Mallards v Durham Staff July 16 @ Riding Mill

On 16th July 1969, Apollo 11 took off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, bound for the moon and history. Fifty years later, Mallards CC looked to the heavens too to create their own little piece of history. For NASA, it took 400,000 people to put Armstrong and Aldrin onto the moon; on Tuesday evening, 11 brave souls walked out at Riding Mill to achieve the seemingly impossible – a Mallards victory.

To battle, and the opposition – Durham Staff.  In the eternal battle between Town and Gown, too often the Gown has triumphed. The dolts from the Town, knuckles dragging across their PhD certificates, have been no match for the imperious academics. A comprehensive victory earlier in the season gave Durham the scent of easy prey and an early trip to the pub. How disappointed they were.

Buckley, leader of our urchin mob, struck early and won the toss. Into bat for the great unwashed of the city; a bowl for the boys from the Ivory Tower. Openers Usama (a welcome newcomer) and Kent strode to the wicket, with the swagger of those not used to concession or defeat. Kent looked fluent, and in the moment – right up to the moment he was caught behind, from a lifting ball off Boothroyd. The umpire heard nothing and wouldn’t have given it, but Kent, the honest gladiator that he is, walked, acknowledging the edge. This noble temperament was to be sorely tested later on. Cox arrived at the crease, a Kiwi smarting from his nation’s latest engagement with the Injustice Fairy.  His stroke play was fluent, some might say, at times, even elegant. Usama and Cox assiduously accumulated runs, both taking a liking to a Mr T. Cleaver, who was fighting hard for his annual ‘Friendly Fire’ Award.

Durham’s opening pair saw out their overs, and the score had eased its way to 46-1 after 8. Unfortunately, Durham’s first change bowler was actually capable of spinning a ball, and Rahman got Usama with his first delivery, which pitched in another county, turned about 18 feet and pinged the off stump. Usama gone for a hard earned 13. Wood was next out of the hutch, holding his position in the upper order due to a recent flurry of runs and avoiding the drugs testing outside Glastonbury. Wood, as a writer of some fame, knows the power of punctuation and deployed the dot with great affect, frustrating the bowlers and leaving Cox to demonstrate his prowess at the other end. Right up to the point when Wood ran him out. A mix up, a farcical bounce off the wicketkeeper’s shins, a far-too-honest umpire, and Cox was back in the clubhouse, three short of his retirement.

A change of umpires was needed, and Kent made himself available. Unfortunately, a Durham player took exception to Kent’s lack of umpiring attire – apparently having a problem identifying someone standing behind the stumps as an official and not some errant fielder, trying to get a better look at a colleague’s batting technique – and sent him back to the hut. This clear infraction of the sartorial code of friendly cricket somewhat riled said Kent, and words were shared. It all added nicely to the mix.

Malik made headway with a series of fine singles and twos. Unfortunately, Wood was sunk by a low ball from the other Boothroyd twin. Six overs left, and 70-4. Could our brave boys get somewhere near a presentable total? Step forth the Skip, determined to show those academic sticky beaks that talent is classless. A steady accumulation of runs by Buckley and Malik moved things on nicely. Buckley, now impatient for glory, opened his shoulders and cut loose on the Durham bowlers, taking a particular liking to Costello, who went for 18 in his first over.  Our pair of lusty larrikins moved the scoreboard on with vigour, and by the last over we had topped the ton.

Then the fateful, almost fatal, moment. The last ball – a quick single and a Durham fielder with mischief in his mind. The ball, thrown in, missed the Skip by millimetres. More words were shared. The umpire, a Mr S. Kent, contributed his tenpenneth. It all made for a great atmosphere, and the spectators were enjoying the frisk enormously. So a total of 110 on the board. Defendable? Defeatable? Let’s find out.

The Mallards attended the pitch with a heightened sense of purpose, and blood pumping in their ears. The Skip, now invested with the soul of Douglas Jardine, strode with purpose, marshalling his troops for battle. Watson and Malik opened the bowling, and kept it tight. Particularly impressive, given that Durham’s opening pair could actually hold a bat. Runs were gathered, but the scoreboard did not run away out of sight. Malik completed three for just 11 runs, and the Skip held him back for a final over, if needed. Watson, tight of line, completed his 4 overs for 21. Robertson, Durham’s opening bat, retired on 30. Would he return to haunt our heroes?

Cox marked out his run, adding an extra couple of steps, so that he could more effectively channel his inner pain. Deliveries were lively; some might say virtually Bodyline, with ribs being rattled.  A neat ball and the other opener, Gillespie, picked out Usama at long on. Not having read the Mallards Coaching Manual, Usama actually managed to pouch the ball. First one down. Stone held up a strong end, and Cox continued to bowl with vigour. Natham and Hillborn move the score on, but never out of sight. Natham edged one to the excellent Beakers, behind the stumps. Or did he? Not given; no walk. No matter, next ball Cox castled him. Two down, and a climbing run rate. Oh, the excitement. Stone finished his spell with 3 overs for 21. Cox, possessed of antipodean angst, finished with 2 for 16 off 4 overs. Very pretty.

Then the Skip’s master stroke – he left. Wood, a man for all seasons, stepped forward to take the reins. Understanding the need for raw pace and intimidating bowling, Wood deployed his big guns – Latif and Mexter. Latif was economical and accurate, keeping the batters guessing. Mexter, bowling like someone else, was tidy and even a bit bouncy. His second over produced one that shot along the ground and clean bowled Whitefield, and then the moment of glory. Hillborn, the man of earlier altercations came down the wicket to Mexter, who, seeing the danger, lifted one into the body. Defending his ribs, Hillborn skied it to Kent at cover. Moving like Jonty Rhodes on Ephedrine, Kent swooped, diving full length and getting his hands under the ball, mere fractions of an inch above the ground. A lusty shout and a look to the batsman made the moment.

Excitement was mounting. Durham were still behind the rate, and the bowlers had their foot firmly on their throats. Latif finished his spell with a veritably parsimonious 15 off his 3 overs. Mexter managed 2 for 6 off his 2 overs. Modesty behoves the author not to comment on these figures, but simply let the numbers speak for themselves. So to the final over, and Durham needing 10 to win. Anything less, a humiliation at the hands of the urban oicks.

Malik, having been held back, now unleashed the final barrage. A wicket with his first ball, Boothroyd ( the tall one, not the chucker), hitting his own stumps. A couple of dots; a couple of singles, then the last ball. A peach of a delivery, clean bowling Costello and raising the roof of the clubhouse. A scarcely believable victory for Town over Gown, made all the more sweet by the level of needle introduced by the more chippy members of both teams. 8 runs the difference. But who cares about the margin of victory? It was the manner and magnificence that shone through – every Mallard at the top of their game; every Mallard a brother-in-arms. On this occasion, Durham knew that they had been defeated by fine margins but finer opposition. We may only have twenty or so PhDs and a handful of Professors amongst us, but we showed those academic types. Brick by brick, we dismantled their Ivory Tower and build our own ochre-coloured gazebo in its place.

A fine night, capped off perfectly by big bowls of chips and onion rings at the Wellie. Lovely.