The Stuff of Dreams

Mystics versus Clackmannan County at The Arns, 27th July 1994

The sun rose to find the grass green at Clackmannan, the pavilion and scoreboard quiet and empty. Not many miles away, there were people shambling out of bed while the smell of bacon, eggs, sausages and mushrooms was rising from the kitchen of a small boarding school. But these weren't school children, even if their behaviour was at times misleading. These were the Mystics and Magicians.

Everyone was pleased with the weather after the previous day's match had been called off. Nobody of course realised what a treat lay in store for them that day. Cricket is a funny old game. There are those who cannot understand the fascination of cricket; who see it as little more than a lot of very tedious standing around. And of course there are boring games. Any sport can offer those. But what is so great about cricket, is its unpredictability, its artistry. In any great novel or play there must be development, tension, strategy, plot. The Mystics' match against Clackmannan in 1994 was one of the greatest games I have ever watched. It was a game I would like to have been able to keep in a box to show to all unbelievers.

The previous year the game had been close, Mystics having to make a record total to reach the target, but this year we lacked Cooky, the tall all rounder and the squad generally had a, shall I say, leaner feel. There was plenty of talent left in the side of course. "Anyone got a key for putting my spikes in?" I asked. Matt supplied one from a huge supply he had somehow accumulated, but then the big Yorkshireman with the shaven head probably worked his way through a few in the many overs he bowled in a season, opening the attack for the BBC down in London.

Spirits were high as the team tossed a ball around in the field. The opposition started to arrive. Peter, wiry and scraggy drove in to bring Mystics up to ten. We were only waiting for Malcolm, Matt's father. This was to be a special day for him too. Once Malcolm had played a lot of cricket, but his last game had been 12 years before.

Because we were waiting for him, something which was to become a habit as the week progressed, we were a little late starting. The local press were there and both teams were photographed together. As other photographs later showed, Windy was the first person to be ready, sitting upright on the bench with efficiently crossed arms quite some time before anybody else even realised they were supposed to be in a picture. Pictures show Windy immobile as more and more people gather aimlessly around him.

Then the game started. Clackie went in to bat, their opening pair Howell, the Australian pro, and a solid looking Wilson. Duncan and I took the new ball for the tourists. Dunc had tried out spin in Devon, but with little success. Well, none actually, so he reverted to medium pace and was far more effective. I produced a tidy spell I was very pleased with from my eight overs bowled through. 15 runs were scored but sadly no wickets taken. Meanwhile at the other end, Matt took the field, bowled a tight maiden then was slashed for a surprising 12 off his next before regaining a little more control. Chris fielding short in his maroon helmet and fumbling a couple suddenly became the Scarlet Flash as a stunning stop and return brought down the first Clackie wicket.

The seamers were replaced by spin; first Chris, then Windy. As Jim later wrote to me while looking at the scorebook: "Windy had 11 taken from his first over. The single most expensive was my second, which went for 17. 2, 4, 1, 1, 4, 4....actually that's 16...bloody Annie). Your eight overs went for a total of 15." Despite those figures, Jim's bowling was not as bad as they made it appear. It was just that Howell had his eye in. So Jim found himself being despatched to the boundary a little too often for comfort and Malcolm, found himself trotting after many of them as they disappeared into the distance.

Howell reached his century in the 29th over. Whenever he was facing, the field was fairly defensive. For example, I found myself fielding in Stirling for most of the game. Sid was brought into the attack, swinging the ball and taking a wicket, then Matt returned with a grim determination. He bowled quick and well and in the 40th over as Howell went for a whoopee shot, Matt beat him and tumbled his stumps. It was a shame no one had thought of doing that earlier. With his highest ever score of 167, he had seen Clackie to a terrifying total of 221 for 6. Possible. Just.

Tea was excellent and copious. I was glad we'd done our bit in the field so I could enjoy it. We all adopted grannies as the local stalwarts offered us more cake and tea dear. But we couldn't put things off for long. We had to return to the fray.

Chris knocked a four off the first ball and continued well. They ran for everything they could. Indeed, Annie believed she had never seen Ern run that fast before. But the scoring began to slow down. During the 17th over, a certain Sanjay was warming up in the field. Practising his delivery, he became so excited he actually fell over. When he came on, he avoided falling over by following through right up to the batsman.

Meanwhile on the boundary, Dan was padded up and shifting around uncomfortably. "Feeling nervous?" asked Rita. "Doesn't look like I'm going to get a bat," he replied.

"You shouldn't have said that," I told him. And sure enough, two balls later Ern spooned it up and joined us on the benches. One for 84. And so came the shortest average height of any Mystics partnership. Dan having played little this season had obviously been trying to take lessons from the regulars as he spooned the ball back to the bowler. Soon after, Chris was caught behind for a sound 57 and Windy replaced him. We were confident. A bad ball came his way, he sliced it sharply with a good deal of force. We were just starting to cheer the stroke when square leg dived and somehow was holding the ball when he stood up. Windy returned to us.

Duncan went out. By this time the light was beginning to fade; the run rate was already rather dim. Windy tried to keep our spirits up. "Duncan can do it, he's our man. If he can't do it, no one can," he chanted, adding "Repeat til fade...or someone hits you." He said he was waiting for the lights to appear on the scorebox to signify the poor light. "There's one," he said. "Oh no, it's Peter's cigarette. If he lights up five we're coming in."

"Just whack it!" suggested an exasperated Matt. "It's limited overs, so it's shit or bust."

"So Annie's going in after cos she's shit and bust," quipped Windy. As you can tell from the prattle beyond the boundary, the game had slowed considerably. We needed 9 an over. Every shot seemed to go straight to a fielder. We felt helpless. But suddenly we realised runs were being scored. A single here, sometimes a two. Imperceptibly, the rate was picking up. Anything was snatched by Sid and Dunc. An older fielder reached a ball first and tossed it to a younger team mate to return who wasn't expecting it; a fumble and another run. There was a near run out. Sid just couldn't get it to the boundary. He and Dunc were on the brink of exhaustion every step they took. I've never seen so many fours that didn't quite go. They were having to run everything. "Hit four and they don't have to run. It's their own fault," said Windy wisely. It was all so obvious, why hadn't they realised for themselves? Even when Sid finally managed a four, they'd run most of them by the time it was called.

With 28 runs needed off three overs. It had suddenly become rather close and tense. Then Dunc was out. He tottered back to the boundary, hyperventilating. They had run 90 runs. That's about a mile. Matt was next in. "It's the first time Dunc and Matt have batted together," said Kate, so it was pointed out that Duncan wasn't batting.

We reached the highest ever Mystics score. If we lost, we still had that to sustain us. Matt knocked a two down near the long on boundary, then four over the bowler's head. 15 needed off 10 balls. The field fell back to cut off the boundary. Damn. No problem to Matt. He just hit a six clean over the field instead. "It's over him! It's over him!" squealed someone. Probably Kate. Possibly all of us. Next ball, a swing, another six! The Mystics were near hysterical and on their feet. Next ball, another swing, but this time slightly mistimed and the death rattle came from the stumps. He was cheered as he came off. In went Jim and pinched two. Into the final over and it was finished off in a way that suddenly seemed too easy.

But what a game. An amazing competition and generous losers. Great individual performances and teamwork. Everyone could feel proud. But in a match of that quality it was a shame there were losers. Together, we had created a classic.

Kevin Barron

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