MCC V Ovingham @ Riding Mill September 3

Mallard completed their season with a late addition to the fixture list against Ovingham at Riding Mill, their 21st game of the least weather-affected season in living memory.

Despite the best intentions to start early and beat the fading light, the late arrival of several things, kit, players, vice-captains etc. meant that the game didn’t get underway until nearly six, hastening an early plea for night-vision goggles to be added to the kitbag. It was thus agreed to play a reduced 18-over game, with a maximum of three overs per bowler.

Ovingham won the toss and chose to bat and Mallards began with the extremely mature attack of Dunhill and Haylock. The former has had a strange season, despite bowling his usual economical spells, wickets have been few and far between and coming into the game he hadn’t taken a wicket for Mallards since 26/6 – going wicketless for 7 matches, 27 overs and 164 balls. For those of you who like happy endings, don’t hold your breath.

As usual Dunhill began tightly with only two runs coming from his first over but the young Ovingham opener Chamberlain took an immediately liking to Haylock’s bowling, crashing a four and a huge six (the first of many lost balls of the evening) from his first over, so disconcerting the bowler that he unusually added a sprinkling of wides to the over and saw 15 runs come from it.

With Chamberlain looking ominous and the visitors skipper Marley playing a nice supporting role the score mounted swiftly, 37 coming from the first four overs before Mallards made their first breakthrough, a poorly-judged attempt at a quick single saw Wood’s pick up and throw and Beacock’s solid take and swift removal of the bails run out the unfortunate Chamberlain by a distance.

Another Ovingham veteran, Burt, joined Marley at the wicket and after the two opening spells the visitors had reached 50-1 with Haylock taking 0-32 and Dunhill 0-12 from their three overs – bringing Dunhill’s dry spell to 8 matches, 30 overs and 182 balls.

Heslop and Scott took over the bowling and after some narrow escapes, with edges regularly flying into gaps, Scott struck by bowling Marley for a solid 26, the first of may indications that the bounce was getting a little tricky.

Unfortunately this brought Beedle to the crease and he flexed his muscles with two fours and a six from Heslop’s second over, the start of a run blitz as Scott then saw 19 come from his second over as Burt also joined the party with a pair of boundaries.  With Heslop’s next over also taking a battering from Beedle (who retired on a rapid 30) and the incoming batsmen Pratik, who had the biggest bat seen in many a long day, 47 runs were added in three overs before Scott responded well, having Burt comfortably caught by Steele for 20 in his final over.

Despite the wicket, with 12 overs gone Mallards were really under the cosh as the visitors reached a massive 124-3, Heslop finishing with 0-37 and Scott 2-33.

Cox and Wood were next into the firing line and the former immediately tightened things up. Well not immediately, his first ball was glided through gully for four, but almost immediately, only two singles coming from the other five.  Wood, however, disappeared for 13 from his first as the total mounted to 143 from 14 and Pratik thankfully retired on 31.

Fortunately, the bowlers then managed to exercise some form of control with just ten runs coming from the next two overs and another wicket falling, the Wood/Beacock partnership again bearing fruit as the latter took a fine catch from a thin edge to see the back of Tate for 6.

With the runs drying up (comparatively!) Ovingham completed their innings on 168-4 with Cox finishing with 0-19 and Wood 1-24.

Mallards began their reply with in-form batsmen Steele and Scott leading the chase, requiring around 9.3 runs an over for victory.  The latter began in imperious fashion with a splendid clip off the legs from Hall (Jnr)  for four immediately followed with a slightly finer leg glance for another four and after one over the chase was on – 9-0.

Sadly, the second over saw the openers dreams of a classic run chase slightly dented as Steele was clean-bowled by Chamberlain for 1 (yes, that was the same Chamberlain who opened the bowling – sadly the Mallards formula isn’t always followed by our rivals) and the third over saw those dreams crushed as Scott mistimed a pull to loop a catch to mid-wicket for 9 and Cox, after being dropped at slip, hit a crisp drive straight to cover for 1.  Three overs down and Mallards were in trouble at 15-3 with the required run-rate now over 10 an over.

Fortunately, the newly-minted middle-order partnership of Scutt and Wood managed to stop the rot – and most of the scoring  – the former’s crisp straight drive breaking a long run of dot balls to bring the Mallards score to a meagre 23-3 at the end of the opening bowlers spell of six overs.

Sadly, hope of a respite from the second-string bowlers wasn’t forthcoming as the spinner Pratik and the wily Hall (Senior) took over the bowling and tightened things up further in the rapidly fading light.

Still Scutt and Wood refused to be tempted into a stroke as three runs were thrashed from the next two overs before Scutt’s patience snapped and he sneaked a four from Pratik. Unfortunately, such reckless abandonment proved his undoing as he attempted to repeat the feat and was caught and bowled for 11 to bring Butcher to the crease with the score on 30-4 from 9, only 139 required from the last 9 overs at 15.44 an over!

Despite this daunting target the batsmen still refused to take the bait with both Wood and Butcher continuing to block resolutely, a policy that was clearly shown to be sound when Wood’s first attempt at a scoring shot was comfortably pouched at mid-wicket and he disappeared for a lengthy 3 with the score now on 40-5 from 12 and victory looking a tad unlikely.

Remarkably, Wood’s demise saw the scoring rate slow even further as new bowler Tate mesmerised Mallards’ late-order batsmen, removing first Jordan, caught behind for 1 and, in his next over, Beacock, caught at point from his first attacking shot for 1.

Butcher, who had manfully  followed his captain’s example with some masterful non-stroke play, finally perished in the following over for 4 before Tate completed his spell with a wicket maiden, bowling Heslop for four to end with 3-2  from his three overs. Special mention should however be made of Heslop’s four runs, a crisp cover drive that seemed out of place in such an innings – it was like seeing the Mona Lisa in a Byker Working Man’s Club.

With Heslop’s demise Mallards slim hopes of a memorable win had finally disappeared and Haylock joined Dunhill determined to keep their wickets in tact to claim a moral if pyrrhic (look it up phillistines) victory and they succeeded admirably, Dunhill yet again unveiling his classic forward defensive shot to block out another maiden – the sixth of 18 – as Mallards completed their innings on 50-9, the narrowest of defeats, a mere 118 runs. To add to his strange statistical season, Dunhill has now gone two seasons without losing his wicket, adding 7 not outs and a mighty 3 runs to last season’s unbeaten tally.

Another splendid finish to the evening was enjoyed at the Wellington where the familiar sight of the organiser of the domino card winning the money (Stig) was topped by said winnings being added to the generator fund – let there be light!