When Romsey played Abington way back in June both sides were looking for their first win of the season, an endeavour in which we were successful when Russell Woolf and Tom Jordan bowled out the opposition for 124. Today the two sides again had a common goal, this time to avoid relegation to the bleak wastelands of Junior 3. However the prize for winning today was only a chance of staying up -- we both had to hope that cellar-dwellars Weston Colville could rise up and defeat mid-table Babraham.
Regardless, the focus of the afternoon was very much on getting a win and, for the seventh match in a row, we fielded first, heading out onto Parker's Piece to see about getting some early wickets. And whilst and Marcelino Gopal (2/44) and Andy Owen (1/38) both managed that, Abington still managed to build their total steadily, making it to a healthy 100/3 after 27 overs. Marcelino had also been starring in the field, chasing tirelessly as the ball headed in his direction two or three times an over; and most of the rest of the out-fielding was done by Romsey first-timer Edmund Rex, who made some stunning diving stops in his equally stunning purple trainers. Dave Clark, John Gull and Arnie Garside also ran and dived with the sort of enthusiasm that we're not quite used to at Romsey Town (although it was just as well everyone was covering so much ground as, once again, we only had ten men). We also bowled pretty well, with Tom Jordan (0/34) and Adrian Mellish (1/31) both causing their share of discomfort, but our mixed fortunes were summed up by Daniel Mortlock's spell of 1/23. Beating the bat once or twice an over is all well and good, but he only got an actual wicket on the second last ball of his spell, and even that breakthrough seemed to have stemmed from the fact that the batsman was still swearing at his own umpire for allowing the bowler to deliver an earlier ball before he was ready.
Any hopes of keeping the opposition down to 150-odd were dashed when Vikrant Sharma (77* today, having batted so well against us in the June game) started hitting out, and Abington managed to score at more than a run a ball for the last third of their innings. The real drama, though, was in Marcelino's and Andy's second spells, which saw five or six catches go down in the space of five minutes. The two trickiest were high, swirling balls that went to, respectively, Richard ``Beard'' Naisby (in his first Romsey game) and John ``Mini Beard'' Gull. John managed a fair bit of swirling himself before somehow ending up in such a position that a full-length dive back in the direction he'd come from left him a foot short of the ball; whereas Beard was forced to attempt a backwards pike with two summersaults as the ball sailed over his head. That he got his fingers to the ball was an impressive effort, but the main result of this was the breaking of one of them and a view inside it that might have given Robbie Williams the inspiration for the climax of his Rock DJ video.
All in all it was a frustrating way to end what's been a highly successful year's bowling and fielding for Romsey, but in particular spare a thought for Lino who, given that he would also have conceded one less run if any of four catches had been held, would have topped the bowling averages. As it was, the absent Russell Woolf (11 wickets at 17.64) pipped Lino (18 wickets at 18.71) to take the bowling award and now has a matching speaker ornament to go with his previous trophy from 2003.
So there was certainly plenty to discuss as we tucked into Jon Steele and Elaine's hearty tea, including the reliability of the gap-ridden scorebooks that suggested Abington had scored somewhere in the region of 180, but were really more of an impressionistic guide to their innings than a faithful record of events. There was also plenty of discussion about our batting order -- with most of the usual top order order either away or injured, it was going to have to be a bit creative. In the end the strategy was to try and ensure that we had a big hitter and a grafter at the crease at all times, and in the end this policy worked remarkably well.
John Gull (34 off 52 balls) and Marcelino Gopal (15 off 8 balls) did most of the early scoring while Tom Jordan (4 off 29 balls) and Arnie Garside (10 off about 40 balls) ensured that we didn't suffer the sort of collapse that has plagued our recent run chases. And certainly at 100/3 after 23 overs with master finisher Andy Owen at the crease we seemed to be doing it easily . . . until he was dismissed in single figures for only the second time this year (and, as a result, won the batting award, as he did in 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998 and 2003). That left our two debut players, Beard and Edmund Rex, at the crease, but their lack of experience didn't seem to be a hinderance as Edmund, in particular, went to town, smacking boundaries all round the ground in the most spectacular innings of the day. We were all set to clap a debut half-century when we found a two-run discrepancy in the scorebooks, and of course it was just at that moment that he played a false shot, and so had to be content with a superb - and vital - 48.
The scoring then slowed down as Beard (7) and Arnie saw off Abington's most threatening bowlers, after which we were left having to score 53 from the final 60 balls of our season. Arnie, Daniel Mortlock (23) and Adrian Mellish (5), with the help of some handy byes and misfields, managed a torturous balancing act of scoring just enough runs to keep up with the rate, but never quite managing to hit the boundaries that could have seen us comfortably home.
The sun was already behind the buildings as the final over began with us needing 10 runs and Abington needing 2 wickets -- although maybe the critical fact was that it wasn't one of their experienced hands but a rather young leg-spinner who had the ball in his hand. After three deliveries both teams had made significant progress: we'd scored 7 runs, but Abington had finally got a run out (after a couple of close shouts) and so it was now 3 needed off 3 balls, but with no more batsmen to come. And, as if that wasn't enough, new batsman Dave Clark had come to the wicket with two additional complications: firstly, his knee was stuffed from an earlier fielding mishap; and, secondly, a tie was enough for us to have a chance of staying up. After a few more field adjustments (and one last longing look at that bunch of local girls in short skirts) the bowler came in . . . and sent the ball down the leg-side as Daniel moved to pull it to the boundary . . . only to mis-time it completely, sending the ball spiralling into the air . . . but to safety as he and Dave completed a run . . . but the fielder hadn't reached the ball yet, so they turned for a second . . . but Daniel had slipped a little on the dewy grass as he'd turned . . . and this time the throw was good . . . and so we ended a metre short of tieing the game, thus mucking up what should have been a most satisfying victory to end the season.
We were all deflated like balloons from last week's party, whereas the Abington lads were over the moon -- at least until word got through that Babraham had also won, meaning that, despite the exhausting efforts put in by both teams, we'd both be heading down to Junior 3 next year. In one way it was almost good news for us, as it meant we hadn't thrown away our spot in the league with that last shot, but it's hard to imagine Abington being pleased to find out that Babraham II's 9 wicket thrashing of Weston Colville was dominated by a century (113* out of 159/1, to be precise) scored by one of their first team openers who, according to his own club web-page, hadn't appeared for the seconds all year (but then you have to expect to be dropped if you only average 52.36 for the season). Given all the CCA's league restructuring, maybe it's time for separate leagues for second teams with their conveniently available super-subs that always seem to come to the rescue when relegation looms. Or, a bit more seriously, a rule to the effect that you can't play in a grade once you've played, say, five games in higher grades that season. There is actually a CCA rule that's meant to deal with this issue, but it's so watered down (limiting the number of higher-grade players allowed to three, and even then defining ``higher-grade player'' only on the basis of the team's previous two matches) as to be useless.
Such musings aside, it was time for a stiff drink well away from anything punchable, so it was off to The Avery . . . where, as it happened, there were a bunch of rugby fans who'd had a few too many stiff drinks during the day and were suddenly finding each other very punchable indeed. And so there it was, nestled in the corner of the pub with our G'n'Ts, that our league season came to an end, even if we still have next week's friendly against NCI to look forward to.