After enduring a wet and unsuccessful May, June began with a perfect summer's Saturday . . . on which Romsey was fixtureless. Today was also perfect, weatherwise; the only problem was that other sporting fixture scheduled to start at 2pm. That the rest of the nation was glued to England's first FIFA World Cup 2006 (TM) match did at least mean that driving out of Cambridge was uncharacteristically painless, but it also meant that our little game of cricket had a ``ten men and a dog'' feel to it, with Romsey fielding just then ten men (no dogs being registered by the CCA) and Hardreth having to bring in a few players who, judging from the overheard queries of ``What's that guy's name again, the one who just bowled?'', weren't exactly regulars.
Anyway, in baking hot sunshine we headed out to field just in time to miss the third-minute Paraguayan own goal that would eventually see England victorious, and set about trying to dismiss the opposition cheaply, something we'd managed several times before on the bumpy Hardwick rec ground. Early doors it seemed we'd do just that: Andy Owen (3/29 and brilliant again) and Daniel Mortlock (2/43) both got bounce and seam; Malcolm Creek made an excellent catch and a stumping; and we had Shwick in big trouble at 41/4 after 10 overs. Moreover they probably should have been in bigger trouble, a few mistimed shots escaping grasping fingers and plenty of thick edges falling just short of fielders.
As we made a couple of bowling changes there were more misses . . . but unfortunately these were primarly by us, in what was one of our most shambolic fielding performances on record. We dropped sitters; we dropped difficult chances; there were missed stumpings; there were bungled run outs; there were overthrows when no-one had bothered to back up; and at least a dozen times the ball went straight through an outfielder to turn a single into a four. There were certainly some rogue bounces on the bumpy outfield -- it's a football pitch for most of the year -- but we've fielded here plenty of times before without managing such consumate farce. By this stage some of the hundred-odd locals who'd come down to the social club to watch England had drifted outside, presumably to sample the slapstick comedy on offer; for Romsey it verged on the embarrassing, and for the bowlers it was just demoralising.
That said, Phil Watson (1/26 on his Romsey debut), Tom Jordan (0/34 with the best leg-spin you're likely to see from a thirteen year-old), Russell Woolf (0/45) and Arnie Garside (0/29) all stuck to their guns, but the two outstanding individual performances came from two Shardrep batsmen. They stayed resolute when the going was tough initially, and then played with great poise, hitting the bad balls but, critically, still just blocking out most of the good ones. It was the solid sort of mental approach that some international batsmen seem to struggle with (e.g., Matthew Hayden taking four Ashes Tests to work out he wasn't going to be able to club the English bowlers into submission this time 'round), and so it made it even more remarkable that the two batsmen were, I think, thirteen and fourteen, respectively.
With seven overs to go Shardwick were cruising at 159/6 and there wasn't much for us to do other than scuff the turf and wait for tea, secure in the knowledge that not much more could go wrong.
At which point much more went wrong.
After a quarter century of skillfull (and lucky) escapes, the inevitable finally happened: Andy, fielding as always at silly point, for once didn't manage to catch -- or, indeed, evade -- a full-blooded cut, and suddenly the captain was down on the ground, surrounded by concerned players and a pool of blood. Despite the fact his top lip had been split almost to the base of his nose, there were initial protests about it ``just being a cut'' and refusals to go to hospital. I half expected Andy to start trying to position the field and bowl the next over, but of course sense -- and the fact he was heavily outnumbered -- did prevail. Dave Clark, the world's most unlikely surrogate Florence Nightingale, took Andy off to Addenbrooke's where he received plenty of painkillers, almost as many stitches and, thankfully, the prognosis that he should be fine after a few weeks.
All that left us with just eight rather drained men, and so the runs flowed even more freely for the last few overs, and we went to tea exhausted, with no real prospect of chasing down the 216 that Hardwick/Shepreth II (R) eventually scored.
Still, if nothing else we were going to try and bat out our forty overs and extract some respectibility from the day. And, despite losing an early wicket to a superb slips catch, we started pretty well. Tony Desimone (16) and Rod Dennis (19) had both looked well set before playing across the line (fatal on a low-high track like this) and then Daniel Mortlock (30) and Arnie Garside (24, almost completely in boundaries) took the score along to 104/4 after 21 overs. If we'd batted like that in our last match against NCI we would have won in a canter; and even chasing 216 it would have been a pretty even match with a full batting line-up. The problem, of course, was that we were only two wickets from being all out, even if that increased to three when Paul Jordan arrived earlier than expected to pick up Tom.
Then, with the help of a few crazy run outs -- hopefully the opposition were suitably grateful for these gifts -- the innings fell away and we finished up 135 all out with eleven overs unused. We did at least make a fight of it, even if what we really wanted was to somehow craft a miracle victory in the hope of bringing a smile to Andy's now numbed face.