Mallards v KSOB @ Riding Mill August 24

It was, as the journalists say, a slow news day. The Rio Olympics had closed and after weeks of record-breaking, medal-winning athleticism the media had no more sporting prowess to report other than the contortions of a second-rate politician sitting on the floor of a Virgin train (all such mis-guided opinions are the second-rate writer’s own and definitely not those of the editor!). So when acting-captain Cox sent his first two batsmen out onto the sunlit fields of Riding Mill on Thursday 24 August, he had little idea that what was to follow would be a team display that would astound the viewing public and simultaneously consolidate the reputation of the appropriately named Mallards Cricket Club.

The first few overs progressed innocuously enough. Openers Kent and Taylor knocked the ball around smartly and the Kings School Old Boys attack, accurate and pacey though it was, were wicket-less: Mallards scoring 30 in five overs. Bowlers Ferris and Anderson were replaced and then the nature of the contest changed. Taylor was the first to go, playing three dot balls before skying a delivery from Black to be caught in the deep. He was replaced by Horner, who scored a quick couple of boundaries and so normal service was presumed to be restored. But then lanky, stubble-bearded D. Gregg came into the attack. His first delivery was laughable: hoisting a slow, high, looping ball into the ether with all the speed, venom and potential danger of an orbiting suet pudding. Falling to earth, however, it re-entered the troposphere with as much effect as Sir Isaac Newton’s apple, or Hitler’s first V1 buzz-bomb. That is to say its impact destroyed the rules of physics – it was revolutionary, game-changing; what Joseph Schumpeter would describe as an act of creative destruction. Kent was clean bowled for 18. Who was smiling now?

The rest of Gregg’s over was as blackly comedic as his first ball and though Horner was able to dispatch one delivery over the boundary, this gave no hint of what was to come. In his second over, Sandhu was shockingly clean bowled by another suet pudding from Gregg for 2. Incoming and just as rapidly outgoing, Jordon was clean bowled next by Gregg for a golden duck. Thompson blocked the potential hat-trick ball but swished away at the one that followed to be yet again clean bowled by Gregg for another duck. Horner, watching from the non-striker’s end could not believe the staggering surrender of his team mates…until he faced the slow-turning pudding thrower in his third over and was, you guessed it, clean bowled for 15. Gregg’s figures at this stage were three overs, 5 wickets – all clean-bowled [and all to ugly cross-batted swipes by the batsmen – ed.] – for 9 runs. After a brisk start, Mallards had subsided for 45 for 6 off nine overs. Blitzed!

Bennett and Cox came to the crease and, although able to stay there, could do little to dent Gregg’s figures – who retired after a fourth over that conceded only two more runs. With him gone, Bennett was eventually able to blast a six and a four before being caught going for another maximum at deep long-on. Cox added a curiously circumspect 7 and Rawlley 2. Mallards finished on a frugal 81 after 18 overs.

Haylock and Cleaver opened the bowling for Mallards and kept it fairly tight (barring a couple of looser deliveries) to hold the Old Boys to 24 after five overs – Haylock being rewarded with one batsman, Sample, holing out to Kent on the long-on boundary and the other batsman, Moir, hitting his own wicket going for a big sweep.

At this stage, King’s Old Boys were behind the run rate but now Roe and Latimer were in the middle and they promptly set to work to redress the balance. Despite the continuing efforts of Haylock, Cleaver and incoming bowlers Bennett, Cox and Horner, the score progressed rapidly. In desperation, Bennett even attempted to imitate the looping-pudding style of Gregg’s earlier artillery, but all to no avail. The required target of 81 was overhauled with no further loss of wickets in just twelve overs – the final run coming from a leg bye called by an unrepentant Roe denying his team-mate the chance to actually score the winning run off the bat. An ignominious finish.

Sprawled shell-shocked and defeated in the Wellington afterwards, all the Mallards could do was reflect on the carnage caused by a series of innocent-looking projectiles that ‘didn‘t come on to the bat,’ as some complained. And then came the final sting in the tail: in circulating the score-book, certain members were dismayed to discover that Old Boys batsman Latimer had knocked off 41 runs without retiring– thus denying the Mallards attack the chance of bowling at the King’s lower order and thereby the opportunity (well, it might have been possible!) of snatching victory at the death. A cruel post-script! [actually I think the retirement had been agreed at 50 – ed.]

A little later, when your correspondent phoned the BBC team on Test Match Special to say: ‘you won’t believe this cricket – it rivals the Olympics for entertainment!’ the reply came back: ‘You’re right. We don’t believe it.’ One Geoffrey Boycott added: ‘My uncle Algy could have done better with a stick of rhubarb’. Maybe that’s true. We are not called the Mallards for nothing.