MCC v Ovingham 31 July 2013 @ Clara Vale

Match reporter: Paul Benneworth

It seemed only fitting that a Mallards game would once more serve to bring to a temporary close North East of England’s prolonged dry spell of recent weeks.  With all the previous week’s efforts against Davipart at Riding Mill wiped out by rain, the worsening weather forecasts over the 24 hours preceding the game raised fears that this time it would be impossible even to take to the field against Ovingham  CC.

Facing competition for players from a Genetics mid-week league game, only seven regulars plus a returning Mallard and three ringers from Clara Vale had made themselves available for selection.  But with twenty two players at Clara Vale CC by 6pm, and early drizzle thankfully  lifting, it was decided to at least take up positions to see how far the game would progress.

One of the casualties of the Davipart fiasco was Acting Captain Mark Butcher, whose back as well as his pride had taken a battering from Davipart’s quick-fire 150 runs.  Into the captaincy selflessly stepped Tom Browne, his head still spinning from the quick-fire 28  thrashed from him the previous week. Browne’s first act in the role was to lose the toss, and Ovingham duly chose to make Mallards bat, perhaps the gathering black clouds hinting that the way to victory was to skittle the Mallards and quickly knock off the required runs.  But Tom showed no fear in his new responsibilities, and sent the first of the ringers Matthew Wildman to the crease to open the batting alongside Clara Vale team mate and Mallards veteran Andy Porteous.

The bowling was opened by Hall, whose youth and pace on a skidding wicket forced the opening pair onto the back foot to assess their options; Bowey’s first over went for two, leaving the Mallards seeming harried and nervous at 5-0 after two overs.  But with the darkening conditions affecting the bowling, increasing numbers of wides gave the openers more room to start taking well-judged boundaries, no  mean feat on an increasingly damp outfield.

With Hall conceding seven off the next over, and Mallards at 19-0 after  four, Ovingham skipper Lee spelled Hall for Millar, a niggling slow bowler with a bamboozling variety in line, length and movement, ideal  for exploiting the now steady drizzle.  Nevertheless, Wildman responded by blocking to Millar, and care-freely thrashing Bowey and his replacement Derrick, to quickly reach and retire on 30, losing Porteous along the way for a careless run-out .

With Porteous replaced by Dave McGuinness, and Wildman retiring for veteran Beacock, it lay to Dave to increase the pressure.  Their fielding ranged from excellent sliding stops on the boundaries to comical dropped catches at  short-mid on, in part a response to worsening weather conditions.  But Ovingham had no answer to McGuinness’s quick-fire 30, losing only Beacock along the way to a ball that kept low from third change bowler Ashfield.

With seventeen overs completed, Mallards at one hundred, and McGuinness joining Wildman on the replacement’s bench, Benneworth took to the field with orders to up the run rate, with the umpires suggesting that the increasingly persistent rain might shorten his time at the crease.  The weather was not to trouble him, leaving the field two balls later having spooned his first faced delivery to short mid off. It lay to Craig Scott and Jordan to guide the Mallards home with 5 and 3 not out respectively to a total of 111 for 4 from twenty overs.  That figure including two retirements for 30, was certainly respectable given the increasingly marshy conditions.  OCC ran from the field and quickly took up their batting guards with the only question now when, rather than whether, the match would be stopped.

Again, Tom turned to the guest players to open the attack, passing the new ball to Dave Barnaby, who opened with a no ball.   But the opening pair were not to remain together long, with Wildman stopping a ball racing to the boundary with a diving rolling recovery, hurling the ball back at the stumps giving wicket keeper Beacock a seeming eternity to remove Ashfield’s bails and break the opening partnership.

In the second over, Cox began by bowling two very low tight balls that opener Lee poked away to the slip cordon.  A third looser delivery allowed Lee to step forward and smash the ball out to long on, where a rather surprised Benneworth stuck his hands up out to the right to stop the ball, sending an even more surprised Lee back to the pavilion when the ball stuck in Benneworth’s hands. When Tate skied an almost identical ball tantalisingly above Benneworth’s head two overs later, and three more balls were  poked soggily back to an increasingly drenched inner ring, umpires and  fielders decided that the best of the game had been had, removing the  bails for the last time with Ovingham on 20-2 after four overs.

The match provided a welcome excuse for a seasonal trip to the Boathouse Pub in Wylam, where both teams shrugged once more, and wished each other better weather next time.  But if the scoreboard will record this as a draw due to abandonment, then surely the moral account will have Mallards as having the upper hand in a game which offers much hope for what remains of our season.