Normally the score appears in the heading of these reports, but today's result was so extrordinary that it will have to wait until the end. If you care only about the destination but nothing for the journey then by all means page down and find out what happened; otherwise just hang on -- it's a bumpy ride.
And a ride which starts two weeks ago (if not before) when we beat Cambridge/Godmanchester IV, a result which meant that our fate was in our hands: a win today against bottom-of-the-league Bayer CropScience would guarantee us another season in Division 2. Thus when Andy won the toss we had a good hard think before deciding to break the habit of a lifetime and bat first.
At first this appeared to be a flawed decision: we lost a quick wicket and Ev Fox and Rod Dennis had to bat carefully in the face of some pretty good bowling. After 14 overs we'd recovered to 52/1 but a big total still looked a long way off.
Then things started to swing our way: the first Bayer bowler began to tire and the other, Andy Pearl, came to the end of his remarkable spell of 10 overs, 5 maidens, 1/15. Ev and Rod, having played themselves in, were thus in a perfect position to make the most of some poor bowling, increasing the scoring rate without taking many risks. Rod, in particular, went on a bit of a rampage, hitting 35 off 17 balls as he passed the half century mark. He looked set for a really big innings before playing across a straight one to be bowled for an invaluable 63 off 81 balls (with 9 fours). Ev and Rod had put on 127 in 26 overs during which we'd gone from a position of uncertainty to a position of considerable strength.
The new batsman, Andy Owen, took up where Rod had left off, flaying the numerous short balls to the square boundaries and almost catching up with Ev at one stage. They too managed a century stand (110 runs in 83 balls), Andy smashing a remarkable 67* off 42 balls (with 4 fours and 4 sixes). Ev had tired a little, but was on 90 as the final over of the innings began. Unfortunately he didn't manage to complete his century -- unlike the most unfortunate of the Bayer bowlers who, due to a shortage of options, had to keep plugging away 'til his ten overs had cost 103 runs -- but it scarcely mattered as fantastic Mr Fox was clapped from the ground having made 91* off 112 balls (with 10 fours).
The team's total of 247/2 seemed to represent a brilliant vindication of our decision to bat first, and surely meant we had established a winning position. We tucked into Denise's tasty tea happily trying to work out the most amusing way to conclude sentences starting with ``Well, if we can't win this one then . . .''
We took to the field still dreaming about quick victories until the above-mentioned Andy Pearl snapped us back into the present by smashing the first ball of the innings for a straight six.
That, unfortunately was the story of the game for the next twenty overs: Andy Pearl smashing ball after ball high into the air. If they went over the boundary on the full he scored six runs; this happened nine times. If they bounced over the boundary he scored four runs; this happened just seven times. If the ball went between the fielders he scored one or two runs (never three); this happened about thirty times. If the ball went to a fielder he scored just the one run; this happend six times. And that was the problem: we dropped him six fucking times. It would be far quicker to list the few players not involved in at least one of these incidents (especially if you count a few multi-car pile-ups that resulted from non-existant calling), not that such a roll-call would serve any purpose. Outfield catches are never easy at the best of times and, after the first few drops, the pressure on the fielders only increased: as you were waiting for the ball to come down from the stratosphere how could you fail to think about the previous occasions near-identical chances had gone begging earlier in the innings?
In a touch of cruel irony, we eventually had Pearl caught (an almost insulting simple catch to Ev Fox at slip) but not until the contest was effectively over. The score was 194/2 in the 23rd over and Pearl had scored a remarkable -- if lucky -- 118 off 69 balls (with, as mentioned above, 7 fours and 9 sixes). His first fifty had taken 37 balls; his second fifty just 18. None of us could quite believe the regularity with which he'd flicked balls to (or over) the square leg boundary; it wasn't textbook and it wasn't pretty to watch, but then again the aim of batting is not to look good on televesion, it's to score runs, and that's just what he'd done.
If we'd taken one of those early catches it's doubtful that the other Bayer batsmen would have been able to score at the required rate for the required time, and we would have won the game. As it was they capitalised on our demoralised state, and we conceded a grand total of 34 boundaries during the 30.2 overs that the innings lasted.
We bowled reasonably well, and both Nigel Arnold (1/26) and Alfie Wilmshurt (1/48) struck in their first overs (before receiving the same harsh treatment as the rest of us). Our catching was, as mentioned above, torturous, but the ground-fielding was mostly pretty good. Mike Scanlon, Phil Marshall, Rod Dennis and Dave Clark all put in a hard day's work in the outfield, although there wasn't much for the in-fielders to do beyond watching the ball sail over our heads time and time again.
Some of the faithful stayed afterwards to have a drink, but most of us left quickly, keen to escape to happier surrounds, even if it was impossible to stop oneself pondering just how we'd managed to undo a season's work in the space of an hour or so. It was hard not to think about the day's events long after the match was completed, and a couple of questions maybe bear further consideration.
Firstly, was today's Bayer team at all representative of the sides that have won just one other match this season? Obviously we're in no position to provide a definitive answer to that question, but today's loss really came down to a combination of one man's remarkable performance and our own ineptitude -- most probably Andy Pearl had hit quick twenties or thirties against other sides before missing a straight one or being caught. So that implies we don't think we have any grounds to feel unhappy about the opposition fielding an unrepresentatively good team or anything along those lines.
Could we, however, perhaps raise a collective eyebrow at that fact that there was an opposition at all? Bayer, you see, had defaulted several matches earlier in the season and the beneficieries of their troubles just happened to include the two teams with which we've been battling to avoid relegation: they defaulted matches against both Cambridge/Godmanchester IV (now third last) and Harlton (now fourth from bottom). Certainly a default today would have been beneficial to our cause, but hopefully we'd all rather have played -- and won -- than stayed up due to a freebie. (And it must be admitted that we did get a free twenty points courtesy of Whittlesford's administrative stuff-up at the start of the season, so the fact that all three of us bottom-feeders trying to avoid relegation have received a free 20 points seems to have cancelled out.)
Why, however, didn't we get to play our other game against Bayer at all? The match was cancelled due to ``pitch condition'', but at best this was a premature Friday night decision: the ground seemed fine on the Saturday (according to one of our number who drove past it) and only two other CCA games were cancelled, the rest being played in glorious sunshine. This just happened to be during the period when Bayer were defaulting or being thrashed week after week, so while it's hard not to be a bit suspicious, there was maybe there was nothing more to it than some conservative groundkeeping.
Does all this sound like sour grapes to you? Certainly does to me -- it almost defies belief to have felt so deflated after what was, in the end, just a game of cricket.
Finally, for those few of you who haven't turned away in disgust, the score: