Comberton I vs. Romsey Town

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Comberton I (234/4; 40 overs)
Romsey Town (126 all out; 31.4 overs)
by 108 runs.

One last chance to achieve what we've worked so hard towards but which, on balance, we probably don't deserve: to stay in Division 2 next year. A victory against second place Comberton today would lift us above Harlton, so we began today's match with our fate still in our own hands.

After last week's failed experiment with batting first we reverted to type today, heading out into the field. Andy Owen (1/50) made an early breakthrough and Paul Jordan (a fill-in from Remnants CC, like five others in the team today) was economical at the other end, coming away with figures of 0/39 off his ten overs.

At 50/1 after fifteen overs Comberton seemed well in check, but their second wicket pair survived some initial uncertainty and started batting with great confidence, combining quick singles and big drives. Our regular outfielders -- Rod Dennis and Vince Higgs -- once again chased and chased for forty overs; Dave Clark (who, I've found out, ``hates it'' when people put an ``e'' on the end of his last name), Phil Marshall and Mike Scanlon did a good job of stopping the ball getting to the outfield in the first place; and Ev Fox did some incredibly sharp work as 'keeper, completing a few sharp stumpings (and near-stumpings). But we bowlers had a frustrating time of it: Rog Shelley (0/41) and Daniel Mortlock (2/58) were both expensive in the middle of the innings's big partnership, although Alfie Wilmshurst, inspired by the captain's encouraging words, once again dismissed the opposition's best batsman.

So we did take a few wickets but, as so often this year, it was a case of too little too late. We didn't take our second wicket 'til the 36th over, by which time the score was over 200 and the two batsmen had completed a 169-run partnership. Wickets then began to tumble at the rate of about one an over, but our forty overs were up before we had a chance to make serious inroads into what looked like a rather long Comberton tail. (Maybe we should have let the muddled scorers have their way and extended the innings to 42 overs -- a few more wickets would have done our bonus points situation no harm at all.)

Over a very nice tea of sausage rolls and ham-salad sandwiches Paul mentioned that one of the two successful Comberton batsmen was, like me, a Melbourne boy. As he was off by himself I thought I'd wander over and say ``g'day'' until it became apparent that he was relieving himself in the bushes. This seemed a curious move, given the presence of some quality urinals in the clubhouse, and I can only assume convict ancestory . . .

Our innings began well, with Ev Fox (21 off 26 balls), Phil Marshall (22 off 38 balls, in his final Romsey match before moving to California) and Andy Owen (20 off 38 balls) taking us along to 61/2 after 13 overs. Still a long way from the 235 needed for victory, to be sure, but Comberton had scored only 45 at this stage of their innings and Phil and Andy were both batting well. Unfortunately, both batsmen gave sharp chances which were well caught, and our rather long tail was exposed at about the halfway mark of the innings.

Dave Clark (13 off 37 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (22* off 26 balls) got us into three figures, but there followed the most superb Romsey Collapse (TM) of the season: From 97/3 we lost our last 7 wickets for 29 runs. There were a few foolish swipes at straight balls, but the real highlights were the two run outs.

In the first M*** S****** (in his final Romsey match before moving to L*****) called his partner through for an ambitious bye, only to be several yards short of his ground as the wicketkeeper effected a direct hit. (At least the batsmen had crossed, otherwise M*** might have found himself moving to hospital instead.)

The second run out came about when A**** W******** joined Daniel for a last stand for the season. A****, being a somewhat nervous batsman, planned to run lots of twos and avoid the strike at all costs, but suddenly a quick single was being taken when Comberton's weakest fielder fumbled a ball in the covers. A**** then called for a second run, confident that said fielder (the one who caught Phil so well, incidently) wouldn't be able to produce the required direct hit. His confidence was misplaced and thus ended the Romsey Town season, all out for 126, 109 short of victory, 24 short of another bonus point and almost ten of our forty overs still to be bowled.

Our batting highlights were few and far between, but there were a few spectacular bowling actions in evidence for Comberton.

Their antipodean batsman was also a tricky bowler, the upper half of his body being right-handed, in stark constrast to the lower half (a product of his days playing Aussie rules, according to the man himself). The end result was a bit like South Africa's Paul Adams at double speed, but it was both rhythmical and effective, to the tune of 3/22 from his eight overs.

Another member of the Comberton attack also had an unusual, slingy action, and by making the ball skid through dismissed most of our top order. From my position as square leg umpire, however, his action wasn't just unusual; it was illegal. Law 24.3 defines a delivery to be fair if ``once the bowler's arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand'', which I'm quite sure was not the case. But, given that even international umpires have been reluctant to act unitarily on such doubts, I wasn't at all sure what best to do. Looking back on it, however, I should have had the courage of my convictions and, after an informal warning, started making ``no ball'' calls.

During my time batting I made use of a ball-retrieval delay to broach the subject with the Comberton captain. He admitted that some other teams had made similar complaints and that various club members had tried to rectify the problem. My first reaction was that this was a fairly reasonable reaction to an awkward situation. But Andy later made the excellent point that continuing to bowl someone with an action known to be illegal is, at best, a way of avoiding the problem by forcing the opposition's umpires to make very difficult decisions week after week. Today that was me (amongst others), and if I'd known that this was an ongoing problem I would have had no qualms about making the appropriate call and the bowler in question would presumably have been removed from the attack with figures of 0/10 off three overs rather than his eventual 3/29 off ten. I'm not for a moment suggesting that this would have changed the result of the match, but the point here is how the game is played rather than the result obtained.

Mentioning this in a public forum is obviously a bit provocative, especially as today's Comberton captain is a likely reader, but the other option -- to ignore the issue altogether -- would just be complicit in letting the problem bubble along for another season. (And I've already contributed to that process by keeping quiet whilst umpiring, so this is also a confession of guilt on my part.)

None of the above can change the fact that -- for the most part -- we were beaten fair and square today. Indeed we really were thrashed, and not for the first time this season: of fourteen games played we've lost nine by at least fifty runs or seven wickets. Sure, we've sometimes been short of batsmen and short of bowlers, but the fact remains that, more often than not, we've failed to give the opposition a good match.

As mentioned at the beginning of the report, a loss today put our fate in the hands of other teams: we now needed Camgod IV to lose to Babraham today and, ironically, Comberton next Saturday. With Babraham comfortably undefeated all season, they could surely be trusted to beat Cambridge/Godmanchester IV . . . but instead they came up against a team of unfamiliar faces who apparently played cricket at the sort of level appropriate to, say, Cambridge/Godmanchester III or II. Thus Babraham were robbed of their deservedly unbeaten record and we were robbed of our last hope of staying up.

(That's right, I found a few more sour grapes left over from last week's banquet.)

With our season over and a few regulars leaving Cambridge, the only way forward was to drink enormous jugs of lager (which better not have been F*sters), play some nineball at Micky Flynn's, and go for an ill-advised post-midnight curry.