The pressure on the Mandarin selectors to drop Arvind after an unprecedented run of four golden ducks was immense but the great and the good decided to stand by him (the fact that we have issues getting eleven players of any sort together at the best of times may have been a factor in his continued selection). But whatever their thinking the selectors loyalty was vindicated as Arvind steered the Mandarins home in a tightly fought battle against Mickleham in the Surrey Hills.
The new 2022 version of Chairman Jonathan was in Mickleham an hour early to inspect the pitch (brown with craters outside the left-hander’s off-stump) and then base himself at the Running Horses pub with a broccoli tempura from which viewpoint he could count his players in. Unfortunately there were only 10 Mandarins to count, a late golfing injury apparently responsible for the missing eleventh.
The Mickleham eleven looked rather Mandarin like with a good mix of youth and experience but turned out to be more cosmopolitan than you might expect in leafy Surrey including a couple of South Africans, an Aussie umpire, a Canadian base-ball player playing his second ever game and a much-capped Cameroonian international all-rounder. 35 overs a side was agreed. Jonathan won the toss and given he had four frontline bowlers and not an excess of batting talent, he decided to bowl.
The pitch offered good bounce to start with. Both Heard and Eastaway begun well, Rob getting notable swing at times. Indeed it was Rob who got the first wicket before a stunning run-out by Zac to dismiss the opposition captain. His diving stop and throw left both batsmen standing shocked in the middle of the pitch. A second wicket for Rob followed, but the Mickleham South African all-rounder was by now getting going and a decent total looked to be on the cards. A surprise tropical shower arrived in time for drinks (the first time play has been interrupted by rain for some while). The dangerous Cameroonian, who was aiming to hit every ball he faced into the neighbouring field, was bowled by a Zac beauty and at the other end Rakesh was getting into his rhythm, recognising that he owed the team a wicket or two given that he had only managed to select ten players. Indeed Rakesh bowled beautifully as it became clear that Mickleham’s lower order was not the strongest. Jonathan gambled that we could get them all out before he had to find a fifth bowler from somewhere and his gamble came off with Rakesh ending up with six wickets, the final one the Canadian who decided to leave his first ball which was full and on middle stump (perhaps not realising that you only get one strike in cricket). The South African was left not out on 53 and only 26 overs were used. 136 felt just below par for the pitch.
Mandarin fielding was mixed and a number of chances were avoided or went down. To be fair to the fielders involved (mostly me) they were all pretty sharp (whatever Chris Baker thinks). Rakesh worked out quickly that if he wanted to get the batsmen out caught, then he should do it himself.
The tea deserves a write up of its own: iced buns, cup-cakes, a wide variety of sandwiches and a lovely cake made by the Cameroonian’s French partner (“it is a french lemon cake not a lemon drizzle cake: we do not have such a thing in France”).
The Cameroonian international turned out to be pretty decent and clearly hadn’t been slowed down by his partner’s gateaux de citron. Aided by some decent catching (including a blinding slip catch and a sharp take by the Canadian standing at second base) we were soon in trouble at an effective 42 for 5 with the cream of our top order back in the hutch exposing the legendary Mandarin soggy middle. But cometh the hour, cometh Arvind. Buoyed by the trust the selectors had placed in him, he batted in a composed and responsible way against mostly decent bowling on a pitch that was demonstrating increasingly variable bounce . He held the chase together in partnerships of 23 with Chris Mckeon, 47 with Rakesh and 15 with your correspondent. As we neared victory the Mickleham ground fielding rather fell apart. The run rate was never really an issue and Rob and Arvind completed the job with an over to spare, Rob hitting the winning runs leaving Arvind not out on 49.
A very satisfactory day was finished off in pleasant fashion at the Running Horses with Zac upholding Mandarin honour by performing like a natural in the Malibu Delivery Mechanism challenge (confirming his status as a genuine all-rounder). His nomination a fine selection by the Chairman on a day where he got the big decisions right making a leadership challenge less likely for now at least. The Mandarins go 7-7. Odds on a winning season anyone?