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Sweaty in Pink – Grumpy Head Tour

MCC’s Tour of Basel and Freiburg

“This match is one of the highlights of our season – it’s the match we always look forward to most, and it’s great to keep the tradition between the two clubs going.” Despite fluffing his lines with the bat, captain for the day Suckit delivered the customary speech with aplomb. But unlike many sporting clichés, there is much truth in this one.

With any MCC tour, the battle to cobble together 11 players to take the field is the most enjoyable element. Taking up the formidable challenge this year was Gloria. From the initially selected 13, an impressive 9 undertook the journey to Breisgau. The road-trip spirit was high, with reserve driver Max taking the early awards for sourcing the most dubious vehicle, Ritwik travelling by private ambulance and carbon-neutral Deep chancing his right arm over with the Deutsche Bahn, just managing to squeeze his “travel light” bag into the ICE. With a ringer or two required to avoid the ignominy of playing with 9 men, imagine Gloria’s delight when 2022 MCC scoreboard operator Karthik decided to ditch his weekend plans to join us on tour. To add the icing on the cake, overhearing cricketing conversation in O’Kelly’s bar on Friday night, local Aussie physicist Sam “Raji” Rudge was promptly recruited. We were 11!

The vanguard group of Sameer, Malte and Sandy were tasked with finding a restaurant for Friday evening’s festivities, the main criterion being that it was O’Kelly’s bar. Passing their first test with flying colours, the rabble steadily arrived, and each man was swiftly equipped with a slim-fit salmon tour polo. Suckit had clearly received inside information and looked a picture with his matching shorts. A civilised evening was concluded at a sensible time and the team returned to the team accommodation to sleep off the Wodans.

The epic journey to Basel’s lovely cricket ground via 3 countries was completed with an admirable 5 vehicles for the 11 players, keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum. Everyone apart from Max was looking forward to throwing on the whites for the first time this summer – the hiphop look of Suckit’s flannels on the ever so slighter man was vetoed by tour fashion officer Gloria who duly handed over the pair of pristine unused Shrey pants he was saving for Sunday, and the attire was complete. Captain for the day Vishv, leading a team for the first time in his long career, duly proved that his tossing requires further practice and MCC were invited to take the field. New ball duo Gloria and Ritu duly ensured the Novartis opening pair were unable to settle by bowling 4 wides in the first 2 overs. What a pleasure to have a nice red ball in the hand once again though – making the most of favourable swinging conditions the NCC top 3 were returned to the hutch quickly, with Suckit traditionally showing his teammates how to catch and snapping 2 early grabs at mid-on. Wickets continued to fall and the scoring was kept under control despite the lightning outfield. Feeling that a change in the attack was needed to spice things up a bit, captain Vish threw the ball to tour virgin Sandy “Michael Holding” Sinha who bowled a fiery spell off the long run, occasionally hitting the pitch and denied a maiden tour wicket by the absence of DRS in this series.

At 100/7 after 23, Novartis needed a partnership. Roughed up by an aggressive spell of chin music from Ritu and sporting a bruised lid, NCC number 9 Avi played beautifully for a run-a-ball 60, ably supported first by Amal (37) before expertly farming the strike with tail to face the majority of the last 10 overs with MCC toiling in the increasing heat. Undeterred, the tourists kept themselves entertained by devising some new fielding techniques. Deep started the trend with a two-sides-of-a-triangle chase, crying “meep-meep” after the ball as it crossed the rope. Sameer, undeterred, invented his own zig-zag method of moving between fielding positions and also ensured the ball was looked after appropriately by launching it into a patch of remote lush grass rather than back to the bowler. With Avi falling to a nifty stumping in the final over, NCC were finally dismissed for 185, probably around par on a good pitch with a quickening outfield. Honourable mentions for dropped catches go to Ritwik (despite running 1.6km to get into a good position), Mayank (can’t catch anything off Gloria’s bowling but apparently has a perfectly safe pair of hands against every other f*cker) and Vish (he has no recollection of it apparently, see earlier comment re Gloria).

Lunch at Novartis is a joy. Mixing it up a bit, the customary chicken biryani was left at home in favour of a superb picnic-style spread. Much time was taken to replenish the salts and peppers in the shade before MCC set about the chase.

Feeling that they were perhaps a few above a par score and demonstrating admirable sportsmanship, NCC duly conceded 21 extras in the first 5 overs, with those deliveries within range of the batsmen landing perfectly in our left-handed opener’s famed scoring arc before, exhausted from his efforts in the field, he elected to perform a yogic squat to the first straight ball of the innings and was adjudged LBW for Arun Aball 12. A great start though – 42/1 after 5, with the in-form Deep joining skipper Vish at the crease.

The two guys played beautifully, nurdling the 1s and 2s and hitting the bad ones to the fence, putting on a masterful 91 together and building a perfect platform for what was shaping up to be a comfortable victory. The secret of the excellent partnership was revealed later – far from the apparent lack of calling witnessed by anyone privileged enough to be present, rather like the Fosbury flop or the Cruyff turn, cricketers 50 years hence will be “Kotru calling in their heads” to save energy and confuse the fielders.

Both were unlucky to fall for 48, Deep caught in the namesake before a dehydrated Vish was unable to keep out a fast low full toss from the returning and revitalised Venkat. Cue the typical MCC collapse…

Mayank and Malte offered catching- and bowling-practice respectively, both falling once the fielding team realised what the game was. Karthik joined Suckit at the crease with 33 still required from 12 overs and expertly carried out his instructions to block every straight ball and let the extras flow. It was a perfect strategy – while the crowd was enthralled by one immaculately executed forward defensive after another, the extras kept on coming and the inspired white feather smashed the ball to all corners, hitting 5 lovely boundaries and MCC were coasting. However, determined not to be outdone by his more aggressive partner, Karthik blocked one to the best opposition fielder at mid-on and called “Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. I have no idea.”, leaving Such to execute his Cunard turning circle and being run out at the non-striker’s end. The perpetrator’s front pad got in the way of his bat 2 balls later, bringing Sameer and Gloria to the crease with 3 still needed.

Sameer’s lovely leg-glance didn’t quite have the legs to reach the boundary, and his premature celebrations led to only 2 being taken. Scores level. One to win from 43 balls. No need to do anything silly. Sure enough, a block to the same short-mid on fielder followed by a decisive call placed our man Avi against Gloria’s sprinting prowess. Stumps shattered, the batsmen barely crossing. Ritwik putting his pads back on in a panic. Sandy joins Sameer, backing up at the non-striker’s end as instructed but forgetting the idea that you should only run if a single is on, seemingly clearly short of his ground but adjudged not-out in a moment of karma.  Chaos. “Enough of this!”, thinks Sameer, carting the next one to the fence for a straightforward victory.

The joyful NCC team, apparently with somewhere to go, promptly delivered a cool box full of Feldschlösschen and the remains of the picnic to the MCC dressing room and departed the scene. With 5 drivers and Maria waiting back in Freiburg, there was no time to enjoy the drink or the scenery.

As always, an evening in Freiburg is a warm-up for O’Kelly’s. Maria’s and Martinsbräu were enjoyed with minimal fuss before the main event – a small round before the sleepy crew returned to the accommodation even earlier than the night before. A notable fines session led by Suckit did however raise sufficient funds to cover a proper feast to entertain the Novartis team on the forthcoming visit to Munich – money well spent after their hospitality over the past 4 years.

A cloudy morning greeted the touring party at the Seeparkstadion in Freiburg on Sunday. Just maybe the Gods would spare us from the inferno witnessed last year as the advanced pitch comprising of 40% plastic and 60% sand steadily came up to its optimal temperature. Skipper for the day Suckit lost a vital toss as our hosts elected to field in the more comfortable conditions and deprive the tourists of a preview of how their new Flicx laid on the notoriously dead surface would play. Unsurprisingly, it was a little low and slow.

Impressed by yesterday’s expert display of running between the wickets, Suckit sent Sameer and Karthik in to open the innings, expecting them to run themselves out in the first over. Disappointingly, the terrible twosome got stuck into the task admirably and saw off the opening spells of last year’s match winners Naveen and Basil before Karthik finally swung the bat at one and was caught at deep cover in the 7th over for a dogged 3. Max was similarly watchful on the slow track, falling 4 overs later for a tidy 0, Sameer eventually losing patience with a swing and a miss to a straight one from the economical Bhanu. With 11 overs done, MCC had amassed 22/3. 40 overs on a dead pitch is a long time to bat, and scoring would be hard for both sides. One player who made it look easy last year, Ritwik, having been the only member of the MCC not to bat in match 1, was joined by Deep, mercifully without the threat of last year’s umpire to ruin his day.

The duo set about the unenviable task of increasing the scoring rate while not taking risks. Making the task look easy, an elegant partnership of nearly 50 in 11 overs took shape before Ritu got an unlucky horrible spoony leading edge to fall for a well-made 14. Not to worry – the platform had been improved immeasurably and Deep was set at the other end as Such strode out to bat, eager to make amends for his duck on the same ground last year. Alas, and there are many versions of the story, your scribe is unsure of whether the skipper left a straight one or whether his bat got tangled in his under-sized pads, but the result was an ugly pile of stumps. In-form Vish was next to fall, a thigh-strain-come-cramp preventing him from getting bat on another straight one. 73/6 with almost half the overs still to come and a so many number-11 batsmen that we needed 12 positions in the order to accommodate them. Yesterday’s left-handed opener provided able support to Deep for the second 46-run partnership of the day before missing a Basil special. Enter Raji – our ringer who professed, like all Aussies, to not really being a cricketer. With Deep falling soon after his arrival for a superb 51, Raji set about marshalling the 3 rabbits to try and turn 121/8 into a competitive total in the time that remained. Unfortunately the 3 number-11s offered just 2 runs between them and Raji perished attempting to hit a few quick ones, very well caught by Naveen with a below-par 141 on the board.

The good news was that lunch had been ordered. A feast of tikka wraps and Mango lassis from the local Pakistani restaurant was duly delivered, and fuelled with more salt and fat than even the worst nutritionist would prescribe under an increasingly hot sun, a semi-confident MCC side went into the field. Deprived of a regular wicket-keeper due to the aforementioned injury, Sameer bravely offered to stand behind the stumps.

With a superior knowledge of the conditions and no little skill, the Nomads’ opening pair started strongly against the new ball, ably hitting the bad ones to the fence and taking almost no risks. The innings would ultimately be determined by a tired attack being unable to string 6 good balls together to join the ample dots. After Gloria was finally able to bowl a tidy over, Mahesh was the first to fall, skying one unnecessarily, Deep coming to the rescue from cover and gobbling a catch on the run ahead of a static keeper and a bowler who purportedly lost the ball in the Breisgau sun despite not removing his shades for the entire weekend. Dipak was serenely going about his business at the other end, playing the model innings and flaying the ball to the adjacent fences with ease. It took something of a miracle grab by Gloria at cover to send him back to the sheds – a miracle in that the man has not taken a catch in about 2 years and also that it was seemingly en route to inflicting some serious damage on the onlooking spectators. Nobody present has any idea how it stuck, but stick it did, and MCC had been handed a lifeline. Even more pace was taken off the ball for the next few overs, with Max, Such and Deep attempting to bore the opposition into playing a rash shot. The strategy was a good one, with the 3rd wicket partnership scoring at a painfully slow rate for 10 overs when the rash shot finally came, Venky caught and bowled Deep, swiftly followed by Bhanu, blessed with the bonus of an hour to digest his paneer butter masala, who was taken joyously at long-off. The plan had worked, and FNCC were 69/4 in the 18th over, bums squeaking all around.

Step up the previously pedestrian Ravi, seemingly realising all of a sudden that he had a dinner date with Katy Perry in Karlsruhe that evening. Having scored almost nothing off his first 40 balls, he and the incoming Sai put on 40 in the next 6 overs, including a brutally picked-up lofted drive over mid-wicket for six, by some distance the best shot of the day. When he fell playing one too many shots to Mayank for 24, FNCC needed just 32 off 16 overs with Naveen joining the party. Picking up where the openers had left off a while before, both players calmly defended the good ones and punished the bad ones to knock off the remaining runs without breaking sweat and inside 31 overs. Rather like last year, MCC were 30 short of par and the Nomads were too good for us in familiar conditions.

The Grumpy head was generously returned to Suckit’s custody until next time, familiar but heartfelt speeches were delivered, and the FNCC crew stuck around to a man to share a beer or two with the few non-drivers in the MCC side.

As the 5-strong motorcade prepared its load balancing to minimise unnecessary detours around the Landeshauptstadt later, the traditional discussion of which route to take was enjoyed with gusto. Bodensee or Karlsruhe? Given the late hour and the ample horsepower on display, surely there was only one route home. The duck car, so-called due to the absence of a single run secured on the day by its combined three occupants, enjoyed the most eventful of the otherwise weary return journeys. Firstly opting against the Bodensee route in favour the one via the Ostsee, the crew members were alerted by the alarmingly frequent references to Darmstadt on nearby roadsigns before adjusting the minor error on the GPS and heading for Herzogstraße in Munich as opposed to the one in Düsseldorf (pictured).

Informed of the unnecessarily circuitous route taken by the probably uninsured, 20-year old Polish car with 2 4-foot-something men in the front and a grandfather in the back seat, all wearing pink shirts, the certain drug-dealers were unsurprisingly intercepted by the Baden Württemberg traffic authorities.

“We’ve been playing cricket this weekend, officer.” “Ah really? Any of you score any runs today, lads?”

Novartis CC 185 all out 39.3 overs  
AK George 60
AP Venu 37   R Banerjee 3/34
Munich CC 189/8 34.3 overs  
D Kotru 48
V Bhatia 48
S Desai 27   VP Manoharan 2/45  
Munich CC won by 2 wickets Bachgraben, Basel  
Munich CC 141/11 38.2 overs  
D. Kotru 51   HS Ramesh 3/23
Freiburg Nomads 142/5 31.0 overs  
R Teja 38*
SS Soundarajan 24
N Arunachalam 20*   M Shekhawat 2/28  
Freiburg Nomads won by 5 wickets Seeparkstadion, Freiburg i. Breisgau  
Gloria Hall, Mrs.