Mallards v Excelsior Batters @ Riding Mill April 20

The season is underway!  Sterling efforts by the sadly injured Nitsch meant that the Riding Mill pitch was ready to go despite the recent deluge which had alerted ark builders across the North East.

With new captain Butcher unavailable (apparently suffering an existential crisis regarding his devotion to Norwich City pending their imminent relegation), vice captain Steel stepped up.  When I say stepped up, what I actually mean is that the other vice captain, Cox, was hiding in the toilet when the call for leadership went out.

Steel immediately stamped his winning personality on the game by correctly anticipating the coin toss and choosing to bat, cleverly convincing the opposing captain to agree to an 18-over game which would mean the opposition batting in the dark.

The ever-reliable partnership of Steel and Kent walked out, knowing that scoring would be difficult on a pudding of a pitch which flatly refused to allow the ball to bounce.  Not to mention the low sunlight which made batting at the Tree end a bit of a lottery. Wise heads were predicting a score of around 80 as par.  Opening bowler Glenwright negated the dodgy bounce by throwing in an early full toss down the leg side which Kent gleefully top-edged straight to square leg. Kent departed for 0. At the other end the skipper’s left eye twitched a fraction.

Hall joined Steel but didn’t last much longer, defeated by the low bounce and bowled for 2 in the third over, leaving Mallards at 12-2.  (He had actually been run out just before that, umpire Cleaver turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the bowlers flick on to the stumps with Hall caught backing up.)  The skipper’s twitch moved on into frown territory.  Wood joined Steel at the crease to provide a formidable ex-skipper/stand-in skipper barrier to the bowlers and the pair settled things down as gradually the scoreboard started moving in the right direction.

They cruised serenely to 35 in the 7th over, quick singles interspersed with boundaries from Steel’s blade, but then disaster. A fierce pull shot from the skipper looked a certain four until the ball was plucked out of the air inches from the ground and Steel had to trudge off, shaking his head, for a worthy 22.

Two overs later the Excelsior fielders were at it again, this time Wood was the victim, watching open-mouthed as a lofted drive through the covers was also snapped up inches from safety and he departed for 8, with Mallards treading water a little at 39-4 from nine overs.  The two quick wickets had brought Scott and Cox to the crease and the pair started to repair the damage of those two impressive catches, taking the score on to 53 before Scott was caught and bowled by opposing skipper Krishnan for 6.

McGuinness joined Cox and the two Daves kept things ticking over nicely, running well, to add another 13 runs before McG was bowled by Krishan for 1.  Cox was joined by Wilson and the run rate continued to creep up before Wilson was also bowled by Krishnan for 4 with the score on 74-8 from 15 overs. Three overs to go – could Mallards bat through?

Cox was managing to hold things together on the sticky pitch and he was now joined by the abrasive Browne who, as usual, went for his shots. The approach paid off as the pair took the total to an over-par 90 from the 18 overs, Browne finishing 7 not out with Cox making a dogged 27.

Mallards took to the field in confident mood, a mood which was only slightly dented by the 16 runs which came off the first two overs. Excelsior’s young opener Wilson going for his shots from the start.  Opening bowlers Cleaver and Browne gradually found their form though and by the end of the fourth over they had pulled things back, Excelsior, however were still well set on 23-0.

Cleaver struck first in his third over, removing the dangerous Wilson for 17 and Browne came to the party in his third to dismiss fellow opener Haggie for 6. After six overs the opposition had slipped to 32-2, with the game very evenly poised and the arrival of opposing skipper Krishnan at the crease looking ominous.

Mallards, however, were beginning to exert a tight grip, some tight bowling, backed up by unusually efficient fielding saw the brakes jammed firmly on the Excelsior innings. Cleaver’s final over went for just one run and included the Cox/Kent combination running out Brekke for 2. Browne went one better, bowling a maiden to finish with the quietly astonishing figures of four overs, one for six.

With the opening spell over the visitors were now on 34-3 from eight overs and the home side were growing increasingly confident of victory. Seasoned Mallards watchers will know that this is when we are at our most vulnerable and when Dunhill’s first two overs went for sixteen runs some feared the worst. These fears were exacerbated when opposing batsman Spencer, who had stayed around for very little purpose, suddenly retired injured to bring in some much better batsmen.

Cox, at the other end, had other ideas though and found a perfect line from the start, conceding just three runs from his first two overs and, more importantly claiming the wicket of Krishan, well caught at mid-off by McGuiness. That dismissal left the visitors on 54-4 from 12 overs, requiring an eminently gettable 37 to win from the final six.

Dunhill then joined the party, clean bowling new batsman Flynn for 0 and his replacement at the pavillion end, McGuinness also stepped up, bowling Glenwright in his first over, leaving Excelsior on 69-6 from 15.  Three overs to go, 22 required for victory.

The Cox/McGuinness axis was though, beginning to prove the vital one, and after the latter had put down a difficult chance, just failing to cling on to a diving catch, he made quick amends by catching the same batsman, Birel, again at mid-on and again from Cox’s bowling. Cox almost gained a third wicket when new batsman Woodhead absolutely smashed the ball straight at Scott, standing at short cover. The ball stuck in Scott’s palm for a millisecond before falling to the ground. There will be a bruise in the morning. Despite this dropped catch (harsh) the bowler still finished with an admirable 2-7 from his four overs.

McGuinness continued to prove influential, his final over leaking only four singles, leaving Dunhill to bowl the final over from the tree end with Excelsior needing 16 runs to win. With memories of honorary Mallard Ben Stokes’ recent travails running through their minds the supporters (Haylock and Kents junior)  watched through their fingers. Their concerns were misplaced. Sealing his role as ‘death’ bowler, Dunhill absolutely nailed it, leaking just one run and a leg bye. To add icing to an already tasty cake he also clean-bowled Woodhead to leave the visitors well adrift on 77-8 and Mallards the victors by 13 runs.

In an ideal world Dunhill would have been hoisted off the field on the victors shoulders but age and dodgy backs preclude such things so manly handshakes all round preceded a splendid recap at the Wellington.

A word of warning to the over-optimistic. Last season began with a win over Excelsior Batters. Just saying.

summer evening