Mystics versus Lanhydrock at Lanhydrock House, 3rd August 2018
There are many reasons why this, one of our two tour defeats, was my favourite game of the week. On a purely personal level, I got to do the two things I enjoy most at a cricket match, scoring and fielding, without the lingering threat of batting, bowling or umpiring hanging over me. We had the usual friendly, generous welcome from our hosts and the typical good-humoured competition from the home team. It was also the best sort of tight, closely fought game, with all results a possibility right up to the end. Oh, and there was the 120-ball kinetic poem that was Fraser's century. I nearly forgot that bit.
When I arrive at a ground, I always take a look at the opposition players, not just as they warm up but also as they walk around outside the changing room. For me, the most intimidating walk is actually very similar to the way most of us are walking by the end of the tour: stiff legged and muscle bound. It usually involves a pair of branded flip-flops, shorts, a sun tan and the sort of hair cut that could actually be called a style. Lanhydrock had quite a few of these walks on display, and I was glad again that I was not going to have to bowl at them. The home team was, however, one short at the start, and the ever-willing Graham Sharland agreed to step in for half an innings.
The outfield looked terrible. Brian Read explained that there had been a infestation of cockchafers. The ECB had been called in and had told the club that the top two inches of the outfield would have to be dug up and replaced as there was no other way to deal with the problem. The work was planned for a week in October, but it rained and rained and rained, and the ground was just too wet. The rescheduled dig-up and re-turfing happened in February and then the Beast from the East arrived. The grass never really had a chance. By the start of August, after several weeks of dry weather, the outfield was dusty and wrinkled like a close-up shot of a two-day beard on the cheek of a 90-year-old man.
Matt Cook was our captain. There was a discussion, perhaps even a coin toss, with Simon Benney, and we were batting. Duncan and Fraser padded up and strolled out to face James Starkie and Ben Turner. Starkie dropped a sharp caught-and-bowled chance from Fraser in his second over. Turner, playing against us for the third year in a row, was sporting a bit of a fohawk. He's gained a few yards of pace as he's grown taller and stronger. Fraser used that pace to hit a graceful four off his hips and then used his experience in the improv group at Royal Holloway to come up with an unexpected way to create another four on the other side of the wicket.
Mostly, though, it was a solid rather than a spectacular start. After ten overs, with the score on 37, Si-am Juntakereket replaced Starkie and then Beer replaced Turner. This was a contrasting pair of bowlers, with the young Si-am the recent breaker of a record for cycling 2784 miles across Australia and Kev with one new tungsten knee and one old arthritic one. Dunc was dropped behind off Beer, but the run rate started to climb. Chris Healey replaced Graham as the eleventh man on the field, and Graham and Ellie headed back home to Devon.
Cody Armstrong and Jason King took up the attack, with King's first ball a rank full toss that Duncan hit in the air straight to midwicket. 97 runs for the first wicket and the highest Mystic all-in-the-family partnership. Adi came and went, bowled by a skiddy King off break. On 48, Fraser followed his father's cue and hit a King full toss straight to a fielder, this time to long on, where Juntakereket made a hash of the catch. Three balls later, a loose ball from Armstrong was gracefully whooshed down to long leg for four and Fraser had reached his fifty off 68 balls.
Chris Cook was in by now and the acceleration was on. Chris made 23 at better than a run a ball as part of a fifty partnership for the third wicket. Ben Cleave joined the attack and leaked runs at about ten an over, despite picking up the valuable wicket of Chris Cook. Another Chris came out, this one Fraser's uncle, and scored another run-a-ball 20-odd in a big partnership. Fraser was dropped again, this time a finger-tips job by sub-fielder Healey at cover. Chris hit a four past Juntakereket, a piece of fielding that caused one commenter to describe him, perhaps unfairly, as "a 13-year-old Matt Cook". Another Squire four came after he used his feet to hit Ben Cleave just to the on side of straight.
Fraser set a new Mystics individual record, passing Matt Cook's 130 at Saint Neot, with a two-bounce four to wide long on, and the Mystics went to tea on an impressive 245 for three. He had some luck, perhaps, being dropped twice before he reached 100, and twice afterwards, but it was a lovely innings full of exquisite shots and watchful defence. He showed again an enviable ability to accelerate once he's established (his second fifty took only 33 balls and his scoring rate was still climbing when the innings ended). During the innings he became the first Mystic to be involved in two partnerships of more than 90 in the same game.
We ate another great Lanhydrock tea in fine spirits. It would take some batting performance to overhaul that score in 40 overs. Enter Jason King, Lanhydrock's very un-Aussie Aussie pro. A left hander, he faced the first ball from Pete, bowling at the carpark end. Either that first ball or the one after was drilled back past Pete to me at a deepish mid on It went all along the ground, but went so fast that, even though I got a good hand on it, there was still enough weight to go through and deliver a bruise to my left big toe that purpled up nicely over the next two or three days. Byes, leg byes and wides made a good start as well, and had contributed more than half the runs during the first four overs. By that time, however, Mark Adams had missed a straight one from Pete. Si-am Juntakereket followed the same way for the same score. 35 for two at the end of the seventh over, with King ominously poised on 23 and extras into double figures. Looking at the body language in the pavilion, it looked to me that Lanhydrock were already starting to think that it was down to those two to score the necessary runs.
Simon Benney played watchfully until the last ball of Ben Youngman's excellent spell, and then he wafted loosely outside off stump and was caught behind by Ernie. 59 for three, with King on 37 and extras on 19. Chris Nicholls, a solicitor and the oldest player in the Lanhydrock side, came in at five. His firm, apparently, are a specialist drink-drive practice. Appropriately, Sean (who drinks) and Marky Manbun (who drives) took the bowling reins. Mark's gently nagging drifters caused more concern to Jason King than Sean's off breaks, with 14 and four byes coming off the twelfth over. King went to a 35-ball fifty during the course of that over. One six flew over the pavilion, perhaps even into the road behind.
After hitting Sean for a couple of leg-side fours, Chris Nicholls bunted a catch to Ben off Sean's bowling and it was 93 for four off 16 overs, with King on 61. Ben Turner was the new man. He contributed a 17-ball duck to a partnership of 41. Cody Armstrong scored two more runs, but lasted only a minute. Sean had three wickets and the Mystics were sniffing victory. Ben Cleave was in at eight and two Cooks were bowling. Another sweetly struck four and King had a 78-ball 100. This was some knock. By this stage, he was starting to look to dominate the strike as well as the scoring. We tried to stop the singles at the end of the overs, but his placement was too good. Cleave lasted ten balls, falling to Matt with 93 still needed. Kev Beer hobbled out. He got the thinnest of edges through to Ernie off Chris Cook and immediately walked off without waiting for the umpire. 177 for eight, and we weren't sure if there was anything to come after James Starkie. Extras, with 27, had contributed 12 more than all eight of the batsmen who'd been dismissed. King was now on 135 and it was down to him. Starkie looked the best of the rest, though his second-ball four off Chris was a streaky one.
Matt pulled himself out of the attack, his job done, and Fraser joined Chris to try to close out the game. These, after all, were are two hardest-to-score-off bowlers. Out on the field, mostly wandering from one part of the boundary to another, I felt we were clear favourites, even though I could now see an eleventh batsman (Harry Collinge) padded up in front of the pavilion. King and Starkie, however, were just too good. Maybe a couple of Starkie's boundaries weren't entirely convincing, but King didn't put a foot wrong. They motored along at nine an over and, in a scintillating half hour, just took the game away from us. 14 needed off the last two overs with two wickets in hand would normally feel like a could-go-either-way situation; but with King facing on 162 it felt as if there could only be one winner. And he duly obliged, effortlessly planting the first three deliveries of the 39th over for four, six, four.
"That is the best innings I've ever seen at this level," said Chris Healey. And he's seen a few good ones. It was, perhaps, a shame for Fraser to have his magnificent century trumped by King's magnum opus. They were both great knocks that completely dominated the day (other than them, only Duncan outscored the 30 extras we conceded). Not only did Fraser break the Mystics individual record, but also King made the highest score ever achieved against us (beating another Aussie - Clacky's Malcolm Howell - who took 167 off us in 1994).