Suitably chastened by last year's mauling, lunch time in Falkland this year was a sober, sight-seeing affair. Also it helped that we had not spent the night before in Clacky bar. One or two of the team had managed to get through the King's Seat's blackboard, but, without a pint of Auld Smellie to wade through, even that was not the daunting prospect it used to be. So, all in all, we were a better looking bunch than the 1997 team. A few faces fell when we saw the same Aussie pro arriving at the ground, but the rest of their side looked younger and older than before. Maybe, to steal Chris Healey's analogy, the second date might prove more successful than the first.
Again Falkland batted first. This time they got off to a brisk start, no more, the opening partnership scoring at four an over (last year it was more like eight). When Fred took wickets with the fourth and fifth balls of his fourth over, Falkland had to consolidate.
Fred and Ollie continued to bowl well, but the time came for some wily-guiley slow stuff. By now, Gavin Maslen, the Aussie pro, was at the crease, and I hastily declined Chris Healey's offer of a bowl. Improvising wildly, I came up with a sufficiently convincing reason why the skipper should bring himself on to partner Windy. Chris's second ball persuaded young Watson, who had opened the batting and done a good job, to knock up a return catch.
After 20 overs, the score was 70 for 4 (last year, 122 for 0). Things were not going too badly . . . and they were about to get better. The first ball of the 21st over looked to Maslen like another Healey off-break, but he got an outside edge as the ball just drifted away from him. Sid at slip took the catch with insouciant ease. Two balls later and the score was 72 for 6. Suddenly the captaincy challenge had changed: Chris now had to make sure Falkland got a decent(ish) total. Now, surely, it was time for me to join the attack.
Two of the younger Falkland players, Shand and Donnelly, were now together. They had built a good partnership before Shand skied one. I took the return catch, despite a late challenge from Adi that would surely have given Gavin Hastings the chance to put the game beyond England's reach. There was a feeling behind the wicket that Donnelly should have walked for a caught behind early in his innings. My theory is that he knew how little batting was to come and remained at the crease for the good of his team and, let's face it, of the game. All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Anyway, he batted sensibly, staying at the wicket long enough to see the total to 137. Squire took the last wicket, having their 'keeper stumped by ours. He had deserved his prize - it was off his bowling that the alleged Donnelly edge had happened.
It was an afternoon of comedy Mystic fielding, of the first of Flypaper Hadley's five catches (a record for non-'keepers), of a master class in the art of captaining friendlies and of Dan's introduction to cricket scoring (and I had thought it was required knowledge for aspiring British diplomats). Further to labour the comparisons: last year they hit 7 sixes and 28 fours; this year - no sixes and only 12 fours.
The two Martins opened the batting (for the fifth time, average opening partnership: 73.6) against two enthusiastic young pace bowlers. This was a below par performance, since the first wicket fell at only 62, but it did have its moments. Ernie was still talking about his straight-driven four when I saw him last week, and Windy still had his helmet on - it can be dangerous in the Royal Oak. When Adi joined Windy in the middle, it looked briefly like a game of real cricket, all helmets and proper batting. Too briefly, though, as Adi was still looking for the form of past tours. Windy, with Ollie's patient help, guided the score to 118. The 15th run of his well-crafted 59 was his 1000th in Mystic colours. Flypaper wandered out to replace him and to show how the forward defensive really should be played.
As the 40th over loomed, it was left to the skipper to go out and score the winning runs. A satisfying end to a satisfying game. In the context of the series (and that is what I hope this game will be part of) with Falkland, it was, I think, important for us to win and to establish ourselves somewhere above the total shit-kicking no-hopers level.
A splendid evening in the pub where I led an unsuccessful assault on Ernie's proudest Mystic record - the £20-odd he spent on a round in the King's Seat in 1993.
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