After a week of intermittent rain and grey clouds, we were greeted by a Saturday of intermittent rain and grey clouds which somehow allowed us to play a rather intermittent and grey cricket match. The Harlton ground and pitch were much the same -- lots of undulations, a pronounced slope and sticky to the touch -- and seemed likely to lend the opposition a fairly significant home-ground advantage.
Just how much of an advantage became clear when their two openers -- both left-handers -- started scoring freely from the first over, making particular use of the inevitable leg-side balls that were delivered. Neither Andy Owen (0/36) nor Daniel Mortlock (0/42) looked too likely to get a wicket, although the latter dropped a fairly regulation caught-and-bowled chance that was probably the single most important moment of the game. The batsmen in question, an overly loquacious chap of dubious Welshness who had decided to hit out from the start of his innings, was only 30-odd at the time. He ended up scoring 125, and the opening partnership yielded 162 runs in 27.3 heart-breaking overs.
Once the opening partnership had been broken, however, we started to claw our way back into game, mainly through the slow left-arm bowling of one Russell Woolf, who bagged 5/61 by sticking to a nagging line and length. (The fact that he was a little expensive is also a bit misleading -- 40 overs at that rate would yeild 244 runs, it is true, but the implied innings score would be just 122 all out, so in the context of a limited overs game he was both penetrating and economical.) We did well to keep our heads up during this period -- okay, they might have dropped a little -- but going to tea with a target of 227 was a lot better than it looked like being an hour or so earlier.
During tea the weather got worse, and the first third of our innings was marred by rain interruptions and a sodden pitch. We scored steadily during this phase of the game, maybe not quite getting full value for the full tosses that the Harlton bowlers seemed curiously keen on, but had reached a pretty comfortable 107/3 at (what should have been) drinks. Tony Desimone (11) and Rod Dennis (14) had both been dismissed after getting starts, but now Neal Baker-Davis (already close to yet another half century, even if he hadn't quite recaptured last season's magical form) and Andy Owen were batting well together. Indeed, by the time they'd taken us to 152/3 after 26 overs (i.e., 75 needed off 84 balls with 7 wickets in hand) we seemed well on the road to a come-from-behind victory.
But then disaster struck: in the space of a few overs Andy was caught on the boundary for 26, Daniel got bowled by a shooter for a well-made 0 and, most importantly, Neal was dismissed for an invaluable 88. The new equation was 58 needed off 60 balls with just 4 wickets remaining; in other words Harlton were winning again.
Malcolm Creek (25* after great work behind the stumps) and Paul Henderson (12) went some way to steadying the ship, and took us to 203 without further loss, despite the increasingly erratic bounce off the waterlogged pitch. With 24 needed off 24 balls it was an even game, or maybe the pendulum had even swung our way . . .
. . . and then, once again, we lost three quick wickets for a handful of runs. Despite the best efforts of Harlton's precocious young seamer, who delivered a flurry of wides, Malcolm and Tim Taylor (1* on debut for Romsey) couldn't get the 14 we needed off the final over and Harlton won by 10 runs.
There wasn't really time for a proper post-mortem -- it was 7:40pm by the time the last ball was bowled -- but I suspect most of us headed home contemplating missed opportunities. In the cold light of day, however, we'd had a pretty even match with one of 2002's Division 2 survivors, despite giving them a huge head-start: not too shabby, really. The only real problem, I think, was our inability to get early wickets which, ominously, was a ``feature'' of the our previous season at this level.