Mallards v Ovingham @ Clara Vale July 27

One of the best things about playing at Clara Vale is the trip to The Boathouse afterwards. The Boathouse is a wonderful pub, good enough that the best of us can drop our guards. It started when Tony Cleaver, a multiple-times published author, revealed he has never written a Mallards match report and despite much peer pressure and goading, he couldn’t be convinced to write this one. So, with undeserved levels of confidence I offered to act as ghostwriter and write in the style of an economist. Unfortunately I know precisely nowt about this topic, and after a night spent researching the 2008/9 resurgence in Keynsian theory, I concluded that a) the level of bullshit inherent in the world of economics far exceeds that which is acceptable in a MCC match report, and b) by pursuing this field, Tony has wasted his life.

I of course invite TC to reply to this accusation by writing the next report. 

2016 has been reasonably kind to the Mallards, with plenty of new faces showing up through the year, however it was a collection of grizzled old pros that gathered at Clara Vale to take on Ovingham . A couple of late team changes saw Bennett take Taylor’s place for MCC, while Jordon, perhaps looking to put in a case for the friendly fire award, donned opposition colours for the evening.

Stig either won or lost the toss, and we were to bat first on a pitch that was only discernible from the outfield by the presence of creases at each end. Kent and Steel were first up and started strongly. Both batsmen were able to negotiate the extremely variable bounce with apparent ease, and rattled the score along to 43 in the 7th over before Kent retired (25 being the house rules for retirement score). Cox was in at three and looked to pick up where Kent left off, hitting a quick pair of boundaries.

Steel was the first man out, trying to go over the top and sending a steepler to long-off from the bowling of Wallbank. This started a bit of a wobble, Cox tried to lift bowler Drake over long on only to be caught right on the rope for 11.

Wilson and Lucas continued to look positive, but both fell cheaply, for 2 and 5 respectively. The score faltered along to 84/4 after 13; still solid but these well travelled folk know just how wrong a good start can go. Beakers and Bennett however, had set out on a wonderful partnership, finding that same rhythm that Kent and Steel had earlier on. They moved the score on to 112 before Bennett reached 25 and retired in the 17th.

Butcher, wielding Lucas’s new (or new-looking anyway!) bat and under clear instructions to not damage it, showed Lucas exactly who was in charge of who as he hammered his first ball backward of square for four. The 17th was a good over for us, as we took 16 runs off it, and we were looking set for a decent score. Beakers was properly into his stride now too, and the last few overs were seen out, ending in a massive score of 145/4;  Beacock 21* and Butcher 11*, T Drake the best of the bowlers with 3/22. I’m pretty sure this is our best total in the last couple of years.

By this stage, the sun was out and the evening was promising to turn into a cracker, just right for some Boathouse beer-garden action! We slowly prepared for the defence of our score, with TC positively chomping at the bit to get amongst it – he must have marked out his run four or five times by the time the batsmen appeared.

145 was a good score, but a practised eye could see a few batsmen amongst their lot, so no eggs were being counted at this stage. Cleaver and van Doorn shared the new ball, and fears about batting talent were shown to be realised. Whilst not getting out of hand, there weren’t many signs of taking wickets either. And the two openers, Ashfield and Miller were able to keep a rate of 6 and over going without much bother, however some good fielding stopped things from spiralling. At 36/0 after 6, the first bowling change came with Cox replacing Cleaver and McGuinness replacing van Doorn.

Neither were able to find the breakthrough, and both openers soon reached 25 and retired. New batsmen Tate and Jordon were unable to match the earlier pace and a few quiet overs quickly pushed the needle back towards MCC. However we were still wicketless after 12 overs when the next bowling change came at 67/0.

Bennett finally found the breakthrough in the 13th however, as Jordon was caught by Cleaver for 1. The calm was disturbed a little in the next over as Wilson took a while to find his line, no thanks to the umpire (I’m looking in your direction, Taylor!) Bennett struck again in his second over, as Tate was caught by Lucas, doing his best Trevor impression and hitting the deck hard afterwards. He later claimed it was cramp – nobody believed him.

By this point the game was still up for grabs, at 97/2 after 16. But the skipper had faith and brought on Steel (remember that hat-trick anybody?) in the 17th. Steel didn’t disappoint and teamed up with Beacock for a stumping off his first ball. At the other end, Butcher brought himself on and managed to ignore the sledging from his own camp to bowl a very tight line.

The score tottered along to 119/3 after 19 overs. 27 required off the last, surely we were safe…

Bang, Stig strikes, a fine overhead catch from Kent at midwicket and they’re four down with three balls left and still on 119. Seven runs off the final three ballls weren’t enough and MCC had done well to keep our nerve after a strong start by the opposition to clinch victory by 19 runs.

Cap it off with a wonderful sunset down the pub, and it was not a bad evening at all. However next week sees the first of this year’s John Rob Cup matches, so let’s hope the strong form continues – I have a good feeling this year!