The Ties that Bind

Mystics versus Erratics at Dunsford, 2nd August 2008

This was the 24th staging of this fixture, and probably the best of all the games. After a biblically awful week of weather in Cornwall, the Mystics were short of cricket. Jim Thomson (visiting captain and author of this report) persuaded Chris Ferro (home captain and to my mind man of the match) to allow the Mystics to add super-sub Fraser Chave to the team.

Ferro won the toss and walked out to bat with Andrew McRae (for a man who opened the batting and the bowling, Andrew was strangely anonymous ... when he fielded a ball on the fine-leg boundary in the 37th over, it came as a surprise that he was still at the ground). The Mystics new ball was taken by the returning Oliver Gardiner and the stalwart Martin Sharland. Gardiner began with a rash of wides, but the ball was definitely swinging. He beat Ferro outside off stump, and then banana-ed one around McRae's narrow back to clip the leg stump. Jonathan Davies was more conventionally bowled by a full delivery, and the Erratics were 32 for two.

Jim Thomson and Duncan Chave came into the attack, and Martin Wright helped his captain to put on 40 for the third wicket at about four an over. Then Wright overbalanced trying to flick a leg-side delivery from Chave through midwicket. He looked appalled as Sid Thomson removed the bails: surely leg-side stumpings aren't allowed at this level of cricket, especially ones so calmly and competently carried out.

A seven-run cameo marked Jon Kirby's return to Erratics cricket after heart surgery. 80 for four quickly became 90 for six, as Nick Healey persuaded Oliver Kirby and then, crucially, Chris Ferro to hit catches. The latter was an excellently judged running catch at deep midwicket, comfortably taken by Duncan Chave despite a half step towards the boundary. Ferro's 57 was to be the game's top score, almost double the second highest.

The game had changed. Fraser Chave and Chris Squire were bowling to Matt Turner and Ed Keedwell. The scoring-rate slowed and a couple of half chances were missed as the frustrated batsmen attempted to hit out. Keedwell only really middled two of his swings: and hit both in the air to Duncan. The second of these, off Fraser, was held, and last year's horror moment (when Duncan dropped Matt Turner off his son) wasn't repeated. Turner biffed a few full tosses for four before missing a straight ball from Squire. 123 for eight.

John Pearson came in bristling with intent and quickly ran out James Burrows (an excellent pick-up and throw by Duncan Chave ... who else). Three fours later, the Erratics declared at 137 for nine off 40 overs.

After a lavish and tasty tea, Burrows and McRae took the still-hard old ball, with Chris Healey and Martin Sharland opening the Mystics innings. Burrows got the occasional ball to bounce, and Healey called for his helmet after he had to duck one particularly lively delivery. Another short ball popped at Sharland, and he was only able to lob his attempted pull to Ferro at midwicket. Healey played well off the back foot and, with Adrian Borley, took the score to almost fifty before Burrows swung a full one past an attempted drive. Borley was joined by Squire, and at 65 for two the Mystics were looking most of the way home. Squire was particularly unforgiving on anything short, legside and rubbish from Pearson, and Borley was batting watchfully.

Nine overs later, however, it was 91 for seven, and the pendulum hadn't so much swung as fallen out of the clock and rolled down the stairs and out of the front door before being picked up by a passing rag-and-bone man. Squire and then Borley had shaped inelegantly at straight balls from Burrows (who took the first four wickets to fall); Matravers had suffered the indignity of letting a stray middle-stump delivery from Pearson beat his bat; after six gallant overs, Fraser Chave had popped up a catch to give Keedwell his revenge; and Nick Healey, the Mystics bowling hero, had lifted an off drive to Burrows (one of those third-umpire replays might have cast doubt on this unorthodox elbow-to-gut catch, but the on-field umpire was happy that it was cleanly taken).

Luckily for the Mystics and for the game of cricket, Duncan Chave is an above-average number nine, and a good man for a crisis. He and Sid Thomson managed to compile a near-flawless partnership in testing conditions. The fielding was enthusiastic (in particular, Matt Turner pulled off a couple of excellent stops at extra cover), the bowling of Davies and Keedwell accurate and the pitch uncertain (it held up well considering the amount of rain that had fallen on it, but several balls did stop and pop, and a few kept low). The eighth wicket partnership of 42 was a Chairman's Cup record for that wicket, and during it Sid and Duncan passed 800 runs together becoming in the process the Mystics' most prolific partnership.

The Mystics needed only five to win with four of the last 20 overs left, and then Sid failed to control a pull shot. He was a caught at midwicket by a jubilant (and soon to be despondent) Wright. The next over saw two runs and the priceless wicket of Chave. Burrows had his fifth wicket, and Sean Webb joined Oliver Gardiner to try to eke three runs off the last three overs.

No thought of a draw entered Gardiner's head, and "ow it hurts" seemed to be the only thought that entered Webb's. Off the last ball of Ferro's penultimate over, Gardiner finally pierced the in-field and a single was scampered. Off the second ball of the next over, Burrows's last, Gardiner aimed a pull. Like three others that day, he mistimed the shot and saw the ball loop gently towards midwicket. Again the gods smiled on the Mystics and on the game of cricket as Martin Wright misjudged the flight of the ball: it dropped behind him and rolled far enough away for the batsmen to run a single and level the scores. Webb dead-batted the rest of the over, and Burrows finished with the excellent figures of five for 42 off a dozen tireless overs.

The last over, the fortieth of the innings, started: Ferro to Gardiner, who tried all he could to scrape the ball away for the winning single. Behind the stumps, Peter Thomson issued the Nelsonesque call to arms, "Whichever of you gives away a single will be shot." He was probably joking, but everyone moved a couple of places closer just in case.

The fourth ball was the match. Gardiner aimed a drive at a wide ball that wasn't quite full enough for the shot. It stopped, popped and looped, hanging agonisingly in the air just long enough for the athletic Ferro to sprint in and complete a caught and bowled.

A tie. A bloody marvellous fantastic tie. As if to taunt the rain-bruised Mystics, a match had been played to remind us all why we love friendly cricket so much; why we willingly give up our weekends, our summers and our marriages for this all-consuming game. Like the ready-to-reform gambler whose one last punt romps home at 100-1 in the 2:30 at Newton Abbot, our addiction was back in control. Another weekend, another tour, another season ...

Jim Thomson

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