It's been a rather topsy-turvey week for Romsey Town CC. After the frustration of failing to chase down 125 against Audley End last Saturday, our team of Andy Owen, Marcelino Gopal, Jon Steele (who gallantly sacrificed his shoulder for to save a run), John Gull, James Wood and super-ringer Dave Norman went through the six-a-side tournament undefeated to bring the club its first silverware since winning the league back in '91. If we could carry that form onto the pitch today we'd surely have a decent chance against second-placed Camden -- if we could get onto the pitch, that is, as half the team spent ten minutes confronted by a locked gate before being shown the correct route onto Hills Road Sixth Form College's spacious playing fields.
Once granted access to the ground, though, it was business as usual: we won the toss, chose to field, and once again restricted the opposition to little more than a hundred. The chief destroyer today was Marcelino Gopal who, possibly thanks to his new aerodynamic haircut, generated extra pace and movement, and troubled all the Camden batsmen on his way to deserved figures of 4/17. Ably assisted by Tom Jordan (2/37) and tag-team wicket-keepers Andy Owen (0/25) and Daniel Mortlock (2/16), there was no respite for the batsmen, as evidenced by a top score of 23 and a biggest partnership of 26.
Even better, we managed this with just ten men -- although it felt like we had twenty, such was the energy level in the field. Paul Jordan made some stunning sharp stops in the covers; Adrian Mellish chased tirelessly at fine leg and mid-on; Dave Clark was a revelation at short mid-wicket, seemingly on the move before the ball had even been hit; and Rod Dennis saved about a dozen runs by blocking or chasing down perfect cut shots. The latter tells a tale in itself, though, as several shots that looked like certain fours off the bat pulled up just inside the boundary, the outfield having been left to grow for the up-coming rugby season.
In the end there were only three boundaries all innings, the last of which induced the day's top comedy moment when Private Tom Jordan went to retrieve the ball from beyond the field of combat, only to file a sit-rep that the target was ``in a ditch''. And whilst this did represent useful data from which to formulate a strike-plan, and was backed up with the further details that there were both nettles and water, it was still clear that the optimal course of action was to remove the ball from its terrible predicament and bring it back on to the field of play. Private Jordan, however, wanted clarification from HQ before proceeding on this potentially dangerous mission, and it was only the arrival at the scene of Corporal Garside which facillitated a resolution as he, er, stepped down into the two-foot deep ravine, picked up the ball, and threw it to the assembled task-force to complete Operation Certain Death.
And whilst Tom did survive his brave expedition into enemy territory, it meant having to put up with requests to repeat his heroics any time the ball was hit in that direction, and we were still ribbing him about this as we headed off to the mess area for a magnificent tea. Having restricted Camden to 113/9 we were clearly the happier of the two teams, although given the slow outfield and a pitch on which the ball rarely got up (and sometimes shot through), it was never going to be the easiest of chases.
For most of our innings it was a pretty even battle between the batsmen, the bowlers and the umpires: runs were scarce; wickets fell with regularity (e.g., our biggest partnership was only 27); and the entire fielding side made some wildly enthusiastic LBW appeals of varying plausibility. We did turn down a run out that was close at best (resulting in understandable frustration), but, as far as I can see, going up like the Pakistan Test team when all three stumps are visible or when the batsman's several yards down the track can only weaken the case when it's a really good shout or, even worse, induce the harried umpire to give a batsman out against their better judgement.
Rather ironically, wickets were coming pretty regularly anyway -- certainly often enough that there were plenty of nervous batsmen waiting back in the pavilion. John Gull (16 off 35 balls), Paul Jordan (6 off 23 balls) and Arnie Garside (13 off 31 balls) hit more boundaries between them than we'd conceded in 40 overs, and yet when drinks were taken we were probably losing at 58/5 after 20 overs. Being half-way to our target was all well and good, but with only 4 wickets left it was only going to take a couple of shooters and we'd be done for.
Marcelino Gopal then came in and batted as if he was in a different game, complementing his man-of-the-match bowling performance with a brutal 24 off just 18 balls, the fastest recorded 20+ score for us all season. He was eventually bowled by one that kept low, but the run rate was no longer an issue and just 38 more were needed. That set things up for Andy Owen (30* off 63 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (6 off 34 balls) to engage in another block-fest as they tried to eliminate risks and ``get 'em in singles''; but they ended up being too defensive, giving Camden a possibility they should never have had, namely of winning by just keeping the runs down.
It then fell to Tom Jordan (2* off 9 balls) to support Andy who, in turn, finally started hitting out -- or at least trying to, his initial attempts to shift gears resulting only in a few close shaves. After 38 overs we'd somehow gotten into the situation of needing 14 runs from 12 balls, and where Camden had needed wickets earlier, now we needed something that had proven even more elusive in this game: boundaries. But, ever the man for a crisis, Andy finally connected with a few of his trademark pulls to leg and, having scored just 17 runs from his first 55 deliveries, he hit 13 from his last 8. We nearly had a crazy run out in the final over when Tom backed up about fifteen yards too far, but a more successful example of ``tip and run'' later in the over saw us scamper home with 3 balls to spare.
Camden were refreshingly generous about our victory, both in their match report, and after the game in The Panton Arms, where members of both teams had an enjoyable two-hour drinking session that included a comparative analysis of the different LBW appeal strategies, ultimately futile attempts to identify the mysterious beer in the jug (which nobody on either side seemed to have earned), generous supplies of chips and hot-dogs, and repeated attempts to decipher The CCA's new promotion and relegation scheme.
The news on that front is that we're tantalisingly close to making it out of the bottom four of Junior 2 South B: today's win lifts our average to 11.75, marginally above Abington II on 11.40, but still half a point behind fifth-placed Babraham II on 12.22. That small margin's frustrating enough even without the knowledge that, thanks to a convenient wash-out last Saturday (remember, when the weather was glorious), Babraham have avoided playing the all-conquering Thurlow outfit all year. If we had the luxury of being able to ignore our two thrashings at their hands we'd be all but safe with a league average of 13.30; conversely if Babraham had played them even once their average would most likely be about the same as ours. At any rate, if we can beat Abington next Saturday we'll go up to 12.38, which will be sufficient to stay up if either Babraham lose to Weston Colville or, in what would seem poetic justice, their game is washed out. If, on the other hand, we're washed out, we'd need Babraham lose and get 7 points (or less), but I think we'd all prefer one last chance to even our season's ledger with one more win.