Mallards v Durham Staff @ Maiden Castle May 14

Piece of advice from the Despot to his captains: “word from the wise at the start of the game fix your eye on the most likely sucker and dragoon into them into doing the match report”. Well skipper Buxom certainly took that to heart and applied that wisdom to his designated choice of correspondent for the evening.

Anyone who treks to Maiden Castle at the moment will be greeted by a massive building project as Durham seeks to re-brand itself as one of the major sports-orientated universities in the UK. Perhaps a tacit acknowledgement of its ongoing slow decline as an institution of any academic value against the might of Oxford, Cambridge, London and dare I say Newcastle and even Sunderland?! [apologies to Messrs Stone and Cleaver who it goes without saying, are rare bastions of excellence who, despite their youthful appearance, are sad to say marginally closer to end of their careers than the beginning]

Part of the huge redevelopment includes the construction of a brand-spanking new indoor cricket centre for the sports elite. Sadly, that investment does not, so far, seem to have extended to the MC1 pitch, which was characterised by a lovely very-green-top wicket and a lush outfield with grass length far more suited to that other gentleman’s game, Rugger.

Maintaining what, I believe, is a 100% record, skipper Buxom lost the toss and was invited to field. Now at that point preferred keeper Kent had not arrived, so Taylor was asked to don the gloves. A plan with several flaws (which will become more apparent later), including the absence of any keeping kit in the Mallards bag. Fortunately, the Staff lads were in a generous mood and graciously offered the use of their unloved kit from the bottom of the team bag as well an offer to loan a fielder until the aforementioned missing Mallard finally showed up.

Cleaver, nowadays apparently ousted by the performance driven youth-policy-focused DUSCC (Nigel Metcalfe aside), opened the bowling for Mallards with his usual array of outswingers, only to be robbed of a 1st over wicket when Taylor, still trying work out which way to wear the loan equipment, spilled a straightforward caught behind. Cleaver, bowling with all his guile in his second over moved one sufficiently wider to catch the edge and safely avoid Taylor and instead into the safe waiting hands of Skipper Buxom at slip taking a fine reaction catch, removing Gillespie for 6. Meanwhile Watson from the trees end, plugged doggedly away and managed to remove other opener English for 4 with a well-taken catch by Mexter.

End of the 6th over and it was 22 for 2, and the team breathing a collective sigh of relief with Taylor being replaced by Kent, who had opportunely arrived early than expected. Apparently Kenty is going to be available for quite a few Tuesday’s to come as Iliana’s piano teacher has suffered another mishap, for the second occasion in as many weeks, this time in the form of a broken foot. I will say no more, but apparently he has a strong alibi for both …

The 7th over of the game saw something rare, a four. A strong 39 partnership between Root and Robertson then ensued despite some very tidy bowling by Jha (4 overs 0 for 24) and Mexter replacing Cleaver (4 overs 1 for 16) and Watson (4 overs 1 for 20) respectively. Mexter (4 overs 1 for 26) did remove the dangerous Robertson for 22 with an overhead caught and bowled effort that only the tallest person on the field could have got to. Only 8 of the 39 runs in that partnership came from boundaries with 3s being the more the norm. Mallards quickly figured out that the only way to get the ball back was by relay, with McCaffery taking on the role of the relay point – no matter where he was originally fielding.

Robertson was replaced by the equally dangerous Chaudry who with Root pretty much took on anything that Mallards could throw at them, with both retiring in the last couple of overs, by which point the score was in 3 figures. A final consolation was Mexter taking his 3rd catch of the evening off the bowling of Latif, who got the rump end of 1 over at the end. The final damage was 118 for 4, which included just 6 boundaries, a run 4 and eight 3’s.

Tactically, Buxom knew that Mallards needed to get off to a flier to have any chance of chasing that score down. Casting around for that combination of reliable opening technique with a little bit of scoring panache and finding none, he instead opted for Kent and McCaffery. With Boothroyd (S), nowadays a decent left arm bowler with a bit of pace, opening the DUSCC defence runs were hard to come by. Ackroyd from the other end was also miserly and the batsmen found themselves having to make do with scrambled singles, until McCaffery was undone by a direct hit to be run out for 4 in the 4th over.

Taylor, bewilderingly promoted to the number 3 position struggled to make any headway seeing Aycock out for a maiden in his final over leaving him with figures of 3 overs 0 for 14, and Boothroyd ending his spell with the even more impressive (3 overs 0 for 4). At the end of the 6th over the score was 18 for 1. So 101 needed off 12, still on for the mighty Mallards!

DUSCC’s first bowling change brought immediate dividends with the wily Metcalfe removing Kent for 10, clean bowling him as he attempted up the tempo and find an elusive boundary. With Jha now at the crease an 18-run partnership ensued with both extras and Jha outscoring Taylor who finally perished to a direct hit run out for just 3 in the 10th over with the score on 38. This also saw the departure of Jha a couple of balls later caught by Root off the bowling of the-not-quite-as-lethal Boothroyd (I) for 16.

The nowadays svelte Butcher replaced Taylor and did his best to smite the ball. Alas while his running between the wickets is decidedly quicker, the diet also seems to have taken its toll on his ability to smack the ball out of the park, albeit that he did score the second of only two boundaries in the MCC innings – one that trickled over the mid-wicket boundary only come to come to a halt about 1 foot later. Buckley looked every bit the part, but was undone by the bowler running in when he was not ready. Rather than walk away our skipper elected to try the old one-handed block instead, only to see the ball clatter onto the stumps. Did I mention the ultra-competitive spirit? No reprieve from the opposition captain who was now considering his final bowling changes.

Now with a score of 39 for 4 at the end of the 12th over, the opposition needing to score at 13 an over on a green pitch, a very slow outfield and the light now starting to fade rapidly, what do you do? Good idea in a friendly game, put your fastest bowler of the evening on at the (dark) tree end. Despite this tactic Butcher aided and abetted by Holland, managed to nurdle and run the highest Mallards partnership of the evening, 24 runs before Butcher holed out with just one ball remaining. At this point Mexter graciously stood aside to allow Cleaver to take the last ball of the innings. Needing just 43 off the last ball, Cleaver strode out to the middle to a field consisting of 3 slips, 2 gullies, point, leg slip, silly mid-on and silly mid-off. Not fazed in the slightest, Cleaver punched through for a single and the game was concluded in the twilight with a proud defiant 79 on the board.

So off to the Rose Tree pub, where we made the bar-lady’s evening by actually giving her some customers to serve. In terms of pub attendance, the score was Mallards 12, DUSCC 2. So we took the moral high ground for the evening. We play because we love the game, but enjoying each other’s company after is just as important.