Malta II

Peter Andrew writes:

On September 20th, the biggest Cryptic tour party of all time assembled for the second Maltese tour. Economy passengers got to Gatwick at sparrow-fart, for the Air Malta flight, and an early introduction to Cisk, the Malteser’s beer of choice. Business class gathered later, and more luxuriously, flying the flag on British Airways (additional jingoism courtesy of Ware, T). Tom Hufton popped over even later on the Learjet. And there was a welcome return for Cryptics veteran Greg Andrell, making his first contribution since the 2005 tour. To Malta, ironically (a dnb in an easy win against Maori Oxshott in 2006 isn’t really a contribution…….).

Early acquaintance was made with the hotel’s seventh floor sundeck and bar, overlooking lovely Sliema. The hotel, recommended by the opposition, was ideally situated for bars, restaurants and other attractions for special interest splinter groups.

Because of our bloated tour party [what, PAJ and Rod? Ed], we had three matches lined up: a warm-up T20 game on Friday followed by a couple of 40-over matches through the weekend. For the purist, T20 is a funny little hit-and-giggle match a bit like 10-year olds play, except you can be out, and don’t have to bat in pairs.

Friday, 21st September 2018
Marsa Cricket Club 104 (18 overs)
SCCC 107-6 (19.2 overs)
SCCC won by 4 wickets
T20 game, toss negotiated

In a typical 20/20 innings, Marsa slumped to 47 for 6 after 10 overs, recovering with an 11-run 11th over, and a 12-run over in the 18th, which culminated in Keith’s first Cryptic wicket, achieved by PAJ’s 50th Cryptic catch.

This was one of eight catches we held, Scottie getting half of them. Eight of us bowled, only Hufton putting in the full four-over shift and being rewarded with a couple of wickets. All the bowlers got at least one wicket. Except Gossy. Top scorer was wides, contributing exactly a quarter of the Marsa runs (26, for those without a calculator to hand). They scored one 6 and two 4s, boundaries being hard to come by in a deep, wet and grassy outfield.

In reply we opened with Seb and Scottie. Having watched a wide and a couple of byes, Seb got into his rhythm. See the ball, hit the ball. Our first 4. Seven without loss. See the ball, miss the ball. Seven for one. End of the first over.

This opened the floodgates for a stereotypical cryptic middle order collapse. Hufton went for five; Keith hung around for three balls, scoring fewer runs than the wickets he’d taken. Greg lasted less time, scoring nine runs fewer than the nine runs he last got batting for us here. Gossy hung around for a few overs, but still only got one run more than he got wickets.

But then Puppy joined Scottie and these two put on 67 in ten overs until Tom perished for 26. Stu clipped three from his first ball, Scottie farmed the strike at the end of the over and then biffed his fifth four to take us over the line, two balls into the final over. He finished on a jug-avoiding 44. They gave us 18 wides.

Saturday, 22nd September 2018
SCCC 108 (31.1 overs)
Marsa Cricket Club 110 for 8 (19.1 overs)
Marsa won by 2 wickets
40 over game, Marsa won toss

Our second attempt to master the intricacies of Marsa’s matting wicket at least lasted longer than our first, as we took almost 12 more overs to score one more run. An opening partnership of 29 between Philip and Keith (in almost 10 overs) flattered to deceive, and wickets fell regularly thereafter. We scored three fours (Keith, Rod, Stu). Only Keith (19) got more than 11. We were massively buoyed by the 40 extras that Marsa contributed to our final total of 108. We’ve batted better.

A Bridges wicket and an Edwards/Ware run out had Marsa’s reply stuttering to 19 for 2. But from this point Varun, the opposition’s #3, took a grip, scoring steadily as Muldoon and Edwards clattered the timbers at the other end.

At 81 for 4 it looked a lost cause, even though by this time Marsa only had 10 players, one of their number having gone off to the local hospital after being treated by Seb for a trapped nerve. Skipper tossed the ball to fourth change Seeckts, cruelly underused in the 2018 season thus far.

Two from the first ball, then a catch to Goss. They don’t go down. Three balls later, the vital wicket of Varun, caught by Stu for 48. 85 for 6. Marsa skipper David Marks watched from the non-striker’s end as Rod claimed a second, caught by Keith. 92-8. Then Seeckts again, bowling Cottontail for a duck. 102 for 8 (in effect, 9), Seeckts 3 for 15. A reversion to pace should have blown through the remaining defence. But it was not to be, and we lost a close and entertaining game by a narrow margin. At least we only bowled 14 wides this time.

Sunday, 23rd September 2018
Marsa Cricket Club 108 (29.3 overs)
SCCC 91 (31.5 overs)
Marsa won by 17 runs
40 over game, SCCC won toss

And so to the decider. Inserting the opposition, we first kept them quiet (7 from the first four overs), and then looked as though we would blow them away when skipper Bridges hit first the stumps and then pads plumb, in his third over.

But a 50 stand put Marsa back on the right track, until gloveman Greg rolled back the years and took a fine catch from an attempted cut, standing up to PAJ. Dwight opened his account shortly after, providing Rod with a catch, and Scottie with another shortly afterwards. Another sharp effort from Greg, this time off Goss, took the score to 93 for 6. Rarely had a wicket been more deserved, Gossy by this time having bowled eleven overs for a meagre 27 runs, until this success cemented his position as Cryptics’ leading wicket-taker outside the UK.

His overall figures of 1 for 5 were, however, overshadowed as Bridges (4 for nine from five overs, without assistance – two bowled and two LBW) and Scottie (two for one, both bowled, off three balls) clattered through the tail. And we only gave them 21 wides in their total of 108.

Our reply, notwithstanding following the tour tradition of ensuring that non-batsmen bat, can only be called dismal. At 28 for seven from 15 overs, record books were being searched to find our lowest score (37, against both Spencer and Old Salesians, back in the last century). Of the first eight batsmen, only Scottie achieved double figures (with 20). Half had not troubled the scorer.

Nevertheless, Keith remained resilient to put on 15 more with Scottie. Seb joined him, and they put on a further 32. 75 for 9. By this time Seb had graduated to ‘see the ball, hit the ball a long way away’. Two massive sixes, one of which wasn’t found and may still be in orbit.

Skipper kept him company, but again it was not to be, Seb eventually holing out for 30 as we fell 17 runs short.

In conclusion

These were three low-scoring but massively entertaining games. It is remarkable that the average score was just 109. Last time we toured Malta, the innings average was 213. Although the average number of wides per innings was 21, this was only a mild increase on the 18 from our 2005 tour. This may be attributable to the ground (and pitch) being watered early doors, rendering the matting unexpectedly slippery.

But any of the three matches would only have needed a single intervention to swing the result the other way. And as noted, the tour ethos held throughout. We used eight bowlers on two occasions, and six on the third. Everyone got a bat or two, even if many did not make best use of the chances.

On another level, we ate and drank well, and nobody got arrested. This year’s kittybitch, Chris Muldoon, set the bar extremely high for his eventual successor. He ran a virtual shuttle service between the rooftop bar and thirsty Cryptics, reminiscent of feeding a nest of squabbling screeching chicks. Although it remains to be seen whether the drink of choice will become the next hipster ‘thing’. Gin and strawberry Slush Puppy, anyone?