Mallards v Wolsingham July 21 @ Beamish

Dearest cousin Eglantine

To relax after spending the morning pondering whether Scott’s Marmion or The Lady of the Lake poems were to be preferred, and how ranked, against Byron’s Giaour and The Bride of Abydos, I strolled down to the Fairground near Beamish village.  The son of one of the gardeners, hardly able to contain his excitement, had informed me that the ‘famous Mallards’ were about to commence a match against Wolsingham.   Having recently so enjoyed watching Tom Hayward at the Oval, finding all corners of the ground with his flashing blade, I determined to sit awhile and take in the spectacle.

After summoning a man to find and erect a deck chair for my use, I settled down ready to observe these fine specimens of manhood go about their epic encounter.  Imagine my surprise when, minutes before the first over was due, a group – by my count, my dear, more than half of the team – headed off in the direction of the shops.   No doubt (I thought) in order to purchase a bag of boiled sweets and some sherbet dips, to sustain them while in the field, and to perhaps sign some autograph books.  They were so friendly – one even paused and so kindly offered to introduce me to the finer points of scoring.  (His fellow players seemed to think his gesture amusing – no doubt on the assumption that a mere woman would have difficulty in learning such a craft!)

The poor captain for the day, whom I heard addressed as ’Flashing’ something and  ‘Prof’ – so elegantly attired in striped shirt, cravat and cream waistcoat – emerged from the marquee tent to find he had very few troops on parade.    The growing crowd thought it highly amusing to see how he paced around, fretted and threw his hands in the air, declaring that this ‘would not have happened in his day’!

The abscondees, however, were back on station in no time.  As they passed, I heard one of them recounting how he had already fortified his system, ready for the match, with a plate of fish and chips and a pint, and that he fancied the extra pint of beer he was now carrying – in common with his fellows – was bound to give the team the edge in the forthcoming contest.  (You know, I fancy that I remembered him from a match last year.  He must be a keen ornithologist, as, on that occasion, he appeared to be intently watching a tree pipit, as the ball went past him in the field.  How his teammates chided him!).

I also noticed that the estate managers had supplied a Kookaburra Red Turf ball (for some reason, complete with pocket-sized sandpaper).  I recall reading a discussion of the merits of this particular item of cricket paraphernalia.  Mr C. Box expounded at length in those august organs, Cricket and Cricket Field (full sets of which are on Uncle Donald’s shelves, next to works by his favourite Victorian author, Stormy Daniels).  It is attested that the ball poses problems to all – batsmen, bowlers and fielders alike – and thus to the game of cricket, and possibly even the whole British Empire.

And so, to the match… The rules of which, by the way, restricted the run-up, and allowed 12 players for each side, with retirement for batsmen at 20 runs.

On this occasion, it seems, the famous swagger of the Mallards’ top order batsmen was not allowed to manifest itself, as Master Sam Waterwort struck twice for the seriously-minded Wolsingham representatives.  The standing umpire, Mr Lucas’s decision to send Mr Kent back to the tent, after a rap on the pads, caused the batsman to hide his disappointment (not to say, incredulity) by reciting what appeared to be substantial sections from Hercules as he removed his presence slowly from the field of battle.  Strolling in nonchalantly, at first wicket down, Mr Nitsch then deployed his relaxed, Goweresque style, followed by more nonchalance on the way back to the pavilion seconds later, again thanks to the lightning finger reflex of Mr Lucas.  With New Zealander Mr Cox – still suffering severe from nerves, after the recent misfortunes of his fellow countrymen at Lords – going for one, the first three batsmen were back in the marquee having exchanged their wickets for an average of just one run apiece.  Mr Watson steadied the ship, without piercing the ring of fielders, in an innings of seven singles; he was ably kept company by Mr Green, who batted well enough, but caused only the deposit of dots in the batting row of the scorebook.

Then, perhaps because the ball was losing its shine, or the clouds, or the captain’s language, the middle order got things going.  Mr Gibbons showed how it was possible to score in twos rather than singles, and to his 11 was added a further 21, imperiously struck by Prof. Paul Greenhalgh, one of the few gentlemen players of the team, on one of his (sadly) rare appearances for the Mallards.  He so dominated the batting as to strike two of the team’s three fours (the other being contrived by Mr Lucas), and before he had to retire, also shared a partnership with his son, Jasper (from which the lad will no doubt have learned much about the fine craft of batting).  Mr Lucas, attempting to atone for his earlier rashness, contributed 10 before being caught at the stumps – a fate that also awaited Mr Cleaver (for 2), after some feints of stylishness with the bat.  Stone started with a negative score, running one run for a wide, which if left alone would have yielded two to the total.  Nevertheless, he (n.o. 5) and Taylor (n.o. 2) were both in determined mood, and rolled back the years to ensure that the tail indeed wagged before the overs ran out.  Extras (20) ran Greenhalgh senior close for top scorer.

The Mallards first clever strategy in the field seemed one of allowing the new batsmen to tire themselves out through their impatient pacing while alone at the wicket.  Once the final Mallardian had arrived on the pitch (having finally located and laced up his boots), Mr Cleaver was cleared to commence from the top end, en route to tidy figures of 7 runs conceded off two lively overs.  Mr P. Gibbons, labouring up the slope, managed to have batsman Campbell caught by Mr Watson at deep mid-off, and returned figures of 1-11.   Mr Cox, showing great gusto, kept the batsmen quiet, while skipper Stone managed to elicit one lbw decision out of the umpire (McDaid for 14), but paid for this in not being granted a plumb lbw shout a few balls later.  His paper on the ‘umpire’s compensation decision theory’ was, I am told, half completed as he partook of the post-match Pimms and cream scones, for eventual submission to the journal Behavioural Intrusion in Cricket Statistics).

The youngest competitor, Master Jasper Greenhalgh accomplished his two overs at close to the par rate.  The ever-reliable Mr Nitsch, labouring uphill, showed the generous side to his nature with the ball.  Mr Lucas claimed the third wicket, when Howard was very smartly stumped by the ever-cheerful Mr Kent, to return figures of 1-6.   In a testimony to field setting, I’m sure, and the absence of tree pipets to distract fielders, ‘extras’ contributed very little to the score, just one wide and no-ball being called in Wolsingham’s winning total of 83-3.  They also had two retired batsmen (Dalton and Garner) in reserve.

A low scoring game reflected the paucity of boundaries – in no large part contrived by the choice of ball, upon which I expounded earlier, which bounced and pinged unpredictably on a pitch, if not from the bat.  Somewhat lacking in billiard table smoothness, the wicket had been freshly scythed that morning by Hawkins, but he had then needed to rush to church and neglected to apply a heavy roller.

I informed Uncle Donald in America that I had witnessed a match.  He is always so quick to respond with his pithy postcard messages:

“I was an excellent crikketer, when visiting England. Scored some GREAT sixers into the bleachers at the original thirteenth century stadium in Glasgow, Wales.  Then pitched twelve of them OUT!  I love that country, and they love me, love me so much!

“If England gets rid of those LOSERS as crikket opponents in Eurup, we can negotiate a WORLD SERIES between our two great countries.  It would be awesome.

“You guys would have to use baseball bats, though – and we’d use a diamond shaped wikket.  Lovely chlorine drenched chicken nuggets to follow, of course.  Just take back CONTROL, guys! BEAUTIFUL possibilities! Covfefe…!!!”

Oh he is so droll, Uncle Donald.  (Or do I mean, ‘total dick’?)

I do hope you are over the attack of the vapours.  I look forward to returning to Guildford soon, and getting the coal dust out of my hair.

Florence Leglance (Miss)