The early risers (or late night partiers) amongst us were greeted by a perfect morning, and some of the more foolish of us even made mention of the fact that we hadn't lost even a minute's play to rain all season. Thus it was almost predestined that a steady shower would begin just as play was supposed to start and that we'd spent the next 20 minutes with covers on the pitch. The rain never looked like settling in, however, and we were out on the field practising slide-stops on the wet Fitzwilliam grass before too long.
Romsey was, of course, bowling first, but before play Whittlesford joined us on the field to observe a minute's silence in memory of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the two Cambridgeshire girls whose abduction and murder had so horrified the nation these last few weeks. Maybe these cricket matches aren't quite as important as they sometimes feel.
With such a sombre prelude it was no surprise that the game took a while to get going, and the first half of Whittlesford's innings produced very little drama. Andy Owen was as tight as ever from his end, even getting a rare LBW decision, but Daniel Mortlock (0/39) didn't trouble the batsmen in the least, and it was only impeccable fielding that kept his figures civilised. Indeed, the only reason Whittlesford was 69/2 (and not more) after 20 overs was the excellent work from the whole team in the field: Neal Baker hurling awesome throws from the boundary; Phil Marshall panther-like at point again; Malcolm Creek repeatedly getting over to take leg-side deliveries with style; Paul Henderson diving about at backward square; Nigel Arnold's Aussie rules-style chest mark to effect the second wicket; and Rod Dennis and Rog Shelley patiently waiting for the outside edge. There was even innovation in the field today: every time there was even the slightest chance that the batsmen might get a second run Tony would shout out "You've got it in your hand" (before the fielder had reached the ball) and "Don't hold onto it!" (when there was nothing to hold onto) and "great throw" (with the fielder still a few yards from the ball). It might sound ridiculous but it worked brilliantly, the batsmen missing out on about a dozen second and third runs as they hesititated in case Tony's outlandish claims were true. The only time the system broke down was when Tony himself fielded the ball, as no-one else provided the commentary (although it's not clear why wouldn't have been able to get away with doing his own ficticious calling). But whilst all this great fielding was great for containment purposes, the only way we were going to ensure a small target was to get a few wickets.
And boy did we. First to taste success was Neal Baker (3/26), who kept the batsmen on the back foot with a succession of short-pitched balls before putting in a few excellent yorkers that rattled the stumps. Then Alfie Wilmshurst (3/32) got in on the act, getting his nagging deliveries on that awkward length and inducing enough impatient shots to get his own bundle of wickets. But what Alfie really seemed to want was a maiden over (and he would have gotten one too, but for Neal's "accidental" fielding lapse that just happened to ensure that Alfie's figures were that little bit more expensive than his own). Finally Andy (4/25) came back on and dealt with the Whittlesford tail, the "run out of ideas" ball even claiming a wicket at one stage. In the end Andy missed out on both a hat trick and a five-for (jug avoidance again), leaving Malcolm to finish things off with a tidy stumping off Alfie that meant we'd dismissed yet another team before they'd used up their 40 overs.
Tea was pretty good, apparently - the first few into the bar ate the majority of the sarnies before the late-comers could even get a look-in - so a conditional 8/10 seems fair. Or maybe it wasn't so good as the opposition seemed pretty keen to get into the field rather than digest their meals. We did delay them a little to take the team photograph shown below, but soon our pursuit of Whittlesford's medicore total of 134 was underway.
And after about ten overs it was clear that we were going to win in a canter. Following on from their century opening stand last week, Tony Desimone and Neal Baker set about a repeat performance. After a few overs just getting a feel for the pitch first Tony and then Neal broke loose, bringing up the 50 partnership in the 11th over and the century partnership in the 19th. After his early flurry Tony settled into a rhythm, combining the Club (TM) through cover with leg glances, and rotating the strike with ease. At the other end Neal (possibly showing off to his attendant wife, Sharon) played another glorious innings, dominated by some incredibly powerful drives and stylish cut shots.
When drinks were brought out Neal had made it to 73, but with only another 20-odd needed to win there was no way he'd be able to get a century, even if Tony conspired to dead-bat the rest of his innings. Tony, however, was on 31, so if there was any fiddling to be done it would have been more appropriate to try and give him the chance of making to fifty (especially given his near miss last week). In the end, it's pleasing to report, they both just got on with batting, and we won with 17 overs to spare, Tony finishing up on 41 not out and Neal with 85 not out, the highest score for Romsey since 1999.
It was champagne and beer all round in the dressing room, today's win having guaranteed us a top-two finish and promotion to Division 2 next year. And the fact that we've won half a dozen matches as comfortably as we did today's illustrates that we've become a tight enough unit to play at least at that level. What's more, having ensured promotion with one game still to go means a chance to change the batting and bowling rosters next week, although I think we've got sufficient depth that we'll be able to do just as well with the team's less displayed talents on show. So next Saturday's match should be especially enjoyable, and the same goes for the serious drinking and curry-eating to follow.