Mallards v Genetics April 25 @ Riding Mill

The first game of the 2023 season was held in jeopardy by the insistently rainy weather in the days and weeks leading up to the fixture. Surprisingly though, the conditions were set fair, with little to no wind and the occasional glimpse of sun, although quite fresh.

Skipper McCaffery took to the field and duly lost the toss only to be put into field by Genetics. It was agreed that the overs would be limited to 18 each way, batsmen would retire on 25, and everyone (more or less) would bowl 2 overs.

In due course the Genetics openers Sanderson and Hamid meandered unhurriedly onto the field of play and the bowling was opened from the tree end by the venerable Tony Cleaver with customary aplomb: a neat over which gave away just three singles. According to his ineffable plan, the skipper – presumably feeling charitable to the visiting batsmen, threw the ball to Holland to continue the bowling. After gifting Sanderson 50% of his retirement total with three deliveries, Holland regained some control over himself for the final three: 16 for none after the first two overs. Cleaver continued tidily but also came a cropper of Sanderson who got one away for six. Holland completed his spell surrendering four more runs, and the visitors were on 28 for no loss off the first bowling pair.

Next up was Tom Edge or Tedge to baffle with his in-swingers. After a few deliveries he found his length and gave little away, but Genetics’ number one managed to find a final single to retire (confusingly) on 26 to be replaced by Bell. Browne took the ball at the other end and took aim, hitting the target on his fifth delivery to dispatch Bell for 1, removing his middle stump and taking the first Mallards pole of the season. Bell was replaced by R Wilson, and Tedge continued with real intent, getting his reward by taking Hamid’s wicket, caught superbly by Cox. Hamid was replaced by RJ and Browne continued from the Jon Rob end. Another laser guided missile from Browne left Wilson’s stumps in splinters, figuratively speaking. Off he trudged with his one run in the bag to be replaced by Jonny Bennett.

From this point on, this over took a surreal turn. The next ball saw an optimistic call for a run which left RJ with a lot of ground to make up, but Stig was alert at the batsman’s end and threw down the wicket with RJ a yard short of his ground. Off he trooped not having faced a ball when out of nowhere came a call for his to return. “He’s travelled a long way!”, “He didn’t face a ball!” was the cry, and RJ was somewhat bafflingly granted clemency. Looking as confused as the fieldsmen, he resumed his position at the crease. The very next ball he was struck on the foot in front of his stumps and up went the cry for leg-before. The batsman began another long trudge to the pavilion, not realising that, despite testimony from eyewitnesses of the extreme plumminess of the impact, the umpire’s call was not-out so the trudged back once again. It only remained to be seen what the impact would be of the generous, sporting, Mallardian spirit which allowed RJ to remain in the middle.

The scoreboard spoke of 41 for 3 after 8 overs following fine spells from the two Toms. The next pair took over with Stig bowling from the tree end. A tidy start bowling at the apparently indestructible RJ brought another moment of excitement when Kent swiftly removed the bails while he was out of his ground. Had the visiting team furnished the field of play with a square leg umpire, the batsman would surely have been walking back to the clubhouse (again). But the appeal was unheeded, and RJ remained, possibly to consider what mode of dismissal he would like to try for next…

It is perhaps inevitable that at this stage the unmoveable RJ suddenly found his hitting arc and developed a taste for Stig’s line of attack, hitting him for two sixes, while the fielding side looked on ruefully. Cox took over at the other end and gave little away, conceding a miserly two runs. Stig finished his spell and again came up against a phoenix-like RJ who lofted another six into the trees. Cox was once again difficult to get away, but RJ managed one final boundary four to retire on 26 and leave the field of play completely on his third attempt. The score was now 74 for 3 off 12.

Aruna took RJ’s place, and the next bowling pair was Dev and Pradeep. Dev started nicely and forced Bennett to chip to mid-wicket which was skilfully caught close to the ground by Cox. Both umpires concurred on the cleanliness of the catch (second umpire duties had been assumed by the estimable Micky Collins at this point), as were the celebrating fielding side, although the retreating batsman appeared less convinced. Only two runs conceded off this over, and Goulding replaced Bennett.

Pradeep made a perfect start, bowling Goulding with his second ball. On came Liaquat as replacement, but runs were hard to come by and Pradeep was 1 for 3 off his first over. Dev continued, finishing on 10 for his one wicket, and Pradeep returned for his second over only to repeat his earlier heroics by bowling Liaquat who was going for an ambitious looking shot, only to be done for by the lack of bounce in the early season pitch. G Wilson replaced Liaquat and Genetics were 89 for 5 after 16 overs.

Unconventionally, the skipper opted to bowl his two overs from opposite ends and was very neat in his execution from the field end, going for only three. He fared less well out of the trees as Aruna and G Wilson sought to shore up their score by hitting 11 off their last over. Genetics finished on 103 for 6 off their 18 overs. Would the 26 runs arising from the Mallards’ gentlemanly, or arguably quixotic sportsmanship have a significant impact on the result?

Messrs Kent and Nair strode out to the middle to open the batting for Mallards, contemplating the less than a run-a-ball target they had been set. Kent took strike against the youthful Laverick for the first over, and in looking to be positive, went for the shot but didn’t find the middle of the bat and was caught by Wilson (G) from the first ball. A chastening start, but with the steady bat of Wood to take over, there remained cause for hope.


Pradeep and Trev batted solidly running singles and byes, to keep the scoreboard moving whilst Laverick and Latif bowled economically. In Laverick’s second over Wood scooped a shot up to Wilson (R) at mid-off, and took off in search of a quick single, (correctly) assuming the catch would not be taken cleanly, but not reckoning on the quick fielding of Hamid to pick up the spilled catch and hit the stumps side on with Trev still some way from making his ground. Dev replaced Trev, and the Mallards were 11 for 2 after three overs. Liaquat’s second over was parsimonious with 2 runs yielded, but no further wickets. 13 for 2 off the last pair, and plenty still to do with the required rate now 6.5 per over.

Bell and Wilson (G) took over the bowling and the extant batsmen, Dev and Pradeep started about their work taking 6 and 10 runs off the fifth and sixth overs respectively. Bell tightened up his line for the seventh giving away just 2 runs, but Wilson lost his rhythm, bowling some loose beamers and going for 14 off his second. All of which was welcome news for flag-waving Mallards fans with the score now 45 for 2 after the eighth over, the required rate now a hair under 6.

The next bowling pair of Hamid and RJ took over, but Dev immediately cashed in, smashing Hamid for six off his second ball, to take his score to 29 and enforced retirement, to the resounding applause of his team-mates in the pavilion. Tedge was the next man in, and was immediately busy, knocking singles and building a partnership with the immoveable Pradeep. RJ was difficult to get away, with just a single off his first over, but solid batting and running kept the scoreboard ticking almost to the end of this pairs’ allotted overs, when on the penultimate ball of the twelfth, Pradeep was dismissed. His mode of dismissal will alas never be known, for the scorer this was evidently more information than he was prepared to divulge, so let’s just assume it was a marginal call, and could have gone either way. Well batted Pradeep, a valuable 15 runs which contributed to Mallards being 62 for 3 after 12 overs, but the required rate now exactly 7.

Aruna and Goulding took over the bowling and Cox replaced the outgoing Pradeep. The first ball out of Aruna’s hand barrelled into Tedge’s wicket, sending him back for a respectable 5. Note that this wicket was assigned to RJ in the book (perhaps in another fit of generosity towards this player from the gentleman Mallards), but since he wasn’t bowling at the time, this feels like a leap of imagination… McCaffery took over from Edge to see out the remainder of Aruna’s over with Cox by knocking around singles and continuing in this spirit through Goulding’s over. With the score at 72 for 4 after 14 overs, and the RRR now 7.5, a touch of the long-handle seemed necessary if the target of 104 was to be reached.

To many watching, the 15th over looked like a potential opportunity for this as R Wilson was thrown the ball and Cox took the strike, aiming a beautifully balletic shot at the first delivery. Whilst the shot, had it connected with the ball would undoubtedly have confounded the field, instead the ball struck the stumps scarcely higher than if it had been rolled underarm. Cox was replaced by Stig, who after notching up a single run was cruelly run out with the skipper’s shout of “2 runs there, DEFINITELY!” still echoing around the ground. Stig was replaced by Holland who after negotiating 2 deliveries managed to get the faintest of edges followed by the lowest of catches by the keeper. Holland was replaced by Browne. Three wickets off this over was not the outcome many would have predicted, but being predictable is not in the Mallard’s vocabulary, as this match proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

Jonny Bennett took over the bowling and despite picking up a couple of quick singles in partnership with the skipper, Browne was finally out caught by Latif. One slight complication of Browne’s dismissal was that his replacement, Tony Cleaver, was umpiring at the bowler’s end at the time. A futile attempt at a quick-change performance was abandoned and instead Dev returned to the field to continue his innings.

Aruna and Goulding resumed their spells and despite a valiant attempt by Dev and McCaffery to make up the run deficit, eventually fell short by 12 runs, with Dev caught Bennett, bowled Goulding on the final ball of the innings. 92 for 9.

Now, any readers of a cynical inclination might point out that the deficit of 11 runs is somewhat smaller than the 26 runs apparently gifted to Genetics by Mallards in what will hitherto be known as the RJ Incident ®. It will doubtless be argued as to which was the greater act of self-immolation; the reprieve(s) of RJ, or the miracle-spell of Mallardian double agent Rob Wilson which fatally wounded any remaining hopes in the 15th over.

All of which would be to miss the far more important point, which was that the game was on, the ground was in good nick, the wind was light, and the sun shone (a bit). None of the many incidents could possibly detract from a fresh and fragrant evening at the Mill, sport played in the best traditions of sportsmanship, and the warm banter and welcoming smiles of the genial Riding Mill hosts.

Overall, a strangely ambiguous result: a points-defeat, but a moral victory; and the spectre of a Sliding Doors style alternate reality in which Mallards eased to victory in the 16th over. A highly memorable start to the 2023 season. May cricket never be boring…