MCC V Durham Staff 20 May @ Durham

Mallards confirmed they are becoming North East cricket’s ‘Entertainers’ as they fought out another tense finish in Durham last night.

On a gloomy evening, on a terrible mat pitch and an outfield which appeared to have recently hosted a tractor convention the two teams somehow contrived an excellent game of cricket played in a great spirit.

Mallards skipper Wood won the toss and, concerned about a long batting tail, chose to field first, thereby sentencing his team to bat in the incoming gloom.

At first the gamble appeared to have paid off with Browne getting the side off to another great start, clean bowling Wrede for 0 with his second ball and Dunhill following suit with his second ball to dismiss Wastell to leave Durham at 10-2 from two overs.

However, Durham captain Swift and Lindsey settled things down well and started to move the score along nicely as the fielders struggled with a slippery surface and some terrible bounces on the rutted outfield and after six overs they had recovered to 33-2 before Browne struck again, removing Swift lbw for a fine 23 to finish with 2-29 from his four overs. Dunhill then finished off his very tidy spell with 1-21 from his four as Durham reached 50-3 from eight overs.

Cox and Haylock took up the bowling but with Lindsey and the incoming English playing forcefully chances were very limited and Haylock, in particular took some fierce punishment as the score continued to mount, Lindsey finally retiring on an excellent 33, as the home side reached 80-3 from 12.

English was the next to retire after a hard-hitting 30 and Cox finished his commendable spell with the very tidy figures of 0-19 from four overs as the score mounted to 101-3 from 15.

Last week’s batting hero Wisbach took over from Haylock (3 overs 0-29) and, after conceding a huge six, struck back by having James stumped by the ever alert Beacock.  Taylor took over from Cox at the other end as the Durham batsman started to put their foot down on the accelerator, halted briefly by another stumping from Beacock as Wisbach took his second wicket.

Taylor was unlucky when a very sharp chance narrowly slipped out of Haylock’s clutches at square leg but despite some scrambling fielding, especially from the ever enthusiastic McCaffrey (pictured above), the runs were beginning to pile up and despite a shambolic run out from the last ball Durham managed to reach a hefty 149-6 from their 20 overs, having added 48 in the last five overs.

After struggling to chase 94 to win their previous game, a target of 150 looked a long way off as Steel and Wood took up the challenge for Mallards but with the former in particularly good touch they got off to a rapid start, adding 35 in the first four overs.

With Wood playing hit and run and Steel regularly finding the boundary they continued in the same vein, taking 11 from an over from the useful Pyati, including a massive six from Steel which cleared the boundary by a distance to bring up the 50 partnership. After seven overs they had reached 55-0 with Steel retiring on an excellent 33 to bring Butcher to the crease.

The change of batsman didn’t slow the scoring as the pair chased up every possible run (and many improbable ones) and with Butcher taking over the boundary-hitting role the score continued to mount and they reached the half-way stage on the perfect run-rate score of 75-0.

Butcher was now really finding his form, taking two consecutive fours from the unfortunate Prashant’s over as the score soared to 95-0 from 12 overs.

Durham, however, had one last card up their sleeve and the introduction of Wallace brought immediate dividends as he first bowled Wood off his pads for an all-run 19 and then, after McGuiness got off the mark with a single, immediately skittled Butcher for a fine 24 to bring McCaffrey to the crease.

He immediately joined the party with a boundary and the two Macs continued to run down everything, taking the score up to 114 before McCaffrey was bowled by Langley for a frantic 11 at the end of the 15th over, leaving Mallards needing 36 from five overs for victory.

Cox joined McGuiness in the hunt for victory but with the light really closing in batting was becoming more difficult with only six coming off the next over despite McGuiness crashing a fine square cut for four.

Seven more runs were squeezed from Langley’s next over to leave Mallards needing 22 from 18 balls for an unlikely victory.

With the pressure mounting Cox responded in style hitting a much-needed six from the returning Prashant’s first ball but a series of dot balls then kept things very tight again as they crept along to 136-3 with two overs left, 14 needed to win.

Mallards’ splendid running between the wickets had kept them in the game but the policy suffered its first casualty when McGuinness was finally left short of the crease, run out for a crucial 13 with Mallards requiring another 13 from 10 balls.

Cox immediately released the pressure with another huge six but Durham fought back again, Langley bowling the promoted Browne for 1. Fortunately, Taylor came in and drove his first ball for two to put Mallards in the driving seat, needing just four from the last over for victory.

Somehow it’s never that simple and Durham skipper Swift’s last throw of the dice was to bring himself on to bowl the last over in the by-now very gloomy conditions, a decision which immediately paid off as, after a single from the first ball he removed Taylor, clean bowled by a full toss.

Beacock entered the fray and, after a wide added to the cause, he scrambled a single to bring the scores level.

With Mallards needing just one run to win from two balls it looked all over but a frantic attempt to steal the winning run was thwarted when Beacock was run out to bring last week’s hero Wisbach to the crease to face the final ball with one run needed for victory.

At Jesmond he managed a leg-bye for victory but this week he couldn’t manage that. Instead, he brought his bat into play and drove handsomely through mid-on for an easy single and a second consecutive last-ball victory for the still unbeaten Mallards who finished on 150-7 with Cox not out on 22.

The newly-resilient Mallards celebrated their victory over the very sporting Durham staff team with a well-deserved pint in the Rose Tree and an unresolved debate as to whether this was the biggest total we’d ever chased down.