Mallards v Ovipart @ Clara Vale July 26

Clara Vale. A thunderous night anticipated. Portentous clouds made a canopy over the bucolic splendour of a rural cricket pitch. The gathering skies forming an amphitheatre for the Gods, to watch the game touched by their hand.  And then our team arrived, a gaggle of decrepitude, sweating, swearing and issuing profundities such as ‘Ooh, it’s hot’ or ‘Looks like rain’.

The mood was not improved when Ovingham turned up with half of the Davipart team, the young guns for hire that had put us to the sword twice in the past 7 days. Buckley, skipper for the day, limped manfully to the crease and managed to lose the toss. The casting of the runes had not gone well. Odin smiled down with an air of resignation.

Mallards took to the field like a phalanx of already defeated foot soldiers, bereft of hope.  The sight of the Ovipart openers did little to dispel the gloom. Two Young Bloods keen to put us to the sword. Browne opened with vim and a dash of vigour, to be met by powerful stroke play and an aggressive appetite for boundaries. At the other end, Malik hit his mark early but the openers found their range in later overs. A sprinkling of fours and quick run singles, near misses and the occasional dropped catch (dear me skipper!) bruised the bowlers’ figures. By the eighth over, Ovipart had stretched out to 67-0. Browne trudged off to the boundary, a disconsolate figure. Little were we to know what primal force was fermenting within that shattered frame.

First change bowlers Mexter and Thacker entered the fray. Mexter hit some semblance of line and length, and bowled tidily (What, no wides? Surely not?). Thacker bowled with pace, movement and a degree of guile that left the batsmen searching for answers. Not enough to stop the two openers retiring, Dhruv with an expansive six. The new batsman quickly fell to Thacker – a beautiful ball which nipped back and took off stump. On a roll, Thacker then had Walbrook trapped LBW. Mexter joined the fray by getting the Big lad from Ovipart pouched, with consummate confidence, by Malik on the long-on boundary.

With the scoring pegged back, and wickets on the board, the Mallards’ collective dander was now well and truly up. Fielders began to move with balletic grace, Taylor and Wood threw themselves around like giddy schoolboys. Beakers commanded the wicket. Throws fizzed over the stumps. Batsmen quaked or, at least, shuffled a bit. Two herons flew over the ground – augurs of a more potent present.

Haylock and Latif came on to mop up the opposition. Unfortunately, Ovipart batted deep. Dinesh punished anything on the leg side, until Latif bamboozled him with the ‘slower one’ and Beakers, like a man an eighth of his age, whipped off the bails. Haylock, battered slightly by slight batters, fought back to get two late wickets, one a Laurel and Hardyesque juggle between Beakers and the Skip.

A notable moment from the final over – Hilton strikes a nice cover drive and Browne, moving with the agility that didn’t belie a recent 50 year old, picks up on the run and rifles the ball in, heading directly for the stumps. Breaths are held, fingers crossed. The moment of impact coming. And then Haylock, inadvertently, steps back and knocks over the stumps. NOT OUT [it should be added that the batsman immediately started walking and Colin called him back with an apology – ed.].  If there was ever a metaphor for Mallardian cricket, it was that moment.

Perseverance, a dogged determination to be respectable, inspiring moments and wholehearted collective support and encouragement kept Ovipart’s final total down to an almost attainable 146.

So to the batting. Taylor and Malik strode to the wicket as though they had assumed the mantle of men on a mission. Not for a win, but a good showing, a tip to the Mallardian spirit. The Ovipart bowling attack looked quite similar to their batting line up, but hey ho. Taylor, determined to put down an early marker of intent, made some lusty swipes without profit. Unfortunately, the chance of a quick single was too tempting, and Taylor careered towards the bowler’s end. With an athleticism that a Mallard can only dream of, the bowler was able to roll forward, pick up the ball and, from a prone position, fell the stumps. No herons could be seen.

Malik, slowly chipping away at the total, was joined by Wood, back in the country for a cricketing pit stop during his world tour. In the spirit of the moment, Wood decided to throw caution to the wind and open his shoulders. A brace of crisp twos, then the fateful moment. A beautiful onside drive with enough loft to clear the diminutive fielder. But what, the tiny boy leaps like a Canadian Sockeye and plucks the ball from the skies. Lesson learnt. Back to blocking next time, Trev.

Buckley fared better.  Recovering from a dodgy lower back injury, the like of which usually gets you a month off at the council, Buckley plundered a couple of regal fours and limped singles, and the game was afoot. Right up to the point where a ‘looked high to me from over here’ type delivery did for Buckley, picked off at square leg. Latif, keen to make a mark, collected a couple of quick singles until done by their opening batsman/bowler Dhruv, who was turning the ball for fun. When Mexter faced his first ball, he was heard to exclaim, ‘Now, that’s tricky’. Mexter, anxious to try his new Jonny Bairstow batting technique, hit a quick four and then, demonstrating no technique whatsoever, skied one to Dhillon for a caught and bowled.

Thacker then attended the wicket, with due regard to getting a lick on. Malik, with an elegance normally expected of a player from a rival team, made steady progress towards his 30 (or was it 37?) and retirement. Ronnie, our contribution from Ovipart in the absence of Mr Kent, scored a quick four, and then had a slow walk back to the pavilion after being caught down leg.

And then, from the hutch, emerged our own Son of the Gods – Thomas, ‘ The Thor’, Browne. Famed for his ‘Hit out or get out, but mainly get out’ philosophy, Browne moved to the wicket, mighty weapon in his hand.  First ball, a customary swish but, miraculously, the stumps remained intact. Was something happening? The herons returned, wings like ruffled sails, arching over the battle below. A six, a four, a quick pair, another six. Thacker joined in with a line of elegant singles and a four. Browne, like a cyclist on EPO, was producing the sort of performance that normally gets referred to WADA.  A six cleared the long-on boundary, some quarter of a mile away (to the relief of the nearby substitute fielder Wood) and then, to take him to his 30, Browne clipped another six over mid-wicket. 30 off 11 balls. A colossus had entered the arena.  The augurs were bright, and the blood was up, along with the humidity. Could this be real? Could we be in with a shout? The crowd leaned forward in their beach loungers, expectant, wondering – deluded.

Uncooperatively, in now rapidly fading light, Ovipart deployed their main bowlers again, and Beaks struggled to get it off the square [actually more like off the bat – ed.]. Thacker ran brightly but to no avail as the strike kept evading him, and when Beaks gave a catch, and Haylock failed to create the necessary miracle, even the herons could not keep the flame of hope alive. 122 – two dozen short, but it felt much closer.

The clouds closed in around the ground. Distant thunder expressed the plaintive cry of despondent gods. On this occasion, lightning didn’t even bother to strike once, and the Mallards – those mortal warriors – did what they do best and buggered off to the pub. As Wilde would have said if he were a Mallard, it is better to have played and lost, than never to have played at all.