Mallards v Durham Staff @ Maiden Castle May 16

With the nights growing warmer and longer, a team of wild Mallards migrated south to temporarily nest in the heart of Durham at the Maiden Castle ground. The lush field seemed endless and after a damp morning, the possibility of a high boundary game looked far from likely.

Harry and Taylor were the first to wade to the wicket, the former looking to impress on his debut and the latter looking to impress on his birthday. Harry, who like Prince or Cher appears to be mononymous, elected to face the first ball from Bothroyd which yielded a pair of two’s and 4 dot balls, a solid start for a debut Mallard. The second over meant it was the birthday boy’s time to shine, with a familiar face doing the bowling (Judas Cleaver) surely the stage was set for a fine batting display. Sadly, the memo mustn’t have been received  as Cleaver, in fine recent form, bowled 5 dot balls before having Taylor caught behind –  a wicket-maiden first over.

McCaffery joined Harry and the second over followed a similar pattern, Harry pounced on anything the accurate fast bowler let slightly astray added 2 runs with the first ball and 3 with the final ball, which was the first confirmation of the massive boundaries as the shot looked all day like a 4.  Unfortunately, Cleaver, now in confident mood, then managed to repeat his first over trick with another wicket-maiden his third ball seeing Harry caught in the deep.  Buckley saw out the rest of the over but  after 4 overs, the mallards had just 9 runs and had lost 2 wickets. Things looked ominous.

After another maiden over from new bowler Metcalf, McCaffery and Buckley started to build a fine-looking partnership, the former loving to run at a second’s notice and the latter begrudgingly obliging. McCaffery had the gall to start swinging at Cleaver’s deliveries and the runs began to come. The first boundaries came in the 10th over as Buckley whacked Anjil for 4 twice in a row.  The Mallards now sat on 37-2 from 10, still well below par. Buckley, however, was beginning to accelerate and the runs began to flow more quickly before he retired in the 13th over for 31. McCaffery quickly followed, in less desirable circumstances, after being caught from Anjil for 19 leaving the Mallards on 67 from 14 and plenty of time to start slogging.

Wood and Butcher entered the fray but the latter soon saw his stumps demolished. Butcher began to walk, fate seemingly sealed, before eagle-eyed Umpire Taylor quickly stomped his authority to declare a no ball. With a mop of the brow Butcher was back in business. The need for runs meant risks were now being taken with some quick singles and Butcher finally met his end for real, run out for 7 in the 17th over.  Browne, promoted to try and increase the run rate, came in next. First ball faced made him look like a proper batsman with a straight drive over the bowler’s head, however 2 runs were reduced to 1 as the ever-fair umpire Taylor had spotted a running infraction.  Sadly Browne repeated the same shot three more times without connecting and was stumped at the fourth attempt. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Beacock now joined the ever-present Wood to finish the innings off. With both prepared to run for everything, a flurry of singles peppered with smattering of near misses saw them take the score to 99-5 from the 20 overs, Beacock finishing with 6 and Wood an unbeaten 15.

Mallards swooped onto the pitch in the knowledge that either a superb defensive display, or bowling Durham out would be the only chance of victory. Browne, opening the bowling, started with the latter in mind. The first chance the batsman had to swing, he did and Butcher took full advantage with a fine catch. Opening batsman Wastell out for a duck.

Watson at the other end was also delivering devilish balls, his pirouetting run-up clearly confusing the new batsman, Smith, who attempted a suicidal run to Buckley. Buckley’s response was swift and deadly, a one-handed pick-up and direct hit to run the new man out by a distance. Two overs gone, two batsmen out.

Durham, however, began to settle and by  the 7th over had reached 24 for 2. Browne, in his final over, made one last big effort and it paid off, a lightning ball edged and snapped up by Beacock, sharp as ever. Browne finished his spell with an excellent 2-11 from four overs while Watson ended with a parsimonious 0-21. Both fine numbers and if the following bowlers could continue this, the Mallards would just about make it.

The second debutant of the day Gilloway took the next over with Thompson bowling from the other end. Gilloway, from Lancashire, had regaled the Mallards with tales of his youthful bowling prowess however, sheepishly confessed he hasn’t held a ball for close to 8 years. Both bowlers appeared to start out steadily however batsmen Powell and Rout had definitely begun to feel more comfortable. Any ball that was slightly short or off line was punished harshly. As the overs ticked by, Gilloway’s previous experience started to shine through though and on another day he could have picked up a couple of wickets. A snick again swept up by Beacock was deemed to be from a pad strap, appeals for a slow-motion replayed denied by a lack of such technology.

Gilloway was now well into his stride and his third over gave away just 2 runs. Thompson was replaced by Wood in an attempt to give new batsman Gillespie (Powell having just retired for 31 from a flurry of boundaries) something new to think about.  Gilloway took his final over well and ended up with a respectable 0-25 from his four.  With Wood holding them off at one end, Thompson was given another shot at the other for the 16th over. By this point, however, Durham had hit 93 and a small miracle was needed. Despite a much better over, giving away 3 runs, the damage looked done. The Mallards closed in and Wood stepped up again looking for a maiden. Three great deliveries to new batsman Boothroyd (Gillespie having also romped to 30) looked promising, however off the fourth the batsman took a wild swing and that was it, 4 runs, Durham finishing on 101-3 to win by 7 wickets. Wood bowled 3 overs for 15 and Thompson the same for 22.

All that separated the teams in the end was 14 balls, and Mallards being Mallards, it was taken in good stride. There is always a beer after and there is always another game.

Hold on a minute though… if Cleaver had put on a different shirt that morning, would the scores have been reversed? I think we all know the answer to that. We’re all expecting a fine performance next time Cleaver puts on a Mallards shirt, though having bowled out the head of the selection committee on his birthday that may not be for a long time.