Mallards v Sparta @ Heaton June 21

The summer solstice is celebrated around the world in many wonderful ways: in Denmark they burn straw effigies of witches on the beaches; in Finland the women-folk bend over wells, naked, to see their future husband’s reflection, then get heavily drunk; Latvian revellers run naked through the towns at three in the morning before being rewarded with beer, cheese and folk songs. Actually, it would seem that most of these so-called “traditional celebrations” are little more than a flimsy excuse to light fires whilst getting nude and drunk.

Always looking to buck a trend, the MCC shunned the fiery norm by going truly wild and worshipping midsummer by playing 22 overs a side rather than the traditional 20. Sparta won the toss and chose to bat; however the pull of the more traditional solstice celebrations was obviously stronger than a slightly-longer-than-normal cricket match, as neither team was able to field more than 10 players. That said, Stig turned up briefly but then slinked off mumbling something about strong liquor, and Gareth popped in to umpire a few overs.

With the sun shining brightly both teams eventually sauntered out onto a pristine field. The Mallards’ 2016 recruitment drive continues to produce results, with another new player taking the field in the form of Thompson. We were also pleased to see the return of Beacock who was champing at the bit to get going. Browne took the new ball at the Grandstand End and found a good line straight away; however it was Mexter who found the breakthrough in the second over, trapping Hunter in front for just 3. Mexter struck again in the fourth over, drawing a thin edge from Gibb through to Beacock who completed a sharp catch.

Things were looking sound at 19/2 after five overs, but the run rate was about to start heading in the wrong direction. Despite Browne claiming the wicket of remaining opener Rushton, courtesy of New Mallard Thompson holding on to an awkward chance at square leg, the Spartan middle order had started to open up, moving the score quickly along to 57/3 after nine. Watson, however, was bowling well and started to bring things back under control with three wickets, first claiming Nelson for a rapid 20, caught by Cox at mid-wicket. He then claimed Spratt for 8 (also caught by Cox at mid-wicket) and Ellis, bowled for 7. The order and timing of the wickets is unclear due to a bit of a gap in book-keeping.

At the other end, Gibbons was really hitting his straps, finding an excellent line and beating the bat consistently. He and Watson pulled the run-rate back again, but batsmen Cook and Mr Illegible Squiggle, brought to the crease by Watson’s spree, started putting on a display of clean, straight hitting that was looking ominous. However 94/6 after 15 was encouraging as Cox brought himself on at the Rubbish Bin End, paired with first Mexter and then Browne at the other end to finish their spells. Unfortunately the big hitting continued and Sparta managed to put on 67 in the last 7 overs, resulting in a sizeable score of 161/6 after their 22. Watson with 3 wickets for ‘some runs’, and Mexter with 2 for ‘some more runs’ were the pick of the bowlers. Actual figures are not available from the book I’m afraid – a continuing theme from recent seasons.

However, all was not lost as the deck was flat, the outfield fast and recent batting form had been strong. Kent and Cox strode out to the middle with a glint in their eyes, dreaming of the unlikely. Kent, possibly with his mind still on having had to field like a mere mortal without gloves on, didn’t last and was bowled in the first over by Langley for 0. Wilson, in at 3, was off the mark straight away with a late cut for 2. At the other end, Cox took two boundaries from the second over to kick start the innings. Wilson was bowled for 2 in the third to give Langley the impressive figures of 2/3 from his two over spell. Cox and new batsman Mexter set about restoring order to things, with both finding the boundary regularly. The score moved along to 56/2 before Mexter was bowled by Rowe for 21.

Gibbons came out swinging at 5 and after a few early singles went four-six-out, bowled by Rowe. Moran came and went, lashing out and slapping a catch to cover first ball. Thompson, whose first ball for the Mallards was a hat-trick ball, saw it off calmly. It didn’t last unfortunately and he was caught off Hunter shortly after. The score was limping along to 71/6 after 14. Browne and Watson were both bowled for 3 by Spratt and things were looking bleak at 83/8. Beacock was enjoying himself though, having hammered a much needed boundary over backward square; he was joined by Cox, who’d retired at some point during the collapse, after Watson’s demise. Unfortunately, Beacock was then caught trying to clear mid-on off Hunter, bringing the innings to a close for 84 in the 18th over.

So not so much running naked through the streets, more tripping up on the cobblestones; it was, however, a pleasure to play under a midsummer sun, a change from the forgettable “summer” we’ve been experiencing so far.

I think I’m going to move to Finland.