As the Mandarins’ Golden Generation (boasting 2,726 caps between them) gathered at a rather damp Abinger Hammer on the edge of the North Downs for our first ever match against the village, talk turned to trips out of London during the last century to various beautiful grounds in picturesque villages; the sort of matches that used to dominate the fixture list before the emergence of the Dulwich factor. It was swiftly agreed that Abinger Hammer was one of the most attractive grounds we had ever visited surrounded as it is by trees on one side, the winding River Tillingbourne on another and a hilly field to a third (complete apparently with a “Beware of the Bull” sign). The opposition turned out to be welcoming and very much Mandarin in spirit, happy to play a declaration game and with an age range of at least 50 years between the youngest and oldest players.
Abinger Hammer batted first. Both openers were very much of Mandarin vintage. They started slowly against tight bowling from Rob and Martin. (Andy who had been slated to open the bowling was delayed by domestic duties/traffic on the M4/M25). By the time Rob picked up the first wicket, they had advanced slowly to 27 off 13 overs. That brought Josh, the beefy, young number 3 to the wicket who was less inclined to defend. It was a particular challenge for our most capped player, Paul McIntyre asked by his captain to bowl at the end with a very short straight boundary. During his swift knock, Josh hit the ball over the River (more of a brook really despite its name) happily missing the children enjoying a birthday picnic there and then into the field at the other end (Chris H bravely scaling the locked gate to retrieve it: no bull was spotted leading some to speculate that the sign was intended by the farmer to keep visiting ramblers at bay). Chris H was then brought on to try to bring back a measure of control, which he duly did removing the big-hitter and taking two other wickets. Paul Mills chipped in with two more and Chris B ran out the other batsman to fall (at the drinks break he had been heard telling his partner that there were quick singles to be had to several of our fielders including “the one with the beard”; how wrong he turned out to be). Our opening bowler arrived but bumped into Abinger’s number 6, Charlie, who claimed to “have done his glutes” so stuck mostly to boundaries taking them to 179 for 6 and a tea time declaration. A final mention should be made of Jonathan’s excellent keeping.
The advice from the opposition at tea was to wear a helmet as “one of our bowlers is quite fast”. It turned out to big-hitter Josh who certainly wasn’t slow. Bowling off the oddest of stuttering run-ups he hurled it down at Tim and Chris B. Most dangerous, however, was his beamer. Tim was struck on the hand by one early on. Chris B unluckily got a ball that rolled back off his bat onto the stumps. But Tim was off and running dominating a partnership of 36 with Jonathan before our Chairman tore a calf muscle when taking off for a run. That brought Paul Mills to the wicket for his first knock of the season and he was in fine form. After Tim went for 36, soon followed by Rob, we found ourselves needing just over 100 off the last 20 overs, a challenge we have so often failed. By now Josh had been removed from the attack having bowled another hairy beamer and was keeping wicket. No one else was quite as terrifying and with Paul hitting the ball with real power we were soon ahead of the run-rate. He dominated a 34 run partnership with your correspondent and when he fell, Chris H took over. He was in excellent touch as he took the team to the brink of victory ably supported by Martin in a partnership of 32. Just to add a little excitement Chris was caught round the corner for 36 glancing a long-hop with the scores level (having not realised the fielder was there and not wanting to belt it and so making the opposition fielders go all the way to the long boundary to collect the ball). But Martin hit the winning run and we were home for 7 down with nine balls to spare. So who needs a youth policy when the Mandarins have such experience to draw on? (Well we do even if we can turn out a pretty decent over 60s team).
Afterwards we enjoyed a good chat and a drink with the opposition at the ground. They declared Paul Mills man of the match and both sides agreed it had been an excellent game (married only by Jonathan’s injury) played in the right spirit and our respective fixtures secretaries should be asked to ensure a rematch in 2022. What no one on either side knew was how this fixture had come to be arranged in the first place. Some wizardry by Dan?