What's it All About?

Mystics vs Methigion at Reen Manor Park, 31st July 2019

I'm pretty sure that Neville Cardus will have written a piece somewhere comparing a great cricket match to a famous symphony: I'm picturing something like the visions of goblins and trolls that Beethoven's Fifth inspires in Helen Schlegel, but with Clarrie Grimmett as the goblin and Don Bradman the troll. When I was looking for an angle for my report on this game, an approach that would allow me to express my feelings on the game without causing needless offence to the shower of shit that constituted the Mystics team that evening, I considered the extended musical analogy. Sousa's Liberty Bell immediately came to mind, or at least the version that has been played most often on the telly. A jaunty march as we head up the hill from the Watering Hole, eating fish and chips and enjoying the north coast's sunshine, and as we climb out of our cars and into our whites, prematurely ended as a massive Terry Gilliam foot descends from the sky with a splat. That splat, of course, is our innings.

Another approach that occurred to me, especially on a tour so littered with unrepentant foodies, was to compare the game to a meal or, since this was a 20-over game, a single dish. Again easy: an eagerly anticipated soufflé that, taken too early from the oven, collapses ignominiously as soon as you get close to it.

In 2018, a weakened Mystics XI had been on the receiving end of a shellacking from the doctors, so I made sure that I picked a much stronger team for this game: both Cook boys, for a start, and Fraser. There was also our debutant, and 100th player, Alfie Dixon. In 1896 England's 100th test cricketer was the Australian Somerset captain, SMJ "Sammy" Woods, whose intriguing first middle name was Moses. A more famous cricket-writing Thomson wrote that Sammy "radiated such elemental force in hard hitting, fast bowling and electrical fielding". Our Alfie is a bit more measured than that, probably more along the lines of another 1896 debutant, Surrey's great opening batsman Tom Hayward: "precisely technical and prolific". Tom Hayward was one of the greats of cricket's golden age, the second batsman to 100 first-class centuries and the scorer of 3518 runs in a single season. If Alfie hasn't been traumatised by the Perranporth soufflé or by the experience of preparing pasta carbonara for 30 with Ellie and Chloë as his over-eager sous chefs, if he is prepared to come back to Cornwall with us next year, the year after and so on, he might well set a few Mystics batting records of his own.

Matt Cook won the toss - it's nice that he got something right during the course of the evening - and we were batting. With the Mystics' strong batting line-up, a friendly opposition and a fast-looking outfield, the target in the captain's mind would probably have been over 150. Andrew Edwards and David Farrar opened the attack against Ernie and Alfie. It was unthreatening, but honest and consistent medium pace. And it did for Ernie in the second over, as he played over a full ball from Edwards. Sammy radiated some elemental force in hard hitting, before becoming Edwards's second victim when his visualised straight six became an actualised catch at long on. 16 for two in the fourth over.

Alfie was precisely technical and prolific for a few overs, but Chris Squire fell to Farrar and we were 32 for three. Fraser built partnerships with Alfie and, after a retirement at 30, Ben, and the score advanced by more than 40 without further permanent loss. 74 for three was the point at which that Gilliam boot began its descent, the moment the soufflé came out of the oven. In a vain attempt to create a total that was some sort of challenge for the home team to chase, Matt Adams, the Methigion captain, had by now turned to his fifth (Dhruv, skittish, straight and sound) and sixth (Robin van Lingen, a Norse warrior bowling right arm around the wicket as if the future of the world depended on it) bowlers. It did him no good. Fraser played over and around a straight van Lingen ball that was delivered with more commitment than actual speed. Matt Cook followed Fraser's lead in the same over - to be fair to them, the sun had dropped below the clouds by this point, and Robin's point of delivery made judgement of length a lottery - then Jimmy Ton and Ben conspired in a run out, and it was time to change the bowling again. Zain and JJ Denham were tried, but the latter was too straight and too non-pedestrian for Jimmy Ton and Tom Bennett-Hughes. In desperation at 86 for eight, Matt Adams brought himself and serial non-bowler Chris Blake into the attack. As a plan to open up the game it was sound. But the boot was descending and no best laid plan of Matt or Matt was going to stop it. A maiden was followed by Graham Sharland popping up a catch off Blake's first ball with a poke so limp that Ellie can forget about getting any new half-siblings. One more delivery and we were done: Alfie staging a rerun of Sam's dismissal as his proto-maximum became a well-judged catch in the deep for JJ Denham.

Blake ended up with the remarkable figures of 0.2-0-0-2, and the doctors faced the modest-to-the-point-of-clinical-shyness target of 87. All ten Methigion outfielders had bowled, but only one - Richard Thorley, who conceded three of the eight fours that we hit - went for more than a run a ball. No catches were dropped and I don't even remember a misfield. A chastened Mystics team took to the field. Fraser conceded a single to wicket-machine Blake in the first over of the reply and followed it up with a maiden to van Lingen. At the other end, Bennett-Hughes conceded 11, including three wides, off his first, and the doctors were up and running. Another Blake boundary, and then his confidence got the better of him as he had a stump gently disturbed by Bennett-Hughes attempting to put a straight ball into the next parish.

Denham was in next. Mark Gripper told me that JJ had played "age-group cricket for Devon" before deciding to slum it as a GP. It wasn't clear which age groups he had played; but from the scorer's table, it looked to me as if he was an adult playing against an under-12 bowling attack. His third and fourth ball were hit for unambiguous boundaries, and Tom was out of the attack. Two sixes off Matt Cook followed swiftly, and JJ was suddenly on 20. Methigion were now 52 for one after seven overs and the writing was on the wall. It was all over the wall, in fact. Think of that scene in Life of Brian, the one where John Cleese makes the hero write "Romani ite domum" hundreds of time in huge red letters as a punishment for making a mistake with his Latin grammar, and you have a sense of how on the wall the writing was.

More stuff happened, I suppose, but more as an epilogue than as part of the narrative. JJ retired after scoring a 14-ball 30. Tony bowled, Ernie bowled, Jimmy Ton bowled. Jimmy Ton even took a couple of wickets and got himself to the top of the tour averages. Graham was asked to bowl the 14th over with six needed for a home victory and seven wickets for an unlikely away one. The game ended as it should have, with Graham first yorking Alfie with a ball too wide to bother Austin Hymas and trickling away for a bye and then delivering a chest-high full toss that Robin van Lingen smote to the boundary like Thor hammering away a custard pie that Loki had chucked at him one playful afternoon in Valhalla.

It was a chastened group of Mystics that sat in Perranporth's accommodating bar that evening. No team likes to lose, but it wasn't the defeat that affected the mood so much as the manner of it. Still and all, the great thing about a series of matches is that you always get another chance. It's four-three to the Mystics over the seven games and I have every confidence that we can make that four-four.

Jim Thomson

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