Uncertainty was the one word that seemed to sum up most aspect's of today's game against the combined Hardwick and Shepreth second XI. The entire week had seen conditions vary between glorious sunshine and torrential downpours on an hourly basis, and the venue for the game was changed to Trinity Hall's Wichfield site a mere 24 hours prior to the first ball being bowled.
And when the first ball was bowled, a vicious cross-wind dragged it two feet across the pitch, from middle stump (well, maybe) to being close to a wide. The wind made things difficult for both batsmen and bowlers, but while the rain held off the latter had the upper hand. We were justifiably happy at drinks: Hardwick/Shepreth had been restricted to 46/1 off their first 20 overs: Daniel Mortlock (1/29 and eventually able to get some balls on line by aiming a few feet outside leg), Rog Shelley (0/23 and once again consistently pitching the ball on a very difficult length) and Andy Owen (2/22, including a brilliant return catch off a cleanly-struck drive) had all been tight, and the fielding had been fantastic, with at most two runs given away and many more than that saved.
After drinks, however, several things changed at much the same time: the rains came, soaking the ball and the ground; the fielding lost its intensity (to the point where a few easy chances went down); the batsmen started to play more aggressively; consequently the bowling became a looser under the increased pressure. We also had to call on some of our part-time bowlers, with Nigel Arnold (1/34, including a wicket first ball), Giovanni Giacobbe (2/22, including a wicket off a ball that bounced twice) and Paul Henderson (2/16 through the pouring rain) all sending down their first deliveries of the year. By the end of the innings it was all a bit anarachic, Hardwick/Shepreth easily scoring at more than a run a ball, but special mention must be made of Ev Fox (keeping being a nightmare with the wind blowing so many balls wide of the stumps) and Phil Marshall and Rod Dennis (who patrolled the boundaries all day whilst barely putting a foot wrong).
We came into tea a pretty sodden bunch, but were somewhat bouyed by a 9/10 tea that included yummy little pies and more keesh, together with classics like the ham sandwich. (There was tuna, but no you-know-what.) The rain continued during tea, even becoming hail at one point, but as yet we thought we'd be a fair chance to get the 178 needed for victory, and so weren't praying for the bad weather to settle in.
We soon were. Shepreth bowled perfectly in the conditions -- with the ball keeping low, if it was on the stumps the batsmen would eventually miss one. And indeed we did, although more ``regularly'' than ``eventually''. Phil Marshall, third out for 11, returned to the pavilion and noted wryly that he was top-scorer (so far). However he almost remained so: the rest of us came and went without putting up much resistence at all, and Andy Owen (last out for 17 after stone-walling for much of the innings) was the only other player to make it into double figures. And the team made it only to a measly 70. In short we were thrashed. And, in the space of two weeks, talk of possible promotion turned to possible relegation. Surely not?