Having played in two games so far this season, both of them victories, I was not optimistic of a hat trick against the Charlatans at Charlton Park. There was much muttering amongst the Mandarins about the last time we had beaten them with general agreement that it was long before Boris, Brexit and Covid. Chatting to their opening bowler Bhuvi before the match, he bemoaned the fact that the Charlatans were getting older and he was the oldest of them all at 47. Needless to say half the Mandarins could beat that by ten years.
As South London park grounds go it was wasn’t an unattractive spot but there was a bitter wind blowing from the North ensuring it felt a bit more like Harrow in April than late May south of the river. The pitch looked firm but rough in places with a smaller crater just outside off-stump at one end. Jonathan bravely elected to bat first.
From the start it was clear that this was a pitch to bowl straight on with particularly low bounce at one end. But happily the Charlatans opening bowlers seemed incapable of doing this. After George missed a straight one, Chris H and Tim set about the attack in a fine stand of 87. Tim gradually played himself into form and Chris looked as classy as ever (the Charlatans rued dropping the one sharp chance he offered). After Tim’s pads fell LBW, Zac came to the wicket having been told by the captain to play himself in; an instruction he took to mean hit five fours and then get out. Jonathan and Chris kept the score ticking on at around 5 an over until Chris was given out to a ball that either rolled along the ground or bounced several times. Umpire Hurst claimed to have seen nothing but then he had missed a shoulder high beamer an over or two before. The bowlers were at last aiming at the stumps from time to time and the Mandarins soggy middle was exposed. To his surprise as much as to anyone else’s, the one Charlatan player in decidedly non-MCC approved clothing got three in a row on the stumps accounting for Chris M, Arvind (third golden duck in a row) and your correspondent (second golden duck in a row). After George had declared him the in-form batsman, Rob also went first ball (George had rather forgotten that Zac was still averaging over 100). There was some speculation about whether there was now a trophy for the most golden ducks in a season while the question was also asked if this was this the highest ever Mandarin score with three first-ballers? (Where was the statistician when you needed him? Sipping his third glass of Meursault in the Burgundy sun apparently.)
Anyway late runs from Rakesh and Jonathan and with Johnny E again just missing his 50, we got to 214 for 9 off our 40 with all nine wickets bowled or LBW (which suggests we might have been in trouble if the Charlatan bowling had been straighter). On this pitch, that looked a good total but there were plenty who had played this fixture before to warn of the power of the Charlatan batting line up given the short boundary and fast outfield.
The Charlatan opener started off with a couple of powerful cover drives for 4 (past/through the rather surprising choice of Martin as off-side sweeper) but from then on it was all Mandarins. The key was “Jimmy” Eastaway’s exceptional opening spell. Unlike most of the Charlatan bowlers he bowled straight, moving it in the air and hitting the off-stump crater. Before they knew it, the core of the Charlatans’ much vaunted batting line up was back in the hutch, three out to ducks, and Rob had four. At the other end Zac was under orders from the captain to also aim for the stumps but either he is his own man and impervious to instruction or as the well-coached cricketer that he is, he cannot resist the attraction of bowling short of a length in the corridor of uncertainty. The captain resorted to offering him a bottle of champagne if he bowled 6 balls in a row at the stumps but it was never in any doubt that his champagne could continue to mature gently in the cellars of Restoration House.
Change bowlers Rakesh and Martin had, however, got the memo and bowling straight and full they chipped away at the Charlatan batting helped by two top catches from George behind the stumps. With the end nigh, the Charlatans’ 13 year old opening bowler came out to bat. The umpire loudly pointed out his age and Martin slowed his pace down (something some of those present didn’t know he could do). But Rakesh had forgotten he wasn’t still playing league cricket and swiftly clattered his stumps. After a cameo from Arvind, Martin took the final wicket and the Charlatans were all out for 121 off 26 over.
So an impressive performance to mark (appropriately) what we learnt after the game was the Chairman’s birthday.