The rumour that Fantasy Bob would return to action after a long injury lay off in the afternoon’s friendly between Carlton 4th XI’s and old friends Morton had caused the streets around Grange Loan to swell with fans eager to witness their hero’s efforts. Prompt action by PoliceScotland was necessary to disperse the crowd and ensure compliance with COVID restrictions. The First Minister later commended their action, ‘‘I am grateful to PoliceScotland in averting a potential super-spreader event. I understand how after many months of lockdown people want to return to normal life. But, frankly, FB in action is anything but normal.’
So the ground lay empty under the wavering sunlight as the teams took the field. The Carlton side held an unusual number of the vaccinated as exam fever, against which there is as yet no effective vaccination, gripped the younger members of the squad.
New skipper Brian Kaczynski was unphased by the presence of his predecessor. He won the toss and opted to bat. Commentators noted this radical assertion of his new regime, comparing it to the stream of executive orders unwinding key policies of Barack Obama which Donald Trump issued immediately on taking office. If this new policy phased the players, they did not show it and John Beattie and David Simpson calmly set about building an opening partnership.
In the 1975 World Cup Final between West Indies and Australia, 5 Australian batters were run out as they threw caution to the wind in chasing what at that time was a huge West Indian total of 291. Since then there have been 9 further instances of similar carnage. At one stage it looked like Carlton were firmly resolved to better that record. David was the first to succumb, followed not long after by John. In between Al had looked solid until playing too early and chipping a simple catch to midwicket. That left Carlton 62 for 3 and the run rate less than desired. Paul Kentish and Mike Kennedy buckled down. Having played himself in with his well-practiced air shot Mike started to connect to the leg side boundary. As Mike’s hamstring tightened, running between the wickets became more interesting and observers confidently anticipated another step towards the run out record. But Paul exercised common sense at a level rarely seen at this grade of cricket and the pair made solid and safe progress. A 14 ball over, as Morton’s change bowler explored which of the adjacent wickets might give him some sharper turn, heated up the score board.
Warm applause from the crowd that wasn’t there greeted the hundred partnership which came up shortly before Mike’s half-century. Mike retired, making way for Fantasy Bob, whose short cameo at the crease was ended by another step towards the run out record. A swish to fine leg saw him heroically call for the second only to be run out by a distance similar to that between Boris Johnson and the truth. Paul completed his well made 50 and also retired. It was left to the skipper (21*) and Shuaib (19*) to bat out the overs which they did with a range of good strokes and sensible running, bringing the total to a commanding 220 off the 35 overs. (Statisticians were left disappointed that the early promise of a record tally of run outs did not deliver.)
As the teams prepared for the second half, the sun pushed the threatening clouds aside and the ground reclaimed its picture postcard look. Lucy, freshly rested from her match winning 58 in the preceding women’s match, opened the bowling and was rewarded immediately for immaculate line and length knocking the stumps over twice in quick succession. Lucy 2-20. Nautiyal and skipper Malan then put a partnership together. The skipper broke all precedent in asking Fantasy Bob to bowl down the hill. The crowd that wasn’t there caught their collective breath, trying to remember who was on the throne at the time the last time this had happened. FB steamed in off his long run – a full 3 paces – and more or less put the ball in the business area. But it was Joe who broke the partnership when his wrong un took Nautiyal’s (35) inside edge onto the stumps.
Readers will need to use every part of their imagination to understand what happened next. FB’s innocuous delivery was met with a thundering drive by Karrupiah; he dived wide to his right, the ball’s seemingly rapid journey to the boundary cruelly stopped. An early candidate for catch of the season some said. The crowd that wasn’t there went wild; this is what they hadn’t come for. An early statement by the Prime Minister is expected, claiming this feat as further proof of the effectiveness of the UK vaccination programme.
Morton skipper Malan was faced with a difficult task. The run rate was mounting and wickets were falling regularly at the other end – Joe (2-22) and FB (2-29) both getting another and Shuaib (2-22) finding his range in his second spell to bag a couple. A direct hit run out from Al showed that mean fielding was not the exclusive domain of FB. Catches were held by John and Mike. Malan finished undefeated on 39 as Gavin wrapped proceedings up to leave Morton all out for 99 in the 25th over.
A good day’s work for Carlton and a solid victory with good contributions with bat and ball all round. Many thanks for Morton for making the long and arduous journey from the Meadows to Grange Loan and playing in great spirit. Thanks also to the sun making a rare appearance this season. Let’s hope it’s available next weekend for the start of league action.