On a bright and breezy day, on the pre-tour Sunday traditionally left blank for Mandarins to heal their spiritual and physical wounds in preparation, the rained-off season opener with Peper Harow was restaged, a tribute to Dan Forman’s efforts, Mandarin optimism, and the absence of sane physiotherapy advice.
It was a nice change to see Peper Harow park at its finest, rather than on a cool, wet April day. David Williams and Sam Brand opened up, and David immediately met his ideal bowler - bit of pace, outside off, couple of short balls every over. Peper Harow also had only 9/10 fielders, but fairly soon essentially all of them were at backward point. Undeterred, David continued cutting into the gaps for a fine 26. Sam continued calmly keeping out the good and despatching the bad, joined by Shahrukh who hit several shots of the day, a leg stump pickup and back foot force smashed for four being perhaps the best. All of the bowling was decent, but the pitch was quick enough to play shots on, and we reached 90-1 off 19 before both departed to the slow bowler.
Jules Lowin and Jon Wilmot began picking up the slack, in contrasting styles: Jon employing the minimum possible bat movement, Jules the absolute maximum. Jules was unlucky to be caught for 13; Raki even more unlucky to be run out, forgetting that Jon was about as likely to run a quick single as microwave an Aldi own brand Hot Chicken Tikka Masala for his tea. Next up was Chetan, recruited I think by Jules for the day; his brief but entertaining stay was followed by Jarvis, whose 225 strike rate was unmatched. Hands up if you saw that coming. We chipped and tipped a bit more, but the drama came in the final over, with Gary run out, then Jon - who had to this point played everything precisely on merit, keeping the ball on the floor, seemingly ignoring everything else - going 644 off the last three balls, taking himself to 50 and Mandarins to a respectable 194-9. Not amazing perhaps, but not far off par. If we bowled and caught well…
The Peper Harow reply (spoiler:successful) was fascinating. Captain Steve Bradley is no mean bat but took his role as Anchor (I think that’s what his team were calling him) very seriously. Although when the rate later climbed he did unleash several booming drives that showed great skill, he largely restricted himself to cutting and easy singles (sublimated memories of youth perhaps). It was a very good innings anyway, even if it was only 62* out of 195. Meanwhile most of the batters around him were teeing off like it was Augusta. This made setting fields - if I may whine a bit - a teeny bit challenging. We got off to a great start mainly thanks to Gary, whose medium pace was accurate and nipped about, and who removed the dangerous Ali with a fine c&b, and after 8 overs they were 14-2. However the next 4 overs leaked about 30 more, as the big hitting Waqas got into his stride. Raki put the brakes on with a great spell (10 off his first 6 overs), but there were enough runs elsewhere to keep PH almost up with the rate.
The introduction of Baker brought more dramatic swings in fortune, with a few lusty boundaries but also the demise for 42 of Waqas, whose attempted reverse something (I can’t call it a sweep, or a switch hit, or anything really; he just flipped basically) did not exactly pan out. 10/10 for self-belief though; I CAN DO WHATEVER I PUT MY MIND TO OH. Anyway, he was followed by Sohail, who continued in the same vein, whacking a few sixes off Raki and Shahrukh to keep them close. Shahrukh’s revenge, pinning Sohail for 47, gave us much needed hope, which picked up steam when Giles followed fairly soon after. But new batsman Faisel had the magic arm, all of his, er, stylish shots to deep midwicket somehow finding the middle of the bat, and by the time he was caught for a quick fire 22, the game was almost done. A swing and a miss from the new bat Mosa was followed by a single burgled to mid on, whose run out attempt hit the batsman in a final act of fruitless defiance.
This was a game we could have done just a little better in, in all departments. Our batting was not bad but we were probably 15/20 short of par; bowling was not bad but we did give plenty of gifts too; fielding not bad but three catches went down that might have swung it. It was, nonetheless, a lovely game in a very good spirit and an exciting-ish finish. We thank Dan, and Gary, and Chetan, and Peper Harow, for making it possible. Now all I have to do in the three days before tour is get two achilles screaming in pain after 8 overs of extreme pace (49mph) to magically recover. Anyone got a good physio?