All year Andy's been promising to bat first if he won the toss; today, against Royston II at The Leys School, he finally kept his word. And the top order immediately justified his decision, slumping to 25/3 at the hands of some lively bowling by one S. Tokely (or S. Totally, depending on which scorebook one read), who finished up with deserved figures of 5/28.
After that, though, we actually scored some runs, mainly thanks to Oliver Harris. Having been dropped before scoring when a big drive went wrong (or, more to the point, straight up), he made the most of his life, playing the sort of classy, classical innings the club hasn't seen since Neal Baker-Davis was around. It wasn't a one-man show -- John Gull (13 off 19 balls with 3 fours), Andy Owen (19 off 30 balls with 4 fours) and Malcolm Creek (24 off 29 balls with 5 cracking fours) all did their bit -- but it was primarily down to Olly that we were 105/4 at drinks and eyeing up a 200+ total for the second week in a row.
Unfortunately Royston's spinners pegged us back, getting a few wickets and even slowing Olly down before he started coming down the track. After he smacked his sixteenth boundary a quick add-up revealed he'd moved to within a shot of a century. He danced up the track to the next ball, took a big swing . . . and yorked himself to such a degree that the 'keeper even had time to stop and smile before removing the bails. We were already on our feet to applaud the club's first hundred of the year; but we got to clap all the same as Olly came back to the pavilion having made a superb 97 off 94 balls, with fully 64 runs in boundaries. In the end he made well over half our total of 172 which, whilst some 20 short of what we wanted, was clearly competitive on a pitch which held a few demons.
Next on the progam was Denise Owen's plentiful, healthy and corn-free tea, complete with on-site entertainment in the form of a constantly-changing fashion parade from the hordes of foreign exchange students that had infested The Leys School. Whilst plenty were promisingly nubile, they struggled with such advanced instructions as ``Get off the pitch'', ``Walk behind the sightscreen, please'' and ``Look out!'' and, in the end, it was more quantity than quality. Most of them were cookie-cutter dull, apparently sponsored by The Gap, although there were at least a few signs of nascent individualism. First was a surly girl who relgiously jiggled every hanging section of the chain-link boundary fence until, when she missed one, she immediately stopped as if she'd lost a life in some bizarre video game of her own imagining. Then, a little later, we got a fly-by from a young Romeo with cut-off sleeves, aviator sunglasses, and a walk clearly modelled on John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever strut; the really weird thing was that, with that whole Italian feminine machismo thing, it was impossible to tell whether he was a would-be stud on the make or an out-of-work rent boy given the day off by his pimp.
Speaking of which, it was at about this time that we got a visit from Romsey's very own man about town and self-proclaimed lucky charm, Alfie Wilmshurst. There were hand-shakes and back-slaps all 'round as we heard tales of engagements and exotic honeymoons, but more relevant to the situation at hand was Alfie's claim that we only ever win if he's around, and so as we went out to field the gods would surely ensure a Romsey victory . . .
. . . and that's the only possible explanation for how the Royston number one managed to get a leading edge to a full toss way outside leg stump, the ball hanging in the air just long enough for Arnie Garside to run in from mid-wicket and take a superb diving catch. So, after one ball, the score was 0/1 when it should have been 4/0, and we were away. Just as Olly had made the most of his good fortune earlier in the day, we made the most of ours in the field, tight bowling and superb fielding combining to have Royston all but lost at 17/4 after 10 overs. Daniel Mortlock (3/18) not only got the first-ball freebie, but also had a hard, flat drive caught at long on by Andy Owen, the result of which was hilarious figures of 4 overs, 3 maidens, 3/1 at one stage. Andy Owen (1/15) bowled just as well at the other end, while the fielding varied between dedicated (Rod Dennis using his body as a wall at point; Tom Jordan cutting off lots of twos at deep mid-off) and brilliant (Russell Woolf at short cover managing to stop well-hit shots without actually moving; 'keeper Malcolm Creek being in the perfect position as the ball repeatedy cut and jumped past the edge of the bat).
Just like last time we played Royston, two of their middle order halted the collapse and they might even have been harbouring fantasies of a miracle win when they'd made it to 63/4 after 21 overs. Would Romsey's inability to take wickets once again cost us dearly? No, not this time: Russell Woolf (1/21) and Rog Shelley (3/36), after a few looseners, restricted and then dismissed most of the remaining batsmen, albeit with some help from Andy Owen, who took two more catches and then softened up one of Royston's juniors with a wayward throw that hit him square in the middle of the back -- the poor kid was bowled next ball. It then fell to our one junior, Tom Jordan, to finish things off, and he did so in some style, getting several big leggies to bounce and reach Malcolm at chest-height before snaring the last two wickets on his way to tidy figures of 2/6.
So, after a season of wash-outs, dropped catches, unpenetrative bowling and loose batting, we finally forgot enough of those bad habits to run out deserved 73-run winners today. Not that we should get too carried away just yet: Royston seem to be our only competition for the wooden spoon, and we'll have to beat a few of the mid-table teams if we're to avoid relegation. Sadly, as we enter the second half of our season, survival has once again become the primary mission: we need two or three wins from our remaining seven games just to keep our heads held high in the rarefied atmosphere of Junior 2.