How much of a cricket match do you actually have to see in order to write a match report? London theatre critics of an earlier age routinely used to have to file first night reviews of longer plays before the play had actually ended. Euphemisms such as “I’ll not trouble the reader with the denouement of this splendid/awful/interesting piece, so as not to spoil the surprise”. But at least they’d seen 90% of the play. I have once written a somewhat breathless match report based on the scoresheet alone (I didn’t realise you were there, said one reader. Oh yes, you just didn’t notice me, I replied blithely). But this effort represents a new departure: a match report put together from personal experience of no more than a quarter of the game, plus randomly assembled anecdotes from two of the participants and the brother of another. And I haven’t seen the scoresheet. Still, as long-time readers of 4th XI match reports will know, the archetypal model is traditionally only 1 part fact and 3 parts Fantasy.
The 4s assembled, in good time, at Watsonians’ Craiglockhart ground, in the looming shadow of the eponymous castle which was once home to Siegfried Sassoon, himself an enthusiastic cricketer, although not good enough to achieve his ambition of playing for Kent. One reference has him generally fielding at mid on, but apparently too slow to get out of the way of the ball, and not a good catcher of it either. But I digress … A toss occurred. Of this, I am sure, as I watched Kaz march over to the opposing captain, and I saw a motion as of a small object hurled purposefully in the air. A short discussion later, Kaz marched back to his team announcing that they should prepare to field. Not enough time has been spent yet analysing Kaz’s approach to the toss to know whether any conclusion as to the victor of this small but implausibly-widely-reported aspect of the game can be drawn from the outcome of the 4s bowling first.
Watsonians’ openers strode out; Rudy steamed in from the slightly-downhill end, bowling fast and straight. The Watsonians opener played, missed, jumped, just dug out a yorker … a maiden over to open. Dougie took over from the slightly-uphill end and struck first ball, sending the Watsonians number 2’s stumps flying. Rudy was clearly put out by this effrontery, and bowled a beautiful yorker at number 3 to retire him too. Out strode Watsonians number 4. 3 runs later, back he strode again, courtesy of another Rudy yorker. Rudy retired to the long leg boundary – one of the things I love about cricket is that spectators can have conversations with deep fielders without encroaching anywhere near the pitch and, so long as they stop when the bowler begins his run-up, without impacting the game. Is it swinging? I asked Rudy. No, he explained, they just can’t hit straight yorkers. Wise words.
Watsonians hunkered down. Sam replaced Dougie, a few overs later Fraser replaced Rudy. The batters seemed to sense an opportunity to hit out, which quickly turned into catching practice for Rory, cunningly stationed at deep mid-on (or was it short long-on), who appears to have acquitted himself better in this vital department of the game than poor Sassoon. Sam snagged 2, Fraser 3 (or was it 3 and 2?). Joe took a wicket, and Watsonians innings subsided for 130-ish. It’s always hard to judge a competitive score, but 130 feels light for a 40 over game. The pitch didn’t appear to have many demons lurking in it, Watsonians had been undone by a combination of straight bowling and rash shots. It is early season still after all.
Mike and Iain padded up, as did Al which – spoiler alert – turned out to be a wise precaution. Mike and Iain marched out to face Watsonians’ openers. The opening bowler had the temerity to eschew the customary opening looseners; Mike naturally assumed the first few balls would be generously wide, and took his customary swing. Al’s foresight in padding up paid off. Iain and Al consolidated for a few overs until disaster! A classic early-season running mishap (which will in time no doubt morph into a classic mid-season running calamity, and finally a classic late-season running disaster – but I digress), saw Iain sent back when half way down the pitch, turn and sprint back, and come a sporting second in the race with the ball to the wicket. Worse for Iain, he had to walk off straight towards his 11-year-old son, so didn’t even have the solace of a few choice words. I stress that I have no idea whether Iain would use choice words, but in this instance he didn’t really have the option anyway.
Shuaib joined Al, and the pair set about consolidating. Watsonians opening bowlers were quick – one slightly less quick but more accurate, the other very quick but prone to bowling short and wide. Shuaib seemed to enjoy the challenge of reaching the more wayward deliveries, dispatching one over the slip cordon’s heads, others more conventionally towards the square boundaries. The opening bowlers were replaced, and the score began to climb – the 4s required only 3.5 runs per over, so one boundary an over was in itself over target. 75 plays a part in this segment of the tale – maybe Shuaib scored 75, or maybe he and Al put on 75, or maybe one of them was out when the score was on 75 … New batters came and went. Watsonians introduced a mystery spinner; a previous 4s captain would have enjoyed the comparisons with another bowler of mysterious action, his old mucker Chahler (or something like that). Rudy and Rory perished playing ambitious lofted shots, while Sam was unfortunate to pick out a fielder to a ball she could have hit anywhere.
Captain Kaz came to the crease at number 8, with 35-ish runs still required, and only a tail for company who had hardly batted in the pre-season warm-up games. If he was ruffled, he hid it well,and Dougie didn’t let him down. Dougie has been revising recently (in the gaps between cricket) for. amongst other subjects, a maths exam. Division has clearly played its part – at this point the required run rate was minimal, a fact which he had obviously worked out. The intimidating opening bowler returned, Dougie moved out of the way of 5 short wide balls, and blocked the 1 straight one, to return the strike to Kaz. Runs happened. Dougie reports that he nearly hit a six. I’m less impressed by that claim than he expected, having spent a large part of my recent cricketing time trying to persuade junior cricketers to bowl the ball in the air and to hit it along the ground, both concepts many of them struggle with. The mystery spinner returned, and bamboozled Dougie with his arm ball, with only around 10 runs required. Fraser joined Kaz and, undaunted by the match situation, struck a 4. 4 more needed to win … Watsonians’ bowler generously saved Kaz the bother of hitting any of them by bowling 4 consecutive wides to end the game slightly anti-climatically after 30-something overs.