Mystics vs Saint Neot Taverners at Saint Neot, 2nd August 2012
"The London Inn is open again."
Duncan reluctantly won the toss and chose to bat on a pitch the colour and consistency of a fresh cow pat. The first ball - from Rory File - was an off-stump full toss,and Matt lifted it gently to mid off, where Graeme Kent spilled a simple chance via a bit of hand and then a lot of face. A rubbish ball, a terrible shot and miserable fielding. What a start to the game. Jack Kent was making good use of the track, bowling some unplayable deliveries. Under his breath, Pete muttered something about how unfair it was that every time he opens the batting for the Mystics, the ball is either swinging or seaming miles.
After his early aberation, Matt was starting to bat well. He had some luck, just clearing mid on with one drive and then lobbing another push just short of the same fielder, but he was the one Mystic who could be said to have coped with the tricky batting conditions. He was able to mix obdurate defence with powerful aggression against full tosses or anything really short. And it was only those extremes that allowed the batsmen any lattitude: the half volley might stop or pop. Matt had blocked and blasted his way to 41 out of 58 when he called for a short single to fine leg and was run out by a direct hit by Billy Freeman.
Sid came out to join Pete Weatherhead, and the two put together a sticky second wicket patnership. Billy Freeman came on and turned the ball a long way away from the left hander. Trying to cover that turn, Sid was only able to pop back a caught and bowled. 73-2 off 22 overs was a stodgy showing. Nathan Searle came on and bowled slow and straight. Varun tried to create opportunities to score by stepping a long way back and even further across to open up the leg side. Sadly that innovation was to prove his downfall as he played inside a straight ball.
Pete was then stumped as he too tried to create scoring opportunities out of next-to-nothing. Pete's 29 had been hard-fought and gritty with few of the fluent drives that normally characterise his batting. Tomity Pie joined Chris Cook as the sky began to change from bright blue to dark grey. Chris faced the bulk of the bowling and scored most of the runs in a partnership of 20; but Tom was just starting to look more the part when he was unlucky to be caught behind attempting a leg glance. Graham Sharland helped Chris take the score to 120 for five off 37 overs. And then the Saint Neot team suddenly sprinted off the pitch. For a moment the spectators were confused. Had there been an attack of killer bees? or had a tear-gas grenade exploded? No, neither of those. The locals had realised that a massive storm was seconds away, and they were already wheeling the covers out as the heavens did open.
The rain was positively tropical, and there was little doubt among the Mystics that the game was over. We took tea (the cakes included lemon drizzle, date and walnut and carrot and pineapple) and then Duncan and I splashed out to survey the damage. A couple of small puddles had formed on the square and we thought that Mark Bunt would join us to say "no chance, chaps, let's get down the pub", or at least to start negotiations on how to manage an eary declaration and a reduced target. Instead, as the sun started to break through, we saw the Saint Neot team walking out to restart. A brief chat between Duncan and Mark, and it was agreed that we'd get to 150 and then declare. It turned out that Graham batted too well for Chris Cook to have time to get to his fifty, and - on the ground where Ernie declared with him on 96 - he was stranded on 47 not out when the innings ended in the 45th over.
A quick turn-around and we were out in the field. Pete opened from the pavilion end, and he certainly got the Tiflex ball to swing. At the other end, I was treated with surprising respect by Saint Neot's openers Jake Eldridge and Graeme Kent. Eldridge aimed one expansive shot into the offside, and Duncan almost pulled off a blinding catch at extra cover. It was about the only agressive shot he hit on that side of the wicket: rather as if he had decided that he'd given one half-chance on the posh side and that from then on he was going to stick with what was more comfortable. Perhaps a wagon wheel of his innings would have looked a bit half-spoked, but it was a sensible knock with few legside opportunities missed.
At the other end, Kent spooned one over Cliff at cover; or at least it looked as if it was going over Cliff as the fielder tumbled over backwards. Suddenly, though, something shot up out of the rotating mass of limbs and knitwear, and the catch was taken. I'm not quite sure what the something was that shot up, but it did seem to have an opposable thumb, so it was probably an arm. It just didn't look as if it was fixed on to the place where arms are usually attached.
Billy Freeman came to the crease determined to get things going. He launched me for two huge sixes over long off and then tried to do the same to Duncan, only for Varun to run around the boundary and pull off a great catch at the second attempt. Kev Marks joined Eldridge at the crease, and batting with similar circumspection (and in much the same directions ... offside fielders were rarely extended during the course of this excellent, match-winning partnership). Chris Cook bowled flatly and Clif Rush bowled floatily, but to no avail. Eldridge went to his 50 (off 53 balls) and was then retired by his captain. It was a bit deflating to have a batsman retire, but at least we had a third wicket. 108-3 with five of the last 20 overs bowled. Masters flashed at a few and then offered up a catch - Varun's first wicket for the Mystics. Mark Bunt was then very LBW to Cliff.
Varun would have had a second in his next over, but Duncan inexplicably failed even to get a hand to the simplest of chances at mid wicket. Fortunately, Marks hit another catch a few balls later, and Cliff had a second wicket: 117-6. Despite having been outbatted, outbowled and (certainly in Duncan's case) outfielded, we suddenly felt as if there might be a chance to snatch an unlikely victory. Rick Gundry (?) was caught down the legside and a short ball from Varun scuttled under Nathan Searle's downward plunge. 122-8, and we were suddenly favourites, even with Duncan's third dropped catch. However Jack Kent came in and took the game away from us; first with Rory File and then with Andy Searle, he adopted a policy of considered agression. Cliff's figures took a bit of a pounding (he still ended up with four for 40) as Saint Neot eased their way to victory. Some sense of the scale of our defeat - in what was on the face of it a tight finish - can be be gained by noting that the declaration came in the 45th over of our innings while the winning runs were hit in the 33rd over of theirs.