Abinger Hammer: 200 for 7, 30 overs (D.Forman, 3-42)
Mandarins: 121 for 9 (ao), 26.1 overs (J.Extras 32, C.Baker 29)
Expectations were high for the Mandarins' first return to the picturesque ground of Abinger Hammer after a successful run chase on our initial visit in 2021. The aspect did not disappoint with dairy cows gazing down the slope behind one end and a pleasant stream and water meadow, overlooked by Elizabethan country architecture, at the other.
Despite a sharp shower, play commenced in strong sunshine a little after the scheduled start thanks to the home side's ample covers and squeegee roller, although the delay was insufficient to allow for the timely arrival of Pete "The Prof." Heather who struggled gamely through the traffic for 3½ hours from Oxford to make it.
As the teams assembled, the marked age differential between the sides now became apparent as Abinger had seemingly managed to attract much of the Surrey county youth squad (!) while all but two (?) of the Mandarins had seen their 50th birthdays some time ago. Healey calculated that the average age of the teams was 22½ versus 56½ years but the latter appeared a tad generous to your correspondent's naked eye.
The match was reduced to 30 overs on account of the rain delay, not the visitors' vintage, and Abinger elected to bat. Affairs began promisingly with Eastaway getting swing and occasional bounce bowling up the hill and Healey keeping things tight with canny seam-up and leg-cutters down the slope. Soon both openers were back in the pavilion with the total on 20 or so and things looked promising, but we then hit the cream of the Surrey youth middle order who proceeded to take advantage of the two short boundaries as well as the Mandarins' 10-man squad to take quick runs at every opportunity. This included running on a fumbled return of the ball to the bowler which the wiser umpiring head present withdrew as 'not in the spirit of the game' (especially in light of recent Bairstow shenanigans).
Both batsmen proceeded to 49 not out, but the number 3 was then bowled by your correspondent with a ball dubbed a googly by gloveman Wilmott, if unbeknownst to the bowler. His counterpart number 4 went on to make 64 before being well-caught by Cap'n Hawkins at deep mid-on off Forman who ended with 3 wickets. After some good hitting, with the occasional 6, Abinger posted 200 for 7 off their 30 overs – a stiff target on a pitch offering some turn and occasional variable bounce, but potentially gettable given the two easily reached boundaries.
After an ample tea, the Mandarins reply started at a reasonable pace with Baker taking the anchor role and Johnny Extras providing generous support. Progress was dented by Wilmott running himself out cheaply to the mustard-sharp field and your correspondent holing out to cover after four consecutive 4s (note to self: hit along ground to avoid being caught). Nevertheless, halfway drinks saw the total of 87 for 3 off 15, so not too far off the required run rate. However, at this point, their impressive Surrey youth quick was brought into the attack, who soon saw off the stalwart Baker (29) with an inswinging yorker, while their more 'experienced' (i.e. adult) off-spinner took four cheap wickets to close out the innings, despite three catches going down when the match was effectively over (argh!). An unsatisfying batting performance distinguished only by extras top scoring on 32 – whether this is a Mandarins first will await a definitive ruling from the club statistician.
Abinger Hammer was home to novelist E.M. Forster from 1924 to 1946. We shall hope to return next year but unless we take a metaphorical Passage to India to recruit more Chennai Mandakings the outcome may well be the same.
Paul Mills, 11th July 2023