30th August (Wednesday)
Two days to go. Full teams for each match. Weather forecast improving. All looking good. But then the dreaded ping of WhatsApp. No doubt an older mandarin who has been trying to nurse an ageing body through to mid-September. No it’s the most youthful of Mandarins – Rakesh’s back is causing him grief. OK, that should be manageable, just. Ping. It’s Zac’s knee. Flap around. Nikhil’s trip to Dubai has been postponed. He is persuadable. Raki bravely offer to play on Sunday as a batsman. We are back up to full strength.
31st August (Thursday)
One day to go. WhatsApp quiet. Bliss. (Apart from the usual ie Tony asking for directions he has already been sent or Martin asking about start times listed clearly on the tour email and website).
1st September: FMCCC
Set off from East Kent in mizzle. But forecast is for a fine evening. Ping: heavy rain in Oxford means that groundsman wants to inspect. Hold breath for two hours then all is well, though we are moved to pitch B.
Pick up Peter and get to Horspath on time. Surprisingly some of the oppo are also early. They head to the bar. We change and warm up.
Start only 25 minutes late. Gemma’s first game as captain. She decides to bowl. An excellent bowling performance from most Mandarins with Gemma clearly the best and the best fielder and a top captain (Dan isn’t even doing his Steve Smith impression).
Unfortunately Graeme completes a hattrick of recent tour injuries and collapses mid-pitch after doing his Mark Wood impression. His back has gone. Surely we can chase 107 even with a crippled Graeme. No. A slow start and early wickets. “Tall Bob” is proving a handful to our less tall Bob. The top order can’t get the ball off the square. Gemma gives us hope and is now also the best batter (30) and Peter hits an aggressive 22. But we are never really up with the rate and lose by 10 runs. Convivial beer with the oppo who even happy to share their giant duck mascot, Arvind.
2nd September: Erratics
Ping. Graeme can’t play and can’t captain. Bob heroically steps in to play and keep. Dan to skipper. Erratics have lost their first two tour games and are rumoured to have selected their strongest XI. Few give us much hope.
No obvious toss but a conversation in the pub means the Erratics will bat. They never quite get away but 181 for 8 off 44 overs still looks a little above par. Fantastic slip catches by Chris H and Bob (though Bob was keeping at the time). Bowlers all contribute thought there is some debate whether Jim’s bowling is contributing on behalf of the Mandarins or the Erratics. Rob with 3-30 and Chris H with 3-18 the stars. Most agree this is a bit above par.
But Drew (32) and Dave (39) give us a great start. However, despite a few lusty blows from Paul, 63-0 becomes 125-8. Perhaps the hot air balloon inflating and then rising from the far boundary is just too distracting. While Chris H is still there, run rate is now increasing to 7, 8, 9 an over. Just the sort of chase we fail to win 99 times out of 100.
But not today. “Joss” Heard beams into from another dimension and hits 34 off 18 balls and with Chris H takes us to the brink. 9 needed off the last over. 3 off the last 2 balls. Chris H spots an unwise gap at cow corner and despatches Chris Cook to the fence. Off to the Six Bells. Mandarins elated. Erratics deflated, now three down for their tour. Great to have Nikhil back playing for us. An absolute classic that will enter Mandarin folklore.
3rd September: Harwell International
No new injuries. Surely too good to last. (Spoiler alert: it is). Collect Raki from Didcot. Back much improved. He can bat, he can bowl, he can field, he can loudly advise the captain.
Harwell look a lot more athletic than last year but then it turns out most of the strapping youths warming up are here to play football on the next door ground. Still Harwell do have half of their league team playing.
A glorious mid-summer’s day. So the skipper (your correspondent) wins the toss and decides to bat. The opening bowlers are sharpish and Drew can’t repeat his heroics of Saturday. But Chris H and Raki give us a good base and we reach 58-1 before Chris is brilliantly run out (and not by Raki). Runs rather stop flowing. Nearly handbags when umpire Bob declines to rule on an appeal, telling the bowler that his amble girth had blocked his view. David is also run out (remarkably again not by Raki) but we still have a few wickets in hand when the skipper suggests to Rob it is time to get moving. He goes from 7 runs off 23 balls to hitting 22 off the next 14. A few lusty blows from Martin and we end up on 151. Oppo’s teenage sledger suggests we are 30 below par.
We are also 1.5 bowlers down with Peter off with a torn calf and Rob nursing a sore hamstring. Harwell move swiftly to 42-1. Martin bowls well with no luck but Raki starts pegging them back bowling beautifully (4-21). Excellent catches are taken by Drew, Dan and Rob. Harwell are now 72-6 but well up with the rate and with star kiwi batsman Max looking in ominous form. But then we enter the rabbit hole for the second time during the weekend and Dan knocks out their lower order in one over with Chris B taking a slip catch to clinch Dan’s first ever Mandarins’ hattrick. A win by 72. Harwell captain furious. Her team much more relaxed (which is partly why she is furious). A couple of beers and the award ceremony sees several Mandarin winners: Dan gets champagne moment, he and Raki are jointly players of the day and Rob gets the much coveted “dick of the day” for managing to get to the middle having forgotten to take his bat with him. Meanwhile back at Warborough the Erratics have lost the fourth and final game of their tour...
And so another thoroughly enjoyable Oxford tour over. Thanks to everyone. A special mention to those who made themselves available for all three matches and particularly to Dan, Chris B and Bob who played all or part of each of them.