Coming up against Cambridge St Giles's undefeated second team today it seemed likely that we'd suffer a heavy defeat: our last two totals of 108 and 128 didn't seem likely to test what seems to be the league's strongest batting line-up. One could only imagine the sort of score they'd be able to make at Emmanuel . . . but, as luck would have it, a communication breakdown meant that we'd lost our Emmanuel booking and, after much calling 'round, Andy had eventually been able to procure the use of Harlton's ground. The small undulating outfield and erratic, sloped pitch meant that the ground played as significant a role in the outcome of the match as any of the twenty-two players.
For the third consecutive week the opposition won the toss and asked us to bat first, no doubt hoping they'd be presented with another minimal target, and this scenario seemed pretty likely with the ball repeatedly rearing up to head height off a good length. We did lose an early wicket, but Tony Desimone (57) played a fantastic innings, doing his best to leave the unplayable balls alone whilst using any width to good effect, repeatedly stepping away to cut rising balls to -- or over -- the short point boundary. As has so often been the case before, the opposition's bowlers didn't really know how to bowl to him, and his innings would have been worth a century on any other day.
Unfortunately, only Nigel Arnold (11) was able to give Tony any significant support, and when we slumped to 111/5 off 28 overs a Romsey Collapse seemed to be in the offing, especially after Arnie Garside (26) was hit in the face by yet another viciously lifting delivery. It was at this point, however, that the weather intervened: we came off for a rain storm which, surprisingly, left the pitch considerably tamer. The break (and a helmet) seemed to have had the opposite effect on Arnie: after a few circumspect shots he launched into the bowling, all but 2 of his runs coming in boundaries. Perhaps inspired by Arnie's hitting, Andy Owen (51) also started slamming boundaries; and between them they added 64 runs off 64 balls, 46 of which came in a fabulous four over burst. The last few overs saw wickets and runs come at about the same rate, but our final total of 191/8 meant that, for once, we went to tea with our noses in front.
It didn't take long to realise that we still had some work to do, the St Giles top order immediately playing some classy shots despite the conditions. Daniel Mortlock (1/25) found the right pace for the pitch, most of his deliveries either shooting through at ankle height or bouncing clean over the keeper's head -- that he only got the single wicket was down to the batsmen repeatedly getting forward despite the possibility of getting hit in the face. At the other end Andy Owen (1/17) tried his fast spinners and quickly induced an outside edge, but it flew past Arnie's outstretched hand . . . or, at least it looked like it would, but somehow he'd wrapped his fingers around the ball and taken the sort of reflex slips catch that Channel 4 would reply in slow motion from every possible angle. Alongside a similar effort of Rich Savage's against Harlton last year it was the best Romsey catch I've ever seen and, more importantly, gave the team the huge lift it needed.
We got a few more wickets, but St Giles mounted something of a comeback, getting to 72/4 in the 21st over. One batsmen in particular had started to hit out with great success, but he got a big top edge to a rank full toss and Joe White held a superb catch at square leg. It was from this point that the game entered some sort of dream phase, St Giles losing 5 wickets for 9 runs as Russell Woolf (4/29) and Joe White (4/32) went on the rampage. The latter, in particular, was brilliant again, and seems to be on the way to establishing a Lillee-and-Marsh style relationship with Ev Fox, who took three very good catches off his bowling. At one stage we had a circle of ten fielders around the bat (whereas St Giles only ever had one or two, despite the inevitable edges and false strokes), with Tony Desimone, Dave Clark and Andy Owen all making several lightning fast stops. With St Giles reeling at 81/9 their only hope seemed to be for their last wicket pair to stonewall in the hope of rain, and their two youngest batsmen made a damn good go at it, stalling us for 8 overs and adding 26 runs to the total. In the end it was another good catch -- this time by Rod Dennis -- that put an end to the resistence, and somehow we'd beaten the top side in the league by the enormous margin of 84 runs.
The result also felt like reward for our great efforts in the field over the last two weeks, although the batting still feels a bit fragile -- so far this season Andy and Tony have scored about 45 per cent of the runs to come off the bat for Romsey. Either way, it was a great team victory today, and almost all the players from both teams were happy to relive a very eventful match at the local.