The arrival of yet another grey Saturday wasn't inspiring, and rain was forecast over most of the land, so the smart money was on yet another wash-out. Nevertheless the Romsey convoy headed south to Linton and spent a little time inspecting the squat and rather bumpy ground.
Having lost the toss yet again, Linton asked us to bat, and we started off pretty nicely. Tony Desimone played aggressively for 22 but fell to a sharp catch in the covers off a ball he'd middled, whereas Ev Fox played the anchor role, accumulating a stylish 41, highlighted by a number of nicely timed pulls and glances. At drinks we'd got to 80-odd, but then tight bowling by Linton's change bowlers saw us struggle to 100/3 after 30 overs and suddenly 200 was out of the question. At this stage Ev was still in and Neal Baker had been playing carefully, pushing a few singles and twos. There was certainly no sign that we were about to witness probably the innings of season from Neal -- he cut loose in the last ten overs, smashing a glorious 72*, comprised mainly of drives in the ``V'' between mid-on and mid-off. Two in particular were hit so hard that we couldn't actually see the ball fly to the boundary, and Neal apparently claimed he ``didn't even middle them''. There was also some useful late-innings support from Andy Owen and Rich Savage, but that was made it to 188/5 was basically down to Neal's uninhibited innings. After a difficult season it was great to see him play the sort of innings he alone is capable of; it was also just great to watch anyone bat like that.
The tea was never going to match up to the exhibition we'd just seen, but it actually went pretty close -- certainly the best of the season, highlighted by BLT sandwiches (or "sarnies" as they seem to be called in this strange country) and scones with jam and cream. 9/10 for sure, and there was even the added bonus of a TV showing Glenn McGrath on his way to another five-wicket haul.
Despite some rain during the tea break (and the incessant pealing of churchbells -- the reason being a wedding that at least one of us attended later in the evening) Linton's innings started without delay, and so did their run-scoring. They were 21/0 after 3 overs, mainly due to Daniel Mortlock's first 2 overs of poor wrist-spin. Fortunately redemption was at hand, his next 8 overs of medium pace yielding just 10 runs. At the other end both Andy Owen (3/45) and Neal Baker (2/33) found the ideal length on this variable pitch and were unlucky to get just the five wickets between them -- a few half-chances and close LBWs could easily have gone the other way. That said, at 20 overs Linton had scored just as many runs as we had, and the match was clearly in the balance. The next ten overs were crucial and Neal and Rog Shelley (0/39 also unlucky with half-chances) kept the score to about 110 at the 30-over mark. From here on in the required run-rate just kept increasing, and it became clear that we were going to be able to hold Linton in check. This was no mean feat, as they had fielded a very strong team and had the extra motivation of trying to avoid relegation.
That the bowlers did well is evidenced by their tidy figures, but what they don't show is that this was one of our best ever fielding efforts. Even though the ball was hit hard and the ground was bumpy there were very few misfields and our catching was excellent -- all the easy chances were taken and Arnie Garside, Paul Henderson and Andy Owen all went close to taking miraculous catches. All through the innings Paul, Rich Savage, Phil Bradford and Rod Dennis covered the straight boundaries immaculately, constantly keeping the batsmen to singles. Our throwing was also up to scratch, with Tony Desimone and Phil getting a few direct hits (although the former also managed to end up chasing his tail once or twice). The only blemishes came in the last over when the match was already won -- Neal, proving himself human afterall, missed a sharp chance on the square boundary, and Ev Fox, behind the stumps, relaxed one over too early and apparently owes Andy some alcohol. Even though it was a match that we'll probably remember most for Neal's great individual performance, it was one that we won by being the better team and giving 100% in the field -- the final margin of 20 runs was easily accounted for by the endless great saves that were made.