The Chairman's Cup


Mystics versus Erratics, Plymtree, 15th June 2002

"You call this rain? Rain was Kilrane, in Ireland. The wicket had a deep end and a deeper end."

"No, no, that wasn't rain! Rain was the Erratics in the Scilly Isles. The entire archipelago was submerged to a depth of four feet. We still played, of course. Tresco declared at seven for one, after thirty four overs. Imran Khan's cousin scored the runs. We bowled him out when one of the stumps floated to the surface. Now, our reply, if I recall correctly -"

"THAT wasn't rain. RAIN was -"

- but the conversation is interrupted as play is, albeit briefly, about to resume.

----

The English summer is getting warmer, but also rainier, because of global warming, which, environmentalists warn us, is to some considerable degree caused by unnecessary car journeys. This thought, though, is far from our minds as, one by one, we arrive at Plymtree, some having driven hundreds of miles across the country, in order to stand in the rain all day, playing, to a draw, a game of cricket. For this is the Chairman's Cup, the Mystics' very raison d'etre, and nothing is going to rain on our parade, bar, of course, rain itself. The omens are favourable. Before the match we meet in the pub to watch England beat Denmark in the World Cup. And the very night beforehand, in a London curry house, I had found myself seated next to a mysterious gentleman who claimed to be the chairman of the Mystics! True, his face was somehow familiar, but the chairman would surely have been wearing a stripey blazer. He predicted a great day, though, and I smiled and nodded, for such is London, and he was gone.

And yet - rain. Arriving at the ground the consensus is that it's early, so let's see if it goes away a bit, which delays the start sufficiently for enough cricketers to turn up from the pub for ten against ten. (The Erratics, I hear, can get 40 people to nets, but they sometimes can't find 11 to play a game, despite the fact that they select their team by website-based confirmations of availability. Incidentally, you can check my personal Mystics availability on www.HowTheHellDoesThisWork.com.) The rain abates, becoming mere Irish mist, and with an all-weather pitch to help us, Clem and Sid take to the square. The weather immediately worsens. Experienced eyes scan the skies. By the fourth over determined voices are saying "it'll take a lot more than this", and by the fifth, when a lot more than this has duly arrived, it's "just get towels for the ball". Full tosses become plentiful and are despatched around the ground. By the seventh over though it's bucketing down and with the Mystics 28-0 the teams come off.

The clouds thicken to a panoramic grey blanket, and the mud patches on the edge of the ground develop standing water. I confess that I fall asleep, waking with a start at a cry of "five hundred and two for seven!" If only - but it is the test match on the radio.

It's still raining here. Plymtree is an interesting cricket ground, containing as it does a football pitch, goals and all, inside the boundary. Kids were playing football on it while the cricket was happening. And they're still out there in the rain, too.

An early tea is taken, and the rain obligingly abates. Sid comes out swinging manfully, and is soon back in the pavilion. Adi does the same. Clem still seems to have his eye in, but in the twelfth over he swings, fails for once to find runs off the edge - there is a ladder of cracks down one side of his bat - and he lofts a sitter to mid-off. But he sets about the run in a confident manner regardless, because he has noticed that Kevin Barron is underneath it. As the catch is spilled, I'm informed that Kev is subbing for an Erratic with a bad back. (Who, therefore, would probably have dropped it anyway - good thinking, Kev.)

But every silver lining has a cloud, as Chris Squire now makes it to the striker's end, and is promptly bowled for a golden duck. Back at the pavilion, Chris cheerfully confides that he's already had three other golden ducks this season in four matches for his local team. He's hit the ball exactly once, so far. He has actually taken a catch, though - but, smile falling, he admits he then went on to drop five further chances in the same match.

Coombes and Pearson are finally relieved, and the new bowling, plus Grumpy's arrival, sparks Clem into renewed life. He is fairly "prancing down the pitch" and timing it beautifully. Suddenly, despite some exemplary fielding, we are scoring at 13 an over, not 3. Clem, astonishingly, reaches 50. Motoring on, after another drop is hauled over the boundary for four more, he reaches 65, assumes some sort of retirement is called for, and gets himself out, falling to his own favourite weapon, the full toss. A fabulous knock, as his entire previous tally was a mere 58 runs from ten or so innings (as confirmed by Sid's wonderful Mystics Top Trumps cards.) A new string to the Mystic bow. It would appear he was hiding more up his baggy sleeve than just an interesting action. Kev is up, and snicks the second ball between his legs. (Ouch.) Carpenter and Price start to batten down the hatches. Kev heaves at another unsportsmanlike full toss and loses his middle stump. His Flintoffian summary: "all the ones I missed - if I'd have hit them they would've gone a long way."

Grumpy hits a class off drive that both goes for four and scores a goal too. If only our national sports stars could do the same. Brazil 2, England 502-7 - a clear winning draw.

And then, among the final frantic fray, Mike plays his first ever innings. As has been documented elsewhere, Mike learned his running between the wickets from the Graham Norton Frying-Pan TV trailer, so it's a shame he doesn't last long; he does generate extras though, before being bowled, and we declare at 134-7 off 23.

The Erratics start slowly. Gary, our Dunsford ringer, impresses, opening the bowling. I find myself drifting off again, contented, dry. Here is England in a nutshell: cricket, whatever the weather. Half-awake, I sense the ghost of W G Grace circling the pitch. And I never do find out who he was, but it was a top beard.

After a few overs to get their eye in, and to try to work out how to pick Kev, Nick Birbeck starts to open up. Jonathan Kirby begins cutting loose too, before Jim bamboozles him. Jim is rewarded with a kiss from Donna. Meanwhile Birbeck goes after Clem but can't connect, not unlike the 95 girls on Clem's History of Art course. Off Jim's bowling, Gary spills a hard chance to take Birbeck, which the Mystics are to rue.

Jim takes another wicket, and again gets a kiss from Donna. Gary takes the third wicket. (By the way, someone later suggests to me that Grumpy is Gary's secret love child, and I nod assent. That night, however, I am to experience a curiously troubled sleep.)

Clem strikes but there is a delay as Brian Carpenter, next to bat for the Erratics, fails to appear. Those of us in the know (and in the dry) realise that he's just discovered his wallet has gone missing, and a thief is suspected. While Brian checks frantically around the pavilion, fearing financial ruin, the Mystics on the field embody the Hambledon spirit by generously beginning a slow hand-clap.

The rain thickens again. Jim's long spell continues. With 13 overs still to go the Erratics are 64-4. Nick Birbeck soon reaches a fine 50, only for the Erratic umpire to call "one short". We boo the umpire, and shortly applaud Birbeck a second time. The run rate increases. Grumpy comes on, and Birbeck hits his first over for 8. Game on. Grumpy drops a tough c&b, and Sid misses a stumping chance; the fates, it seems, demand a close finish. Alas, Gary bowls Carpenter, and Grumpy bowls Birbeck for a marvellous 76.

Heading towards the draw, Penny Price joins young David Pearson to fend off the final few overs. She nearly decapitates Jim at short leg, off Grumpy; the latter confesses later that he was so amused he then bowled the next two balls in exactly the same place. Pearson the Younger survives a stumping appeal, the umpire (a Mr. Pearson) rightly ridiculing the appealers, and the Erratics bat out to 108-6 off 32. A match successfully fashioned in adversity, we retire to the pub to commiserate and congratulate in equal proportions.

And then, of course, we all get in our cars...

Nick Healey


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