More Mike Leigh than Bruce Lee

Mystics versus Lanhydrock at Lanhydrock House, 4th August 2017

This game began like an episode of Casualty -- that is, the obligatory opening scene filmed in everyday (I hesitate to say normal) life, where you're just watching to try and figure out which one of them is going to get injured. (That pretty much applies to every Mystics game of course. But today was a little more dramatic than usual.) The similarities were striking. For starters, the opening scenes on Casualty are legendary for their lack of realism, and Mystics games fit that perfectly. From a distance it looks like it might almost be a real game of cricket, but close up... well. Nobody throws like that.

The viewer having had the local scene set by shots of Brian Reade mowing the outfield, John Trethewey reflecting with his other half Sheila on his last year as groundsman, and Sheila herself preparing a tea of unrealistically generous proportions, we cut to a moment of action in the middle. Duncan, the older, good-looking ex-leading actor whose stage career has faded, and who is now reduced to making a few bob as an extra, smashes a ball into the deep where the character played by the virile, good-looking younger actor (Barney Barnicoat) will attempt the catch.

At this point, Casualty's talent for the unrealistic really took off. In real life, no-one would have misjudged the catch as badly as Barnicoat. And having finally got to the ball and allowed it to bounce out of his hands, he then had to sell the idea that he had suffered an injury capable of sustaining a 45-minute drama. And boy, did he sell it. There was screaming. A lot of it. A fair bit of howling too, and many wails of operatic despair. The emotional range was impressive, even if he did seem at times to be portraying something potentially fatal.

Please don't think I'm unsympathetic. Barnicoat is a young actor, and this was his first speaking part (well... shrieking part). And he wanted to make a name for himself (something he certainly achieved). It looked bad, but fortunately, stepping convincingly into the role of paramedics, Jo Sharland and John Trethewey were able to sedate Barney with some painkillers, and no tranquiliser dart was required. Jo stuck him in a sling, and the two of them ferried him off on a tour of recently closed local healthcare options.

Well. That, we thought, was that. Won't be seeing him again, we thought. Lucky if he doesn't have to have the whole hand amputated, we thought. No third act here, we thought.

We were wrong.


Out in the middle, the second act continued. With neither Jack or Test Match Tommy Trethewey available, Lanhydrock had gone to commendable lengths to get a team together, with three fine chaps from Roche (who, like Lanhydrock, were in County One in 2017) doing a lot more than make up the numbers. Having lost Hoops and Fraser, Dunc completed a hundred partnership with Graham, and then another wonderfully stylish hundred himself. What a pleasure it is to watch him bat. Ernie matched his brother's 16, proclaiming after the game that he was very satisfied as it also matched the number of byes he conceded keeping wicket, so that "my overall influence was neutral". Now there's an epitaph to aspire to.

The Lanhydrock bowlers toiled gamely away, Kev Beer defying his complete absence of knees, and young Ben Turner bowling better than his figures might suggest. Off the field, Sheila also toiled gamely away, despite losing the assistance of John, who I imagine was enjoying his new acting role as paramedic - probably shouting "He's crashing!!" every thirty seconds (an experience familiar to Mystics who've been driven anywhere by Derek). My favourite passage of play -- my tour highlight, in fact, after Sam's catch -- saw Ben Attfield bowl four quick overpitched deliveries in a row to Chris Squire, who check drove each one into the off side with perfect style, albeit all to fielders, the last one regrettably caught at gully. As so often, the scorebook (dot dot dot wicket) tells only a tiny part of the story -- they were four of the best shots I've seen Chris play, and they were against serious bowling. Respect.

The innings ended at 174-6, and we were all able to enjoy at length the incredible tea that Sheila had somehow rustled up. Eventually though, we were forced to accept that we had a responsibility to get back out there and try and give the fans their money's worth. Cricket is a cruel game. For the fans.

Roche's overseas pro Pieter Theunissen and teammate Harvey set off in fine style, the latter caught by Chris Cook with a splendidly competitive attempt to match his son's all-world catch at Pencarrow. Coming in a bit too far, Chris adjusted late and then launched himself high to pluck the ball from the sky in impressive fashion. It was, genuinely, a terrific catch; it was also about a tenth as good as Sam's. It's not really for me to comment on Sam's catch in a different match report, but as it was the best catch I've seen in about 45 years of cricket, I'm going to. Imagine a cheetah covering 10 yards from rest in about 1 second and then plucking from the air a bird travelling at 90mph about 8 feet off the ground. It was slightly better than that.

Back to the action, and we transitioned quickly to an all offspin attack. For cricket purists of course, the reputation of off-spinners lies somewhere between child molesters and vivisectionists. Fortunately Mystics are no slaves to reputation, and six bowlers gave their offspinners an outing in this game, taking 9-95 while non-off spin took 0-33. (I'm just sayin'.) Sam and Fraser worked through the Lanhydrock middle order with a couple of wickets apiece, but Theunissen responded with some superb batting and truly epic strike manipulation, somehow maintaining 5 an over to keep Lanhydrock in it against all odds.

(As a side note... having impressed with the bat, Chris Squire was having a proper off day in the field. His attempts to get down and stop the ball resembled an old, short-sighted man trying to find a pair of glasses he's dropped [a ballet with which I am fully acquainted]. After a string of complete misses that reduced him to outbursts of audible despair, he finally stopped one -- by dint of it hitting him in the nuts instead. I report without pleasure that his teammates' thoughts and prayers were not with him at this difficult time.)

Captain Dave Attfield was still batting well, but when a huge Theunissen six into the car park off Sean was followed next ball by holing out, bringing to the crease a certain J.Thomson, it looked over for the game. When Jim managed not to connect with a series of slow legside longhops from Chris, it looked over for the sport as a whole. Still, he and Dave did put on 26 for the ninth wicket, before facing Pete Weatherhead's offspin became a bit too much to bear. But wait -- what was this? A car pulling up? Jo Sharland getting out, followed by a figure swathed in bandages? Surely it wasn't? Surely he wouldn't...??

Oh yes he would. Here the game abandoned its BBC1 Saturday night drama slot and headed straight for Hollywood, with the returning hero, written off by everyone, having a chance to get his name in the history books. On went the pads and in came Barney to bat, eager to put a new spin on the reputation that one working hand was all he needed.

32 from 4 was tough, but Barney and Dave played brilliantly, and with 6 balls left the last pair needed 11 runs for immortality. I must confess that here I think Mystics missed a trick. It would have been great to watch Barney give two fingers to those who had mocked him (well, one fat, bandaged stump anyway) -- it could have been the perfect end to the game if some gentle lobs had given them a chance for death or glory. But we opted instead for the hyper accurate darts of Chris "The Power" Cook. Chris Squire also ramped down the tension with his own badly-timed redemption, stopping a couple of absolute screamers in the field, and three singles were all that could be found from the last over. As a gung ho, all action resolution to a day of high drama, it was more Mike Leigh than Bruce Lee.

Perhaps we should have given the Hollywood ending more of a chance. John Trethewey's reaction to the disappointment of this 'defeat' was extremely concerning. As we left he was, with grim determination, attaching unused paper plates from tea to poles planted all over the outfield. I didn't dare ask him why in case he was going to draw our faces on them and then fetch his gun.

But there had been no losers here. Dave Attfield's canny self-relegation from opener to tailender was a tactical triumph. And Barney's heroics were enjoyed by all. Though perhaps the knowledge of what might have been did inflict some genuine psychological damage on Lanhydrock. 24 hours later, their League 1st XI was crucified -- dispatched for 33. There's no coming back from that.

Chris Healey

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