Mallards v Durham Staff @ Riding Mill July 15

The stand-in captain and senior players bravely face up to the firing squad following the latest Mallards defeat
The stand-in captain and senior players bravely face up to the firing squad following the latest Mallards defeat

Wednesday night saw this season’s return match with our most accommodating of hosts, the Mallards Cricket Club. Over the years we have enjoyed many a delightful evening in their presence both at our own state of the art facilities at Maiden Castle and their more “bucolic” surroundings at the Riding Mill ground. Let’s not be patronising though because the ground now sports fancy covers and a pavilion complete with soft furnishings and electricity.

We felt more than well disposed towards our good friends at Mallards before we arrived at the ground but to be presented with all this! Could life get better? You bet. They generously donated their finest player to solder the breach in our squad for the evening. A player, we were told that bore an uncanny resemblance to Chris Gayle when wielding the bat: and a bowler who could turn a ball so prodigiously on cracked pitch that he could pitch it on a length and spin it backwards to run out the batsman at the non-strikers end. We have to admit that we more than a little sceptical about these claims from the generous Mallards club despot but we were grateful for any help. We did wonder how they could let a player of that quality go and hope to have any chance of winning.

It hardly seemed a fair fight; the only question was how easy to go on our recently much traumatised friends. Yes we read their recent match reports too. Who couldn’t feel pity and a shared sense of grief when reading them? There’s plenty in the news about massacres in ISIS controlled Syria and Iraq but there wasn’t a peep on the typically left wing biased BBC regarding the horrific events that unfolded at “Slash and Burn” Moor last week. As for Channel Four News; well don’t get me started about that Jon Snow…enough already.

Let us not dwell though on the pain of yesterday. There was a game to be played and here’s what happened:

It was a cool, slightly depressing “backendish” evening. It felt like summer was on the wane but we were soon made to feel at home once we’d tested the new lights and the highly expressive and fun loving plumbing. It had been a tough journey to the ground with traffic around Durham and Teesside leaving us short at the start even with the new recruit. The captains agreed to let us bat first so that we could reach a full complement in the meantime.

We faced few problems in the first two overs but English was bowled in the third over by a ball from Browne that seemed to stop in the dusty surface. Runs still flowed quite freely at the other end with few alarms. Soon Swift reached a fine thirty before retiring. This brought the Mallards answer to Crystal er…, Chris Gayle to the wicket. The similarities were obvious, what with his two arms, two legs and two eyes. Fortunately for us he showed that he had far more to his game than the simple, one dimensional, raw power he is famed for, by quickly setting about keeping a long watchful eye on the bowling.

The sharp spin from Wisbach and disciplined left arm pace of Cox slowed us briefly before Walton launched a series of straight drives whizzing back passed the unfortunate Mallards spinner. This included three in one over with Boyes complementing this with a few gentle nurdles between second slip and third man. The inning reached its zenith at eighty for one of twelve. Yes that’s as good as it got for us.

The score board was ticking along very nicely until Boyes received one of the balls of the millennium from Cox that stopped on the pitched, looping gently off the back of his bat to second slip McGuinness. It was a cruel dismissal to one of the most aesthetically pleasing knocks I have ever had the privilege to witness.

He was soon followed by Walton, whose blistering knock was ended as he stepped down the wicket for one charge too many and fell to Wisbach from a smart stumping by Kent.

Up to this point we were aiming for something between 130 and 150. With the two quick wickets the runs dried up with none of our batsmen managing to get going in the face of one the meanest bowling attacks that we have faced for a long time. There was a notable run out when the lightening quick reactions of Mallards club despot, fielding at point hurled a thunderbolt to the keeper to engineer an unlikely wicket. We know not to mess with him again.

We limped along to what appeared a well below 114 for 7 off our 20 overs. The last eight overs had gone for barely more than four an over. After Walton, no one managed to reach double figures. Cox’s four overs had gone for just nine and Scott’s two overs late on yielded two for seven. Faced with a star studded Mallards batting line up and our own depleted bowling attack it was going to take some defending.

Viete’s first ball didn’t augur well as his near beamer was no balled.  Thankfully, this was to be his only loosener. His next was on target and perhaps the trauma of facing a fast beamer had traumatised their opener, Kent, as he played on to his stumps with the next delivery.

A flying start that wasn’t followed up as opener Steele and the Mallards captain Butcher began calmly accumulating the runs close to the required rate with few alarms. The two accelerated above five an over, reaching forty seven in the ninth when Mallards skipper, Butcher, was spectacularly caught by Viete off the bowling of English. Even so, the odds still heavily favoured the Mallards as one of their most prolific batsmen, Cox strode to the wicket.

The appropriately named Steele was proving an impenetrable fortress and we feared what the mighty Cox might do. What choice did we have, with our depleted attack? We tossed the ball to our guest Mallard who feigned surprise – as if he’d never bowled before! We soon discovered that the Mallard despot had been having a laugh about his ability to produce extravagant spin: That was the club despot’s extravagant spin perhaps. His first over was tidy but nothing more.

With English and Boyes bowling the scoring rate slowed ever so slightly but not alarmingly for the Mallards until Cox was bowled by Boyes following a fine boundary. Once again Boyes feigned shock and surprise rather than celebration, asking just what had actually happened. Still, after fourteen overs the score was seventy four for three: plenty of time to canter home easily.

The tide began to truly turn when Metcalfe bowled the next over. We hadn’t been told about Boyes’ extraordinary athleticism in the field but we were given a demonstration as he took a leaping catch, plucked out of the air when Lucas fired a cannon ball that looked destined to clear the boundary. Incredibly Boyes clutched the catch at midwicket (don’t believe the editorial caveat that will doubtless say it was a dolly) [it was – ed.].

Boyes’ next over was to prove decisive as Mallard club despot Taylor sliced a catch to Swift off Boyes. The next delivery clipped the off bail of Scott’s wicket: the kind of ball that not even Shane Warne could dream of. Now on a roll and seeing the whites of the batsmen’s eyes he completed his hat trick by clean bowling Watson. There were many high fives but the guest bowler still feigned shock and surprise. Frankly this fake modesty was starting to get on my nerves: who was he trying to kid? He was certainly taking the Mikhail.

Yet things got better still next ball, as Boyes generously decided to bowl a wide long hop. McGuinness confidently struck it to the far outfield and set off for two before changing his mind when he saw Viete, with his powerful throwing arm collect the ball. McGuinness promptly sent his partner back but it was too late: Wisbach run out nought. The poor fellow’s expression was a darker shade than melancholic as he trudged back to the pavilion.

Boyes’ spell finished with the Mallards now seventy nine for eight with only four overs left. To give the Mallards a sporting chance we brought back our speedy opening bowler, Viete from the dark tree lined end. Inexplicably, the Mallard tail struggled to put bat to ball. Even their combative lower order hitter and most jolly public school chap, Mr F Tourette-Browne, couldn’t put bat to ball and we feared he’d put his back out as he swung wildly at each ball regardless of their merit.

Metcalfe put him out of his misery by bowling him. It was the kindest thing to do. This brought the mighty Steele back to the crease and another boundary from him gave the Mallards some hope and planted doubt in our minds. Fears were allayed in Viete’s final over when he scattered McGuinness’s stumps with the score on eighty nine. Steele was left unvanquished but alone on a stylish thirty seven.

On the face of it: job done. We’d claimed a season double over the Mallards but we couldn’t help the hollow feeling that without their help we’d have stood no chance. It felt like the Mallards had won with their deliberate condescending generosity designed to make us look small. We hoped to take solace at the Duke of Wellington only to be told that the club despot had decreed we were boycotting that establishment for the evening after the aforesaid manager of the hostelry called him a liar and would have to settle for a few beers the team were raffling off at the pavilion [along with free crisps– ed.]: Now the light bulbs really came up trumps as we stood outside and savoured the clean country air as we supped our booze.

If the game had left us feeling hollow and their guest player had got on our nerves it was still a most pleasant end to the day. The sun set apologetically behind the trees as we supped their supply of booze dry and drove home in a more relaxed frame of mind. Cricket is a lovely game.