Cricket, as we all know, is not just about skill and speed, but also style and grace. And it was with his own particular style and grace that Andy took his shirt off for the coin toss in an apparently successful attempt to intimidate his opposite number: so perturbed was the Harlton captain that, having called correctly, he couldn't remember whether he wanted to bat or bowl, so had to go back to his team for counselling before the inevitable result that we were to field first.
We also fielded first the last time we played this team and endured a 162-run opening partnership, with Harlton's cheeky Welsh import smashing an awesome century. He was one of the two openers facing us today, which didn't auger well, but both could have been out in the first few overs as Andy Owen (2/30) delivered a few maiden overs and Daniel Mortlock (1/47) induced edges from both batsmen that didn't quite go to hand.
Having survived this onslaught both batsmen started to hit out, with the result that we spent the hottest part of the day forlornly chasing the ball to the boundary and fishing it out of the various hedges that surround the ground. Just like last week it was Vince Higgs and Arnie Garside who tirelessly patrolled the straight boundaries, watching the ball carefully into their hands safe in the knowledge that it would take a last-second deflection off the bumpy ground and they'd have to stop it with a knee or a nipple or worse. And just like the last four weeks we endured a century partnership - after 21 overs Harlton had cruised to 106/0 and it looked like another match was slipping through our fingers.
And it probably would have if the second ball of the 22nd over had slipped through Rich Savage's fingers: Russell Woolf (2/30) had slowed the scoring with his nagging length and induced a rash slog which flew off the outside edge and past Rich's left hand at slip . . . except that he somehow managed to react fast enough to grasp the ball an inch above the ground. Our Welsh nemesis headed back to the pavilion with 52 to his name and a look of disbelief on his face; we all ran to congratulate Rich on taking the best catch I've seen in my four seasons with Romsey. (And Rog Shelley, out due to last week's injury, smiled quietly to himself as it was only he who knew that it was his arrival at the ground which had changed the direction of the game.)
Whereas the first twenty overs saw 96 runs scored and no wickets taken, we took 7/78 in the next twenty (and it could have been even better if we'd taken more than three of the dozen-or-so chances that came our way). The principal architects of this turn-around were Russ, who bowled maybe two bad balls in his ten-over spell, George Speller (2/59), who had the other opener caught for 49 and was too fast for the weak Harlton middle order, and Andy, who took 2/15 in his second spell. So instead of chasing a total of 226, 200 or 249 (as had been the case the last three weeks), we had a rather manageable target of 174. Combined with the overheard comment "We'll need to score 600 today to win this match as we've only got one bowler" we had more than a taste of a potential victory . . . which complemented Andy and Denise's plentiful tea - no "two sandwiches and one cake only" signs today.
Harlton's one bowler was certainly fast, but after four overs he'd pulled a muscle and they were down to part-timers. Tony Desimone and Rich Savage made the most of this situation putting together a 80 run opening partnership in just 13 overs. Tony was taking most of the strike and making most of the runs, and after Rich was dismissed for a well-made 20, Phil Marshall took up the supporting role. Even though Phil got himself out for 22 in just the manner bet on by Andy at the start of the season, he left with the team in a surely impregnable position, needing just 60 runs to win in 18 overs - surely even Romsey couldn't lose the game from here?
Don't worry - even though we lost a few more silly wickets, Tony was scoring with ease and the Harlton players' body language revealed the fact that they thought the contest was over as well. Paradoxically, this was the most exciting part of the game. Whilst there was no doubt we were going to win comfortably, some quick maths revealed that Tony was a pretty good chance to get a century.
It must have been a bit frustrating for the Harlton fielders to see Tony's new partner, George, refusing singles and hitting wide balls, but as the victory became more inevitable there were fewer and fewer spare runs to play with if we were going to see a century scored. The 32nd over began with Tony on 95 and just 6 needed for victory - George scored an accidental single to hand over the strike and then Tony whacked his sixteenth boundary to tie the scores, leaving himself two more balls to get the one more run both he and the team needed. On the boundary we were probably more excited about the imminent milestone than the man himself was, and there were a few nervous comments along the lines of "Imagine if there was a wide bowled now" which were quickly hush-hushed as the bowler ran in again.
The ball speared down legside . . . Tony rotated to knock it down to square leg . . . but it was too wide and he missed . . . surely there couldn't be a bye - no the keeper got across to it . . . and then there was movement from the other end of the pitch . . . and we watched in horror as the umpire's hands began to rise . . . NoooooOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! . . . But still they rose until he turned to the scorers, posed like Jesus on the cross, and uttered the words that could easily have resulted in his very own crucifixion: "Wide ball."
We didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but Tony got the year's biggest round of applause as he walked off the ground and, truth be told, we were all ecstatic to have scored such a comprehensive victory. We headed off to the bar to try and find an extra run somewhere in the scorebook, and it was there, in the social club at Bayer Cropscience, that the miracle occured. It was determined that, all the way back in the fifth over of the innings, a leg glance by Tony had been called as a leg bye, despite the fact that Tony, the square leg umpire and the Harlton 'keeper all agreed that he'd hit the ball. After some consultation between the captains it was agreed to change the scorebook to reflect this fact and so Tony Desimone headed home with a richly deserved "100 not out" beside his name.