Mallards v Genetics August 11th @ Riding Mill

There have been many great rivalries and competitions over the years – Tottenham vs Arsenal, Henry VIII against the Catholics, Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Man vs Food, England vs Australia in the Ashes, Phil Mitchell vs Ian Beale and, of course Donald Trump vs reality. However, none can wave a piece of wood encrusted with dog excrement at the “rivalry” between those 2 titans of friendly cricket in the North-East of England – Mallards CC and Genetics CC.

Twas a glorious evening in Northumberland on 11th August (that line would’ve worked even better if we’d played on the 12th!) and the ground at Riding Mill was bathed in sunshine as 22 men, illustrious and true, prepared to pitch battle against each other to get their hands on the coveted Jon Rob Cup.

Skipper for the evening was Colin “the Cat” McCaffery as usual incumbent Mark “Buxom” Buckley had traitorously decided to turn out for Genetics. Funnily enough, he was captain for them tonight and, as McCaffery and Buxom walked out to the middle, they stared at one another through eyes of steel and determination, neither wanting to end up on the losing side. Straight up, Colin lost the toss and was put in to bat by the treacherous Buckley.

Before any game started however, the now-traditional picture of both teams next to the Jon Rob benches at the field end was taken (everyone was suitably socially-distanced) before a fitting minutes applause by everyone there (players, umpires and spectators) took place in the middle to the memory of Jon Rob but, also, Leon Mexter and Paul Benneworth who both sadly passed away far too young since this fixture was last played. Respect shown by everyone.

As is the wont in this fixture, things are usually mixed up a bit. 20 overs per innings, retire at 30 and everyone has to bowl. Genetics opened with Tarbuck and Gardner and they kept things fairly tidy whilst Mallards’ opening batters – Ankush and A Hall – carefully defended their wickets whilst getting their eye in and inching up the scores. After 4 overs the score was a relatively decent 22-0. Next up to bowl were J Bennett and S Mitcheson. Again, both bowlers kept it fairly tidy and, after 8 overs, Mallards had progressed to a slightly conservative 41 without loss. Of the 2 batsmen, A Hall was definitely playing a supporting role at this stage. However, Ankush had definitely had a slice or two of luck after being dropped off consecutive Mitcheson deliveries by first Heslop (great to see him back on the cricket field after an enforced break from the game) and then Tarbuck – both spilling very similar chances.

Next up to bowl for Genetics were Ash and D Taylor. Again both bowlers kept it neat and tidy but, during Ash’s second over, Ankush passed the landmark score of 30 and has to retire with Mallards on 59 – a great innings. In comes Hamid and decides to continue where Ankush had left off and his innings can be best described as one which scored fairly quickly and definitely had the bat swinging throughout! It was needed – after 12 overs Mallards were on 72 without loss. Following Ash and D Taylor were B Taylor (no relation, as D Taylor has stressed quite vociferously) and newcomer to the Genetics friendly squad, P Spratt. Again, both bowlers keep it fairly neat and tidy and, in B Taylor’s second over, he had A Hall stumped for an impressive 26 by the Genetics’ keeper, McAulay. Hall was replaced by Latif who only lasted a few deliveries before being caught by D Taylor at square leg for a duck. It was unfortunate for Latif as Genetics had dropped a few chances by this stage of the game so it was surprising that one was actually held!

Replacing Latif at the crease was the experienced T Cleaver who attacked all deliveries with great energy and vigour. A cameo innings was ended when he was run out for just 5 – surely his entertaining innings deserved more runs than that!?

With Heslop unable to bowl, the final 4 overs were split between B Taylor & M Gardner at the tree end and Buckley at the field end (after Buxom had had a consultation with his opposite number McCaffery to check that he was okay with 2 bowlers having to bowl a 3rd over each). It’s rare that Buckley bowls these days and tonight showed exactly why that is. Hamid retired in the 19thover after an impressive knock of 31 not out whilst Lucas quickly came and went, given out LBW by the merciless umpire (a certain G Taylor – again, no relation) for a duck whilst A Goldsborough came in to the middle to keep S Holland company for the final, protracted, agonisingly painful over of the Mallards innings off Buckley. Of the 9 wides in the entire Mallards innings, 6 of them came off Buckley’s 2 overs. Maybe this was retribution for his turncoat captaincy? However, after 20 overs, Mallards finished on 120 for 4. Genetics needed a smidgen above a run a ball off their 20 overs to win so Mallards know what they needed to do.

Genetics opened their batting with McAulay and Tarbuck whilst Mallards’ bowling was entrusted to the metronomic bowling of Cleaver and the slightly speedier bowling of Goldsborough. An early breakthrough for Mallards came in the 2nd over when Goldsborough clean bowled McAulay for just 3. A tight start for the Mallards bowlers meant that, after 4 overs, Genetics were only 13 for 1 after what seemed an inspired decision (well, for Mallards anyway) by the Genetics captain Buxom to put B Taylor in at number 3.

McCaffery brought on himself and S Holland as the first change bowlers which was a successful decision as, in his second over, Holland clean bowled Taylor for just 9. This came as a blessed relief all round, but mainly to the Genetics team who, at one point, appealed for LBW against Taylor all the way from the football pitch boundary! It looked close from their vantage point but the umpire was having none of it. Again, Holland and the captain were keeping things tight and at the end of the eighth over, Genetics were on 28 for 2, which was considerably behind the run rate. Looking promising for Mallards.

Replacing B Taylor was the grandee of Genetics, S Mitcheson, who eant out like a man possessed, looking to run everything with his willing batting partner Tarbuck. Unfortunately, this cameo was all too brief as he was bowled by new bowler C Lucas in his first over, who looked as surprised as the rest of us! Latif was also into the attack now and his first over brought about yet another wicket, that of D Heslop for just 1 when he was well caught by A Goldsborough at deepish square. This was the first catch that had been taken as Mallards had seemingly caught the dropping disease from Genetics up to this point. Either that, or they’d not rubbed the sanitiser into their hands properly! At the halfway point, Genetics were 43-4, well behind in both runs and wickets. Looking even more promising for Mallards!!

However, Genetics were now starting to chase down the score. D Taylor had damaged C Lucas’s bowling figures by hitting 12 off his second over and, although Latif took another wicket when Hamid took a rather fabulous over-the-head catch from a Tarbuck shot, a further 8 runs came off that over. Only 2 overs later and Genetics had gone from 43-4 to 63-4. D Taylor and new batsmen Spratt had decided to open their shoulders and both went after the new bowlers – A Hall and I Stone. Unfortunately, Stone was on the receiving end of some brutal attacking including a monstrous 6 from Spratt, who did the same to Hall! After 16 overs, Genetics had motored onto 106-5, including the retirement of D Taylor for a neat 30. Genetics had taken their first 10 overs to get to 43 and had scored the same amount between overs 12 and 16! This didn’t look quite as promising now for Mallards. Replacing D Taylor at the crease was J Bennett and he was soon joined there by Ash, who replaced P Spratt who’d been bowled by new bowler Ankush for an impressive 24. In the now-failing light, final bowlers Ankush and Hamid were keeping it tight but Genetics were inching ever closer to the required amount. After 18 overs, Genetics were 117-6 with D Taylor back in the hutch and M Gardner and Buxom still to come. Surely this would be too much for Mallards? Unfortunately, it was. The promise of a what looked like a victory for Mallards after 12 overs of the Genetics innings came crashing to the ground in the 19th when Bennett hit Ankush for 4 to take them to 124-6 and Mallards succumbed with one over and a ball remaining.

Elbow bumps all round as the teams left the pitch with congratulations and pleasantries exchanged in what was a fitting game to the memories of Jon Rob, Leon and Paul. I am sure that they would have relished and enjoyed playing in a game such as the one tonight. Played in a true friendly spirit, everyone getting a game, a close-run finish and everyone staying at the end for food, pizza and conversation. As close to perfection as you’re likely to get.

A Mallardian defeat maybe, but a Churchillian performance and a final doff of the cap to our 3 late comrades