Sunday, 6 September 2020

Mandarins Invincible No More

Mandarinvincible (sic) No More
Elstead (213-8) bt Mandarins (57 all out) by 156 runs 

“This has to end soon, doesn’t it?” was how Graeme ended our most recent match report, regarding our unprecedented unbeaten run which had threatened to run into September, perhaps a whole season, or at least a year since our last defeat.* 

Reader, it did end. Very soon, and very heavily 

At the hands of our old friend and now foe Patrick Murphy too, who had assembled an all-star side of youth and experience from not just his own but the surrounding villages too, perhaps in awe of the newly mighty Mandarin reputation, which appeared to have preceded us down the A3. After all the recent rain we were at least met by a bit of sunshine and the usual pleasant scene, if also by a slightly unpleasant looking muddy brown pitch. Judging that it might dry out a bit but probably wouldn’t crack up, captain Forman (D) – himself defending a six-game winning streak as skipper – won the toss and inserted, not least because opening bat Brand was one of three of our top six who was not yet in attendance.

And until drinks it was all going quite well. (Although little did we know at this stage that at 60-4 from the first 20 overs, Elstead already had enough runs to win). Andy and Harry’s opening spells were tight, Paul McIntyre (8-1-28-1) settled in very nicely and Stan (10-1-29-3) was exceptional, especially as three of those overs came at the death. But the order in which we received batsmen did not necessarily reflect their ability, as a procession of talented middle order youngsters from the local leagues proceeded to first get on top of and then completely dominate our bowling. On and on they went, past 4 o’clock and then 200 runs. Fielding got a bit raggedy, and the captain began to run out of ideas, until Elstead eventually decided they had enough not too long before it was due to get dark.

From that point victory was always unlikely at best. When our openers fell cheaply, followed by our number 4 for a duck and then 5 and 6 to two in two balls to Murphy himself, victory was probably beyond Ben Stokes batting at both ends. So the final 20 overs were all about survival, with the prize of the unbeaten record still to be played for. Could this at least be our Cardiff 2009? With Stan as Anderson and McIntyre as Monty? 

But even the rearguard action failed to materialise into an exciting finale, as we were all out for 57 with five overs still to be bowled. Due to the survival objective, it wasn’t quite the horror show of a batting performance that the scorecard might suggest. Many of the overs were successfully played out as untroubled maidens. But perhaps the defensive mindset was slightly too defensive too. Jamie (12) had looked comfortable and Harry (14) very fluent for example, but both fell prodding back indecisively to close catchers to balls they would normally have just despatched. Maybe the unbeaten record weighed too heavily on our minds, in the chat at tea and in the captain’s instructions.

Yet if the art of Sunday cricket is to enjoy closely matched games that get everyone involved, best summed up by the maxim that you would rather lose a close one than win too easily, then unbeaten seasons aren’t really the done thing are they? (and it is perhaps a lesson that Elstead could learn about their approach to bank holiday Monday cricket too). Swaggering, dominant, invincible, unplayable just aren’t very Mandarin adjectives. It wouldn’t have sat right would it? Maybe this comprehensive walloping was for the good. Business as usual, what we know best, makes the wins all the sweeter when you also know the taste of defeat. That is what Graeme meant by “this has to end soon” isn’t it?
Dan Forman

* for the record we were unbeaten from the 2 September 2019 to 30 August 2020, which, with the leap year, I think makes it 364 days. As John Hawkins noted, there is something quite nicely Mandarin about that.

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