in the tropical heat for the reward of just one wicket. Having held onto a catch at the third time of asking, to dismiss Simon off the bowling of Squire, the captain's eye accidentally fell on me before I could disappear into the field, and I was brought into the attack. Perhaps Healey was after the element of surprise, though I felt this more likely to apply to the fielders than the batsmen. However this canny aficionado of the game has been around too long to let the opportunity of a well-set batsmen holing out to a 10th choice bowler pass him by, and he afforded himself a satisfied smile as he positioned himself in the path of the catch that Bowler offered on 41.

Bemused by the unpredictability of it all, M Bax found himself out of his crease to the next delivery and M Sharland did the rest with aplomb. Thus I found myself in the once-in-a-lifetime position of bowling a hat-trick ball to the incoming Douthwaite. My focus was on delivering a ball on target (not to say that isn't my general intention with each delivery, but when the honour of the Borley family is at stake, no tired cliché should remain unused). To my amazement the next ball honed in on the stumps like an (admittedly very-slow) guided missile. Douthwaite gave himself room to cut and the ball applied itself to the very centre of the stumps like a sweet kiss to a fair virgin's brow. This at least is how the legend will be passed down in the Borley annals for generations to come. The cold reality of the batsman withdrawing through being unready to receive, and Peter Thomson declaring the ball dead, conveyed with all the enthusiasm of a father castrating his own son, will be omitted to protect the sensitivities of future generations. My brief dalliance with destiny over, I could at least enjoy the remaining tumble of wickets, as the home team slid from 122 for 4 to 141 all out.

A hard target to reach got ever harder, as we succumbed like errant schoolchildren to the famously ample Breadalbane tea, whilst overhead the valley skies brewed up an innings-worth of gloomy rain. Undaunted, Healey was hatching a plan of Brearley-esque proportions. Hitchcock and I were despatched to the wicket, he having succumbed to the second ball of the first game on tour and me to the first ball of the second game. The magical mystery of the pairing survived through to the end of the fourth, where Hitchcock was bowled for five. The briefest of cameoettes from Squire and Hadley was interspersed by a boundary from me and little else to cheer the gathered spectator. My general enquiries about the umpires view of the rain were dismissed by the local knowledge of McCleod behind the stumps, who advised me that round here "It's not raining till your head bleeds!".

Thus from 25 for 2 after 8 overs, we found ourselves at 27 for 5 off 10, thanks to a double-wicket maiden from J Bax's first over. Chave fended off the hat-trick ball (without finding the need to back away, your correspondent observed without any hint of injustice), and he and young Cook set about hauling the Mystics back into contention. Both hit fours but neither hit form, Cook becoming J Bax's third victim of four in a single five over spell, whilst Chave hung on tenaciously in the drizzle. Wicketkeeper Sharland and Captain Healey did little to trouble the scorers, and much to please them as the lure of an early finish and a warm pint became ever more tempting.

Thomas had other ideas however, and coming in at eight down for 61 runs, reminded us of the merits of youth, confidence and a slippery ball. Anything like a loose delivery from Delph and Bowler was punished with impunity. Sixes rained down on the crowd, who, fed up enough with being rained on by water without having hard cricket balls thrown into the mix, promptly went down the pub. At 100 for 8 after 24 overs it seemed that a Mystics comeback was underway, but alas the talismanic Thomas was tempted once too often by Delph and was stumped for 32. Capitulation followed to a hardworking and thoroughly deserving Breadalbane team and the winning margin of 35 runs was as emphatic and unstinting as the hospitality at the Ailean Craggan that evening.

Standing under the canopy looking down at the Saturday night calm along the tree lined plains of Aberfeldy reminded one of dusk safari views across the Rift Valley, not least due to the exotic variety of fauna that was paraded slowly across the barbecue. Whilst the beer and whisky flowed through the conversation of the teams, and the sound of hotel residents gasping at Hitchcock's magical spongy balls drifted through the hotel windows, I couldn't help from reflecting that whilst it may sometimes rain on Aberfeldy, the sun will always shine on this fixture. Now that thought will keep me warm through the winter months.

Adrian Borley

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