Mandarins 85 all out
Ad Hocs 86 for 3
As the Mandarins walked off the pitch after another defeat, what was the reaction of the players?
"Hmm" said one.
"Meh," said another.
The afternoon had started promisingly enough. The opposition only had eight players at 2:30 - a situation that might normally have led to an agreement that they should bat. But Healey, captaincy thrust upon him, won the toss and ruthlessly decided the Mandarins should bat, on the basis that it was a warm afternoon and we had a team that looked on paper to be one of our stronger batting line-ups.
And there was also the pitch - the Old Alleynians rugby ground off the South Circular, which was dry and dusty and likely to deteriorate as the afternoon wore on.
Healey successfully persuaded the opposition to go for a declaration game, 20 overs from 6:30pm, a format that few of them were familiar with.
With the Mandarins 11 for 1 off 11 overs (Brand defeated by a fast ball that cut away and kept low), many of the opposition were clearly baffled as to what it was about this format that made it superior to the limited overs version.
When the change bowlers came on things got worse. The bowler from the lower end was so slow that the ball barely reached the stumps, but Wilmot and Lowen struggled to get the ball off the square, and when they did, it only twice made it to the boundary, thanks to the painfully slow outfield. It might have been a situation for quick singles to put pressure the fielders, but this wasn't the batting pair you'd choose for such tactics. Pharaoh replaced Wilmot but he too was stymied by the slow and variable bounce. At 40 for 2 off 22 overs, with the realisation we were only an hour away from a gentlemanly declaration, there was an attempt at acceleration. Alas all that accelerated was the rate at which wickets tumbled. Before long we were 54 for 8. At which point, Healey joined Chris McKeon, and showed that a class player can master even the trickiest pitch, and even when suffering from tennis elbow. A flurry of boundaries from both batsmen nudged us above 70. McIntyre then stuck around for a cameo before Healey was caught behind. We were 85 all out at precisely 4:30pm, a masterful bit of timing that ensured no embarrassing declaration would be required.
Hurst and Healey opened the bowling. When Ad Hocs dispatched Hurst's second ball for four, it looked like humiliation might be swift. But the bowling tightened and the batsmen were clearly finding conditions almost as hard as we had found them. Two wickets in two balls from Hurst, both bowled, had Ad Hocs teetering on 10 for 2. New batsman Peak came in with guns blazing, and smashed a ball back at Hurst which he gamely got a hand to and wished he hadn't. Had that catch stuck it could have made things interesting. As it was, the batsmen steadily broke free from the shackles. When Porter relieved a wicketless Eastaway he got a wicket with his first ball (60 for 3) and there were fleeting whispers of a fightback. But it was not to be. Ad Hocs struck the winning runs on the stroke of 6:30pm, the very moment when the 20 overs had been due to start.