Mallards v Architects @ Burnmoor July 9

In Japanese culture, the concept of shame is a powerful societal influence.  Public humiliation can result in shunning, ostracising or, in extreme cases, Seppuku – the ritual disembowelling of the person. If the Mallards played in Japan, you would need a ruddy big sponge for all the blood that would be spilled.

The evening started so well. Passable weather for somewhere south of the river. Burnmoor (or is it Bournmoor – who cares?) presented a cheery enough rural/urban idyll, resplendent with a country churchyard, and farmer’s field ,  a not too ugly housing estate and a clubhouse in a converted Victorian school – a suitable symbol as we were just about to be given a cricketing education.

The Skip (aka Wood) made his way to the wicket, and came back with the news that we would field and, as it was home ground rules, there would be no retirements. We should have realised at this point that it was going to be a long night. The opening pair of Fenwick and Brown had a combined age easily in excess of a century – a score which both were keen to make.

Browne’s (our Browne, not their Brown) new consistency in line and length led to a fairly tight opening over, with just the seven off it. Not bad, considering the wicket had the consistency of a moist Victoria sponge. Wisbach opened from the Estate End, and the proximity of the leg-side boundary proved mightily painful for all the bowlers trundling in that way.  Both batsmen demonstrated their love of Wimbledon, by regularly dumping the ball in the adjacent tennis court. Even the good balls were dispatched, and Wisbach’s two overs went for 29.

Boundaries continued to be picked off, and Browne’s four overs went for 30. Normally, this would have resulted in a torrent of obscenities from Tourette’s Tom. This evening, the response was ‘could have been worse’.  Mexter had joined from the Estate End and watched two gigantic sixes mark the end of his first over. Haylock replaced Browne and kept the batsmen honest and slightly less profligate.  Skip dropped a low drive from Brown off Haylock, his usual bucket-like paws a bit too firm to hold the catch. Mexter continued the form of leaking boundaries at the end of his over, and finished his session conceding an impressive 40 from 4.

The two batsmen spent most of the time with hands on hips admiring their partner’s bludgeoning of the hapless bowlers. Eventually, Fenwick got bored with heaving sixes over the baseline and walked off, having scored 59. The sense of relief was short-lived when a Viking in a cricket helmet made his way to the wicket. Clinton proved to be equally effective at finding the baseline of the tennis court, and utilising a slightly more stylish technique.

Haylock looked tight and composed, but that was probably the quart of gin he had supped at the office before the game. His four overs looked better than his figures of 0-38. Watson had replaced Mexter at the dreaded Estate End and, despite a valiant effort and some good line and length, the runs continued to flow. Taylor, in his new-found role as boundary rider, was kept particularly busy retrieving balls from the bush. Brown, still there but slowing up due mainly to extreme age, skyed a drive to the luckless Skip who, despite a brief juggling act, spilled his second catch of the night. Not that it made much difference by this point.

The only light in an otherwise pitch black tunnel was the two overs from Goulding, who regained some self respect for the team by bowling tightly and only going for 11 from his two overs. In the context of the innings, it was a veritable McGrath-like effort. Watson suffered damage in his final over, and finished on a chastening 0-48.

The two batsmen walked off having put up a score of 205 from the 20 overs, with no wickets down. It felt worse than that. There was an empty, slightly stunned air around the Mallards, as they trudged off. One disconsolate voice was heard to say, ‘that was as much fun as cancer’ – a crass statement given the age and chain-smoking, heavy drinking lifestyles of many Mallards. Who has not waited anxiously for the results of a second endoscopy, or the biopsy on that nasty anal polyp?

Architects bounded onto the field for the second innings. Not really surprising as, for the past 90 minutes, eight of them had done nothing more than pick buttercups and watch the sixes rain down. The Mallards opening pair of Bennett and Taylor strode purposefully to the wicket, focusing on the challenge ahead. Bennett’s second ball went for a glorious six, raising a flurry of crows from the graveyard. Game on. The next ball dropped out of the bowler’s hand, scuttling along the deck. In true Mallardian style, Bennett hoisted the ball straight into the wicketkeeper’s glove. Game off. The graveyard crows now cackled like the Augurs of doom.

Greenwood came to the wicket, and quickly showed his intent with a couple of lovely fours.  Taylor chipped in with a lovely boundary, and all was set for the chase – right up to the point where Taylor was bowled by Lawson.  The Genetics pairing of Greenwood and Goulding offered hope. Runs were amassed. Hope was raised. However, Architect’s senior bowler, Johnson moved into the limelight. The octogenarian pouched a tricky catch off his own bowling and Greenwood was on his way back to the hutch.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Skip –  announcing his arrival with a careful defensive prod, which set the tone for much of his innings. Skip was playing the long game, or that is how it felt from the sidelines . Goulding continued to impress with a number of handsome boundaries, and it was only when he was bowled by a swinging ball from Lewis that all hope finally faded. Green, a newbie to the team, joined Skip in the run drought, and made a fashionable two before perishing in a typical Mallards style – run out [due to suffering a wardrobe malfunction in the upper thigh department mid second run – ed.]. All bodes well for his future career with the Club.

The Skip ended his  vigil when he edged one to the keeper for 17 and a new pairing of Wisbach and Mexter were at the crease. The game already very much over the horizon, and playing for his average, Wisbach demonstrated a cool head and steady technique. Mexter went for the more uncultured route, clubbing a couple of fours and then falling to the predicable straight ball. He left the field with the air of a man who should have known better. Watson appeared for a brief cameo and then it was all over.  Defeat by 98 runs.  It could have been worse, but not by much.

The evening began pregnant with possibilities; it ended with possibly the highest total scored against us in 36 years and, possibly, the only time the Mallards have never taken a wicket. The bar beckoned and we supped passable lager in those old fashioned, extra tall pint glasses, with the line on them, designed to show the working man that he is not being short-changed by the head.

It was a night of contrasts. You could say it was about talent over mediocrity, ability to play versus desire to take part.  Perhaps it was more to do with the Mallardian spirit contrasted with a more practical application of the game.  All our team played, all our team participated. In the end, maybe both teams were winners. But probably not.