The big day had arrived: third last (us) playing second last (Cambridge/Godmanchester IV or CG as they'll be called here) to avoid relegation to the badlands of Division 3. We went into the game feeling pretty confident, having beaten CG comfortably a few rounds back and having an almost full-strength side. The plan was to bat first, rack up a 250+ score, and then restrict the exhausted opposition to not-very-much.
Unfortunately we lost the toss and found ourselves staggering around the field for three hours in 35-degree heat. It was also exhausting for the batsmen, of course, and the conditions probably had something to do with neither side being able to gain the ascendancy for more than a few overs at a time.
At the half way mark CG were just 63/2 and Russell Woolf (0/30) and Neal Baker-Davis (0/43) had allowed a meagre 16 runs off the previous nine overs. The pressure on the batsmen was beginning to tell, and a desperate attempt to scavenge a quick single gave Rog Shelley the chance to effect a direct-hit run out (although he foolishly admitted he was actually trying to throw the ball back to the bowler).
A collapse seemed likely to follow, but we started to tire and the CG #3 and #4 batsmen started to take a few risks with some big drives and pulls. There were plenty of top edges which either fell just out of reach or were dropped, but it was clearly the right way to bat on a flat track with wickets in hand. Our fielding wasn't great, but Vince Higgs, Rod Dennis and Neal went closest to error-free performances, repeatedly restricting the batsmen to singles when easy twos seemed more likely.
In the last phase of the innings Andy Owen (0/44) and Daniel Mortlock (3/46) came back on but it made little difference, the edges and mishits continuing to the tune of 69 runs off the last ten overs.
We crawled off the field hot, thirsty, exhausted and a bit disappointed that CG had made it to 200, the target we'd failed to get near to last Saturday - and, indeed, a target we've never successfully chased. After a few pints of water and a bit of thought, however, our batting line-up seemed more than capable of chasing what was really a mediocre score given the conditions.
The early part of our innings was dominated by CG's big fast bowler sending bouncers over the batsmen's heads and debating no ball calls, the main result of which was that he rapidly became very tired. Meanwhile Tony Desimone (21 off 23 balls in his final innings of the season) and Rich Savage (7 off 20 balls) batted with the aggression the situation required, our run rate not once dropping below five an over. Phil Marshall (38 off 39 balls with some superb pulls) continued where the openers left off, and by the time he departed -- with the score at a healthy 93/3 in the 19th over -- we were in a winning position.
Andy Owen (42* off 75 balls) and Neal Baker-Davis (66* off 61 balls) then combined brilliantly to get the rest of the runs themselves, Andy playing carefully and rotating the strike whilst Neal produced yet another magnificent innings, scoring at will to all parts of the ground. (As a note to any Wisden fans in the audience, Neal's last six innings for Romsey have been 48, 75, 88*, 28, 88 and 66*: a total of 390 runs at a Bradmanesque average of 97.50. And Andy hasn't been doing so badly either: his last seven innings have been 50*, 13, 41, 7, 72*, 30* and 42*: a total of 255 runs at a Graham Smithesque average of 85.00.)
All this was a bit much for the fatigued CG fielders, and a look at their body language made it clear that they'd all but given up -- fielding through a chanceless 108-run partnership (in 17 overs) can't have been much fun.
A comfortable victory was no more than expected with such a strong line-up, but for most of the day it was a hard-fought match, and once again the CG players ensured a good-spirited game, even if no one on either team really had much energy for on-field banter. In terms of the all-important league table we've now opened up a 1.5-point gap between ourselves and the relegation zone and, although we're not yet ``home and hosed'', we are at least masters of our own destiny for a change.