Mallards v Excelsior Batters @ Riding Mill May 16

This assignment was given me in the time-honoured way.  Getting out of my car in a shady parking area behind the Wellington, I was seized from behind and forced, face down, onto the car bonnet.

‘Your turn, match report!’ hissed someone holding a bat across the back of my neck. ‘That clear?’

‘Errr…, but I’m about to go on holiday’

‘New skipper’s orders – all leave is cancelled’.

A fairly ordinary day in Brexit Britain, I reflected, as I dabbed at my bleeding nose and went to join team members seated outside the pub. It dawned on me, as the falling evening temperature slowed the circulation and thus staunched the blood flow, that the hierarchy’s insistence on always sitting outside was probably connected to this effect.  Cancelling a holiday that my wife had organised was the scarier of the options facing me, so I took the risk and went off to ‘the continent’ – wearing my badge of 12 gold stars on a blue background, and (of course) my Mallards CCC green baggy.

Time flies when you are sheltering from the rain in pubs and bars, and now, here in Dunkerque (from where our last withdrawal from Europe took just a few days), I have the problem of recalling what the hell happened at Riding Mill on 16 May?   In a desperate search for inspiration I think of a marvellous book by M.N. Srinivas, The Remembered Village (OUP, 1976).  Mallardian teammates will of course be familiar with this masterly work, containing insights into rural commercialisation processes and concepts of peasant rationality.  Its anthropologist author lost several years’ worth of collected materials to an arsonist, and was forced to write the 356-page tome largely from memory.

Seated in Le Moule Rit, Malo-les-Bains, looking over ‘the beach’, I am playing for time, and seeking further inspiration.  Belgian-style local beers should do the trick.  (I’ve always argued that, for success, the Remain case needed only to display posters of these brews).  I have before me a bottle of La Chouffe – spicy, with bready notes and touches of coriander and lemon.  This golden, robust (8%) brew from Brasserie d’Achouffe is named after the Chouffe gnomes of the Ardennes mountains.  The magical gnomes ran their own brewery for many years, until the brewery was destroyed.  Fortunately, one of them passed on the recipe to the founders of Brasserie d’Achouffe.

Yes, the picture is becoming clearer…

It was a day when if you stood with your back to the cold breeze from the coast, the bright sunshine would warm your face (and make it hard to see the ball).  The match start-up rituals were accompanied by cheerful cacophonic birdsong.   Any observer taking his place on the splendid John Rob seat surveyed a Riding Mill sports ground in simply splendid condition.

Let’s pause first to set the match in context.  Mallards was struggling to find form in the early season, making a match against the Excelsior team very timely.  Its record against the Batters over the past six seasons was roughly in proportion to the share of Tories willing to throw away Scotland and Northern Ireland, in order to send the country into chaos: P9 W6 L3.  But… which Mallards would turn up on the day – the ‘comically inept’ one or the ‘surprisingly average’ crew?

Opener Hamid Malik started slowly against steady bowling, taking only six singles off the first 16 deliveries he faced. He then struck a four.  He must have regretted such rash action, and proceeded to post a batch of eight successive singles, before cutting loose with some boundaries to earn a rest with 33 against his name.  His early partners, the flamboyant Ankush (lbw for 2), gritty McCaffrey (bowled, 2) and phlegmatic Nistch (bowled, 6), made little headway, but skipper Buckley steadied the ship, striking four boundaries in a brisk 25, before a rap on the pads caused his departure.  The rest of the batting did not amount to much: Greenwood contributed 6, but the Doub’yas – Wood, Watson and Wilkinson – accumulated only three runs between them, and Stone somehow contrived not to get the team to three figures.  The Mallards final score – a respectable, if eminently gettable, 99-9 – was achieved with the aid of 18 extras.

More help is needed, I think, with accessing my episodic memory… The retrieval process is running up against the problem of distraction or divided attention at the very point of memory encoding.  (It should be noted that my deficiency here is nothing out of the ordinary – the problem of distraction or divided attention has always existed within the Mallards, whether batting, bowling or fielding).  Nothing else for it but another elixir to hopefully induce a relaxed state and enable better access to memory items… Vedett Extra Blond is selected. Brewed by Duvel Moortgat, this pale yellow brew (5.2%), with a distinctly dry finish, has both malt and hoppy aromas, fruity tones, and hints of vanilla.

Now, back to 16 May…

The Batters reply was somewhat flat, as Liam Thacker and Andy Watson tore into them in the blinding low sunlight.  Greenwood, sharply stumped the opener Sharrif, as the Mallard quicks consigned six of the opposition back to the pavilion (three ducks) with only 17 showing on the board (eventually).  The pace men each took three wickets (3-7 and 3-10 respectively), with Watson actually managing to break a bail (He should be aware that the Treasurer will no doubt be sending him an invoice for this property damage, under the new regime’s funding model).  From then on, the skipper did not for one moment consider withdrawing his boot from the throat of the opposition.  Only two of the opposition batsmen were allowed to make any impression: Davidson reaching 10, and Wilkinson (batting no. 10), top-scoring with 18.

First change bowler, Stone, bowled a surprisingly high proportion of his deliveries on or around the off stump, giving keeper Greenwood little opportunity to demonstrate his athleticism down the leg side.  Only three byes were conceded during the innings, and sponsors of his distinctive protective headgear (which, I’m informed, simultaneously plays Radio 6 music) will certainly be happy.  Ankush and Nitsch weighed in with a wicket each at the end, to see Excelsior (who suffered from only having ten players) dismissed for 54 (including 10 extras) in just 15.3 overs. The 45–run victory was quick, clinical and ruthless – and the most comprehensive win in terms of runs against this particular opposition since 2013.

After a slow and faltering start, the Mallards registered an emphatic win, and by 8.30pm the team were imbibing their cold beers, in bracing conditions outside the Wellington.  Already, every ball bowled had become faster and more unplayable, and every shot executed had the poise and power of anything served up by an England captain.  Needless to say, dropped catches and mis-fields were, by now, ‘quarter-chances’ or ‘simply impossible’.  In the divided and diminished shambles that is Britain in 2019, one of its hallowed and enduring institutions, Mallards CC, had demonstrated that out of chaos can emerge a spark of capability and hope for the future. At least for a few days….