And so it was off down to a windswept heath just outside Royston for our first match in three weeks. As a fan of The League Of Gentlemen TV series (set in the fictional town of Royston Vasey) I was desperately hoping that the ground would be on New Road, or that Edward and Tubbs's Local Shop (for local people) would be visible on top of a nearby hill, or that the arrival of we strangers in town would be greeted with fearful faces peering out from behind drawn curtains. Alas the closest any of us got to this was directions to the sports fields from a friendly, if slightly strange, resident. The cricket ground -- shaped like a factory reject Pringle -- saw a constant parade of golfers and dog-walkers, and the clubhouse was full of cheerfully optimistic souls escaping the miserable weather to cheer on Andrew Murray as he attempted to get into the fourth round at Wimbledon. What really caught the eye, though, was a enormous brown rug which, when approached, began moving, and soon revealed itself to be possibly the largest dog on the planet.
All sounds like a pretty friendly environment for a game of cricket, right? Right indeed; what wasn't so welcoming was the rumour that Royston had a batsman who'd hit 18 sixes on his way 80-ball innings of 160 last week. Thus imagine our how chuffed we were to have the opposition really struggling with the score just 23/2 after the first 13 overs. Okay, so it turned out that said run machine had been promoted to the firsts, but this still represented an excellent effort, with Andy Owen (1/23) and Daniel Mortlock (2/33) both bowling brilliantly and the fielding of a comparably high standard. Despite a dropped catch we were, for possibly the first time all season, winning a game of cricket.
And then it all went wrong. As you might well know anyone we drop is honour-bound to score at least seventy; today the reprieved batsman made it all the way to triple figures, and this on a rather tricky pitch on which several people suggested ``a fifty was worth a hundred''. For our part Joe White (1/42) produced another one of his trademark unlucky spells, one batsman in particular playing a series of textbook cover drives as the ball repeatedly slid past his outside edge. At the other end Russell Woolf (1/37) and Roy Page (0/36) essayed their slower bowling with mixed results, inducing plenty of aerial strokes, but also proving rather expensive. On the fielding front we once again managed to go forty overs without taking a catch -- we've held a grand total of four outfield catches all season -- but the ground fielding continued to be of the highest standard, Paul Collings, Dave Clark, and Rod Dennis doing the lion's share of the work here. Thus Royston never completely got away from us -- we seemed to beat the bat at least once an over right up to the end of the innings -- and if only we'd been been a little luckier (or more skillful) then we'd have been facing a total of about 130. As it was Royston went to tea with 180 runs under the belts . . .
. . . to which was added the fine assortment of sandwiches, cakes and sausage butties which made up the tea of the year (so far). And that was even without the friendly presence of the now roused mega-dog, who shuffled from player to player making friends and, presumably, hoping for scraps. If you're struggling to picture this creature, think Chewbacca on all fours, or an adolescent grizzly bear; and lest you think he was completely passive, spare a thought for the two decent-sized alsations who were foolish enough to bark at him before they realised that i) he was twice their combined size and ii) they were both tied to a post. The alsations were duly rescued by a local who thus revealed that the beast went by the dubious name of D'Fer -- I'd previously thought only pre-teens thought that joke was funny. It was also about this point that D'Fer seemed to take a particular liking for our own Dave Clark, making more growl-bys than was strictly necessary. With the sniff of romance in the air it was easy to forget that there was a cricket match to be won or lost; but soon all the sausages had been eaten, Murray was wasting his two-set lead (thus taking his first step towards becoming the new Tim Henman), and it was time to set about scoring some runs.
Which is precisely what we didn't. The one thing that can be said about our run-chase was that we didn't keep the Royston players in any suspense about whether we'd be mounting a serious challenge to their total, as today's Romsey Collapse (TM) began immediately. At the 15-over mark we were 39/6 and flirting with unprecedented levels of humiliation.
That we batted out our forty overs was down to Andy Owen (35 off 61 balls), Paul Collings (17 off 68 balls) and W Ides (second top score with 24), who combined for a 56-run partnership that must have annoyed the hell out of the opposition. They started off in a mode of pure defense, scoring just 20 runs in their first 10 overs together, but then it was almost as if they'd decided to have a mad dash at the 181 needed for victory, the scoring rate climbing to about ten an over at one point. Sadly it couldn't last, and when both Andy and Paul were dismissed in quick succession it fell to Arnie Garside (13* off 33 balls) to see us past the mini-target of 120 runs (i.e. four batting points) in the final over.
The irony in this is that, whilst we've been scoring twice as many batting points as bowling points all year, the bowling and fielding has been generally okay, whereas it's our batting that has reached new depths. There might be ``lies, damned lies and statistics'', but in our case the averages reveal all: still just two players averaging more than 18.00; and just five averaging more than 8.00.