After some sixty games in the largely academic position of vice-captain, my plans for a not quite bloodless coup had finally come to fruition: today, at last, Romsey Town CC was all mine (cue maniacal laughter and evil lightning strikes). The reason, of course, was that Andy had his lip split open in last week's match against Hardwick/Shepreth II and, whilst he's made a remarkable recovery, he's promised his doctor that he won't take to the field again until the stitches have gone. A quick glance at the players' records reveals that this was only the third time Andy had missed a Romsey match since the nineteen-eighties; and even today he accompanied us down to Royston to oversee our efforts against Camden III, so he was there in more than just spirit. Nonetheless, it was a strange feeling going out for the coin toss with the possibility of maybe deciding to bat first; but, having called incorrectly, the match began as all Romsey matches do, with us heading out into the field.
And it was a pretty tiring few hours out on the heath, with the temperature nudging thirty and the Camden batsmen having a pretty easy time of it on the benign pitch, so much so that we didn't take our second wicket until the final over. Our ``attack'' might have been unthreatening, but at least it was consistent, the economy rates of four of the five bowlers being between 4.00 and 4.22 an over. The man (well, boy) who seemed most likely to make a breakthrough was Tom Jordan -- aside from taking an excellent catch, he produced ten overs of immaculate leg spin with plenty of turn and, most impressively, the temprement to follow up the occasional bad delivery by beating the batsman next ball. But for the slowness of the pitch -- the ball was never going to jump or spit -- he would have induced several stumpings, and he and wicket-keeper Ev Fox made for a superb double act.
Ev was the other star during our time in the field, combining some exquisite footwork with a sustained, if somewhat mysterious, attack on the bails. Every over seemed to contain at least one such incident, most of which seemed to be just a way of getting to chat to the square leg umpire as he remade the wicket. That said, there were also plenty genuine stumping attempts, many close, and some presumably out (at least in the technical sense that a slow-motion replay would reveal the fact), even if there was also clearly some doubt, the benefit of which -- correctly -- went to the batsmen. The cumulative effect was pretty frustrating, especially when one of the umpires later apologised that he thought he probably should have given one of the decisions. Again, pretty understandable, I think -- none of us are Elite Panel umpires -- and I suspect that I barely need to mention that the reprieved batsman, on about five at the time, finished up anchoring Camden's innings with a solid 86 not out.
Despite our failure to take wickets, we did have a chaseable target in front of us -- scoring at 4.5 an over really just required that a couple of batsmen get in and stay there. Certainly we began well enough: Tony Desimone (23 off 28 balls), Roy Page (44 off 69 balls) and Rod Dennis (20 off 48 balls) combined to have us in the very healthy position of being 102/2 after 26 overs. With 82 needed off 84 balls some hitting out was required, but we had plenty of batting to come, so might even have been winning . . . at least on paper.
That wasn't quite how it felt out in the middle, however, as most of the runs had been scored from the medium pacers, and we looked much less certain against the spinners Camden had brought on in their place. And our luck -- of which we'd had plenty, with crazy running, bowler-charging and edges all going unpunished -- ran out in a very sudden fashion as we lost three wickets in six balls to, respectively, an difficult outfield catch, an inevitable stumping (about which the only doubt was whether to class it as a run out), and a rare case of hit wicket when the batsmen went an inch too far onto the back foot.
And suddenly we were on the back foot as well, with two new batsmen at the crease and the required rate pushing seven an over. The spinners continued on their merry way, reaping combined figures of 19.1 overs, 2 maidens, 7/51, but we were still in the game thanks to John Gull (36* off 32 deliveries in a fine return to form) and invaluable support innings by Arnie Garside (9 off 21 balls), Russell Woolf (5 off 6 balls) and Tom Jordan (4 off 5 balls). 32 needed off five overs became 29 needed off four and then 23 needed off two, but that's where it ended, the unofficial man of the match, Alec Armstrong, taking his fifth wicket with the first ball of the penultimate over.
It might seem that it was the same old story, falling short in a run chase and failing to bat out our overs, just like last week and the week before that; but this time it felt that we'd given a biggish chase a real go, and somehow the feeling was more of having tried and failed than having failed to try. Still, it would have been nice to go down in history as Romsey Town's only undefeated captain, something for whoever leads the team next week to aspire to, perhaps?