Mystics versus Erratics at Sidbury, 1st August 2015
There were snickerings of rain on the windscreen as we drove into Sidbury, and my first cigarette (outside the lunch-threatening Red Lion) got soggy. Inside the pub were a trio of folk-singers and Windy and Rosie Miller. Windy, it has to be said, was uncommonly efficacious this year. He'd arranged the fixture, purchased a barrel of Branoc and masterminded the post-match barbecue. In obedience to Mystic tradition, he also surrendered the majority of the fines money after the game. There's something about Windy that is infinitely finable.
The Sidbury ground is folded into a valley between the village and wooded hills, with a river – presumably the Sid that wasn't keeping wicket – hidden a gurgle away from a latent sightscreen at the non-village end. Dominic Prosser would deposit two good cricket-balls in it on the way to a quickfire 46. He bats like Tourette's syndrome's conquest of logic: "c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre". His first ball, fizzingly straight from Matt Cook's high-handed arm, was dismissed for four behind square on the leg side. It was brilliant. It was outrageous. And it travelled half a league, half a league, half a league onward, like a line in a poem by the grandfather of one of the men to captain England at cricket. But I'm already chomping at the main course before the rest of you have reached the starters. Sorry about that.
Once I'd absorbed the agreeably bucolic aspect of the ground, the first thing that struck me was the numerous invisibility of children. Rosie Miller, I suspect, had piedpipered them to some village Shangri-la. The appearance of Windy in pads was almost as magical. I knew that the Erratics had only nine players, but Windy, unlike seven of the eleven Mystics, had never before turned out for the Erratics. His transfer had been covertly arranged, and now he was opening the batting with Mark "Mystic" Hailwood. Let none of us pretend that Ernie's first ball was a good one – Mark hammered it to the extra-cover boundary – but the next 29 cost only 8 runs, and one of them bowled Mark. Serenity was the hallmark of Windy's batting, and there's nothing sudden about serenity. He gave one chance, which allowed Duncan both to deny his son an early wicket and to honour a family tradition. After that, he looked ominously secure. It was the other batsmen who fell on their swords. Prakash and Martin Wright picked out Matt Cook in the deep, Gajendra Singh missed a straight one and Jonathan Kirby was stumped after a mid-wicket foxtrot. This was the decisive phase of the innings, during which Fraser Chave and Joseph Thomson shared six wickets and the adulation of multitudes. The explosion of Dominic Prosser followed, much to the chagrin of a battered Cook, then tea and the corporeal presence of children. How different from the home life of our own dear Queen, as a stalwart member of the audience at a gala performance of Othello was heard to remark.
The bowling of 14 overs hadn't disqualified Fraser from opening the batting with Ernie "five-overs" Sharland, and their partnership accounted for a fair proportion of the runs required for victory. The Erratics bowling, though, was admirably tight throughout. Sophie Florides (aged 14) was faster by several m.p.h. than anything the Mystics had contrived. Accurate and niggardly, too. We may have been watching a future Test replacement for Katherine Brunt. In my mind's ear, I can hear Sid boasting of being caught off her back in 2015. He'd been in formidable form up to that point. Meanwhile Ernie went on with his relentless accumulation until the crunch point. One run to win, and his score standing at 94: Prakash bowling and an inviting vacancy over long off. The scorebook can't record the fact that the intended strike for six hung in the air like a metaphor for brewer's droop before dropping like a tired snowflake less than half way to the boundary. The Chairman was at the non-striker's end to witness up close the moment that saw his team regain his Cup.