An unexpectedly close encounter saw victory once again elude the Mandarins in the genteel Surrey fortress of Elstead.
With only nine players turning up for the start, reluctant captain Chris Baker had little choice but to win the toss and bat, sending in Sam Brand and Paul Mills to begin proceedings. It was, however, a promising start. Two no balls from an older, faster Jasmine Faulkner-Wybrott and a rare three contributed to the Mandarins scoring seven off the first over and raising hopes of a Hundred-inspired batting performance. Brand and Mills pushed along, with the latter put down after crashing the ball to cover, and even managed to run another three after taking a few overs to recover.
Five overs in, and the Mandarins were 24-1, Brand becoming Faulkner-Wybrott’s first victim of the afternoon. But from there the run-rate dropped dramatically as a succession of accurate spinners made good use of the turn and bounce to ensure Elstead remained a drought-stricken place for the Mandarins’ batsmen. Your correspondent managed only a risky single before half-heartedly prodding at a delivery that then looped up to first slip. Two overs later, Mills departed on 20, bringing Chris Healey to the crease - despite his former vow never to play at Elstead again.
Williams, returning from illness, was put down by the same fielder who had dropped Mills before scoring his 3,000th run for the club, continuing the year’s impressive run of milestones. Healey put on 20 before being caught, and Wilmot contributed 13 before being run out – Williams calling for a single after hitting the ball to Elstead’s best fielder. The scoring had clearly become too slow for Williams as, two overs later, he came down the pitch to bowler Barry Young and found himself stumped.
A similar fate befell Ramani, who managed 14, while Eastaway (13), Hurst (5) and Plahe (0) fell in quick succession to Faulkner-Wybrott, leaving her with figures of 4-25. In total, the Mandarins had scored 111 of 47 overs, only six of which featured boundaries. At a rate of 2.36 an over, it turned out the Hundred had in fact had very little impact on the Mandarins.
If defending 111 looked a tricky prospect, Eastaway and Hurst gave the Mandarins early hope with some tight overs before Eastaway bowled opener Young for 0 and then had number 3 Randall caught, also for 0. Hurst bowled Stalham for 3 and by the eighth over, Elstead were 25-3.
Unfortunately, the other opener – J Lincoln – remained, scoring much more freely than the Mandarins had managed. He was put down twice, both sharp, hard-hit chances, while an LBW shout from Ramani was turned down. In another arena, it would have been a good candidate for a DRS review.
Only a rapid half-century and retirement dislodged Lincoln. But then Mandarin fortunes improved once again, with his successors removed for low scores, including a Plahe using his desire for revenge to fuel a faster delivery and bowl Faulkner-Wybrott for 0.
With Elstead 9 wickets down, the Mandarins spied an opportunity for the long-sought victory in this part of Surrey, but Lincoln emerged again from retirement to join his brother – O Lincoln – who was already set on 21 and the hosts requiring only 10 runs to win.
It took the Lincolns only another over to knock off the remaining runs, prompting some discussion of when exactly a batsman who has retired is allowed to return.
Alas, moral victories are not recorded in the scorebook, and for the second successive year the Mandarins fell one wicket short of a bank holiday victory.
Mandarins: 111 a.o. Mills 20, Healey 20
Elstead: 115-9, Plahe 3-14, Eastaway 3-24