"How do you run a cricket club?"
"Well, young man, I'm glad you asked. The key is preparation: fixtures must be organised months in advance, confirmed in the week before match day, and then made the subject of hundreds of e-mails in the hours leading up to the start of play. From there it's just a case of scoring more runs than the opposition."
"Hmmm, sounds pretty simple - do you ever deviate from that tried and trusted recipe?"
"No, never, for that way madness lies . . ."
And yet the date of August 28 had remained blank in the Remnants fixture list for most of the season, with no real effort being made to fill it. It wasn't until a fortnight ago that one of the St Barnabas organisers suggested an unprecedented third fixture between our two teams, and the match wasn't properly confirmed until a week ago. And maybe even more miraculously, both teams had eleven players present by 5:30pm, meaning there was no "we've only got three people here so we'd better bat first" rubbish - instead the captains actually had a proper toss, which St Barnabas won, inviting us to field.
Initially, at least, this appeared to be a mistake, as Daniel Mortlock (1/9) and Kiran Sakhamuri (0/22) dominated early on, getting plenty of bounce and movement from the new ball. What few runs were scored came mainly from a St Barnabas batsmen who seemed to have only one shot, a kind of last-minute cut, and so we started packing the off-side field in the hope of containing - or dismissing - him. This strategy reached its unnatural conclusion at the end of Kiran's second over when the last remaining man was moved across from the leg-side to create a hilarious 9-0 field of first slip, third slip, gully, backward point, point, cover-point, short cover, short extra-cover and mid-off. The only pity was that Dave Green hadn't yet finished his supper and so no photographic record exists of this bizarre configuration. Maybe even more to the point, it was close to the right field, as the ball never went anywhere else . . . although it was rather maddening that said batmsan continued to score as a succession of edges, nudges, nurdles, cuts and cover drives found their way through the cordon.
He eventually perished for an invaluable 25 when he drove Eli Ellwood (1/16) to John Richer, who took his second catch of the day - although possibly he felt his first had been underappreciated, and so he decided to add a dramatic fumble just to give the bowler a fright. There was no such drama when 'keeper Rob Harvey snaffled a top edge induced by Mihir Chandraker (2/20), who in turn took a low return catch with an admirable lack of fuss. But in the nonchalance stakes the clear winner was Paul Jordan (1/10), who dealt with a hard hit drive off his own bowling by neatly side-stepping the ball while casually leaving his hand in position to take the catch. The combination of good catching, tight bowling and generally excellent fielding (particularly by Ferdi Rex, both close in and on the boundary, as well as Faruk Kara and Dave Williams in the off-side ring) meant that we were able to keep the St Barnabas batting line-up pinned down for the whole innings, eventually restricting them to an apparently hopeless 89/6.
Our pursuit took a little while to get going, as we struggled to 16/0 off 4 (eight-ball) overs, but then John Richer (35 off 26 balls) burst into life, smashing 4 . 4 2 4 . . 4 4 . 2 (i.e., 24 runs in 11 balls) before being well caught on the mid-wicket boundary. If John had been able to continue his onslaught for an over or two more the win would be have been absolutely certain, but really, at 46/1 at the mid-point of the innings, we were in the very happy position of needing just 44 runs from 56 balls with 9 wickets in hand.
Rather than accelerating over the finish line, however, we got rather bogged down as Ferdi Rex (26 off 55 balls) and John Young (6 off 12 balls) struggled to do more than scamper singles, and the match rather annoyingly began to come alive again, freeing itself from the coffin of certainty like a monster in an old-fashioned horror film. Our total of 75/2 might have looked good on the scoreboard, but having so many wickets in hand while now needing a rather tight 15 runs from 16 balls suggests that we really should have been taking more risks, even if just in the form of attempting ever more cheeky singles. While we were still favourites, especially with form batsman Dave Williams now having joined Ferdi, we were also just a couple of mistakes from disaster.
The final two overs played out thus:
So, somehow we managed failed to chase a sub-90 total, contriving to lose 6 wickets in the last 15 balls of the innings. Still, there was the very real compensation that a late-August game didn't feel like a late-August game - thanks to good weather and a business-like approach by both teams in the field we ended up finishing with plenty of light, something we don't always manage at the height of summer. More importantly still, a good fraction of both teams stayed behind for a drink, the fine distinction between drowning sorrows and toasting triumphs becoming blurred as darkness finally fell . . .