Mystics versus Erratics at Sidbury, 30th July 2016
On St Luke's Day in 1691 there was a fair held at Newton Poppleford, attended by Sidbury man Stephen Hayman. It is possible this 'merry meeting' was an ancestor of the now famous and nearby Sidmouth Folk Festival, for Hayman spent the night at the alehouse of one Hanna Dyer, where two men - 'having with them one a violin and the other a cittern ... played for some time'. The night ended with the violinist and a local man's wife committing adultery upon the alebench, which Hayman was called before the local Church courts to attest to.
Anyway, whilst the diddly-dee festival was kicking off down on the coast the Erratics and Mystics arrived inland at Sidbury for the 33rd edition of their own annual revel - minus the adultery (well, as far as I know. If anyone has any guilty secrets: 20p in the fines pig please). Having spent half of the week playing for the Mystics I was now assigned to captain the Erratics, as well as to write the match report for both teams, which is quite a lot of hats to wear, especially as my eponymous manbun makes it hard for me to even wear one.
My opposing skipper had survived a leadership challenge to be there. Windy's Hilary Benn moment had come in the early hours of Thursday morning as he attempted to stir up a coup against the Mystics entrenched bearded leader, promising the abolition of tour fines and just two fixtures - one in Brighton and one in Sidbury. Anyway, the coup was botched, which is the current fashion, and Jimmery Corbson was at the helm at the toss. I forget who won, but I think we both got we wanted and the Mystics went out to bat.
The early exchanges centred on an intriguing dual between two long-time Erratics teammates, something this fixture so often throws up, which concluded when Gareth trapped Duncan lbw. Meanwhile Graham batted stubbornly for 24, punctuated by some nice leg-side flicks and back-foot punches through the covers. Sid came in at 3 for the Mystics. He seems to rather like these games, averaging over 30 with the bat in 30 appearances, and with a recent string of scores against the Erratics of 26, 68 and 35.
Sid continued this rich vein with an unbeaten 58 that anchored the innings, murdering anything on his pads and playing judiciously outside the off stump - though the Erratics bowlers and fielders worked hard to stop him from accelerating rapidly late on, as he had done at Tedburn in 2014 to effectively take that game way from the Rampant Unicorns. Alongside this task of containment Phil Power and Jeff Haynes twirled away effectively, accounting for Adi, Jimmy Ton and Chris Squire - who was unfortunate to pirouette a leg side dolly onto his own stumps.
As the tea break drew closer the Erratics began to flag a bit in the humidity, and miss-fields started to occur (well, more regularly than is standard in this level of cricket). With Ernie and Sid at the crease there was a danger of a late surge from the M&andMs. As your humble reporter-captain, usually a figure of calm authority, threatened to adopt a tea-pot stance to show his displeasure (it was from my bowling, after all) the wheels were wobbling off. Step forth Jonathan Kirby, channelling Larry Olivier in Henry V, who delivered a rousing 'no pasaran' speech to rally the Erratics, and a final burst of committed fielding (a show of 'heart and hustle' in baseball parlance) kept the Mystics to a total of 145 at tea.
Subsequent events would re-cast this total as well below par, but at the time the talk was that it had set things up nicely - Jim would have liked another 20-30 runs, but for an Erratics line-up devoid of any of our regular half-century makers it looked gettable but challenging. As it turned out, a key development had occurred earlier that morning, when Penny had pulled out of the game with the upsetting news that her dog had been poisoned. This resulted in the dissident Windy being deselected from the Mystics and defecting to the Erratics. So, for the second year in a row the groundsman opened the batting for the Erratics, and as Windy himself put it 63 unbeaten runs and reverse sweep later, 'if you can't bat on a pitch you've prepared yourself ...'
The Erratics innings had not started quite so assuredly though, with pinch-hitting opener Danny Williamson feathering a cut through to the keeper from Jimbo's bowling without scoring - and so for the umpteenth time the dismissal ct. S Thomson b. J Thomson was pencilled into Mystics and Erratics scorebooks. This brought Phil 'The Tailor' Power to the crease, and he batted like a man on a mission. I think it is fair to say Phil has been quietly campaigning to be promoted up the batting order for some time - a mumble and a grumble to that effect has oft been noted by myriad Erratics, and there has been some speculation that Phil's purchase of a new, sensible car was intended to convey that he could be trusted with greater responsibility.
Here he took the opportunity to make an even clearer, and cheaper, statement to the assemblage of onlooking Errati-captains, as he despatched the Mystics bowling to all parts. Phil is not a batsman who bends the knee, either literally or figuratively, and his footwork is unfussy (unlike his bowling run-up, in which he crams in as many tiny steps as possible): he simply relies on his shrewd judgement of length and a smooth, fulsome swing. It was a joy to watch him compile 43 quick-fire runs, which broke the back of the Mystics defence.
Not so joyful for Mystics of course (balance, Mark, balance) who looked like they had been on tour for a week: dead on their feet. Jim played the necromancer as best he could, conjuring forth a succession of undead bowlers, but each bowled with a zombie-stiffness that resulted in bad balls for the Erratics to feast on. When Phil was eventually caught by Adi - one Mystic who looked like he belonging to the ranks of the living - the hard work looked to have been done. But the Erratics do have 82 years of batting collapses haunting them, so chickens were not being counted.
Out strode Martin Wright, and whilst Windy continued to cut and drive with surety the new man also settled quickly. I think Martin would be the first to admit this hasn't been his best season for the Erratics so far, but the signs here were that the corner has been turned. There are two batting Martin Wrights. The one is a careful, watchful purveyor of on-the-walk backlift-less forward blocks. The other smites boundaries with an air of patrician authority, each of which feels like a patriarchal rebuke to the other Martin Wright: 'that, son, is how you hit a ball'. Both personas have their time and place, but this was undoubtedly an occasion for the Imperious Number Four to shine through, and before long Martin had picked up where Phil left off, and the bowler bullying resumed.
The watching Erratics finally began to relax and take it for granted that the silverware was headed for President Peter Thomson's mantelpiece, and then rapidly attention turned to our next opportunity to add to the trophy cabinet - the Finals Day of the Cheriton Fitzpaine Big Bash on 14th August (places still available ...). Peter reflected that this was the date on which he had entered National Service, the same day on which Bertolt Brecht died. Someone proposed that the Big Bash trophy could be branded as the 'Brecht Bash' in honour of the anniversary. We'll see what comes of that.
Anyway, the job was completed from just 23 overs. The teams enjoyed a second tea as Deke graciously presented the Chairman's Cup to the winning captain, who he - and I'm sure several others present who have been involved in this game since its inception - was horrified to hear is just a few weeks older than this venerable fixture (though I cannot claim, like some, to have been born during it). Long may it continue.