Slightly dodgy weather forecast for the weekend but all fixtures confirmed and 11 players for each match. No injuries reported. Can it last?
Star keeper Tivey messages: a thumb injury means he can only play wearing gloves so the other five keepers on tour will have to give way if we want him to play (which we do).
On doctor’s advice we lose a bowler for Sunday. Rejig things and add myself to Sunday team (hardly like for like but the only option available) and hastily book Didcot Premier Inn for Saturday night.
10 Mandarins arrive early at Horspath CC (only Arvind is MIA). Opposition dribble in and head straight for bar. Several of them are stuck in chaos on A34. It’s already getting dark. FFTMCC bat. Inspired captaincy ensures they are soon in trouble as Dan rips through the top order including removing Lord Lucan and then skipper Spam to a fine boundary catch by Andy (surprising himself as much as everyone else). We keep things generally under control and 135 looks gettable. Professor Peter Heather, who arrived brandishing the Mandarin guide to grounds 1988, looks as aggressive as he did when he last played 25 years ago without quite the same pace and somewhat less hair.
A Fine start sees us ahead of the rate. Mills is on form before getting bowled by a straight one just before obligatory retirement. We should be cruising but of course we aren’t. Wickets are falling with only Peter holding firm, alternating wild misses with wild swats. Gemma gives her father LBW for a golden duck. The sun sets and the bats appear. Last over and 6 needed. 3 off 3 and 9 down when Dan goes. Tour Manager at 11 cannot see the bowler let alone the ball. Two chancy singles and it is the fourth tie in Mandarin history with Peter close to his best ever score on 29 not out (what does that say about how the standard of Mandarin cricket has progressed over his 25 year absence?)
Three matches now against FFTMCCCC, each one a tight classic. Plenty of beers and what Dan reckoned was a top Thai at the local pub for some. Nothing not to like.
Erratics are clearly up for it having never beaten us and have selected a strong team. In pub pre-match Mystic Baker predicts turncoat Thomson with take 5 for 27. Mandarins bat first. 10 there on time. Jonathan reverting to pre-Chairman form is missing on the M2/M25 (it’s a long drive from Rochester). Against less than fearsome bowling, a succession of players manage to get themselves out. The strategy of hitting the ball in the air and/or taking quick runs to the artist that is Sam Cook proves distinctly ill advised. Only Paul again stands firm for 30+, after each flashing four scanning the boundary to ensure that Fortune has seen it. Jim’s mystery/mysterious/mystic spin is unplayable and he only misses the Baker prediction by a run or two and because of a dropped catch.
Jim strips to his waste and bare-chested marches around the ground in celebration.
140 doesn’t look enough. Chaves F and D knock off half of them untroubled except by Gemma’s sharp turn. Andy drops a sitter and surprises no-one. A couple of wickets but the Erratics are toying with us as they move to their 999th win.
Pints, pizzas, Japanese and friendly banter at the Six Bells. Happily no injuries and we still have a 11 for Sunday. Weather forecast has improved. Tour Manager unwisely begins to relax.
To Harwell for the final match. Dan agrees 35 overs a side. 10 Mandarins are ready on time. Jonathan is lost somewhere on the troublesome A34 (it’s not a long drive from Oxford). Chris Healey wants to bat low down because of a hand injury. Bob is still sporting strapping to the hand but otherwise things look good. Harwell bat. Sam Keayes playing his one match of the year bowls well taking 3 wickets. Chris bowls exceptionally well. But then the two Gallington brothers get going. Dan takes some tap. Catches go down. Irregular bowlers Jules and Drew keep things just under control. Tim at last gets a Gallington and with one end opened up we keep them to a competitive total of 155. But the injuries are mounting. David’s excellent fielding display leaves him with a damaged hand and only able to bat in extremis.
Tony and Tim open against tight bowling. A steady start before Tony hobbles off injured (the opposition kindly declining Tim’s attempt to run him out in the process). Jonathan joins Tim. Some distinctly Sunday bowling allows them to progress steadily before Jonathan also has to hobble off. Bob joins Tim. Tim attempts to run Bob out repeatedly but being the wise old figure he is (and having been run out by Peter Heather on Friday) Bob will have none of it. The four batsmen register a 100 partnership. We should cruise it from here. Though Mystic Graeme on Whats App puts Harwell at 80% on Winviz.
Graeme look to have it right. Tim goes for an excellent 68. Drew told that he is on 999 Mandarin runs strides out to get his thousand. Dan has his camera ready in time to catch Drew turning swiftly round and returning still on 999. Harwell’s League opening bowlers (The Gadlington Brothers again) come on. While technically we are 5 down there is only one fit “batsman” in Dan still to come in. With Chris H and Jules now in the middle facing the Gadlingtons it suddenly looks like proper cricket. 4 to win off the last over. 3 off 3. The fifth tie in Mandarin history? No, an elegant Jules cover drive seals the win.
More beer and banter with Coardy, Boagey et al. Awards are handed out. Dan ungratefully nominates the Tour Manager for “Dick of the Day” for missing a screamer of a slip chance off his bowling. But is only supported by Drew “Judas” Somerville. Another excellent game against an opposition who plays the game like it should be played. We are invited back for 2023.
ps. Not sure whose © the picture are: do tell me if they're yours and want acknowledgment etc.