In the context of our continuing battle to retain our hard-earned place in Division 2, this game against Cambridge Godmanchester IV was Important (yes, with a capital ``I''). Bayer CropScience, yet to win a match, seem destined for wooden-spoondom, but ``Camgod'' (life's too short to type out ``Cambridge Godmanchester IV'' each time -- what is it with all these hyphenated te-ams?) isn't doing much better, and so it is imperative that we stay ahead of both these teams if we're not to be demoted. Thus the difference between winning and losing today was effectively doubled: a result in our favour would see the our league average up at a healthy 13.4 and theirs fall below 8; a loss would close the margin to less than three points.
With all this in mind, and given the rotten luck that has haunted Romsey's league exploits in recent years, it should hardly surprise you that Camchester were fielding their best team of the year, with the return of a number of young players post-exams. And, of course, we lost the toss and so found ourselves in the unfamiliar position of batting first . . .
Tony Desimone (24) and Rich Savage (14) made a spectacular start, scoring 30 runs off the first 20 balls and making excellent use of the short boundaries. But the opposition's bowlers came back well, and we played a few casual shots, the result being a classic Romsey collapse. After 20 overs we'd limped to 65/4 and suddenly even 150 seemed a long way off.
It fell to Ev Fox (50*) and Andy Owen (41) to bring us back into the game, and they spent the next ten overs pushing singles before hitting out (or, in Andy's case, into his own ear) towards the end of the innings. We lost a few wickets in the last few overs in the name of quick runs, but this suited George Speller just fine: having been bumped down to number eight he got to smash 17* off just 11 balls of tail-end mayhem.
178 was certainly a better total than appeared likely at the half-way mark, and maybe was enough on a slightly soft pitch. The game was most interestingly poised as we munched on a phenomenal tea (which included such tasty treats as garlic bread, raw onion, prawns and chicken wings and, most unusually, was totally devoid of sweetcorn).
We headed onto the field a little weighed-down, but there was no shortage of intensity, especially after Rich Savage took up where he left off last week, taking another great slips catch to remove one of the Godbridge openers. George Speller then upped the ante with a superb reaction catch at foolish mid-on and suddenly things looked pretty good with the opposition struggling at 35/3.
There followed a tense period during which Russell Woolf (4/44) and George Speller (2/25) kept the runs down but struggled to get the breakthrough that was clearly needed. The fielding continued to be near-flawless, with Tony making some great stops at slip, Arnie Garside, Phil Marshall and Rod Dennis saving maybe twenty runs on the boundary with smooth pick-ups and good throws, and Malcolm Creek letting through just three byes, despite the excessive movement gained by some of the bowlers. But the batsmen played sensibly and took the score onto 77/3 -- with 102 runs needed off 17 overs the game was well and truly in the balance. Who would crack first?
In the end it was one of Bridgechester batsmen who, having resisted the temptation for so long, tried to slog Russ across the line. He made a clean contact with the ball and it sailed into the wide open space on the leg-side . . . and straight to the one boundary fielder, placed there many overs ago and untroubled for so long. The batsman must have been kicking himself, especially when the rest of his teammates offered such little resistence -- none of them even made it into double figures. They clearly didn't know how to play Russ, and George was just too fast; by the time they'd finished their spells we had the match won.
Andy Owen (2/14) and Daniel Mortlock (2/31) then had a fairly enjoyable mopping up operation on their hands, and the final CGIV batsman was bowled with some five overs remaining. The only injustice was that their number four, having batted so carefully for thirty-odd overs, was left stranded on 49 not out.
Our three groupies politely applauded us from the ground and enjoyed a few cleansing lagers with the friendliest opposition of the year so far. Having moved up to 5th on the league table (and a solid 5.5 points clear of relegation), surely we can begin to feel confident of a place in Division 2 for the 2004 season?