Mystics versus Erratics at Tedburn Saint Mary, 2nd August 2014
Some people arrive late on tour. I was late, yet early. I spent seven hours negotiating the M6 and M5. There was an impromptu car park between junctions 14 and 20 near Bristol, so I had deviated through Bath, the Mendips and a Cheddar Gorge full of drug dealers. I arrived in Rivermead Road during a Biblical deluge and sheltered in the car looking gloomily at the Squires' house which was lit only by one of those lights you leave on to let burglars know you're not home.
I tried the Chaves, confirming my suspicions, so obvious to me by then, that of course they wouldn't drive back to Devon after the last Cornish game. I relieved my bladder, but not my disappointment, under the Chaves' trees.
Fortunately there was a Plan B, although Plan B failed to pick up the phone for some time, leading me to also explore Plans C (a backpackers' which was full) and D (a nearby swanky hotel, which wasn't cheap) and contemplate E (camping in my car at the services) and even F (driving home again), but F was frankly dangerous and only inspired by fatigue and hunger, assistants I have long learned to distrust when making decisions.
So I spent the night with Plan B in Crediton with New Zealand friends Lucy and Jon who also came to watch the first innings at Killerton House where they were rewarded by Chris Ferro's century and by not needing to see me bat.
I was distinctly out of practice the last time I returned from New Zealand to play for the Mystics. I had played two matches in 2004, then the Devon games in 2010. I had not played since. It turned out I was in good company: Pete Colclough had not played for four years either and Clem hadn't played for five, nor performed any magic for nine.
Being away enables you to notice the passage of time more clearly. In my absence people had grown up, turned grey, grown beards, acquired new dogs and looked more like their fathers. Some had done several or perhaps all of them. There were so many new faces that I was initially tentative in my approach to the table containing Mystics in the King's Arms where Clem was contradicting my theory on absence by looking the same as he had at least 11 years ago.
The sun was shining on the ground at Tedburn St Mary and the cattle on the hill behind were munching happily to eastward. The Erratics found themselves with only nine players, so we handed over Dunc to make it ten-a-side.
Ern and Clem opened and Ern finished the first over with a four. Clem had come all the way from Glasgow for the tour on the Thursday. Sadly the Friday game had been rained off, but he was raring to go today, or as raring to go as you can be when you haven't played for five years and haven't performed magic for nine. Sophie Florides ran in to bowl, her long hair flowing. Clem's bat flowed forward and up and his stumps flowed backwards with the reassuring or dismal sound, depending on your point of view, that you get from those spring loaded stumps. Clem ambled cheerfully back to the pavilion where I sincerely commiserated, seeing what I suspected would be the nature of my own dismissal.
Pete Colclough came in next as the cattle wandered westwards. He played himself in, surviving a couple of near caught and bowleds to Sophie. After that, he found that batting was like riding a bike and not getting caught and bowled just after you got in the saddle. He eased his way to a thoughtful 25.
While Sophie and Ben Youngman bowled, the scoring was leisurely, if not slow. Those first 12 overs produced 34 runs, only eight of them from Sophie, which will be her consolation after the dropped catches. Jim remarked that he always finds them difficult. You have to move your head out of being a bowler busy following through, into being a fielder, by which time the ball has usually fled the scene.
From this foundation, the runs began to speed up. Jan was struck in the arm and I ran on to field just as I was about to have a wee and take the car keys out of my pocket. During this period of subbing, I not only got my first touch of the ball, but I also witnessed two wickets from Mark Hailwood's bowling, with Pete and Adi both clean bowled. I was pleased when Jan came back on as I was beginning to feel responsible for the Mystics' change in fortunes.
With only four on the board, Mr Squire retired hurt with a purple thumb and the cattle headed back to the west. With Ern and Sid batting, the run rate began to climb. They were regularly finding gaps and many of those gaps led all the way to the boundary.
The sun went in for a while, so the cattle sat down.
Dunc came on to bowl and was booed. Ern was run out by Mark for 65, but Sid reached his 50. Fraser came on and was fortunately out to Sophie, not his Dad. The Mystics found they had amassed 190 runs and it was time for tea.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a feast of a tea had been conjured, covering every available surface in the pavilion. Meanwhile, the sun had come out again and the cattle were on the mooove to the east once more.
Fraser and Clem were to open the bowling. While the Erratics were finishing off their tea, Clem had a little bit of practice and seemed to know one end of the ball from the other. He took time to find his rhythm, but managed to bowl cheaply. Clem noticed his Dad watching from the boundary. After a few overs, his father began to amble towards the gate. Clem wondered if his bowling was so bad he didn't want to watch any more. He bowled a full toss and Jan holed out to Jim. Clem's father turned and walked out to his car.
"Your Dad watched that wicket and thought: cricket is dead," said Jim.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Fraser was bowling seam. One ball lifted late and suddenly.
"You've got the man in two minds," Ade called out from mid-wicket. "Trouble is, it's the wicket keeper."
Dunc came out to umpire, leading Jim to appeal at one point "How's that, bowler's Dad?"
"Not out," was the bowler's father's genial response.
t was time for me to bowl. I marked out my usual run up and tried a practice run which still seemed to fit it. I hadn't lost my trademark hop either. All sorts of things go through your head as you're about to run in. Might I have completely lost it? After all, there was that time in New Zealand when ... it's time to confess.
I was walking back across our local park with Isaac, then aged about three. A couple of cricket matches were in full swing and the ball rolled over to me on the boundary. I picked it up and went to return it to the fielder trotting towards me. Haha, I thought, time to toss him the ball like the old pro I am. And I did a little underarm flick to him. At least, that's what I intended. What actually happened was that I didn't let go and it looped high in the air, then fell a few yards in front of me. I felt like a complete twat and was glad that Isaac was too young to realise what he'd just witnessed.
So, it was not without trepidation that I stood poised on my mark, took a deep breath and started my run up. My first ball was an anti-climactic relief. It was pretty much on target and on a length. The next three weren't bad either, then I got so relaxed that I was hit for four off each of the next two balls. In my second over, I clean bowled captain Phil Power for 11.
Jim brought himself on to bowl and despite his concerns about taking a catch off your own bowling, he did just that to dismiss Mark Phillips.
It was about now that the cattle began to sing. It may have been reggae, I can't quite remember, but the sound of it floated down the hillside to us.
Dunc was batting and a duel began between him and Jim. Finally Jim goaded him out of his ground and Sid whipped off the bails.
Jim continued to pin down the batsmen.
"That was the worst maiden in the world," Peter Thomson heckled from the fine leg boundary late in Jim's spell.
"There was a wide," Jim corrected.
Joseph came on to bowl. Jim was so preoccupied with where he was going to place his fielders that he handed Joseph his cap and kept the ball. By this time, the Mystics had runs in hand and what counted were wickets. Joseph's deliveries were high and looping, forcing the batsmen to watch them carefully. He bowled a wide.
"Don't worry, Fraser," said Jim, presumably still too preoccupied with his field placing to know which of his nephews was bowling.
"I'm not," Fraser said cheerfully from mid-on.
Jim changed his attack a couple more times, but no one was penetrating. The Erratics had pulled up the drawbridge, rolled down their sleeves and ungirded their loins and were in a siege mentality. The required 190 runs were far too many to go after when a draw would see them retain the Chairman's Cup. Despite having received three more overs than the Mystics' 37, the Erratics reached only 128 before close of play.
Back in the King's Arms, Jim congratulated the Erratics through teeth which were perhaps a little gritted. Meanwhile, I was musing on when exactly we had changed from being the young lads on the field to the creaky, older blokes looking for the young bloods to replace us.