Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Season Finale at Whitchurch-on-Thames

The genesis of this late-late season fixture (30th September) was cancellations earlier in the month by Reading University and Brill, both through lack of players.  The former have done this to us very occasionally over the years, but it’s a worrying first time failure from Brill.  Happily, Whitchurch, who are my local side, were happy to fill the gap.

Knowing the balance of the sides, I negotiated a bowl-first toss (those who know me will realise that this is pretty much my default position whatever) and just for the hell of it, opened the bowling myself.  Captain’s privilege.

The pitch, which is also the Village Green, is used by the general public when we’re not there, so inconsistencies in bounce are part of the normal routine.  That’s useful for the bowlers who otherwise have to defend very short boundaries both sides of the wicket.  It’s in a very pretty location, but it’s one petite cricket ground.

Anyway, Whitchurch got off to a steady if not spectacular start.  By the halfway stage (18 overs) they were about 90 for 1 and nobody really dominating.  Riyas – my ringer to make up the numbers – finished his first spell of four overs for 16 runs, which is right enough.  But brought on to bowl out the final two overs, he suffered a mauling at the hands of a Whitchurch Big Gun (and also a best mate) to finish with none for 50.  That’s captain’s privilege again, you see, as I didn’t get to finish my spell for just this kind of reason.

Other than that, all the bowlers (which included everyone in the side, this being the last match of the season) produced respectable figures with none standing out especially.  Martin was particularly unlucky not to get a wicket, but Danny Forman, Paul McIntyre and Gary had one each to add to the season’s average.

With a dramatic acceleration towards the end (two balls were lost, which is not uncommon here) Whitchurch reached 236 – 3.  So, this being an overs thrash, the batting – now reinforced by Jonathan Wilmot, who was late by arrangement following a late withdrawal – had it all to do.  But we’ve scored this before, and it wasn’t quite out of sight I thought.

We started well, Chris Baker clattering boundaries with abandon, supported well by Arvind (26) for the first wicket.  But after about a dozen overs, when I really thought we might just be in this, Chris, on 38 at the time, ran himself out going for an impossible single.  Such a shame, it’s what the crowd had turned up for!

Jonathan played a couple of delicious drives through the covers but then missed one.  Gary got an unlucky low bounce, and this led onto a decent spell of scoring based around Drew Somerville's 50 and double-digit contributions from Riyas (19), Tivey (10) and yours-truly (14*).

With a certain pleasing symmetry, I had faced the very first ball of the Mandarins season back in April at Peper Harrow (that one, I left outside the off stump) and the very last ball of the season, from which I made a boundary that edged us past 200 and a defeat by a convincing but respectable 34 runs.

Literally the Last Shot of the Season (Dan)
We took a few beers down at The Greyhound (real ale, low beams) with the opposition, and the evening came upon us at the end of another season.

Andy Heard

Monday, 10 September 2018

One Wicket Win in Last Ball Thriller at Rochester

Kings School XI 187 for 9 off 41 overs. Mandarins 188 for 9 off 42 overs. Mandarins win by one wicket.

Well, where to begin?

How about at Elstead? It was speculated that the chase there in the previous game was the most dreary in Mandarins history, falling 50 short with 5 down. Well the archivist says no! I offer you Mandarins v Jesus College Cambridge on 2 May 1981, where we showed our contempt for the Jesus target of 185 by scoring only 71 for 5, including a pointless run out off the last ball. This game, by wonderful contrast, was one of the very best any of us could remember.
  • Item: Wonderful weather
  • Item: Superb setting, castle and cathedral resplendent
  • Item: a great cricket wicket, hard but always something in it for seamers and spinners
  • Item: peerless hospitality from Jeremy Walker and King's School colleagues. The tea, gargantuan, 
  • took an hour and tested the willpower of opening batsmen and bowlers to the utter limit. Special mention for sponge cakes and fresh scones.
  • Item: the post match glimpse of Arcadia in the gardens at Restoration House, now well on their way to spectacular completion. Thank you very much for their hospitality to Jonathan and Robert.
  • Item: proper umpires. John Hawkins speculated that this was because he had given Baxter not out 9 times in  his winning knock in the previous year's fixture. These umpires confirmed John's excellent judgement. Baxter (well his pads anyway) survived another 9 or so lbw appeals.

Skipper Jonathan wore an enigmatic smile for much of the day. It was as if he, the machiavellian master analyst, knew the result in advance. But it was a roller coaster ride. Mandarins fielded first "by mutual agreement". Hebden and Metcalfe looked worryingly aggressive. Both were cut off in their pomp by Andy H in his pomp. Cracking nip-backers trimming the top of the stumps. Rob bowled superbly at the dangerous Jones and Saunders, finally claiming the latter with another nip-backer, but rueing 2 drops and two misses in the slips.

Despite all of this Kings scored at over 5 an over, and Jonathan feared a target of 250-ish. It was pulled back thanks to much better than average ground fielding (special mention to sweepers Stan Forman and Tim) and three blinding catches by Dan, and Chris Healey, twice. Hursty was niggardly, and the three Formen (if you follow) took a five-for between them. They also caused the only frissance of a mellow day as the oppo scorer found it incomprehensible that three men called Forman could be playing in the same game, and made a minor pitch invasion in protest.

So, a challenging target of 187. Cake-fuelled Baker got us off to a flying start, and Tim and Chris H kept well ahead of the asking rate. There was a suggestion that Tim's pads, whilst exuding their anti-lbw vibrations, were losing their explosive qualities. This was more than made up for by Tim himself very nearly exploding in the changing room when run out for 39. There isn't time to explain. Suffice to say Chris took some responsibility. That was 103 for 2 in the first of the final 20 overs.

The promotion of Eastaway did not come off. Hursty, given #5 responsibility by the Cheshire Cat captain hit trademark blows, some along the ground, but fell at 142. Still, Jonathan and Chris pressed on strongly and we reached 175, needing 13 with 9 overs to go, Chris on 66. With two batsmen of such pedigree, and so many wickets and so much time, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, in a game with many individual moments of excellence, Dom Saunders (also on his way to 4 for 31 with beguiling off spin), made what I rate the finest catch I have seen in Mandarins cricket, sprinting from mid on to wide deep mid wicket and diving full length to snaffle Healey one handed inches from the ground. Thereafter batting became a different proposition altogether.

Skipper (may have been smiling but too far away to confirm) frustratingly (or very cunningly?) didn't get much strike, and watched as Hawkins and the first two Formen fell for a total of two runs. We had scored 5 runs for 4 wickets in 8 overs. 8 required off one over, two wickets left.

Bizarrely, the draw, having been rank outsider for 82 of the game's overs suddenly became hot favourite amongst results. The dangerous Saunders bowled the last over at Jonathan. Two dots. Surely he isn't playing for the draw???  Facial expression impossible to fathom in absence of field glasses. Then a single. Stan Forman on strike. Doesn't know what a draw is. Biff. 4 straight down the ground. 5 th ball, Stan goes for glory, misses and is stumped. One ball left, 3 needed, all fielders on boundary, last man in. Heard. All 4 results possible. Well, Jonathan had orchestrated it all the way along, I can't help thinking. Andy swipes/smears/drives/wibbles/edges (delete as applicable) into the only large gap on the field at third man, and they complete the three needed for victory.

Move over Elstead. Follow that Reading.

(need some work on the lighting next time - Ed.)

Chris Baker

Friday, 10 August 2018

Streatham and Marlborough (256-6) bt Mandarins (148) by 108 runs

Another hot, sunny day at Streatham and Marlborough's ground saw spectators cheer a team of 11 talented players to a comfortable victory.

Unfortunately, they were watching England thrash Panama in the World Cup while the Mandarins toiled in the field, guessing the score from the occasional shouts from inside the bar.

It was a tough day, made tougher by the heat and some generous (to the batsmen) LBW decisions, as the opposition batsmen proved difficult to dislodge.

One in particular, an ageing and irate Indian rumoured to have played at a much higher level, was particularly challenging until his arrogance got the better of him. Gesturing to a teammate on the boundary he told him to prepare to take a catch (translation services provided by A. Manian). A few balls later, he did indeed offer up a gratefully taken catch, albeit to a Mandarin well within the boundary.

Special mention must also go to the bowling of G. Warren, who “made things happen”. A lot of those things were runs – history and the opposition's indecipherable scorebook do not record how many – but two of them were valuable wickets.

Streatham and Marlborough completed their 40 overs having made an intimidating 256.

A few Mandarins made starts – Venky (32), Warren (23) and Baxter (19) – and Eastaway, batting well up the order, made an attractive 16 before getting run out, conveniently just before he would have had to leave anyway.

However, with the total still quite some way off, the lower order had no alternative but to swing and hope – in vain, as it turned out. Streatham and Marlborough completed their victory with seven overs to spare, Hurst the not out batsman with 4.

Chris McKeon

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Super Skip Seals Victory in Surrey Scorcher

Mandarins, 179-8, beat Mickleham, 161 all out, by 18 runs (35 over game)

Not to be outdone by England’s heroics earlier in the week, the Mandarins contrived to win a thriller of a fixture in the leafy Surrey countryside in the lovely village of Mickleham. Eastaway took on the onerous role of captain and immediately did something right by winning the toss and batting in 30 degree heat.

Baxter and debutant Steve Meyler made a solid start against a useful opening attack, before Baxter was yorked on 18. There then followed a succession of Mandarins wickets, with Davidson and Wilmot both perishing to very fine catches, and debutant Ravi failing to trouble the scorers.  When Gary Plahe, another Mandarins debutant, but well-known to us from his performances for the Superstars, also rapidly departed for 8, it was 57-6 and disaster loomed.

But then a splendid partnership ensued between Baker and skipper Eastaway, both bringing to bear all the cricketing nous born of decades of playing for the Mandarins.  Initially cautious, later expansive, Chris scored his first Mandarins 50 for several seasons, ably supported by Rob, who was to finish with 37*.  They put on no fewer than 97 before Baker departed to a tired shot.  A flurry of late runs, including a fine lofted drive for 4 from Harry Forman, took us onto 179-8 in our 35 overs, which felt at the very least a defensible total. Pick of the bowlers was Ayton with 4-23.

After a most excellent and somewhat extended tea (Dan Forman described the welsh cakes as the best he had tasted outside Wales) we took the field.  Stan Forman and Gary Plahe opened the bowling, but the Mickleham opening pair accumulated nicely, bringing up the 50 by the time of the first drinks break at 10 overs.  Who knows what was in the drinks? When Eastaway introduced himself into the attack after the break, he straightaway bowled one opener and had the No 3 bat lbw in his first over, to follow with the second opener in his second.  51-0 became 52-3.

Dan Forman offered up beguiling spin at the other end; after one over of punishment he gained sweet revenge as a top-edge was nervelessly taken by Harry.  When Ravi took over from Rob and took a wicket with his first ball it was 75-5.  (A note to the historians: this was, according to Chris Baker, the fourth time in 2018 that a Mandarins debutant had taken a wicket with their first ball; surely a record?)

But there were more twists in store.  Mickelham’s No 5, Walker, ably supported by No 7, Kennington, put on 52.  It was looking very tight: Mickleham only needed to score around 5 or so an over to win, so the Mandarins needed wickets to stay in the game.  Harry Forman took his first Mandarins wicket, bowling Kennington, whilst the returning Eastaway took 2 in 2 balls, including a running catch by Steve Meyler at first slip, made all the more impressive by the fact that he had pulled his hamstring and could barely move (several other Mandarins were scarcely more mobile.  Stan Forman then took the key wicket of Walker for 53. It was left to Gary to bowl the No 11 to end the innings at 161, an 18 run victory, duly celebrated in the lovely village pub with our fine opposition.  Man of the match was undoubtedly “Super Skip” Eastaway, who followed his heroics with the bat to take a rare Mandarins five wicket haul.

Tim Baxter

Monday, 6 August 2018

Strange Goings-on at Mickleham

Post match fines...it's a ski that they're drinking from, in case you hadn't worked it out.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

We’re Not in Kansas, Mandarins

Superstars 132-8 beat Mandarins, 125-8, by 7 runs.

Another twenty20 fixture, in a south London park, without even access to a changing room let alone a pavilion? We’re not in Kansas anymore Mandarins. We were though off to see our own Wizard of Oz, the wonderful Jono Maher, back for the briefest of visits and kindly gracing us with his presence on the cricket field once more. But was the man who has now made more Mandarin comebacks than Judy Garland had marriages still all we had cracked him up to be in the wildest anticipations of our minds, or a mirage of our memories invested with superlative abilities that could never live up to expectations? (we will return to Oz later to find out).

Talking of mirages, we were on the backfoot from the start as Robin Pharoah failed to show (and so is cast as Professor Marvel, who offers his services but turns out not to be on your side at all). That made our lives slightly harder in the field, a situation only exacerbated by Arvind’s need to take a transatlantic phone call during the Superstars innings as well (sadly not to any Hollywood scriptwriters for the purposes of this match report). Luckily Hurst was on hand to propel his tornado-like deliveries in partnership with his trusty sidekick Heard (4-0-19-3), and they did their best to restrict the storm damage wrought by Superstars opener Spencer (26* off 12). If captain Forman only had a brain he may have kept this pair going but instead decided to bring himself on for an expensive spell in which he removed one enemy only to unleash the fury of Superstars numbers five Reeve (26* off 11) and six Plahe (27* off 15). At the other end Maher was not lacking heart as he pounded in off his long run between throwing himself around in the field (and executing one excellent run out). However he was lacking a little accuracy after six months without a game, and Baxter behind the stumps needed his full range of winged monkey-like moves to get to some of the wider efforts. As ever in cinema, extras played a part.

Direction was eventually provided by combinations of Venky (4-0-20-2), Baker and the returning Heard, with none short of the courage to bowl at the death as the Superstars sought to push on past 100 and set an imposing total somewhere way up high. But the later bowlers’ consistency and some munchkin-keen fielding kept the emerald city of victory in sight with a target of 133.

But like the plot of many a promising film, our reply swung this way and that, threatening an exciting conclusion before eventually losing its way. Mills was majestic, setting fire to the chase with a lightening-like 25 retired. A middle order partnership between Baker and Venky took us further down the yellow brick road. The hot air balloon of triumph was waiting to take off. It all seemed set for a spectacular finale in glorious technicolor. Optimistic voices were heard on the boundary as the much-heralded Maher made his way to the wicket. 

However wicked wickets were falling as fast as a chandelier cut loose from the ceiling.  Maher proved to be a mere human after all, unable to be the omnipotent power we had all hoped for and susceptible to the same fallibilities against the moving ball as us all. And, unlike Toto’s, our tail did not wag. We swung for high above the chimney tops but why oh why could we not reach the boundary? And so the dreams that we dared to failed to materialise. We ended up seven runs short. Seemingly close but in other respects another world away. And we woke the next day in our beds wondering if we really had seen Jono after all. Or was it all a dream?
Dan Forman

Saturday, 14 July 2018

North Enfield Match Report

In a summer full of sporting surprises the Mandarins’ victory over North Enfield may not make much of a ripple but it truly should rank up there.

It was a typical start. Your correspondent arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled start of 1.30 and was totally unsurprised that, despite being the team being beseeched to arrive at 1.00 so the game could start as promptly as possible, I was the first arrival. As such I assumed the role of captain, strode out for the toss at 1.29 with four additional members of the team in various states of undress (in the changing room, thankfully) and attempted to negotiate that we bat first in what was scheduled to be a 40 over game. Civil service negotiating courses not being what they used to be, I failed, despite my assertion that the traffic in the Blackwall Tunnel really was terrible and the snarl up on the North Circular would delay the rest of the team only further. But the opposition really wanted to bat first as well, ostensibly due to the hot weather but on discussion afterwards it was probably more to do with the fact that last year we politely declined to bowl on after they had bowled us out for under a hundred and knocked off the runs in no time. So we tossed and, first surprise, I won and duly elected to bat.

The batting order was almost entirely determined by the order of arrival of the team but, second surprise (I’m going to stop counting now; suffice to say there were lots), we had a ready-made Emmanuel College opening pair of Baxter and Lowen champing at the bit. Perhaps it was the sight of the padded-up number three batsman (yours truly, again) striding out to umpire at square leg that affected the mood of the opening pair, but it was clear that there was a sense of calm and clarity that is rarely associated with the Mandarins, particularly given that we were facing one of the quickest bowlers that we will see over the course of the season. “There’s something different about Tim today” I said to anyone that would listen; one wag suggested that the presence of a septuagenarian at the other end of a pitch meant that Tim’s preferred method of dismissal would have to be shelved.

Alas there was indeed a run out that split the opening pair but this was entirely (I think) David’s fault though he could reasonably have expected to take a single to the man on the boundary; the fact that he was quite so short of his ground showed quite how short the boundary was and quite what a good arm said opening bowler had. But this was after they had added 78 runs, doing the radical thing of keeping out the good balls and scoring off the bad ones and seeing off the opening bowlers. Baxter moved to his 50 soon after and Tunbridge and Warren came and went fairly quickly, both content to give the strike to Tim who was seeing the ball beautifully and picking up the pace but both falling trying to press things on. This only brought Wilmot to the wicket who scored a sparkling 48, taking a particular fancy to the returning opening quick who, getting carted around a bit, charged in faster only to see the ball return past him faster. Tim continued to press on and brought up a marvellous hundred, a rare sight in a Mandarins shirt and thoroughly deserved for a brilliantly judged innings. Tim and Jonathan eventually fell though this turned out to be a good thing as Inder came in and smashed a brutal 40 off only 16 balls, making the most of the short boundary and taking us to a very imposing score of 254-5 off our 40 overs.

North Enfield appeared undeterred and approached the chase by sending in two beefy opening bats with a single-minded approach – give it a biff. Stan Forman did a fine job opening the bowling, keeping things very tight and tidy (the scorer, who has seen a game or two there, remarked afterwards that Stan was the only bowler to really master the quite pronounced slope across the pitch which was some praise) which allowed Venky, bowling with skill and no little menace when he fancied, to account for both openers. Stan took a deserved wicket and McIntyre then came on and, as you do, opened with a double-wicket maiden. North Enfield were 34-5 and we were left speculating what the largest winning margin for the Mandarins was; it surely was under threat.

Rather than going for the jugular, the Mandarins eased off, and the North Enfield number 5 played a lovely innings of see-ball-hit-ball (though Stan was unlucky not to see him off several times) to score 113 not out of 80 balls. Thankfully Forman elder, Manian and Inder did the job with the other bastmen (none of whom scored more than 15) and North Enfield ended up on 205-9 off their 40 overs.

Truly a remarkable game and what a treat to be there to see Tim score the first hundred of his life; well overdue and may there be more to come for the Mandarins.

Mandarins XI: Lowen, Baxter, Tunbridge, Warren, Wilmot, Inder, Manian, Venky, Forman D, Forman S, McIntyre

Graeme Tunbridge