Mallards v Excelsior Batters June 17 @ Riding Mill

All the best things come in fives: The Famous Five; The Jackson Five; Chanel No.5; The Fifth Element (actually scratch that, terrible movie). Anyway, you get the point. Rumour had it that the Mallards had never won five games in a row and with four already in the bag the anticipation of going down in history hung heavy in the air. Though that may have been the cloud cover.

Excelsior Batters were, hopefully, to be the latest victims of this unlikely surge in results though previous form between the two pointed to a close-run thing.

An experimental new partnership of in-form Wilson (the Older) and the always-reliable Malik were despatched to lead the way to a glorious victory by a buoyant stand-in skipper Butcher. But would the weight of expectation prove too heavy? That would be a firm ‘yes.’ Wilson was clean bowled by Glenwright first ball. 0-1.

A few dot balls were needed to steady the Mallards ship so an expert was called for. Wood took centre stage and reeled off 13 of them in his first 15 balls. Malik took the hint and did likewise as the score crept along.  An acceleration was needed and it duly came as 17-1 from 5 overs quickly became34-1 from 7, both batsmen beginning to find form and picking up a lot of quick singles. The fifty partnership came and went (To barely a murmur from the clubhouse so regularly has this happened this season. In the past standing ovations would have resulted.) The score had reached a neatly symmetrical 72 in the 12th over when it was finally broken, Malik unlucky to depart to a fine catch by the keeper off Atkinson, three runs short of retirement on 27. Cox joined Wood and they kept the run-a-ball momentum up until Wood retired on 30 with the score on 88-2 in the 14th.

A pair of glorious fours from Cox saw the 100 up, before he was bowled by a terrific yorker from Roshan for 16. Nitsch came and went quickly for 4, another Glenwright victim, but skipper Butcher and Holland (the Younger) kept their foot on the pedal, both hitting fine boundaries as the total reached a very decent 127-4 after 20 overs. That fifth victory was still a possibility.

As Mallards took to the field, Butcher introduced his cunning plan. Holland (the Younger) and Wilson (the Younger) were despatched to opposite boundaries to patrol the outfield in a way that regular Mallards can only remember seeing through very dusty rose-coloured spectacles.

Excelsior, however, had their own cunning plan and openers Omar and Ifty set off as if in a hurry to get home to catch the tail-end of the Wales game on the telly,  taking 17 off the first two overs. Boyce had other ideas though, and taking umbrage at conceding 11 from his first over he removed both batsmen in his second, clean bowling Omar for a rapid 15 and having Ifty well caught by Wilson (the Younger) for 4 (Skipper Butcher smiled modestly but we all knew he was patting himself on the back on the inside).

Annoyingly, Excelsior had more good batsmen than is normally allowed on a weekday evening and Spencer and Donaghy kept up the earlier momentum , taking the score up to a well-over-par 50 in the sixth over before the latter was clean bowled by the excellent Holland (the Younger) for 9.

Krishnan joined Spencer at the crease and confirmed the away team were in a hurry, hitting three fours in his first four scoring shots as the score raced to 64-3 from just 8 overs. Mallards needed dot balls and wickets from somewhere. That somewhere was called Malik. His first over saw just four runs coming from it and the removal of the excellent Krishnan for 18, another splendid catch under pressure by Wilson (the Younger, obviously, Wilson the Older appeared to be composing rhyming couplets under a distant tree by this stage). Skipper Butcher’s grin got a little broader. As cunning plans go this was right up there with Baldrick’s engraved bullet.

Unfortunately that brought Roshan to the wicket, the latest in Excelsior’s seemingly endless procession of classy batsmen. However, Mallards had their own class act to call on too as Holland (the Older) began his spell at the pavillion end and he and Malik tightened the screw,  just 18 runs coming from the next six overs. Excelsior were suddenly behind the run rate at 83-4 from 14 overs. Was history actually about to be made?

Cox replaced Malik, who finished with 1-10 from his three overs, and, bowling from a short run up, found great bounce. Unfortunately that meant that edges were flying high and the slightly fortunate Roshan eked two boundaries from his fourth over.  As the pressure mounted catches started to go down too, skipper Butcher shelling a couple of tricky skiers and Nitsch marginally failing to catch the ball on the back of his neck. The skipper frowned – it was no time for such party tricks.

Holland (the Older) finished his spell with a magnificent 0-14 from four overs including a vital maiden and the score on 105-4 from 17 overs, 23 needed from three for an Excelsior win. Mallards were now in the box seat, though, worryingly, both batsmen, the hard-hitting Roshan and Spencer, who had anchored the innings, were well-set.

Enter the mighty Nitsch, returning to the fold after a long absence, half the man he was the last time he played. (His lockdown weight-loss plan will soon be available from all good bookshops, I’m sure). Four balls into his first over and both batsmen were un-set. The steadfast Spencer finally out, clean bowled for 21 and the hard-hitting Roshan, magnificently caught by Boyes on the long-off boundary for 18. With only two runs coming from the over the champagne was put on ice. Excelsior now needed 21 from two.

Cox, still grumbling about the missed catches, was in no mood to let them off the hook, conceding just four from his final over to leave Nitsch to finish the job. And finish it he did, bowling Lever for a duck with his second ball to end Excelsior’s resistance. A couple of late, desperate boundaries brought their score up to 109-7 by the end but the game was done.

In a season full of tight finishes and games played in great spirit, Mallards had yet again found a way to win.  When historians come to debate the most famous ‘fives’ of all time this sequence of victories is bound to figure in the conversation. (Following confirmation from the Mallards’ stats man, of course. If it’s only four we’ll move most of this to the next report.)