Supernatural Healey

Mystics versus Callington at Callington, 3rd August 2005

Another new fixture, another new ground; this one not as spectacular as North Cornwall's clifftop home. Callington is a solid and respectable-looking place. The pavilion is pebble-dashed and utilitarian, with a pleasant balcony and an inviting bar. The big scorebox at the far side of the ground, and the boundaries long enough to test any Mystics arm, give the ground something of the air of a faded minor-county venue. A six to some of these boundaries really might be a six at Lord's.

As big as the playing area looked to me, it was, we were repeatedly told, like a postage stamp to Clive Lloyd. Playing a benefit match here in his pomp, the West Indian captain had hit sixes into garages, shops and gardens around the ground.

Watching the opposition arrive I was struck by how young they all looked: at least those of them who were not extremely old. I found myself shaking hands with a man in a Plymouth Argyle t-shirt - Kingsley Mortimore, the man I had arranged the fixture with. After the toss had been agreed (rather than contested), I made my way over to the scorebox and noted that Kingsley's son was taking the new ball. Also opening the bowling to Adi and Ernie was Callington's only first-team player, a batsman called Farris. He started with a wide, and then Adi hit him for four. The next ball was a yard or two sharper. Adi aimed the same shot and could only edge the ball to the 'keeper. Three balls later, Sam was out, playing all around a quick straight ball (Sam was out five times on tour, and four of those were bowled. "You 'ave to 'it the straight ones, lad."), and Farris was quickly withdrawn from the attack before he could embarrass us any further.

Windy, who had bullied Sam into going in ahead of him, had a slightly smug air as he minced stiffly to the crease to face the younsters. The bowling was rarely threatening, but it was never easy to score from, and the 74 that the two Martins put on at more than four an over was a good contribution. Ernie's 34 was his highest Mystics knock since the day at Aberfeldy when he passed 1000 careers runs; and Windy's 35 was his highest since Gargunnock, 2001.

Three quick wickets fell, with Chirpy going cheap, before Duncan, first with Sid and then with Chris Healey, rebuilt the innings. 116 more runs at about six an over, and we had set them a stiff but attainable target.

By the time I completed the long trek over to the pavilion, Matt and Sam had eaten all the cheese sandwiches, and I had confused Graham into thinking that he might be playing in my stead. It was only when Chris Healey tactfully pointed out the potential value of my bowling if he needed to give the local boys some runs that a decision was made, and Graham trudged over to the far side of the ground to take over the scoring duties.

With 15 cheese sandwiches each to digest, Matt and Sam opened the bowling. The last ball of Matt's first over kept slightly low and moved in a shade. In sympathy with England's captain, Mark Ricard, the Callington skipper, made it look like a beauty and let it cannon into his middle and leg stumps.

Matt and then Sam were replaced by Windy and then Flat Cook. Brady and Hunn senior put on a solid fifty partnership, without ever getting on top of the bowling. Windy, with the last ball of an expensive over, slid one past Brady's flailing bat, and Farris the first-teamer was in. The four balls he faced were, I think, the highlight of the match.

This, we thought, was the game. Their best batsman facing Flat Cook, our best bowler. We all knew he would be looking to push a single or two to get himself going. Adi and I edged slightly closer in the covers. Chris Healey moved himself and Dunc in fairly close on the legside: Dunc at short midwicket and Chris just in front of square. Three Cook arrows were pushed firmly at one or other of these two fielders. I am never sure whether Chris's supernatural field-setting skills result from an ability to read the future or from telepathic transference that allows him to force the batsman to hit it where he wants him to.

Whichever it is - and it must be one of the two - the unconventional field had put extra pressure on Farris. To his fourth ball, a ball too short for the shot, he aimed an expansive sweep. The ball skidded on past bat and front pad, hitting the back leg. Confidently (and correctly), the young Callington umpire stuck his finger up and, despite the fact that Hunn was still there, the game had changed.

Chris Healey replaced Flat Cook and left gaps in his field that encouraged the young batsmen to play straight. Blatchford in particular took up the challenge, playing adventurously into Chris's gap. After hitting three fours and a three, however, he too fell LBW. Attempting to open the game up now, Grumps tried to bring on bowlers that should, he thought, be easier to score off: me, Ernie and Chirpy. On the face of it, this looked a sensible policy. A glance at the tour bowling averages, however, reveals the captain's folly. Only Adi, cruelly disregarded here, stood above Chris's three stooges in the final reckoning, and none us had an average in double figures. Reader, we skittled them, and the Mystics had won by 85 runs.

By the time we had all given up on the shower and got changed, the sun had come out, and most of the opposition had gone home. Undeterred, we drank and fined modestly. Sam's bad back healed miraculously, and the children ran around happily, almost as if they were on holiday. Clive Lloyd's sixes were now landing further and further out into the surrounding countryside ("You see that hill ... not the one in the foreground, but the one behind it ..."), and Windy had convinced somebody that persuading Sam to go in at three had been done for the good of the team, and to help the boy develop as a cricketer.

Late on, I glanced up from my pint and saw Deke kneeling on the ground, allowing Chris Healey to work his arm like some strange human slot machine. It's a sight few understood and even fewer will forget.

Jim Thomson

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