Fans of What is a Googly? by R Eastaway of TMS fame will recall the section on bizarre reasons play has stopped at cricket matches. To this must now be added the hiatus at Warborough on Saturday: "Mandarins keeper required to leave field to move his Volvo because it was getting in the way of the Morris dancers." Only in Midsommer.
Whilst this was my personal highlight moment, the whole tour was a rather splendid affair thanks to a) excellent weather; b) three excellent and convivial oppositions; c) three lovely venues, two of them new to the Mandarins d) three exciting games e) superb organisation, man/woman management and crisis management from John Hawkins and Dan Forman, particularly to pick the Sunday fixture out of the fire pit.
Friday: the Oxford Mini Tour begins in the shadow of the Oxford Mini factory. Despite its proximity, in fact you can't see the factory at all from the Horspath CC ground. Instead views of Shotover Hill and rolling Oxford countryside. Although we were on the 2nd square, it and it's outfield were better than anything else played on this year. Almost everyone was on time. But we were only 10 because of Tony's dodgy lentil soup. This hurt us in a very tight match where the extra fielder would almost certainly have made the difference. Far From The MCC CC won the toss and inserted us. Gloucestershire over 50s stalwart Pete Garratt guested in harness with Bob Tivey making his season debut. Both went early but Baker, Healey, Somerville and blast from the past Sam Keayes added a composite 96 for the third wicket as the retire at 30 rule kicked in. I retired myself at 25 not, as alleged in the FFTMCC scorebook, because I was knackered but because I had despaired of ever timing the ball and thought others might. I was wrong, the scoring rate actually declined towards the end. Drew made a huge hole in his bat smashing down his own wicket. Healey hit 6 of our 11 boundaries, and narrowly edged out Johnny Extras as top scorer. 133 off our 20 was above par for us in the format, but we felt a touch light for the conditions.
FFTMCC were touted as a batting team, and looked the part. But we plugged away tidily. Alice Hurst got us rolling by clutching a superb effort running back over her head at point, then bowled tidily too. Keayes was quick both sides of the wicket but threw in a surprise straight one as well for his second wicket. Confusion in Heard's final over. Good lbw appeal answered by the umpire raising his finger and saying sotto voce " not out." All 13 players under the impression batsman given out. Umpire says no, that was his signal for going down leg. Mandarins run out the batsman who has wandered to mid wicket by this stage under the impression he is lbw. Umpire clarifies that batsman is definitely not lbw but is run out. Mandarins show magnanimity in withdrawing run out appeal. Umpire decides it was all so confusing that instead of dot ball (correct?) he calls dead ball and we have to bowl the ball again. One extra ball in the game. Cut to the chase. We chip away, they chip away, but gradually fall a little behind the rate. Needing 33 off 4, 17 off 2, 11 off the last, now 6 down. As the sun sets skipper Hawkins recalls Sam "the assassin" Keayes for the final over. Strong case for deep fly slip/long Stop??? Cap'n Hawkins is resolute - no. First ball hacked to deep fly slip for two. Third ball beamer fells batsman. A straight one gets Sam his third wicket. A few more hacked here and there. Final ball and scores are level. Hacked aerially to vacant fly slip with all fielders tight. Great game.
Saturday: Idyllic Warborough. Ponies, designer Labradors, Morris dancers, manicured thatch, Breakspears and cricket on the green. Arvind has eaten the dodgy prawn this time, so thanks to Penny Price for making up the eleven for us. Erratics, hung over from their thrilling defeat chasing over 250 the day before and pitching camp at the Manor House at midnight, hit intense Mandarins near their best on a tricky slow surface. Eastaway, Fresh from TMS, is excellent, so too Stan Forman. Erratics 3 for 3, then 25 for 5 including key breakthrough as Fraser Chave lurches forward to Healey and Bob pulls off a record breaking second Oxfordshire tour stumping. Chris Cook leads a semi- recovery but Sam Cook, 96* from about 8 overs the previous day, is bowled by Healey for 5. Another key moment as Erratics subside to 88 for 8 before recovering to 130 for 9 off 44.
It is a modest target, but we have lost the habit of winning. Credit to Stan for keeping his head against steady bowling, when Baker and Mills lost theirs. His back foot force through the covers rated by umpire Healey as shot of the season. Stan stayed with cap'n Graeme for 49 runs before giving Chris Cook his only victim. Cook deserved better and figures of 1-51 belie just how often he beat the outside edge with cunning drift and movement. Martin Hurst delighted his fans by deciding that what genteel gentrified Warborough needed was a bit of agriculture. The trademark hoick over mid wicket promised much but Martin became a victim of his own propaganda as he ran for a smear which the bowler had managed to stop. Mandarins were still nervy, with 39 needed at this point but Rob was resolute and Graeme increasingly assertive in taking us home by 6 wickets with 13 balls to spare. Graeme, for the second year running, spoils his record of scoring only one fifty each season. 60*, well played skipper.
Sunday: with Brill unable to get a side together, we were fortunate to be picked up by Harwell International CC at their superb facilities on the Science Campus. You could tell you were on a science campus because the scoreboard was made of magnetic paint and neodymium magnets. And sticky backed numbers from Homebase. The ground was enormous and the wicket looked immaculate. In the event it played quite slow, and serendipitously both sides proved closely matched in a tense 40 over game. We "arranged" to bat first. It was a slow start, Baxter and Somerville only getting 17 off 10. Acceleration followed, 53 off the next 10, but both were out, and Rakesh carried with them as collateral damage to Tim's sharp call, although, being Rakesh, he was only out by a whisker having said no twice and stopped, ultimately beaten only by a direct hit. We then decelerated against awkward loopy bowling. Graeme and Stan both got going again but couldn't continue and Harwell fielded to a high standard. We only got 7 boundaries all told on the giant outfield. In the end it was only an adhesive and critical last wicket partnership of 17 off 6 overs by McIntyre 0* from 20 balls and Heard 14* that allowed us to use up the overs.
126 didn't look enough, but as on Saturday, Mandarins got off to a flier with both Heard and Stan starting with wicket maidens. Andy bowled through, adding two more wickets (3-18) and Rakesh was also tight and threatening picking up his 3-14. We also fielded well above par, highlight a Jules Lowin snatch at gully. Harwell looked dead for money at 63 for 8 off 27 overs. But we love this game for its swings of fortune. Mr Mistri batted at no 7 because he was "knackered" , to use the tour vernacular, after his 96* to win the league for Harwell the previous day. With his strike bowlers bowled out, cap'n Forman juggled the others as Mistri cut loose. 51 were added off the next 6.5 overs, although Tanner was run out "knackered" in the process. With Mistri blazing away to reach 61 and brilliantly manipulating the strike, it was Harwell's to win with 15 wanted off 6 overs. But Dan held his nerve and floated one up. Mistri got under the drive and all eyes were on McIntyre at semi long-off. Never in doubt as Paul made his second crucial contribution to victory. We won by 12 runs, but both sides celebrated a superb afternoon's cricket as Corrie Williams led us in an exhaustive post match analysis and awards ceremony. I honestly can't remember who won 'Dick of the Day' but they will know who they are.