An afternoon game proved impossible this year, but fortunately for us the St Neot guys pulled out all the stops to get a T20 game on in the evening. This was a terrific idea - the St Neot team are perfectly suited to T20 as they can hit the ball a long way. The Mystics are also well suited, as we can fetch the ball a long way.
(Strange to think that the future of cricket is probably the radical, fresh, exciting concept of T20 - or "that 20 over rubbish", as we used to call it back in the 70's, when a midweek evening league seemed to us a poor substitute for proper village cricket. Though to be fair, back then our 20 over contests did use to finish 52-4 versus 41-3. There were no "Dilshans" or "switch hits". And the only "ramp" was the one our keeper used to get in and out of the pavilion.)
There was, however, one major downside to the evening format. The Mystics Knowledgeable Supporters were utterly heartbroken (Olga especially) at the absence of Cake Lady. I've seen several supporters in a dark London pub in the depths of winter drop into a half hour reverie about Cake Lady, so for them it was an unbearable disappointment. Regrettably, before a ball had even been bowled many turned to booze to drown their sorrows. Kate tried to keep their spirits up by repeated offerings of the "Plate Of Joy", which featured Cheesy Wotsits, Jelly Beans, and at one point something she called "Cockporn". (It did taste quite salty.) Jo tried to cheer up those in pain by offering them lettuce, in what was, let's say, a misguided attempt at surreal humour, and not the insane delusion of a home grower that a salad vegetable can be just as satisfying as six of the greatest cakes in the history of time. Nothing worked.
Charlie was in the team again, but alas he and Suzy had decided to have a kip before the game and so arrived some time after it had started, necessitating parking at the gate and getting changed in the open air. Not a problem for Charlie of course, who's quite used to hanging around by a hedge with his bits out. But slightly disappointing. They blamed their late arrival on being stuck behind a combine harvester. I suspect what they got stuck behind was their eyelids. Also in the team were Chris Cook, who had passed a late fitness test, and debutant Mark Hailwood, whose description of his own bowling was intriguing (Mark, at Tor View: "I do swing both ways, depending on the overhead conditions." Jim: "You mean it depends who's in the top bunk?")
Fraser opened the bowling with spin. This was a great strategy - openers often can't play spin very well and it keeps a lid on the early overs, building pressure later. His first over went for 10. Mark then came on to bowl and showed off his exquisite, balletic run-up - from plié to retiré to begin, then a delicate, curving couru ending with a grand jété, from which he produced some aesthetically pleasing outswingers. In the batting crease, Arthur watched mesmerised as the first delivery slowly unfolded before him, and then smashed it approximately 80 yards over long on for 6, in an eloquent critique of arts funding in this country. Next over he hit Fraser for 6 too, and had faced only 12 balls when he reached the retirement threshold of 30.
Glencross perished first ball to a Frazzler off break that did a bit, but it made no difference. In came Mark Bunt and T Bryce who also smashed it, giving the Mystics supporters in the pavilion a right peppering. I was sat there too and we were all in constant physical danger - it was, I was assured, like playing in goal for Torquay. Both also retired swiftly (Bryce after just 14 balls), as it started to look like we would be chasing 300. We did get Kent for 16 though, stumped by Sid from a kneeling position. I think he may have been praying.
If he was, it was totally justified. Most of the bowling kept going for 7 an over or more. Graham was unlucky not to pick up a second wicket as Jim slightly misjudged one in the deep. "You just dropped the World Cup mate", no-one shouted. Charlie suffered too. Yesterday he'd been sledged by the umpire ("Are you having a third over????"), and today even taking a wicket didn't quiet the doubters. "Someone's going to enjoy this!" was the cry from the home side as a new batsman walked to the crease to replace Rory File, defeated by a ball from Charlie that offered to go away and then reneged on the deal.
The onslaught continued, and St Neot eventually posted 147. This seemed a bit of an ask. In the way that "name your three favourite Australians" is a bit of an ask.
The reply started really well though. 42-0 off 6 was great stuff, Chris Cook's 30 an impressive feat considering he injured his back so badly he had to pull out of Friday's match. (This is a regular feature of Sam's tours too - why do artists have so many back problems? Is it all the time they spend slumped on the sofa?) At the other end Evenin' kept up the pressure with 13 at nearly a run a ball. Fraser's stay was short and dramatic - first he ducked into a gentle offbreak, and then, clearly terrified, was immediately cleaned up for a blob. It was the lamest bit of softening up I've ever seen.
We were kept in the game by a terrific partnership from Sid and Dunc, notable for its contrasting styles - Dunc coolly lifting it over the bowler's head like Chris Gayle on beta blockers, Sid frenetically pummelling it through point like Phil Hughes on Ecstasy. (And yes, I know, I know. Phil Hughes. Such a tragedy. Fractured skull and brain bleed caused by being hit in the head by a hard projectile aimed extremely quickly and quite deliberately at his head. It was a freak accident. Couldn't have been avoided.)
Dunc and Sid were batting out of their skin. At 94-3 off 13, still needing less than 8 an over, the ask looked like it might even be on, and I was already nearly at "1" on that list of Australians. But then Dunc was bowled by a good nip backer from Arthur, and one of the wheels came off. (Or a hub cap, at least.) Sid then slapped a ball firmly to extra and one of the electric windows failed. Ernie front edged a flick, and a nasty scrape appeared in the passenger door. Suddenly Deke and Charlie were at the crease, and the central locking became intermittent. If anyone would like to buy a 2002 Ford Focus, let me know. It's in very good condition. Well the radio is.
Charlie left swiftly, after delighting the crowd with another from his inexhaustible supply of original run out scenarios. Called for a bye by non-striker Deke, he set off for the run but then suddenly panicked and ran back to the safety of the batting crease, then turned again and attempted the run a second time, ending up comfortably run out at the bowlers end. It's not obvious what was going through his mind (apart from a gentle breeze). But the bit where he was heading back and Deke appeared to be chasing him was especially touching. Deke was eventually bowled off his pads for a fine, well-organised 1.
Just as all looked lost, in came Mark Hailwood for a remarkable 23*, smacking several boundaries in the process. He might even have got us back in it except that at the other end, Graham was having a mental breakdown. After a string of tour ducks he took offence at the notion of risking another one for the sake of team, and decided to chase 14 an over with forward defensives instead. He reached the dizzy heights of 0* off 8 balls by the close - not technically a duck, though ironically a quack was probably what he needed.
Mystics ended 20 short, and cars careened over the outfield as everyone attempted to get to the London Inn to be first in the food queue. Sadly, even that was a cake-free zone, and Olga was left crying into her IPA.