Mallards v Benwell & Walbottle @ Walbottle Campus April 26

Over the course of the last eight (count ’em!) years, I have come to accept that my antipodean way of doing things can sometimes appear unusual to UK eyes. Wearing shorts and jandals (flip flops) in the winter months, for instance appears to be generally frowned upon (Brother Mallard, “Don’t call me Jeremy” Hunt being the commendable exception), whilst I have never come to terms with vinegar on chips, or the abomination that is mushy peas. I can live with these discrepancies, it all adds to the spice of life; however I had thought that we had collectively agreed on one important thing: that cricket is a summer sport.

As I brushed the snow off my car in the morning, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that hefting my gear bag into the back was just wasted effort, a token nod to an undying desire to play the game at the slightest opportunity. Watching gale-force winds lash rain, hail and snow against the windows all day all but confirmed my suspicions. However, one thing was conspicuous in its absence – official confirmation of the cancellation; that’s ok, the Club Despot is a busy lad and not always able to send word until later in the day. A quick text to the Despot was met with the reply that the game was indeed on. Surely I had misread that so immediately sought a second opinion from the Fixtures Secretary who confirmed that the opposition “must have heard we are shire [sic] because they’re dead keen to play”. So, Game On! Apparently.

This week saw a new venue and opposition join the already chocka-block MCC calendar: Benwell and Walbottle at Walbottle Campus. Both teams were eager to get the game underway with more bad weather promised before long; so 18 overs a side was agreed. Captain Cox won the toss and chose to bat on what was a surprisingly sound looking pitch.

Cox took advantage of the captaincy and immediately declared that he was to open the batting, and invited Kent to join him in the middle. Some suggested that this was just an excuse to use pads and gloves as insulation. Kent was straight into his work, taking 12 off the first over, making use of the numerous gaps in the field as the opposition was yet to have a full XI on the field – the result of trying to get as much of a game in before the weather arrived.

I have spent a lot of time on the preamble to this match, which was quite deliberate as it means I can gloss over the nature of most of the dismissals in the MCC innings. Kent was the first victim, after being the early aggressor and, as he and Cox were busy having a mid-pitch discussion over whether there was a single there or not, was run out by a distance for a 10-ball 21.  Rumours were started that Cox had been out for revenge for That Catch last year; sadly this was just the first in a long line of terrible run outs in the next hour or so.

Revenge or not Cox, who had been quiet in the early stages, now seemed at peace and started to open up, making sure the healthy run-rate was maintained. Things were looking fairly rosy at this point with the score at 62 for 1 after 8 overs, and confidence in the camp was high. This, right here, is the turning point.

Wood was bowled for 6, Cox reached 30 and retired and then Scutt was run out without facing a ball, 62/1 became 68/4 in little more than an over. Wilson, who later claimed to be feeling the weight of guilt after the Scutt Affair, ran himself out for 2 to make it 73 for 5 after 11. Benwell and Walbottle were now sporting a full team and the gaps in the field were duly plugged, restricting the scoring options somewhat.

Mexter and Wisbach tried to settle things down before both being dismissed with the score at 84. There is a small consolation in that neither of them were run out; Mexter being bowled for 6 and Wisbach caught for 2. There was suddenly a real danger that we would be bowled out in double quick time. However, with Browne and McGuinness now at the crease, there was hope that a defendable score could be reached.

Browne did not last long and was caught for 3 then Haylock at 10 decided it was just too damn cold out there and ran himself out for 2. McGuinness was holding firm at the other end however, and even fired a six out of his shiny new cannon. Watson joined him for the last 3 overs, and showed that someone listened to the skipper telling everyone to just stick around for a bit. This was exemplified when non-striker McGuinness tried to steal a very optimistic bye to the keeper, but Watson simply stood his ground and issued a clear “No!” This was probably a good plan as the keeper had already thrown the stumps down. A plan fiendishly simple in its execution, but leaving those on the sidelines gobsmacked.

As it was, McGuinness (17 not out) and Watson lasted to the end; or near enough, Watson was bowled off the last ball for 3, to take MCC to 119/9 after the 18. A decent score, but with the temperature having dropped to barely above freezing, and some very serious clouds getting closer by the second, nobody thought we would get the chance to defend it.

A fast turnaround saw Browne with pink ball in hand (leave it…) in failing light at the pavillion end. A half chance was offered straight away with a shot from Henley falling just short of cover, but that was it for a while. Eight runs came off the first over, and then the hail finally started. The batsmen were immediately given the option of going off, but they claimed to be happy enough so we stayed on. McGuinness and Browne sent down a couple of tight overs before the batsman recorded only as Gav started to open his shoulders, taking 11 runs off the 4th over.

The game and the hail continued for another couple of overs, and was looking like either team could take it; the batsmen restated their happiness to play in those conditions and it looked like we might just have to tough it out. Browne finally got the breakthrough in the 7th over, with Henly caught by McGuinness for 18. Browne was unlucky not to have another as Gav was dropped twice in successive deliveries; I think so anyway, my brain was somewhat frozen by this point and frankly anything could have happened and I might not have known it. Regardless I won’t single out the droppers as trying to grab an icy bar of soap like that is hit and miss at best.

After seven overs, the sight of Leon “Big Bird” Mexter marking out his run at the North end was clearly enough as the opposition skipper finally came out to end the madness, apparently the groundsman was getting twitchy about wanting to get the covers on. Mildly ironic as the hail had just about stopped, but there was more on the way and there weren’t too many complaints from the fielding team.

So B&W ended on 39/1 after 7, which was much more cricket than most people expected. We quickly retired to the clubrooms for a sound beer and bullshit session as we watched the weather close in again outside until it descended into a scene from Dr Zhivago.

And finally, a big thanks to 12th man Tony “ice in my veins” Cleaver for umpiring the whole game in the cold without the slightest grumble. Such things are noticed by both the selection and awards committees…

(Special mention also to Ian ‘Zoolander’ Watson for modelling the new winter version of the Mallards cap above)