Mandarins (132-4) beat Superstars (131 all out)
Dulwich Sports Ground
Sunday 1st May 2022
It wasn’t a thriller, of a standard to trouble the new England selectors (whoever they turn out to be), or even a classic example of the art of timed cricket. But the Mandarins and Superstars once again put on a May Day exhibition of the spirit of friendly cricket. But two sides who now know each other well, indeed who often now appear on each other’s team sheets, and who, it is fair to say, prioritise play fair over play well, were always likely to do that on a day designed to celebrate brotherhood and union, weren’t they?
Drop outs, no-shows, actions short of a strike, and never-knew-I-was-playing-in-the-first-place-guvs meant it was nine versus 10, a contrast from last year’s 12 against 12 (or was it?) extravaganza, excluding young Josie Eastaway’s energetic contribution at fine leg for a few overs. But a shortage of labour wasn’t going to spoil the party, even if it did rather spoil the Superstars’ efforts to set a competitive total to defend.
An arranged, barely even negotiated, toss saw Superstars inserted/opt to bat. Openers Gigg and Gaught-Allen struggled to get going on a slowish and noticeably slanted pitch (that otherwise generally played a bit better than it looked). And while Gigg (17) and Anand (14) chipped in a bit after seeing off a few overs of accurate Mandarins bowling from Eastaway (R) and Stancombe, Gaught-Allen really took his time, perhaps worried about the paucity of potential after him in the order were he to try to accelerate too soon, or perhaps just tied down by the Mandarins’ slower bowlers as well as their slightly less slow ones. He was best supported by Bishop (20) in a 50 partnership for the Superstars’ third wicket, but was still in no rush as Forman (D) and Duggan departed and the clock began to count down to what was expected to be a teatime declaration. Some wondered whether the bank holiday Monday might be needed to complete the innings, let alone the match, before eventually Paul brought up his personal 50, had a dart at a couple more (one more successfully than the other) to finish on a fine 55, and a clatter of four quick wickets saw the innings actually end just before the allotted time for tea.
All the while Ramani and Healey had been making the most of the lack of bowling restrictions and lack of Mandarins’ bowling options, in a mammoth combined 23-over effort from each end (which would surely have been in breach of some kind of European working time directive had such things still existed). Rakesh got all the rewards he deserved, dining on an outstanding 14.2-5-33-5, while Chris could count himself unlucky, with Baxter (4-0-8-2) also picking up a couple of cheap ones at the end.
Baxter (40) was also busy after tea, getting the Mandarins’ reply off to a rapid start, in another important partnership with Healey (30), after Baker was the early victim of the first all-Forman wicket of the season (caught Dan, bowled Stan on this occasion). Both punished anything a fraction short, including a huge Healey six into a neighbouring garden, and putting the Mandarins in a very dominant position. But everyone was aware of how uncomfortable the Mandarins are in such a situation, and the inevitable wobble did come, after Chris inexplicably hit a rare Anand full toss straight to Stan at mid-off and Tim was inexplicably caught Gaught-Allen at short mid-wicket (in fairness a great reaction grab by Paul that just stuck, on a day when, perhaps surprisingly, most if not all chances did for both sides). At that stage 50 tricky runs in darkening light were still required, even if overs were never going to be an issue, and Mandarin murmurings along the lines of ‘we have lost games from much better positions than this’ could be heard on both the boundary and around the country as the WhatsApp updates arrived.
But the orange-tinted pessimists failed to account for two factors: Firstly Superstars’ skipper Gigg’s commitment to the first principle of friendly cricket – that everyone shall be involved in the game, no matter the match situation, withdrawing Vijay despite figures of 3-1-3-1 that might just have made a finish of it had he continued or been combined with the almost equally economical Konrad. And secondly, young Zac Stancombe at five, who knows nothing (yet) of honourable Mandarins failure or such concepts as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He ignored the situation and just played the bowling he was delivered, treating it with the respect it deserved, which mostly meant down the ground for crisply struck boundaries. Accompanied by an unflappable Jarvis, he put the game to bed before it got too gloomy, with a sparkling 36*.
Those principles of friendly cricket continued off the field of course, as tables were shared between the teams at tea and after the game over a good few beers, with no one having to worry about work the next day thanks to the trade unions. On International Labour Day the bond of brotherhood between these two sides and the spirit of friendly cricket remained strong.