Playing in the Emerald

Mystics versus Mount Juliet at Thomastown, 3rd September 1992

We were a bit late starting because we were waiting for the opposition in the pub, while they were at the ground waiting for us. Despite the late start, and a stop for rain, we managed a twenty-over game before nightfall. Some credit for that must go to the rate at which the Mystics bowled their overs. Even Martin Sharland was hurrying about the field.

What a place to play cricket though. The trees, the River Nore, and the grey stone bridge gently arching over it behind the bowler's arm at one end. (On the beauty of this bridge I blame the loss of my wicket. Absorbed in contemplation of it, I lost the flight of the ball that bowled me). The only blot on the landscape was a large, square, modern house at deep square leg, and that was far enough back that it was not too dreadful an eyesore. On the other side of the ground, the pavilion huts, a tasteful shade of peeling green, merged gracefully into the arboreal backdrop.

Borley, our captain, won the toss and put the opposition in. The wicket was rather green. So green in fact, that, had the stumps not been in position, it might have been difficult to be sure where the outfield ended and the pitch began. With this in mind, O'Shea threw recklessness to the wind and bowled two interesting overs of slow medium. At the other end, Barron bustled, bounced and hopped in off his full run. In his first over, he bowled a leg side long hop that was too good for the opening bat. Chave completed the dismissal, comfortably pouching a simple catch. In came O'Connor, a hurler of no mean ability, but a cricketing virgin. The unaccustomed shape of the piece of wood in his hand caused his undoing, as from nowhere, Barron produced a straight ball. A two wicket maiden and Mount Juliet were reeling at one for two.

O'Regan and the elder Devine put on 30 unhurried runs either side of a break for torrential rain, before a straight delivery from Cecil bowled the latter, causing a joyful ejaculation from the bowler. Up stepped the younger Devine, bristling with aggression and fast-scoring intent. He perished nobly, mistiming a flighted one from Sharland into the safe hands of the captain at mid-on. The retirement of O'Regan, who had scored over twenty, and two quick wickets to the unpredictable off-spin of Chave, and Mount Juliet were back in trouble at 45 for 6 (or 7, if, as may well have been the case, local rules meant that O'Regan had retired 'out', and not 'not out').

Sid Thomson, making up their numbers, and having trouble with his timing on a horribly wet wicket, and the Mount Juliet captain, Bob Aspin, consolidated. The score mounted slowly until, right at the end, Aspin hit a few lusty blows, including a six straight out of the John Embury coaching manual -- no backlift, not much follow through -- and it went sailing back over Sharland's head.

Borley, juggling six bowlers with the deft skill he shows when juggling three oranges, had restricted and then helped Mount Juliet to 65 for 7, not at all a bad score on so slow an outfield and so wet a wicket.

There had been some strange behaviour in the field. At one point, Sharland moved so straight at long-off that the batsman had to ask him to move; Barron had a personal Mystic Moment with some clouds and Matravers almost took his own toes off with a bizarrely misdirected throw.

The captain's gamble (that anyone facing three dot balls in a row would buy him a pint) cast an early blight on the Mystic's reply. Makeshift openers Barron and I both perished early in the innings, rather too desperate to avoid another expensive evening in the pub. Not to worry, we all thought, these two quick wickets had brought together Chave and Miller: fine men in a crisis, we all thought. It was not to be. Chave had obviously glanced down the valley and seen the bad weather the wind was blowing in. He decided that the best bet would be to get it all finished in two or three overs. Mindful of the tour manager's gamble, he rehearsed a number of expansive straight drives, and then hit the ball hard to square leg where Sid Thomson nonchalantly took a very difficult catch. Thus Chave completed the tour having been dismissed only twice; both times caught by a member of the Mystics tour party. Solace came only when this remarkable achievement earned him a Mystic Moment trophy, a trophy much later (much, much later) ceded to Pat Kavanagh, barman of the tour.

Enter Sharland. Exit Sharland, having stayed in long enough to owe the skipper a pint, before somehow edging a pull, via his ear, to first slip. Enter Cecil. Exit Cecil, bowled, causing an angry ejaculation from that batsman. (Note: at the end of this game, Colin Cecil decided that his cricket trousers had suffered enough and he tossed them into a convenient dustbin).

All this left the Mystics and Magicians' innings looking decidedly rocky at 18 for 5, Aspin having the remarkable analysis of 2-0-8-4. "Don't worry," his daughter reassured our silenced scorer, "Daddy really is rather good you know."

The Mount Juliet team seemed to step up a gear. Fielding, bowling and tempers became noticeably sharper. Miller and O'Shea however, proved equal to all that was thrown, or rather, bowled at them. No Mad-Dogging this day, O'Shea spent forty minutes compiling his invaluable 15 runs. His defensive play was massively authoritative, and he appeared completely unconcerned by Miller's unusual gerundive calling.

A computer error put Miller on to twenty (not quite enough to take him to the top of the batting averages) and causing his retirement. Price-Hughes, the next man in, surprised everyone, not least himself, by scoring two runs with a shot deliberately played into the posh side. In the ensuing excitement, he lost his head and lost his wicket. 45 for 6 (or 7: the rules on retirement never were clarified).

The captain strode to the wicket. "We'll get them in singles," he told his partner and, bat as straight as a straight thing and left elbow almost in amongst the low-hanging clouds, he proceeded to try that for a few overs. Shades of the old George. After a while, he changed his approach and rather as if the game were a bunker, he tried to chip his way out.

The score mounted slowly. Watts had been stomping around the changing area, teeth gritted saying, "I want to score the winning run." A combination of Borley's poor choice of fielder to take a single to, and Watts's own steadfast refusal of a second O'Shea run with the scores level, meant his hour of glory could arrive. It duly did off the last ball of the fourteenth over. Watts squeezed the ball out behind cover for one run and returned to the pavilion, bat raised, for all the world as if he had accomplished the task without (or despite) the rest of the team.

Jim Thomson

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