Sunday 18 June 2023

The Continuing Adventures of the Chennai Super Mandakings

Aka (what was meant to be) - A brief round-up of three recent Mandarins victories

Mandarins beat Limpsfield Chart by 52 runs, details here

Mandarins beat Bank of England by 5 wickets, details here.

Mandarins beat Banstead by 5 wickets, details here.

Banstead battered. Bank of England banished. Limspfield Chart, er, charted? Three wins out of four. Unbeaten in four. What’s going on? Is this even the Mandarins anymore?

Well yes and no. It’s the same club, many even of the same players. But it’s a new philosophy. A new way of thinking. About cricket, and about life. Seize the moment. Seek the spotlight. Want the pressure. Bowl as fast as Zac Stancombe can. Hit the ball as far Robin Pharoah can. Enjoy the game and the results shall take care of themselves. It’s influenced by both short form Indian cricket and a charismatic Irishman. It’s about discovering your inner child and letting him play. (And it also helps if you discover you’re playing against a lot of children too).

On the eve of the most anticipated Ashes since 2005, we finally adopted the McCullum-Stokes-Morgan approach. We’ll go anywhere, chase anything, catch everything*, fear nothing, let alone the prospect of failure. They have their Nighthawk. We have John Hawkins. They have their brand of cricket. We have Sam Brand. They call it Bazball. We call it, er, Rakball??

We were certainly indebted to our star player for introducing us to Murali Satagopan, who leaves us, for now at least (for he has pledged to return), having never lost a game for the club (surely a record for someone with a minimum three appearances) and with combined bowling figures of 17-6-35-6 (although he still doesn’t have a better strike rate than Baxter or Tunbridge).

But let us not forget that this run started before the arrival of our Lisbon-based lion. For we were off the mark at the last opportunity in May with a win against Limpsfield Chart CC’s Sunday 2s even without him. A charming combination of seasoned dads and talented youngsters, the Chart were very welcome if very late replacements for our scheduled oppo the Charlatans. Like Skippers Tunbridge and Stokes, the Limpsfield lads had no interest in a draw, so a 40-over format was agreed at a suddenly dry and sunny Dulwich Sports Ground.

Batting first, Baxter and Brand played out the first ten in old world Sibley and Burns style, albeit against some tight opening bowling. But then the ultra-aggressive (in every way) Wilmot was sent in at three and the new era began in that very moment. His brutal 50 was backed up by breezy contributions from Zac (37*), Stan (19) and the star man Ramani (11). Some things don’t change though, and J Extras remains an asset in any era, with his 49 topping us up to an imposing 196-9.

That always looked a bit too much for Limpsfield, although they gave it a good go for a while, with Kiwi opener Judd meeting our fire with his own, with a rapid 67. But after that they fell away in the face of our aggression, thanks to a couple of straight fast ones from Zac, a three-fer for your correspondent, and a combined tail-busting five-fer from the strike rate animals, take-no-mercy-on-schoolboys, wicket-taking machines Tim and Graeme. 144 all out, a win by 50 odd with a few to spare, and a bank holiday the next day to boot. Only a power cut could cut short the revelries that continued on into Brixton late into the night. Rakball requires that we party hard too it seems. Your correspondent was only there as a witness, honest.

Next up for the Rakballers, the Bank of England (actually it was Brightwell next, but Tony has already written beautifully about that, and let’s not let the facts of the fixture list or boring old school time game draws get in the way of this narrative). So next, up for the Rakballers: Midweek T20, pink ball, bright lights, big crowd, coloured clothes. Okay, only some of these things are true. But it was honestly the youngest Mandarins team your correspondent has ever seen, with only Pharoah (R) older than Forman (D).

It was also another devastating destruction. Bolstered by debutants Sami Taraki (the first Afghan Mandarin?) with the ball and Sharukh Nawaz (the aforementioned Irisman) with the bat, we restricted the Bank to just 110 and chased it with ease. Sami and Murali were competing for the fastest Mandarins bowler since Rawdon Adams prize. Stancombe was hardly slow himself. And Ramani cleaned up the tail with a three-fer, including a pitch-a-foot-outside-and-come-back-to-take-the-very-top-of-off off break to get a good Bank bat that was as good as any ball you will see all season anywhere. 

In response, Pharoah was commanding, carrying his bat for 37* as we cruised home with something to spare. Support came from Sharukh (23), and cameos from Brown and Tunbridge. But Sami stole all their thunder, with a thunderous four to win it from the only ball he faced. Bang. Straight down the ground. Bat back under the arm. Turn around and walk straight off again. That’s how Rakballers beat the Bank (who have beaten us easily in every recent encounter, albeit with a few fewer teenagers than they had on this occasion).

And talking of teenagers, we were a bit surprised to find ourselves playing against several more when we turned up at Banstead. Match manager Healey had so feared this new fixture (admittedly against the Sunday second XI of a very strong Surrey league club) that he had stacked us with fit young talent, helped by the fact that Murali and debutant Rajiv Govindarajan were over for the World Test Championship final. Along with the star bowler Ramani and stingy bowler Satish (6-4-10-0), we were truly the Chennai Super Mandakings, even without the much-missed Venky and the has-he-been-gone-long-enough-to-miss-him-yet(?) Arvind. So while we rocked up with a Mandarins XI that would have given the newly crowned world champions Australia a decent game (or at least a better effort than India managed that morning) it was a bit awkward to find ourselves facing another bunch of callow teenagers augmented by some seasoned club players.

But Rakball is ruthless, it doesn’t change its style for anyone, and just gets on with dispatching whatever and whoever is front of it. So Murali (3-3-0-2!) tore in to dispatch two of the top order, Satish was almost as economical, Hurst (5-4-5-1) was almost as unplayable, and Stan (5-3-17-1) was pretty handy himself, with an inducking wicket ball to rival Raki’s from the Wednesday before.

A drinks/rain break scoreboard of 18 runs from 17 overs had to be seen to be believed, and the wickets kept coming as Healey, Brand, Ramani and your correspondent did our best to give them something hittable but even the bad balls just kept getting pouched. 76 all out was never going to be enough against this line up and so it proved. Rajiv (20) was as classy as promised, with proper front foot shots that were just stroked across the floor. Satish (24) was unrelenting. But the real revelation was Brand (17 from about as many balls). A man transformed under Rakball, he was suddenly the anti-Sibley after all, going straight after the new ball in a hurry to get back to the bar. The star batter himself was barely needed.

Which was what we promptly did, to thank our generous hosts (for Rakball is as chilled off the pitch as it is red hot on it), to toast the Mandarins Chennai connection, and to herald a new era. Discussions then turned to the cricket coming up in the weeks and months ahead, and whether this new style of the sport could prosper across the rest of the summer. Oh, and the upcoming Ashes as well of course.

*Disclaimer: The use of the word ‘everything’ here allows for a match reporter’s poetic license and may not include the match reporter’s own three attempts at a sharp chance high above his head at slip. But the catching has otherwise been very good. And he has already told you quite how fast some of the bowling was.

Dan Forman

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