The storm clouds which had hung all day over the ground at Riding Mill eventually parted and thus the scene was set for a bright evening’s contest between two evenly matched teams. And then the news percolated through to the Mallards dressing room that their opponents were one short: Durham staff’s key all-rounder and esteemed captain announced he was too ill to play.
‘Bad luck, old boy!’ ‘Shame!’ came the response as the Mallards cried genuine crocodile tears – much as the England team had done when Glenn McGrath twisted an ankle and was ruled out of the second Ashes test in 2005.
So, with only ten men, Durham elected to bat. Opener Guy Paxman was kept quiet at first by a fierce Mallards attack (!) but not so his partner Vinay who opted to smack two boundaries off Standring before mistiming the next to cover where he was duly caught. Durham’s third man Root (yes, a relation) came out next and was initially subdued, no doubt unwilling to take risks against your geriatric opening bowler, but he had the affrontery to make up for this slow start by carving a six and a four off your correspondent’s next over. Root however was given his come-uppance by being yorked by Standring and so Durham’s Rory MG came to the crease to face the next onslaught. With Dave Cox, evidently on loan from the Kiwi first eleven, now bowling cruise missiles, Rory could get nothing away at first. Another slow start. Would this continue? Yes – Paxman’s normally impenetrable forward defence was breached by Standring – who capped an excellent performance with 3 wickets off 4 for 20
Next in line stood Patrick Card, Durham’s number 5, who rapidly took stock of the situation and, waiting his chance for a wayward delivery from Tom Edge, hoisted a mighty six into the nearby field, then a four, then another six before getting caught attempting yet another launch above mid-wicket. Tom also suffered a boundary or two off Rory, who had survived numerous missiles, but he bowled Durham’s next man, Duffy, which meant that Germany’s finest batsman/keeper Eckart was next to come to the crease.
Hereafter the story gets interesting. The Mallards brought their secret weapon into the attack: the looping lollops of Lee Latif. Eckart was bowled by one ball that refused to bounce; Nigel Metcalfe, Durham’s other greying legend, replaced him and was promptly stumped attempting to hit another looper that was reluctant to come on to the bat. Two down and now only two to go.
Last man-but-one Mike Costello ambled into the fray. He gained a couple of singles before Rory retired on a maximum and so Durham captain Ian Boothroyd next took strike. Facing him at the other end was one-time captain of the Mallards, bamboozling bowler and actual staff member of Durham, the estimable Ian Stone. Rolling back the years, some bewitching left-arm deliveries brought hesitation and then a stunning, hand-stinging catch. Tremendous: a handsome caught-and-bowled of Ian off Ian.
Unfortunately, with only ten batsmen, this brought Durham retiree Rory to face the last balls of Ian’s and the Mallard’s, last over. The final ball of the innings was launched into orbit over the next-door field. Durham finished with 127 for 8.
In reply, Stig and Dave Cox opened the batting for the Mallards, with Vinay and Ian B bowling for Durham. Runs came steadily at first with both openers collecting runs in ones, twos and fours. No wickets fell until the bowling changed – Stig hoisting a catch off Paxman and then Nigel M came on to wreak chaos as Durham employed their own secret weapon. First batsman Gurr and then his replacement Jones were completely undone by the Metcalfe magic.
The Mallards captain Buckley took up his bat next to steady the proceedings and between him and Dave Cox the scoreboard advanced, despite some vicious (and sometimes erratic) deliveries from Rory, until our antipodean all-rounder retired with a boundary and 33.
Davies-Warner replaced Dave Cox and looked solid enough until Durham’s Costello removed his off-stump bails with his first ball. Standring came forth next and quickly set about scoring boundaries off all and sundry before Buckley retired on 30 and then, with Mallards closing in with 108 and two overs to go, Durham brought back their opening bowlers.
Standring battled on manfully – edging one quickie off Vinay which nearly broke Nigel’s fingers – but he was then caught out by Rory with one hoist too many. And so to a memorable Mallardian image: Lee Latif walking out showing utter distain for the opposition by wearing only one pad and a determined expression. Regrettably Lee faced only one ball since Ian B demolished the tail in his last over with two wickets bowled with his trade-mark questionable deliveries – much to disgruntlement of the Mallards and your correspondent who had done nothing but watch the collapse whilst umpiring. In twenty overs, Mallards finished on 118 for 10.
Close, but eventually just short of victory. Some excellent performances, especially by the younger and more athletic contingent with the bat and in the field, but the Mallards must wait a little longer for success.