Comrien or Shine

Mystics versus Comrie, 30th July 1995

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? The opposition batsmen getting off to a flyer, but Mystic grittiness and sensible batting seeing us through? Seen it all before at Edinburgh Uni. A target only just reached by virtue of some big six-hitting in the last dozen balls? Seen it at Clackmannan. Twice. The opposition batsmen getting off to a flyer, but etc etc? Seen that one at Dunfermline too. A dreadfully hungover opening collapse, saved by a limping centurion? Well, the hangover at Aberfeldy was all too familiar, and the result just the revenge that was due for Breadalbane. Mystics back from the dead to triumph against the impossible (plus, of course, the almost obligatory opening collapse as per the previous day)? Now that could be worth hearing about...

Chris and Kev looked a highly professional opening pairing: Chris for the large number of runs he scored and Kev for his surveying the field, his prodding of the pitch, his technically perfect stance, his stretching of the key muscles used for knocking up a quick 50 and his fearless swinging at no-balls. In fact, a quite exemplary 25 minutes at the crease. I don't think I've missed anything important.

Adi clearly had the attainment of unusual and impressive statistics on his mind as he strolled out to bat. He achieved his second consecutive duck while keeping his Mystics '95 average above 50. No doubt his rigorous nets and fitness schedules for '96 will now be geared so that he peaks two crucial days later into the tour.

It began to look like the usual start against Comrie. Neil's departure, caught behind, was at nine for three. His wicket was soon(-ish, 27 for 4) followed by Matt's. No doubt the skipper's constant fretting about his failing choice of batting order allowed him to be fooled by Oates senior's (wily? beguiling? is it possible to apply adjectives to spin bowling without resorting to clich├ęs? Probably not, better leave it out and just say) spin.

The only partnership really worth recording was the 68 Chris and Windy put on for the fifth. Chris occasionally had to ride his luck a little, but his excellent 70 sured up his position as favourite for the Player of the Tour award, and looked as though it might at least make the game a contest. Windy eventually fell for the oldest trick in the book, hitting a six and getting caught three balls later. No other major contributions, but I should apologise to Bryan for yelling on his call, for trying to pinch the strike, and for generally treating him like the number eleven he just happened to be that day. And another thing, (sadly too late to take up with the umpire) I should like to record that the scorebook indicates that I was caught by a player not listed among Comrie's men, one "McNab". I'm pretty sure that McNab was the chubby black dog that was roaming the ground that day. Still, I did the decent thing and walked, after all, it looked like a perfectly legal catch at cover point to me.

Alas, the peculiarities of the scorebook could not hide our five ducks and the fact that nine of us had amassed just 18 runs between us. 124 was going to be a tough total to defend.

The fun really began after tea. Matt's inspired decision to open with spinners at both ends paid dividends first by keeping the runs down in the first ten overs from Bryan and, in particular, Windy, and then by reaping wickets. Bryan then struck with consecutive balls, taking Ives' wicket thanks to a high catch from Deke (his second of the tour) and bowling Crumbly. C. Gibbins and Oates Junior moved the score on from 21 for two to 39 before Bryan got his third (Oates Junior, bowled) and Windy knocked over C. Gibbins' stumps quite soon after. At 57 for 4, it looked like we had a game of cricket.

But Mystic fingers could only spin for so long, and the digital fatigue of Windy and then Bryan was to coincide with the arrival at the crease of Nigel Gibbins. Not content with his 3 for 13 off seven overs, he was also to put on a useful batting display, most of which I observed either when running ceaselessly (and largely fruitlessly) up and down past the pavilion on the mid-wicket boundary, or while practising my ballet moves as I was sweeping at a sort of deep mid-on position on the other side of the ground. Not that I was the only fielder who had escaped from the circus that day. After retrieving a ball hit straight down the ground for four, Deke made absolutely sure it had gone by picking the ball up, jogging back onto the outfield and then throwing it back over his shoulder towards where he had found it.

Anyway, the overall result was steady progress towards our certain doom. Well, that was certainly how we felt as the August sunshine was replaced by storm clouds and spots of rain, and Comrie moved into treble figures without further loss, Gibbins and Cornwallis moving the score on to 107 for 4, a partnership of 50 for the fifth). Spirits had earlier been lowered further as Matt replaced Windy and began a nine-ball over he would rather forget. The characteristic on-field banter was reduced to total silence as Matt was hit for four, then followed that up with two no-balls. Predictably, it was Windy who interrupted the funereal atmosphere with a cry of "Support the bowler, Mystics!" Matt's next ball was glanced behind for another four runs, but Ernie behind the stumps was quick to act on Windy's advice and encourage his skipper. "At least it wasn't a no-ball", he said, helpfully. We were feeling better already.

But from that point (107 for 4, well worth repeating), we really got down to business. More spin, this time from Chris Healey, looked like a silver lining on the rainclouds that had arrived just as our hopes might have been sinking. He bowled Cornwallis for 14; 107 for 5. Next, Neil's running out of Ireland was a sight to be seen, although not by Laura, who was at the time relieving herself (of the excruciating tension of the game that had been building up), a deserved Mystic Moment. 108 for 6, but still plenty of time for Comrie to finish us off. It certainly looked that way as the skipper Graham came in as he and Gibbins picked up the singles that would surely tide them over our paltry 124.

But Comrie might not have counted on the return of Bryan, hungry to add to his three wicket haul. In his first over back on he bowled Graham for 5, so 115 for 7. All the same, Comrie needed only 10 to win, a similar number of overs to get them, and three wickets, including the wicket of the comfortably in Gibbins on 41. In fact Bryan could clearly not be kept out of the game: his next move was to run out Norrie. At 115 for 8, we were beginning to believe we could do it. Even if the two singles made by Perry put most of our nerves on edge, it did not affect Windy, whose (just about describable as) diving catch gave Chris Healey his second wicket. 117 for 9.

So this left it down to Father Oates to see Comrie through. A single to him off Chris's bowling meant he was to face Bryan in the next over. The old master versus the young pretender. Could Bryan become only the third Mystic to take five wickets in an innings, or could Father Oates and Gibbins get the seven runs needed to save it? No one was asking the pavilion whether England had finally won the test match, this was the only test that mattered. First, a dot ball, prolonging the agony, delaying one team's ecstasy. But Bryan's second ball was decisive, as it sailed into the tried and tested hands of Windy.

We were wet, we were muddy, but hell, we were jubilant as we left the field that Sunday. A tight finish in which, perhaps, unlike the run chases of other tight Mystic finishes, just about every Mystic on the field could claim to have played a part in some way. Matt, as much a golfer as a cricketer, can take great credit for his Bernard Gallacheresque non-playing captaincy. And Bryan's performance with the ball and in the field which will probably allow him to forgive me for leaving him stranded. In July 1996, as I tuck into my dog and rice in a downtown Hanoi restaurant and wonder how much better the Mystics and Magicians are getting on without me, this is the kind of game I shall be thinking of and missing.

Dan Shepherd

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