Finally a home game (as distinct from last week's "home" game against Helions Bumpstead at Helions Bumpstead). Of course, having no actual home ground the venue could have been anywhere from Girton to Fitzwilliam College to Emmanuel College to The Leys School, the latter being the venue du jour. Aside from providing a nice mini-pavilion and and a rather smooth outfield, the best feature of this venue was (according to those lucky sods who were actually present) a continuous stream of eighteen-year-old, Mediterranean and, critically, female, exchange students passing by the ground. In theory, however, we should have averted our eyes from the provocatively short skirts and deliciously consistent tans, focussing solely on the cricket being played, and at least it can be said that such dedicated souls were rewarded with a most memorable game of cricket.
We took to the field missing both our regular opening bowlers, but Andy Owen (0/56) and, particularly, Rog Shelley (2/35) filled any putative vacancies admirably, restricting Haslingfield to 62 off the first 14 overs. At this point we made the mistake of getting a few wickets, which brought some powerful and aggressive middle order batsmen to the crease, and they happily scored at about 7 an over for the rest of the innings, and 9 an over for the last ten. By this stage we'd lost another bowler (and fielder), Russell Woolf having been whacked on the shin by a hard-hit drive which, by game's end, saw him carted off to hospital after the wound had swolen alarmingly. This left Andy Page (2/62), Neal Baker-Davis (0/35, in his first Romsey appearance in two years) and Alex Cook (1/32) to complete 20 overs between them and the fielders to run around a lot. Andies Owen and Page took good (at least in as far they weren't dropped) outfield catches, and Ev Fox completed yet another stumping, but in the end 233/5 represented a big points advantage to Haslingfield.
More particularly, the highest target Romsey has ever successfully chased was the 200 that Cambridge Godmanchester set us a few years ago. And when we finished our eighth over at 24/3 it seemed a knock-out was the most likely outcome, but Neal and Ev kept fighting, taking the score to 84 in the 20th over, at which point Ev was bowled for 24. This precipitated the loss of a few more wickets, and a difficult task had become near impossible when Andy Owen joined Neal in the 25th over. With just 4 wickets in hand we needed 119 runs off just 95 balls. Haslingfield must have thought the contest was over; and, given our season of huge defeats, most of our players were probably of the same mind.
Instead of meek capitulation, however, we got the club's best partnership of the year: Neal and Andy put on 103 off 87 balls, proceeding in a remarkably steady fashion for the duration of their union. Neal in particular hit the ball with incredible ferocity, but it seemed that this brilliant effort was to be in vain: when Andy was dismissed for 42 (with 6 fours) we were left needing 16 runs off 8 balls, with Neal on 94 not out.
Then came the moment that one particular Hasling-fielder (ha ha) will be reliving in his nightmares for some decades to come. When Neal pushed a single off the next ball, common sense would have dictated a "safety first" approach, the onus still being very much on us to come up with a few big shots; instead the poor fellow cracked under the pressure and hurled the ball at the stumps . . . the ball missing all three, and the bowler, and whoever was supposed to be backing up, eventually crossing the boundary line and coming to rest next to a group of the aforementioned nubile young Spanish "virgins". After a couple of leg byes off the next ball we began the final over in the eminently acceptable position of needing 9 to win.
In theory it was still an even money game, but with Neal (now on 99) facing there was a sense that we'd already won. And so it turned out: he hit a two to take him to his century; then a four; then another two to tie the scores; and then a final imperious boundary to see us home with two balls to spare. Neal's final four - his 14th - took him to 111 not out, the highest innings for Romsey since the promotion year of '99, and a pretty decent effort from someone who hadn't hit a ball in over a year.
Brilliant stuff, if exhausting to watch. Neal's final boundary had been struck at exactly 8.46pm, the best part of seven hours after the match began. Certainly can't say we don't give the fans value for money (except for the fact that the seats are free and we don't have any fans anyway). Still, a win is a win, and we finally have one after half a season of trying.