Arriving early in the douce Border town of Peebles, the designated location of the latest leg of the Carlton Positively 4th XI’s assault on the peaks of the ESCA ultra super elite Positively 4th Division, your correspondent had much to reflect on.
He was stung by the accusation from loyal readers that the absence of a match report for last week-end represented a serious dereliction of duty. His explanation that the empty weekend in the Positively 4th XI’s fixture card, following the withdrawal of the previously slated opposition from the league, rendered the expectation of a match report absurd, was not received with much sympathy. For his suggestion that he would have been writing about nothing was met with the gruff response that most of his reports seemed to be about nothing.
It is not clear whether these views predominate among the ever-expanding readership of these pages. It is as likely that the majority expressed an inward sigh of relief at not having to wade through paragraphs of neatly turned prose in the vague hope of finding some reference to happenings on a cricket field. They return well-rested and fit for the latest challenge in a trying season.
Your correspondent was therefore in meditative mood as he made his way through the packed holiday crowds, no doubt like your correspondent brought to the town by the attraction of the Positivelys’ appearance. He looked up at the plaque which told him that the modest building opposite the Sheriff Court was a childhood haunt of John Buchan, who went on to be Governor General of Canada and the author of the seminal spy thriller The 39 Steps.
If they have not read this book, readers will be familiar with it through one of the many filmed versions and will have strong preferences for the actor who played the set-upon stiff-upper-lipped hero Richard Hannay. Robert Donat, Kenneth More and Robert Powell have all stepped out of the train on the Forth Road Bridge as they fled the police under a false accusation of murder, eventually to unmask a devious plot to undermine the integrity of the British State by dastardly foreign forces Forces surely formed of the type of chap who, on nicking off, does not walk and who thinks nothing of Mankading an opponent without the customary warning. Forces insistent that T20 is the only future. Those, in fact, whose actions would rightly be dismissed as, ‘Just not cricket, old man.’
Your correspondent arrived at Whitestone Park to find an horrific sight which brought these very words to his lips. ‘Just not cricket….’ Literally. For there was not just one football match in progress on the field, but two. Large numbers of athletic youths who in earlier days would have spent their summer months with bat and ball and not yelling to each other ‘Square ball’ (as if such a thing existed) or ‘Man on’. Thankfully this detritus removed itself in due time for the proper sporting encounter to get under way.
Skippering the Positivelys was Richard Hannay – readers can chose to envisage him as Donat, More or Powell according to their date of birth. He stepped manfully out to the toss with that bemused sense of determined pluck which had coloured the map of the world red. In accord with all the precepts of the natural justice on which we are assured that the British Empire was forged, he won by a margin that confirmed the moral superiority of the mother country and the Queen Empress. Once again the Positivelys would take the field.
Hannay deployed a seven man – more correctly youth for their average age was 15 – attack. An aggressive Peebles opening partnership showed the youngsters the importance of line and length, as width and shortness was punished, helped by a speedy outfield and a short pavilion side boundary. An outside edge rocketed to the boundary off Shaun taking Kas’s fingers with it, and Mark induced a couple of false strokes, but there was little luck for them as the score steadily mounted. Hannay turned to Hutch. ‘Do your duty for Queen and country, young man. Remember you are British.’ The batsmen were well settled now and didn’t need encouragement to go after him. Ivan took over at the other end and commanded more respect – 0-14 miserly in the circumstances. But it was Hutch who eventually got the break through. Peebles skipper Voas heaved him for 4 to bring up his 50, but attempting to go bigger off the next ball could only put it down Paul’s throat on the midwicket boundary. A few overs later the other opener Edwards also cleared the boundary to bring up his own half century and skied the next one into the safe hands of Shaun in the covers. Something of a pattern? 135-2. Hutch was bowled out, 2-61, a good effort.
The Peebles score was rattling along like an express train. Hannay needed to pull the communication cord, and climb off the bridge. He threw the ball to Charlie. He struck in his first over as his Dad took another catch on the boundary – the pocket –money shot. Supported at the other end by tight spells by Ivan, Fraser and Nahum, Charlie then chipped away racking up the bowling points. A succession of bowled dismissals showed the merits of his control of line and there was a juggled catch behind by Eric. This was the stuff of real heroes, not your fictional Hannays and Charlie finished with the exceptional figures of 6-51 and the match ball to keep. A run out off the last ball secured the final bowling point for the Positivelys and Peebles finished on 254-9. Pete Caddick finished undefeated on 63, meaning that in his 2 outings against the Positivelys this season he is 147*. Carlton’s greatest fan.
Hannay praised his foot-sore soldiers – 300+ had seemed on the cards at one time, but sheer British pluck had pulled things back.
The Positivelys’ run chase began. Eric looked in good nick and was soon rattling off a series of trade mark boundaries. Hutch supported him well until he was dismissed by an athletic catch off his own bowling by Edwards – 45-1. Paul and Eric kept the momentum going but Eric was well caught for 41 and, at 77-2, the hill the Positivelys had to climb looked a little steeper.
Team Kentish was now at the crease. If John Buchan had created this match, the father and son duo would have conquered all and returned victorious. They would enter the door to the smell of fresh baking with wife and mother waiting, apron-clad but with her pale face betraying the faintest hint of anxiety. ‘How did things go?’ she would ask tremulously. ‘Moderately well, dear,’ Paul would say, as he taps his pipe on the fire guard. ‘Yes, Mummy, I jolly well hit the winning runs with a spiffing whizz-bang sixer over the bowler’s head,’ Charlie would say breathlessly. ‘Did you my dear,’ she would reply, ‘How lovely. Now drink up your Horlicks.’
But, sadly, John Buchan did not write the match. Perhaps Paul thought he could invoke the spirit of Buchan, a keen fly fisherman, by casting his fly outside off-stump. He survived a couple of chances. But it was the law of diminishing returns. A slow bowler came on. Paul went 6, 4, miss, miss, nick. In slow motion. Like the salmon taking the fly, the keeper palmed it to slip.
The Positivelys were now in flight on the open moor, the police in hot pursuit. Kas stepped up. From a slow beginning he began to accumulate. He was well supported by the youngsters at the other end who all showed potential with some handsome strokes but none could stay long enough for a match winning partnership to develop. Charlie fell on 12, Ivan on 16 and Mark on 10, including a graceful pick-up for 6 over square leg that Kohli might have been proud of. Kas was eventually out on 49 – a brave eoffort but nevertheless as serious a case of jug avoidance as the Positivelys have seen in many years.
The chance to press for victory was gone. Hannay and Fraser tidily finished the innings undefeated with the Positivelys 231-9, 23 short of the Peebles score.
An enjoyable day out in fine weather perhaps, but scant consolation for another defeat in what is becoming a losing habit for the Positivelys. The tumble into the relegation zone of the ultra-super-elite division is posing serious questions. Your match reporter is facing up to them. He has noted that the run of defeats has coincided not only with repeated mass non-availability in the Carlton player pool but with his own actions. He is not by nature a superstitious character, although he would prefer not to walk under ladders. Not for him the antics of such as the legendary S African Neil Mackenzie among whose many superstitions was having to tape his bat to the ceiling before he went out to bat. (There are of course many amongst your correspondent’s readership who might suggest that if the skipper of the Positivelys did just that and left it there, he would be no worse off, of such marginal importance to his efforts at the crease is his bat).
No, your correspondent is not superstitious. However, he has to note that the fall in the Positivelys’ fortunes bears an uncanny correlation to the declining incidence of references to the mystery of the bowling action of a certain Fin de Siecle Austrian composer and his own researches in that critical area of human knowledge. Hould he renew his researches into the allegations that Mahler was in fact a chucker in the effort to arrest this this trend in the remaining weeks of the season. As ever following a Positivelys’ match there is much food for thought.