Mallards v Genetics August 13 @ Riding Mill

The annual battle for the Jon Robinson Trophy – In which our heroes are surprised by the weather, and other unusual occurrences … …

The story of this game begins well before the first ball was bowled, when the rearranged date for the fixture was announced, the first attempt having been thwarted by heavy rains when both sides arrived in hope, hung around in the wet, failed to see any encouraging break in the clouds, and returned damply home. Was there any significance in the new date? Immediately following the glorious 12th, when the slaughter of grouse begins, would it stand for the slaughter of another, rather wetter bird? Despite the continuing poor weather the forecast gave hope for a dry day on the 13th, and club members rushed to get their names in the hat for the club despot’s idiosyncratic selection procedure. The twelve fortunate ones (yes, even a twelfth man at this stage) received the welcome news. However it appears that some hacker has recently accessed the club distribution list, and appended it to that of our opponents, so we all got an early sight of the Genetics team. In amongst some familiar, and many unfamiliar names appeared one M Buckley, our team captain. He is rumoured to play occasionally for Genetics, and even captain the Sunday side (when they can muster a team), but surely not in this fixture! Was he not on the Mallard’s team sheet for the washed-out contest? What did this mean? Was Buxom generously playing for Genetics to even the contest, was he using his prior knowledge of the players to back a winning team, or did he just fancy the idea of batting for the other side? Time would tell … … However, as our final team sheet showed the ebullient C McCaffery as stand in captain, there was a collective sigh of relief. With Colin in charge all would be well (as some wise sage commented!)

The weather remained atrocious on the run up to the 13th, and once again the BBC weather forecast proved disappointing, the promised good day proving indifferent with signs of rain in the air. The first email from the club despot arrived on the day itself at 12.43:

Afternoon All, it may be dry and sunny, but an inspection of the outfield this morning revealed that it is still too wet to cut (it has not been cut for almost 10 days due to the weather), and the ground is very soft in places. The contractor is coming back at 3.15 to assess if it can be cut, so a decision will be made by 3.30. Peter Nitsch will advise then. At the moment he considers it to be touch and go.”

An afternoon of watching the skies began. It didn’t look promising. Then this missive arrived in the inbox:

“Afternoon All, Tonight’s game is ON, hopefully the low chance of showers will not happen. The outfield is pretty lush, and if a couple of people can get there for say 5pm, Peter would be very grateful for some help to get the outfield marked up. Please note that as prompt a start as possible would be appreciated, due to the rapidly failing light.” (Tuesday 15.55)

This came as a great surprise, especially to those in the Newcastle area, as it was raining at the time. Team members arriving early drove through rain, which cleared as the Tyne was crossed and the fabled “Riding Mill effect” came into force. Others arriving later saw great activity on the field with the boundary being lined, flags planted, Peter Nitsch riding the roller to flatten the strip, Beakers with a mower trying desperately to cut the grass behind the wickets down to a length that wouldn’t hide the ball, and young Thacker wielding another mower collecting grass cuttings in the hope that the ball when struck would at least leave the square, even if it did not make its way through the piles of damp silage to the boundary. The club despot had referred to the lush outfield; he never mentioned the lush infield. “Not much chance of running twos on this pitch” Trevor Wood was heard to say.

In due course the stragglers from both teams arrived. The two captains (or was it one captain and one deputy?) went out to the centre, and the toss was made. McCaffery won and elected to bat, saying that we would bat first on a dry wicket (!), and not have to bat in the dark when trying to hit the winning runs (more of that anon). It was, after all gone 6pm.

The captain set the field, the two umpires took their places, and the Mallard’s openers, Malik and Wood, settled in their positions. The game began in sunshine but with rainclouds threatening in the distance.

The first innings: slow progress against tight bowling and a slow outfield

 The Genetics openers, Rudd and Edmundson, medium pace and accurate, were difficult to get away; Wood and Malik settled into the task, running quickly between the wickets when the opportunity arose and despite Wood’s forebodings, collecting twos as well as singles. The score moved onwards, the most excitement coming from a square cut by Wood and umpire Beacock, seeing the unexpected possibility of a four in these conditions, misinterpreted a rather expansive arm gesture by the fielder as a signal that the ball had carried over the boundary and signalled a four. However, the fielder maintained that it hadn’t crossed the line, the signal was reversed, two scored, with Wood complaining that he could have run a third had he not seen the umpire’s signal. Would this loss of a run prove crucial? Mallards playing last week recalled a tied game.

The score moved onward, slow, but better than feared on such a pitch. 7 for 0 after 2 overs became 17 for 0 from 4, the run rate reaching over four an over. Honours even at this stage – the two bowlers had done a tidy job; the openers were beginning to look settled. Time for a bowling change. Taylor (B) replaced Rudd (2-0-12-0). Slower than the openers but accurate, he conceded a single and then trapped Malik lbw with his fifth ball. On came captain for the night McCaffery eager to push the score on. Mitcheson replaced the very tidy Edmundson (2-0-4-0), and went for six runs in his first over, keeping the rate at four an over. Still slow going. McCaffery and Wood tried to push the game on, McCafferty run out for 4 in the 7th over, replaced by Thacker, and Wood lbw to Taylor (B) for 10 runs in the 8th.

The run rate was beginning to be a concern, but it was a slow outfield and the team’s big hitters (apart from Buckley, currently directing operations for the opposition), were about to come on. Thacker and Watson were now at the crease.  Taylor (B) and Mitcheson continued to prove difficult to get away, Mallards cheering the first four of the innings by Watson off Taylor in the 9th over. The score then was 36. Richardson (of him, more later) replaced Taylor (3-0-1-8). Thacker, having spent a little time settling, struck Richardson for a magnificent straight six, and the following ball hit another powerful straight drive, only to see it plucked casually by the bowler inches from the ground. He trudged off the field for 10, muttering in disbelief. Still, there was Cox to come.

Mitcheson (3-0-1-14) was replaced by D. Taylor (of him, more later). Watson and Cox settled into their task against accurate bowling, slowly increasing the run rate until at the end of the 16th over the score stood at 70, and the chance of setting a target of over a 100 was becoming a possibility. Richardson (3-0-1-15) and Taylor (2-0-0-11) were replaced by Bennett and Jones. Both batsmen looked well set and beginning to increase the pace when disaster struck! In the 17th over Cox, on 12, was run out going for a single, and Nitsch was caught behind for a duck off new bowler Jones. Watson retired not out for a commendable 32, and Wilson and Holland survived the last overs, each not out 2. The total was 92 for 6, Watson the top scorer, with 14 extras; on this pitch possibly a competitive total, or so we thought.

The changeover was made, Mallards settled into their positions, Taylor (D) and Richardson came to the crease, and the ever reliable Cleaver took the first over, with Malik taking the second (Editors Note: thus opening the bowling and batting in a clear contravention of the cardinal Rule 1 (a) in the Mallards Regulations).  After two overs it was 7 for 0, and after 3, 13 for 0. At just over 4 an over, this was encouraging for the Mallards. Then further disaster! The fourth over went for 23 runs, with Richardson opening his shoulders and scoring three sixes, and by the end of the sixth over the score had rushed to 54, Richardson retiring not out 33, with four sixes and a four. Cleaver had commendable figures in the circumstances of 4-0-0-12, with the unfortunate Malik 3-0-0-37. There were four lost balls in the field over the one tree boundary.

Mallards had brief hopes of an honourable draw when it started to rain, and groundsman Nitsch decided that if it didn’t stop after one more over, the players would have to halt the game and retire to the pub. Of course, before the end of the over, the rain stopped and the sky cleared. The fielders were able to pause in their search for yet another lost ball to admire a magnificent full rainbow in the clear sky to the east, but sadly the end of the rainbow was nowhere near.

Cox replaced Malik, and Nitsch followed Cleaver. During Richardson’s fireworks, Taylor (D) had been accumulating runs, and this continued with the new batsman Jones, who hit a six off Cox who came off after two overs (2-0-0-17) to be replaced by McCaffery. The score had risen to 84 by the end of the tenth over, with Nitsch causing problems for Jones and was unlucky not to claim a wicket. The two “spinners” slowed the scoring rate down, and it took a further 2.4 overs for Genetics to reach their target of 93. Taylor on 29 declined a number of singles in the hope of hitting the winning runs with a boundary off Nitsch, eventually taking a single to retire on 30 with the scores level. This brought Buckley to the wicket at the non-striker’s end, and the game finished with a single by Jones off Nitsch (2.4-0-0-12). McCaffery ended with 1-0-0-2. At least Mallards avoided the indignity of watching their captain hit the winning runs, and the game had finished before it got dark!

In which our heroes reflect on another defeat, and the good that came from it … …

So there we have it. What should have been a keenly contested game in the August sunshine was a demolition – Mallards 92 for 6, Genetics 93 for 0 after 12.4 overs. It was a dejected team that adjourned for a consolation pint accompanied by chips and onion rings. Sid Mitcheson spoke for the victorious Genetics in accepting the Jon Rob trophy from himself, and generously handing it to the Mallards to touch. Somewhat cheered by the memory of Jon, and agreeing to the donation of match fees to cancer charities, the post-match session broke up, team members drifting off with some mutterings at the disappointment of not seeing the familiar old faces from Genetics at the crease.

Mallard-in-chief Taylor (G) has proposed that the match fees are donated this year to a Bowel Cancer charity, in memory of his chairman who died recently of the disease, and in gratitude for the fact that Tony Cleaver is still with us. So some good has come from the game, and there is always next year … … …