For most of today's match against Elmdon it felt like we'd been inserted into a recurring nightmare. Even before we'd taken to the field we found ourselves leaving the cozy confines of Cambridgeshire for the second match in a row, once again zooming down country lanes and stopping only when we'd reached an intersection and had no idea which way to go. More frustratingly, our cricketing performance was an almost seamless continuation of last week's Thurlow debacle: there were more missed opportunities and four-balls when we fielded; and then we somehow managed an even more dismal top-order collapse, at one stage being in danger of getting precisely zero batting points. That we ended up with three was down to a sumblime combination of the old (a one-man rescue effort by you-know-who) and the new (an astounding innings by a debut player), but we're getting ahead of ourselves by several paragraphs . . .
The signs were bad from the moment we once again tried the Old Romsey policy of bowling first. We seemed to spend most of the next hour setting the field, which led to such triumphs as a mid-on being put behind the bowler's arm, a no-ball for having three fielders behind square-leg, and the only decent chance going to ground. When Elmdon had reached 81/0 in the 20th over it was impossible not to have flashbacks to Thurlow's 277-run opening partnership -- but instead we got three quick wickets and, for the only time during the game, were mabye even on top. Even more amazingly, the wickets were down to three fantastic catches: Jon Steele held onto a bullet at square-leg (for which his finger made the ultimate sacrifice); first-time 'keeper John Gull showed lightning reactions to pouch a big edge while standing up to the stumps; and, best of all, Arnie Garside steadied himself under a huge lofted drive despite the twin difficulties of an undulating ground and the swirling wind.
Frustratingly, our nominal ascendancy didn't last very long, the Elmdon captain bludgeoning good and bad balls alike on his way to 73 (with 9 fours and 3 sixes), an innings which all but put the game out of our reach. We did at least rally towards the end of the 40 overs, with Fahim Mirza taking 2/48 with his darts and then Andy Owen (2/26 and, for the second match in a row, the only bowler to go for less than 5.5 an over) finding himself on a hat-trick as Elmdon's innings came to an end, but 220 was 40 more than we wanted to be chasing.
And so as we munched on a hearty tea and feigned interest in one of the dullest FA Cup finals in history, we began wondering how we might set about chasing down Elmdon's healthy total with a somewhat thin batting line-up.
Badly, as it turned out. Our top order fared even worse today than they had a fortnight ago, the first seven batsmen to be dismissed contributing a grand total of 19 runs between them as we lurched from 13/4 to 34/6 to 50/7. Only Leno Maruzzi (7, in his first Romsey innings for over a decade) and Andy Owen (11* at this stage) had defied the Elmdon attack to any significant degree, the real star being extras (of which there were 32 in the end). The situation was so dire that even Geoff Hales, who'd kindly come along to score for us, was seen apparently trying to sneak off back to Cambridge despite the fact that he was on crutches.
In the end Geoff stayed the distance, and it's a good bet he's glad he did, 'cos otherwise he'd have missed Marcelino Gopal's amazing display of power-hitting. Despite coming in at number nine, he was already top-scorer after just four balls (even with a short run) and, with clever support from Andy, got us back into the match. At 108/7 after 27 overs Elmdon were still firm favourites, but given that we'd scored 12 from each of the four previous overs, the momentum was very much with us, and Elmdon needed a wicket . . .
. . . or a crazy running mix-up which ended up with Andy Owen clutching his hamstring in agony. He was able to keep batting (with a runner, just to add to the confusion), but it completely changed the complexion of the game, Andy (34 with 4 fours) and Marcelino (59 with 6 fours and 3 sixes) both getting caught soon afterwards. Still, their 102 run partnership (off just 90 balls) was the best of the match, and it would have been most fascinating to see into the alternative universe where they went for that second run, kept the relevant hamstring intact, and could keep batting as they had been for a few more overs.
Not that we deserved to win, mind -- a 70 run margin was a fair reflection of the difference between the two teams -- but at least we had something to smile about as we made the long journey back to Cambridge.