Mystics versus Dunfermline at McKanePark, 27th July 1995
Sid Thomson melted at 2:53pm; that's how hot it was. The last time this happened in Dunfermline was during the reign of James VI (aka James I), but that was because a wall-eyed voyeur named Eddie Auchinbervie got too close to a burning witch. It is a fact sparsely known among Mystics and Magicians that King James was particularly fond of Dunfermline. He went there for hunting and boys, and after a bout of both, he used to sit drinking the blood red wine for which Dunfermline was particularly famous. In those days, the cricket pavilion at McKane Park was half timbered and the professional was from Gaul, but even then the tea was free for visiting teams (hence the term "scot free") and the Abbey rose high above the sightscreen at the pavilion end.
Unsurprisingly after last year, the prospect of Dunfermline excited a tickle of trepidation in the Mystic throat. This is our closest encounter with city cricket, the concrete of competition. Compared with Clackmannan, Dunfermline is business-like. The pavilion feels like the home of a team that wins. The whole ground has a job to do. We played well here in 1994, but they played better. Today's skipper, Duncan Chave, had two pieces of good news at lunchtime: Borley was back and Ashok Malhotra was not included in the Dunfermline eleven. This omission made it safe for the Mystics to rest Dan Shepherd, whose ferocious onslaught on Malhotra's bowling had threatened to swing the game in 1994.
The preliminaries began with a curious encounter between the rival skippers: the laguidly patrician Chave on our side and, on theirs, an Australian semi-pro awaiting the invitation to appear as a Playgirl centrefold. It was a matter of cross-purposes. Wayne Sullivan, with the grace and courtesy for which Australian cricketers are renowned, thought he was offering Duncan a choice between a 40 over match and a declaration jobby. Duncan thought otherwise. The dialogue went as follows:
SULLIVAN: G'day dinkum blue old sport. What d'you pommie royalists fancy doing?
CHAVE: (fingering his Adam's apple with gentlemanly decorum) Oh, I say, that's frightfully kind of you my dear fellow. I think we'll field.
The toss having thus been rendered surplus to requirements, the Mystics took the field.
In broad terms, the subsequent history of the match is a tale of five innings. The first came from Raza, who is a Pakistani professional in all but a salary. In appearance, Hoffland, who opened with him, might be the love-child of Rohan Kanhai and Roberta Loades and whose cricket is at a median point between these two putative parents. Matt Loades (who honoured his Dunfermline tradition by bowling four no balls and two wides) and Fred Dudbridge confined the batsmen to a respectable four per over for the first eight, until Loades won an lbw decision against Hoffland with the first ball of the ninth. The awarding umpire was some way short of the age of consent and it may be the boldness of youth guided his finger. Hoffland had certainly taken a stride forward, and I confess to a creep of sympathy for him.
32 for 1. Fred follows up with a maiden and the rate has fallen. Duncan decides to rest Matt at the pavilion end. Raza sizes up the ratchet action of Windy Miller for three balls then cuffs him straightish for four and two. When the studious Hyde emulates him with a sudden lofted drive at the other end, Fred has the quickness of hand to let it go. The next over is the first turning point (the second will be Sullivan's dismissal), Raza takes 18 off the first four balls and then, so help me, Windy tricks him. The fifth ball is ratcheted further up than Raza thinks. It cramps him, and Windy pouches the sharp return catch.
Exit Raza; enter Sullivan. This is a very strong man. By the time Windy gets him neatly stumped by Chris Healey, he will have scored 66 of his 88 in boundaries (twelve fours, three sixes). Meanwhile, Fred Dudbridge completes his admirably accurate eight over spell, Jim Thomson bowls well but goes for plenty (16 and 11 in successive Sullivan overs), and Bryan Wendon replaces Windy, eventually to pick up the patient Hyde and conclude with two wickets in his final over, both the product of a collaboration with Fred Dudbridge at a shortish mid-wicket.
The fact is that Dunfermline's later batsmen allowed the run rate to subside, with Matt and Duncan shutting things down at the end. Even so, we needed five per over and a good start. If we had adopted the limited overs convention of slow opening, we would probably have lost the match. It's a damned stupid convention anyway. As it was, Chris Healey and Windy went off strongly against attacking fields. Chris's 47 included ten boundaries, cleanly struck, and the opening partnership proceeded at six per over.
Your match reporter had the advantage of a prolonged spell of umpiring at what was a crucial stage of the innings. Raza took over from the pavilion end for the eleventh over, just as I took over the white coat there. I can't remember having to work so hard as an umpire. Last year, bowling at a whippy medium pace, Raza took 4 for 44 against us. This year he bowled slow off an exaggeratedly short run. His constant aim seemed to be to bowl before the batsman was ready and I had also to keep an eye out for the return crease no ball. But there was flight and there was turn. It was tricky stuff to play. Chris, having taken 10 off Raza's first two overs, was caught behind off the first ball of the third. Only six runs (plus two no balls) came from Raza's last six overs. Would Windy and (primarily) Duncan have been able to defend so doggedly if we had made the regulation slow start? It was our good fortune, you might say, that Dunfermline were short of supporting bowling (the 16 overs from Raza and Sullivan cost 52, the 21 from the other five bowlers cost 148), but it was a good fortune initially earned by the opening batsmen and further justified by the skipper. In the end, we won with three overs to spare; but not before Windy had provided the Mystic Moment by being comprehensively bowled by Brett Walker, the sort of choirboy theatre directors ask to play the title role in Oliver and James VI used to ask to do other favours.
It took a little gilt off our gingerbread that Dunfermline tended to subside into surrender. That should not be allowed to detract from the achievement of Chris, Windy and Duncan, nor from the friendliness of the post match celebrations. Out on the grass there was a barbecue. The beer upstairs in the clubhouse was grand. And there were more spectators for the rounders than there had ever been for the cricket. We didn't all know the rules, but then the players didn't either. And the grasp of sympathy when Talia fell at the first fence will ring in my ears until this time next year.