Just as The Labour Party reinvented itself in the mid-nineties, Romsey Town has undergone a mid-season makeover in the last few weeks, ``New Romsey'' being a team which bats first (if possible), makes a decent score (thus discarding the out-moded ``collapse'' policy) and then wins (provided the chief-whip has managed to get a full turn-out). And so, for the second week running, Prime Minister Owen won the toss and chose to bat first, even if this was motivated as much by the desire to sit in the shade during the hottest part of the afternoon as any strategic cricketing considerations.
Our innings began rather unsteadily, some good bowling limiting the scoring for a few overs, until Oliver Harris (64 off 58 balls with 14 fours) and Roy Page (71 off 99 balls with 12 fours) hit their stride, eventually compiling a superb 118-run opening stand in 20.3 overs. Olly batted even better than last week, and the class of his innings can be well judged by the fact nearly 90 per cent of his runs came in boundaries -- good balls were defended and bad balls punished decisively. At the other end Roy initially couldn't get his trademark pulls and cuts right, and looked most unhappy when the spinners came on; but by the end of his innings he was coming down the track and turning everything into full tosses as his last sixty runs came at the rate of one a ball. That their two innings were such a contrast in styles only added to the enjoyment of watching what was the best Romsey partnership of the year so far.
We did have a bit of a mid-innings lull, losing a few wickets and scoring at less than four an over between the first and second drinks breaks, and for a while it looked as if Bassingbourn might keep us under 200. Fortunately the bowlers began to wilt in the heat and John Gull (60* off 49 balls with 7 fours) and Daniel Mortlock (25* off 17 balls with 5 fours) slapped 68 runs off just 43 balls to push the total to 249/3. That said, it might have been even more if they'd been able to get the calling right -- or even not quite so horribly wrong. The few quick singles they did manage were the result of a pained negotiation process, and they were eventually reduced to mid-pitch debates on the basics of game theory as they attempted to reach an accord on their differing risk/reward strategies, a dialogue that was still going strong as the teams left the field for tea.
This week the mid-match banquet was provided by Roy's wife-cum-keeper, Estelle, the quality of the food being well illustrated by the fact that it was all so rapidly devoured despite the appetite-sapping heat. Speaking of which, the exchange student population had apparently been sifted after last week's lacklusture showing: whilst there were only about as fifth as many charmingly vacant (e.g. the overheard query ``Are they, like, in the dug-out or something?'' upon seeing the scorers and being struck by their handsomeness) teenaged girls ambling about, they were almost all cute this time. Our unnamed number three bat's look of appreciation after one ``fly-by'' had to be seen to be believed, and I would be willing to put good money on the fact that John's dreams centred around marginally over-sized pink underwear this evening . . .
As easily aroused as we might have been, rousing ourselves from afternoon nap-time was an altogether more difficult task, but we did manage to get to our fielding positions and set about defending our monster total without bringing out the defibrillators. And, again like last week, we got the perfect start: after three overs Bassingbourn were 6/2, thanks to a great caught-and-bowled by Daniel Mortlock (1/25) and a moment of madness by one batsman who, having been very lucky to have a top edge land safely, panicked and made a mad dash for the other end, leaving Roy Page at slip with ample time to wander up to the stumps, yawn and take off the bails.
After that Andy Owen (1/35) and Tom Jordan (0/41) kept the pressure on, and the likes of Rod Dennis, Andy Page, Arnie Garside and Oliver Harris were brilliant in the field, but Bassingbourn's third-wicket pair dug in, and when they'd made it to 90/2 in the 20th over they were just about back in the match. We really needed a wicket or three, and that's just what we got courtesy of Rog Shelley (3/27), who landed the ball on the perfect length and got plenty of bite and cut, along with good support from Roy Page (two catches at slip) and Andy Owen (a well-judged take in the deep).
By the end of Rog's spell the match was as good as over, although there was still the challenge of keeping Bassingbourn under 150 to deny them full batting points. The task of restricting the batsmen fell to Andy Page (1/28) and Arnie Garside (0/20), but there were just too many overs left (and, in particular, two more than suggested by the scoreboard). Once Bassingbourn had passed what's normally the ``Romsey target'' the match did peter out somewhat, even if there were a few sporadic moments of drama such as one batsman being bowled by a Courtney Walsh-esque slower-ball/beamer, a day-dreaming umpire very nearly being skewered by the longest throw of the season, and even some last ball madness with an almost classic catch that turned into an almost stunning run out but, finally, became an actual (and decidedly unecessary) four overthrows.
Last-minute silliness notwithstanding, it was close to being the ideal game of village cricket, with two comparable teams playing out a competitive but friendly match on a glorious mid-summer's day. The fact that we completed a great team victory can only reinforce such a rosy view of things, and when you add in the fact that we're out of the relegation zone for the first time all year . . . well, we might have gone to bed even happier than John.