Report by Dave Williams:
"When you have eliminated the impossible," said Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four, chapter 6, "whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." So if Daniel Mortlock - called to higher things today with Her Majesty at the Palace - was not being offered the premiership of the lucky country as was Malcolm Fraser, it must be that Daniel was receiving a richly deserved MBE for services to Cambridge cricket. Or maybe not. This is a roundabout way of saying that I, for one, am interested and would like to know . . . [No MBE - it was just a lucky ticket to one of the Queen's annual garden parties . . . although Her Maj wasn't even there, the senior ranking royals being Charles and Camilla - ed.]
Meanwhile, on a lower astral plane, 22 white-clothed (well, a few with black socks, bestriped tracksuits and trainers) blokes were ambling around a field of grass engaging in a reasonably popular leisure activity called "cricket". This particular example of it started with Captain Paul Jordan winning the toss and deciding to bowl. His decision, he said, was intended to nurture our collective ability to "chase". Fair enough, but at the end of the first four overs of shock and awe from Qaiser Ahmed and Adam Long - IPH were 4 for 10 at this point - it didn't look as if there'd be much to chase. With impressive pace and mostly fuller lengths Q and A had scythed through some timid defending and smashed down the stumps four times.
To crush or not to crush? In the present situation that would be the question for any cricket captain, albeit it doesn't arise very often. In this case Paul's kindness and innate empathy triumphed over atavistic blood-lust - it is just a friendly game (isn't it?) - so Claude Warnick's relatively friendly off-spin had its chance at the Huntingdon Road end. Just to break the pattern he got a wicket smartly caught by Chris Badger. At the other end we all know that Debasish Das has an excellent attacking mindset and can bowl some killer balls. This week he seemed tense, though, and found it difficult to find the right line. (Dr Cricket recommends long spells of practice in the nets, aiming to land it on a handkerchief every time. Muscle memory is more reliable than will-power . . . That'll be £450 plus VAT, thank you.) We did bowl rather a lot of wides (19) this evening, giving Paul a chance for one of his Masterstrokes (TM): he moved me out of first slip to a very fine leg slip, on a line 6 feet outside leg stump where some of Debasish's leggies had been arriving. It was an innovative position, a "shortstop" - like a longstop, but short. Bizarrely, a wide arrived there next ball, with a bottom-edge attempted cut to off coming my way two deliveries later.
But after Claude's 4 overs (1/25) and Debasish's 3 overs (0/38) a full-scale IPH recovery was on the way (76 runs by over 11). Paul's mesmeric changes of pace confused and contained: 4 overs, 1 for 15, including a clean bowled of the pugnacious remaining IPH opener. Huw's three overs of mostly tidy in-swing got a wicket for 24 runs.
In one of the many curios this game routinely supplies, the "best IPH batsman" (they said later) had got confused and had gone to the Queens' ground - no, not Buckingham Palace, the one in Barton Road; he had only arrived in time to go in number 9. Before I knew this I was nervous on IPH's behalf that Paul had brought back the slavering war-wolves Qaiser and Adam for the closing two overs. Retrospectively it all makes sense, but I was bewildered and dismayed to see "Umair" (no. 9) hooking Qaiser's lively first ball for 4 through square leg. Followed by a savage sideways-bat uppercut over cover for a maximum. Followed by a slash through extra cover for 4. It seemed like a different game as 15 came off Qaiser's last over (3 overs, 2 for 25). Adam's final over got a bit more respect, but not much: only one 6, so 3 overs, 2 for 17.
We have to admit we hadn't fielded with much enthusiasm: several dropped catches, sloppy returns to the bowler - maybe the great start meant we thought it was going to be easy. 141 was a lot more than we had bargained for. Had we been complacent?
Tom Serby and I opened in reply and were fed a nourishing diet of short pitchers or full tosses at medium pace. Only the innate fear of making a fool of myself prevented any more than a solid 7 or 8 an over. IPH reduced the pace with useful off-spin lifters from "Sukhi" but Tom found them to his liking and unrolled some hard-hit straight drives. As for running between the wickets, Tom and I are like an elderly married couple: bickering and misunderstandings (but we love each other really). Mercifully no damage was done and not many singles were missed, though I managed to pull a muscle, namely my semitendinosus for those in touch with their inner geriatrician). At which point it seemed like a good idea to retire hurt (31* runs off an unrecorded number of balls) to let someone else who can run have a go.
Chris Badger's stylish and powerful hitting looked it would fit the bill: we were rolling along at 7 an over, but things can go wrong, can't they? Tom chipped to mid-off in his own cricketing remake of Groundhog Day for his excellent 37; incoming Julius Rix joined Chris in finding the lack of pace difficult to bosh to the boundary. Julius smote a couple of very useful 4s before his demise (11), but at this point we needed 26 off 19 balls. Remnants' bums - to modify Alex Ferguson - were squeaking left, right and centre.
Over number 17 is hard to explain. Cricket is a truly great game - indeed art form - because it reflects life, not in any idealized or reductive way, but in all its fullness and truth. And its truthfulness is surely beautiful, even if the beauty seems - as we might indeed sometimes say about our human condition - ugly, bitter or absurd. "Absurd" certainly comes to mind to describe this over - but I do not mean this in a derogatory sense at all; my sympathies go out to "Nav" not least because we've all had to be humble sometimes, haven't we? Nav had come back for his last. Maybe the tension was getting to him. Maybe Chris's handsome pulled 6 was unnerving. Whatever the reason, a dismal succession of wides - increasingly apologetically signalled by umpire Paul - forestalled any kind of close finish. The scorebook is impossible to read on this because the scorer has attempted to shoehorn an over of some 15 (I guess) deliveries into a space for 6; magnificently, in a triumph of information-design meaninglessness, there is enough room available for a further 120 (times 7, i.e. the number of bowlers allowed for). In sum, then, at least I can say that there were 22 off the over; that Chris had managed an important 32 not out; that Matt had 1 not out.
Every game is a chance to review and take something to help us as we move forward. I suggest: anti-climax is part of the meaning. The bathetic is not pathetic. Absurdity is not the absence of dignity. This great game that we play at our level gathers to itself, for us, the truth that every act, every contribution, is to be valued and has meaning.