The momentum built up during our mid-season run (seven wins in eight games) had been well and truly lost through a combination of a bad loss against Little Shelford two weeks ago and then a cricket-free Saturday. Fortunately our competitors for promotion had also been losing, so we came into today's game knowing that two wins from our last three matches would be enough to drag ourselves up from the quagmire of Division 3. Today's opposition, Longstowe II, were already out of the race for promotion, but were also likely to be difficult to beat with the inevitable addition of some of their first team (who didn't have a match today) to their ranks. There's also the small matter of the niggling rivalry that's developed between the two clubs over the last few years; it's not clear to me that it makes either side play any better, but it certainly means there will be no quarter given out in the middle. Thus it would have been nice to be in the familiar surrounds of our home ground at Wilberforce Road, but instead we were marooned in Girton, only a decent hit away from the badlands of the Fens.
Longstowe won the toss and chose to bat (for lack of a better idea, as far as I can gather), meaning we had to field during the only two hours of the day that the temperature was above 32 degrees. It was certainly hot work fielding, but great fun bowling with the humidity and strong wind giving a lot of lateral movement.
Andy Owen opened with a remarkably accurate spell, giving the batsmen no room and ending up with the amazing figures of 1/11 (off 10 overs, 5 of which were maidens). At the other end Daniel Mortlock (1/22) combined wind-assisted out-swingers with googlies pretty well, but not effectively enough to prevent the better of the two Longstowe openers making a careful half century. If nothing else his innings demonstrated why you can't bowl short on these slow tracks: anything outside his third of the pitch and he'd cross-bat the ball to a boundary of his choosing; anything he should have come forward to and he'd shuffle across the crease like a mentally-challenged deer in the headlights of an oncoming twelve-wheeler. (Sorry for the vitriol; I'm just bitter 'cos I couldn't get him out.)
We went through a bit of a bad patch in the middle of the innings, the first change bowlers trying to bowl just a bit too fast (and succeeding in bowling just a bit too short), allowing Longstowe to get to 99/1 in the 25th over. With so many wickets in hand they would have been justified in expecting to get to 200 or so, but Andy changed the bowling around to find the right combination, and we really closed things down in the last third of the innings.
Neal Baker (1/55) was hit about a bit in his first spell, but came back well in his second stint, as well as getting a fantastic direct hit run out from point. At the other end Alfie Wilmshurst (2/43) came back from a few poor overs to once again get crucial wickets against Longstowe; however being connoisseur he only dismissed first team players. The first of these was certainly the most bizarre ball of the day: from the hand it looked like being a wide long hop, but then it turned in a huge amount (possibly hitting and killing one of the Emmanuel worm's relatives), completely beat the batsman and hit the stumps about an inch off the ground. In the end the only bowler who went wicketless was Paul Henderson (0/15), but that was due to yours truly bungling a pretty simple out-field catch (if it's any consolation my punishment for this is being unable to type properly today). But that blemish aside we made very few mistakes in the field, with Phil Marshall brilliant again at point, Rod Dennis and Arnie Garside 100 per cent reliable on the long boundaries and Tony Desimone fearless close to the bat. The sum of all our efforts was that Longstowe only just got past the 150-mark for maximum batting points, finishing on 157/6.
Whilst Girton provided the ground, tea was our responsibility, and one that was shouldered brilliantly by Rod's partner, Shane, and her mother. They provided a delicious combination of sandwiches, savouries and cakes sufficient not only to feed us cricketers, but also the two football teams that had been mad enough to play in the August heat. What's more there were no ``old ladies' teeth'' to be seen (Shane having been pre-warned about the sweet-corn issue), so it has to be 11/10.
That mark also seems pretty appropriate for our batting performance today, and in particular Neal's innings in the unaccustomed role of opener. 157 wasn't a particularly challenging target, but Romsey has often stumbled in front of lower hurdles, so it's a bit hard to relax until there are a few runs on the board. But today it was just a joy to watch Neal and Tony rip the bowling to shreds. They shared a 114-run partnership that took just 17 overs (i.e., 102 balls), with Neal brutal anywhere in the arc between point and square leg and Tony happy to give him the strike with a combination of ``clubs'' (that cut-like shot through the covers) and leg glances. We all thought Neal was on for what would have been a well-deserved century, but on 75 he played only his third loose shot of the day and was caught at point. (And if it's any cosolation, Neal, the fielder mangled his finger in the process.)
Tony, nearing his half century, then took over the dominant role as Phil (12*, being careful not to get to 19) played himself in with a series of gentle singles. However the calling had become a bit anarchic, leading to a few near run outs and one particularly enthusiastic throw giving Tony a 5. And then, like something out of a Greek tragedy, Tony was run out on 49; cruel enough in itself after such a great innings, but even moreso when most of the opposition later admitted that they thought he'd made his ground.
Even though it was a little disappointing for Neal and Tony to have missed out on their individual marks, we were all pretty happy with the way the run chase had gone. Phil and Rog Shelley (10* with two spanking straight drives for four) finished things off, and for the fourth time this season we'd won with more than a third of the innings remaining.
As the post-match discussion moved off to the local pub we could almost sniff the promised land of Division 2: one more win against either Whittlesford II or the still titter-inducing Helions Bumpstead and we're be certain of second place, and even if we lose both games we'd still be a fair chance to make it.