Thriller in Vanilla

Mystics vs Saint Neot Taverners at Saint Neot, 4th August 2022

(I thought I might be lazy and let ChatGPT write a report for this game. But while it did OK with cricket terminology, and indeed managed to construct a game with believable players, in which St Neot batted first and made 189, it then claimed that the Mystics chased it down with Charlie making 118. I don't think humanity has too much to fear from AI just yet.)

The village of St Neot on a bright summer's day is extremely lovely; not for nothing did it win two National Village of the Year awards. It was equally lovely to see so many old faces and well known names at this year's game, although there was alas no Mark Bunt, and Andrew Kent had to step down with a bad back. (The latter gamely came along anyway to heckle.) St Neot, apparently, had filled the team sheet two weeks in advance - ah, the old promise of cheap wickets and easy runs...

Also struggling physically but gamely turning up to watch was Adi, his leg plastered up to the knee after rupturing his achilles. He did his best to put a smile on his face but was clearly in a lot of distress - there was a strong chance Matthew would now get more tour runs than him.

Mark Hailwood and Pete Weatherhead were the inspired choice as Mystic opening pair, striding out to bat in the sunshine like Ryan Sidebottom and Rory Burns. Alas having walked the quarter of a mile or so from the pavilion to the wicket, Mark got cleaned up third ball and disconsolately had to retrace his steps. His views on re-emerging from the pavilion would have made a superb pitchside interview:

"Hard luck Mark, that ball looked-"

"I fucking hate cricket."

Now that's what we want from Zak Crawley every time he gets out, in inevitably disappointing fashion. Not "Obviously I'd like to have got a few more, but the boys have got us up to a competitive total." Just "I fucking hate cricket".

Pete was batting gingerly, keeping Ted Dyer and young Jack Brice at bay while protecting his strained groin. Well, it's a long tour and you never know when you'll need it. Matt Cook started with a punch to mid on that went straight through Jack Kent's legs for four. I was with Andrew Kent at the time but will spare Jack's feelings by not repeating exactly what Andrew said from the boundary. (It started with "You", and had three words.)

Spencer Ham and Steve Rowe came on to bowl, and steady progress was the order of the day, with a Pete caress through point and a couple of belts over the top from Matt the highlights as we passed 50. At this point two Mystics Knowledgeable Supporters deduced that the game had now safely settled in, and in a superb display of authoritative judgment, Derek and Olga opened very large books at precisely the same moment. There was a collective breathing out. (Derek's book was about Oxford. No doubt his attempt to find out how the lower orders live.)

The peace didn't last though, Chris Cook arriving late and Sam's dog Peggy justifying the money spent on a year's training by recognising the face from the picture and immediately trying to savage him. Meanwhile young Alex Eldridge came on at the pavilion end and like Brice Jr before him also bowled nicely. At 67, Pete was deceived by a cunning lack of spin from Steve Rowe and bowled, bringing in Matt Crawford, who nicked Alex to slip - but Graham Kent dropped it. It was to prove a little costly.

Immediately after the drinks interval, Matt Cook went to 50 with a beautifully picked up six and followed it with four consecutive fours, ruining poor Steve Rowe's figures. Wonder what they put in the drinks? (Don't ask ChatGPT; it'll probably claim it was Charlie.) Matt Crawford then whacked Eldridge the Younger for a couple of boundaries, at which point Eldridge the Elder came on. Steaming in, he took a kind of revenge, Matt Cook cutting him to point where Graham Kent redeemed himself with an absolutely blinding catch to see him off for 84.

The entertainment level was high off the pitch too, Laura's hip-thrusting hula hoop skills tempting a few Mystics to have a try. Mat Ogley was especially good, as was Kate, though how you're supposed to keep concentrating on your rhythm with Talia shouting "yes... yeeeees... YES... YESSS! THAT'S IT!! OHHH, YOUVE GOT IT!!!" in frankly climactic fashion I really don't know. Maybe Adi could advise. (Or maybe not.)

Derek meanwhile missed all the excitement - he must have sampled some local mushrooms or something, as he now lay staring up at the sky repeating "These clouds man... these clouds - they're incredible". (I'd like to have heard The Orb with Prof. Matravers instead of Rickie Lee Jones: "What were the skies like when you were young?" "When I was what?")

Back on the pitch Matt Crawford went to 50 with a couple of stylishly clubbed boundaries from the returning Brice Jr. There was wild and fully deserved applause for this career high score. Matt Borley also got into the act with some lovely fours of his own, making Adi's achilles throb a bit harder. This pattern then continued with remarkably little change until the end of the innings, captain Fraser declaring 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 229 for 3. The last partnership was an unbeaten 105.

(Michael Vaughan writes: "Mystic Matts came out of this game averaging 204. Non-Matts averaged 8.5. Why the selectors continue showing faith in non-Matts is beyond me.")

St Neot faced a huge challenge, but any worries that a Superman effort might be beyond them were dispelled by the sight of a Clarke/Kent opening partnership. They put on 40 at a fair rate before Jack Kent flipped a full toss to midwicket, Phil Sumner following not long after with a vertical smear confidently snaffled by keeper Matt Borley.

(Michael Vaughan writes: "Why the rest of the team haven't thought about changing their name by Deed Poll is beyond me.")

Ray Clarke was next out, also caught off a full toss. But back at the pavilion he informed his team mates in no uncertain terms: "Don't worry. There are PLENTY of runs out there". Spoiler alert: Ray Clarke is a very good judge of the game.

Ted Dyer meanwhile had his eye in and was calmly punching the ball to all parts of the leg side. He slapped consecutive fours off Sean to go to 45, eventually getting to 50 (to the great delight of the home fans) with a delicate back cut. Spencer Ham was also scoring quickly, and the last 20 overs arrived with 134 required.

(Michael Vaughan writes: "Actually quite a lot of things are beyond me, aren't they?")

Ted was finally out to a fine diving catch from Chris Cook, swooping low with all the style of an Italian-designed Peugeot. 90 to win. Chris's bowling slowed things down a bit, but St Neot were not out of it. Fraser came on and went for 13, then Chris's next over went for 20 as David Eldridge set off like a train on an old fashioned timetable where the journey times weren't artificially elongated to manufacture falsely impressive punctuality statistics in a grinding daily reminder of the impossibility of regulating corporations' greed-driven worsening of life for everyone but their shareholders. With 11 overs to go, 54 were needed and the home team probably favourites.

At this point Derek and Olga closed their books. It was shaping up to be some finish.

The rate was maintained for a couple of overs, Matt Cook contributing a terrific overthrow to the cause. 43 off 9. Ham went to a half century with 4 from Frazzle and Etheridge smashed another 4 over Mat Ogley's head, but then an unwise shot to cow and a nice catch from Matt Crawford saw his downfall for a stunning 39 from 16 balls.

33 needed from 8, but 5 down now. Cook's 1st ball to new bat Dave Brice is despatched for 4, but Ham then top edges Frizzle to Cook senior and the new batter is Eldridge minor. 24 from 6 with four wickets left, two of them young juniors - had the WinViz shifted to the Mystics?

Eldridge jr. edges a single. Brice smashes one straight for a certain 4, but some outrageously brilliant fielding from Sam Cook keeps it to 1. Sam's dad ends the over by bowling young Alex - could anything be more heartless than that? Brice sr. is joined by Brice jr. and two balls later Fraser answers the queston with a resounding Yes, bowling young Jack for a golden blob. But a couple more singles and a nick for 4 from Graham Kent and it's 15 off 4. Two wickets left.

Brice slaps a long single, but Kent is tied down for a couple before he properly gets hold of one - but it goes straight back to Chris Cook for a c&b, Cookie becoming the 10th Mystic bowler to 50 wickets. Well bowled sir. And so last man Steve Rowe strides out with, let's not underestimate this, the good name of the entire village on his shoulders. Lose here and those National Village Of The Year signs will have to come down. Malguenac will be reconsidering the whole twinning thing.

A single and a dot and it's "Over" and 13 from 3. Fraser takes a deep breath and twirls the ball from hand to hand. And then produces some great death bowling as the first five balls yield only two singles. 11 from 13 balls, but then Steve Rowe nails a huge pick up to mid wicket; Crawford, back-pedalling, falls and it's 4 more.

7 from 2 overs. Now it's Chris Cook to bowl, on his shoulders the reputation of his family, academia, and all artists whose work "hovers between abstract and figurative". A swing and a miss and the ball seems to go straight through the stumps for 2 byes. HOW THE HELL DID THAT MISS??? A yorker hits the pads and the Supporters are out of their Deluxe Camping Chairs, screaming and wailing like it's last orders - but it's nowhere near out. A dot. Then Dave Brice effects a beautiful pickup through mid wicket to the boundary - and scores are level!! The field comes in. The pavilion is like the Western Terrace at Headingley as Cook bowls... and Brice smacks it through extra for four to win! What a game! !

So ended a great match, with 460 runs scored and four Mystics with 7000 runs between them not even getting a bat. And you'll be pleased to know that even the worst days on a cricket pitch can be recovered from. After the ceremony of his recent wedding to the wonderful Laura, Mark showed he no longer fucking hates cricket, and even, whisper it, managed to complete a single.

Wedding Cricket

Chris Healey

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