Imagine Australia had won the second Ashes Test at Edgbaston, that the gallant Australian batsman had hit that final delivery to the boundary rather than straight into the gloves of a pre-pubescent Welshman. Aside from making me very happy, it would also have seen England lose despite out-playing their opposition for three full days, a possibility surely that must be unique to the game of cricket. Would such a result have been fair, though? Would it have represented justice? Whatever your answer to these questions, it has to be your answer as to whether there was justice in the result of today's three-hour mini-epic against The Beehive.
We asked The Beehive to bat, an invitation that was gleefully accepted by their openers, who put on 71 runs in just 8 (eight-ball) overs. The key aspect of their partnership was superbly aggressive running -- their policy seemed to be to nick a single on anything that didn't go through to the 'keeper, even when the ball went straight to a fielder. And with the non-striker always backing up it worked a treat -- they could have scored at about a run a ball even without playing any big shots. Our fielding wilted under this pressure and we developed a bizarre case of "butter fingers", none of us being able to pick up the ball at the first attempt. On the bowling front Stas Shabala (0/17), Viranga Kekulawla (0/13), Daniel Mortlock (1/15) and Colin Anderson (0/19) all did okay, but it was going to take something more than solid medium pace to get the wicket we so desperately needed.
At this point it would have been great to be in Ricky Ponting's shoes, with the option of throwing the ball to a classy spinner, safe in the knowledge he'd land ball after ball on the dot and somehow get the breakthrough. And that's not actually so far from the truth, as this season has seen Faruk Kara's off-spin ascend to new heights, as evidenced by figures of 2/10, 2/12 and 0/13 in his last few spells. He was duly given the ball today and didn't disappoint, snaring both openers on his way to 3/12. Lest you think it was a one-man show, it should be mentioned that two of Faruk's three wickets required catches be held, and thankfully we were able to cast aside our fumbling ways for those two balls, most notably when John Young pouched a visciously spinning thick edge at backward point.
Then again, maybe Faruk could take the credit for the successful catching too, as he seemed to have powers that extended beyond his own actions today. When, for instance, the batsmen went to take an easy second run to him in the deep one of them "mysteriously" slipped over and was damn near run out. And, a little later, when the same batsman tried to steal a quick single off Faruk's bowling, he fell to the ground in excruciating pain with a pulled hamstring. If indeed it was Faruk's doing it was certainly an effective technique -- the batsman was helped from the ground without ever having made it to the far end of the pitch -- although maybe this was taking things a little too far. Having inspired his team-mates and (possibly) incapacitated the opposition, Faruk retired to long-on safe in the knowledge of a job well done. Our comeback continued for the rest of our time in the field, Julius Rix combining with Chris McNeill and Les Collings to complete a clever run out, and the runs drying up as The Beehive's innings came to a close.
As a result we were still in the game, and our chase began the right way with John Gull, our fastest scoring batsman, cracking the first legal ball of the innings to the boundary. He was going along nicely with 16 off 16 balls when he launched into another trade-mark pull, only to get a top edge into his face. There was a lot of blood and the curiously delerious question "Am I bleeding a lot? How much exactly?" before he became the second player to be helped from the ground. Rest assured he was eventually given the all-clear by the staff at Addenbrookes (although not until he and Les "Florence Nightingale" Collings had waited 'round 'til midnight).
The next casualty was, fortunately, inanimate -- on his way to an elegant 37 (off 38 balls) Viranga Kekulawla hit one ball a bit too hard for the bat, a large chunk of which came away. Nonetheless he and Julius Rix (24 off 21 balls) combined well to extend the three-man opening partnership to 52 off 7 overs. With 81 runs needed off 64 balls, however, The Beehive were still favourites -- it was the sort of situation where even a single maiden over could see the game slip away, and we really needed someone to come in an smash a quick-fire 20-odd to redress the balance. Daniel Mortlock (13 off 11 balls) gave it a shot (and almost caused the day's third casualty when a full-blooded cut missed the point fielder's head by a few inches), but no prizes for guessing who ended up providing the acceleration we needed.
Yes, that's right -- to make sure there was no doubt about his man of the match status Faruk Kara smashed 26* off 15 balls, highlighted by a sequence of even more effective cuts (now with point back to a sensible distance). After a particularly good over it suddenly bacame apparent that, for the first time all day, we might actually be winning: with two well-set batsmen at the crease and plenty of wickets in hand we had to be favourites to score 20 runs off 16 balls. Sadly this desirable state of affairs only lasted about thirty seconds, The Beehive's captain immediately taking a wicket (and delivering a few critical dot balls to boot).
Thus we began the final eight-ball over needing to score 13 runs off the best cricketer on the field, the guy who'd not only put our fielding to the sword earlier on today, but who, coming in off his full run, had proved simply too fast when The Beehive had thrashed us back in June. Fortunately it was dark enough that he had to bowl off a few steps tonight, and it seemed rob him of accuracy as well as pace. Thus Faruk was able to smash a few more boundaries before calling his partner through for a cheeky single to tie the scores with three deliveries remaining.
Not that we could relax quite yet -- the new batsman, Chris McNeill, was something of an unknown quantity, having faced a mere handful of deliveries in his two previous Remnants games, none of which were in this sort of pressure cooker situation. The next ball was fast but short -- maybe Chris would be able to deflect it down to third ma-- holy shit: he simply rocked onto the back-foot, easy as you like, and pulled the ball for a flat six over the mid-wicket boundary.
Thus Geoff's pre-week predicition that we'd beat UCLES and lose to The Beehive turned out to be, er, crap . . . although it's hard to see him minding the fact that we beat both. In the last few weeks we've avenged mid-season losses to The Woozlers, The CB XI and now The Beehive. The only item remaining on that particular "to do" list is The Cavendish Laboratory, and a quick look at the fixtures list reveals that we play them in six days' time . . .