The biggest shock of the year so far? Brexit, Trump, Leicester City? The Mandarins posting three figures for the second time in a week? Or Jonathan Wilmott turning up on time for a cricket match? I’ll leave Mandarins more experienced than I to pass judgement on this. Suffice to say that many team members had to do a double take to confirm it was he before them, before the allotted start time, at the always lovely Garrison Ground. Sadly, despite Wilmott’s unprecedented early arrival, we still did not have 11 men ready to take the field after captain Nick Davidson asked the Charlatans to bat first. Debutant Adnan Khan was a little late himself due to a missed bus and some imprecise instructions from the match manager, somewhat taking the shine off the secretarial achievement in getting Jonathan and nine others there in time for the toss.
Perhaps because we started with 10, or perhaps because as this was the second fixture between the sides this year and they had seen us field before, the Charlatans openers set off in a hurry, determined to run us ragged in the field and take as many quick singles as they could, as well as pushing ones into twos and twos into threes. A strong wind took the edge off the heat but made bowling a bit trickier, especially up the hill for Arvind Manian as the first wicket partnership raced away to a 50. Rob Eastaway eventually got the breakthrough his bowling deserved, running down the hill and with the wind aiding his Anderson-esque away swing. That prompted a steady stream of wickets that began to peg the run rate back a bit and keep the target to semi-realistic proportions (although the hard running between the wickets did not cease). Paul McIntyre took a fine 4-51 from his 10 overs, your correspondent bagged a couple (one thanks to a fine catch from Chris French), Khan took one with this hostile pace (and also combined with Al Munro for a relay run out), before Eastaway returned to pick up a tail ender and bowl them all out for 182, taking the imminent declaration out of the equation in the end.
In reply David Lowen and Munro went early to the Charlatans’ lively new ball pair and a pitch known for its unpredictable bounce, bringing Davidson (30) and Wilmott (35) to the crease for a crucial 50 partnership. The Captain and ‘Keeper combination, one in cap, the other in white floppy sunhat, encouraged memories of Atherton and Russell in Johannesburg in 1995, batting and battling it out for a draw. A later partnership between Manian (23) and French (35) was more reminiscent of Bairstow and Stokes in Cape Town this year, peppering the boundaries with regularity and leading some to entertain thoughts of a late charge for the win. In reality that was always a long shot of punctual Wilmott proportions, especially after a couple of late wickets left the unbeaten number eight Simon Quarrell and the almost unbeaten Eastaway to see out the final overs before Rob fell to the final ball of the day, leaving the Mandarins 40 runs short of a win but still unbeaten in August at least as we head to the tour.