I am sure many of you will recall Dan’s classic report of last year’s defeat of HMT – a blistering attack on Treasury orthodoxy laced with the sort of rhetoric for which a certain Norwegian football commentator made his name after a 1981 World Cup qualifier: “Rishi Sunak your boys took a hell of the beating”. As I walked out with the HMT captain for the toss I was hoping that none of them had seen the report. But he seemed friendly if young enough to be my grandson. In fact there was to be no toss as their wicketkeeper was stuck in the office counting beans so I agreed to field.
It was a later than expected start as the HMT tyros were nervous about leaving their desks before 1700 in case Jacob Rees-Mogg was doing his rounds. The light was already poor which suggested being asked to bat second might be a disadvantage. When they did arrive the HMT team was remarkably youthful looking – pink-cheeked, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The Mandarins were a typically grizzled and greying assortment. But then experience often triumphs over youth.
Guest Vijay and Stan, the only Mandarin born in the same century as most of the Treasury cohort, kicked off the bowling. Stan’s first two overs were excellent and included a good catch taken by his father. But from then on it went mostly downhill. All the Treasury players appeared to be able to bat and our catching reverted to type (6 or 7 chances missed...) HMT never fully got away from us and there were some Mandarin bright spots notably Jules’ keeping and the return after a decade away of Balraj Singh. Balraj was quickly into the groove and took 1-24 off four tight overs. (Happily he assured us he is hoping now to play regularly again). But the rate ticked on at 7-8 an over and the eventual total of 145-5 off 18 overs looked challenging as the skies darkened and a few spots of rain fell.
Many of the Mandarin batsmen began their careers before the advent of 20-20 (or in this case 18-18). But you have to adapt to survive. Some have done so, notably Paul Mills who got us going with a swift 18. Others (including your correspondent) have found the challenge harder. So after a swift start by Tim and Paul things slowed down. Jamie hit a couple of lusty blows and we were still in with a chance when Vijay came to the wicket. 8 balls and 30 runs later, including 4 sixes, the crowd were on their feet. I have never seen a Mandarin innings like it. The run rate had been slowed earlier by HMT introducing their Zac look-alike bowler (short of a length, pacy, one foot outside off stump). While he failed to take a wicket (please note Zac) Tony and Jamie couldn’t get him away. The HMT skipper beginning to panic faced by Vijay’s onslaught brought him back. First ball (short, pacy, outside off) disappeared over Extra cover for six. But unfortunately Vijay had to retire at this point and from then on the innings slipped away with only Johnny Extras declining to retire when reaching 25. (Though in defence of the later batsmen it was getting increasingly more difficult to see the bowler never mind the ball). The final total of 109 for 8 as so often doesn’t tell the full story.
It was a fun evening and the HMT team a pleasure to play against even if on this occasion it was youth that triumphed. And there is apparently only one Mandarin to blame for this for it was Gus who when in charge of the Treasury kicked off the youth employment initiative. Overall it was a very different game from the HMT matches I remember from the last century. The bean counters used to field a mature, heavyweight eleven led by the appropriately named Duncan Slaughter who, as I recall from being persuaded once to open the bowling to him, generally lived up to his name. These were the sort of people who wouldn’t hesitate to give a basic economics lesson to Liz Truss, stand up to Kwasi Kwarteng or ensure that Nadhim Zahawi paid his taxes. Times have changed........