After several weeks of miserable weather we were blessed with a perfect summer's day on which to continue our season's rescue mission. Today we had our return match against Audley End & Littlebury -- back in June we'd lost against them in a thriller at their magnificent ground in front of Audley End House, and so it was our turn to play hosts today. Except that we couldn't find a ground, so they graciously hosted us for a second time, and we headed back down south in good time for the 1:30pm start. Although our opposition hadn't realised the early starts now come in from the final week in August, so instead we got an extra half hour's high-energy fielding practice in front a few mystified Japanese tourists and a large rottweiler.
When the game did finally get going we opted to bowl first, hoping to get something out of the soft, muddy track, but instead found ourselves frustrated as one of the opposition openers kept whacking fours right off middle-stump. He'd made 20 of Audleybury's first 25 runs before finally -- and inevitably -- missing a straight one, after which we took control of the game, taking 6/25 over the next 14 overs. Daniel Mortlock (4/21), Marcelino Gopal (2/26) and Andy Owen (1/34) got the wickets next to their names, but a big reason the batsmen were under so much pressure was our top fielding efforts, with Jon Steele, Rod Dennis, Olly Harris and Andy Page repeatedly denying the batsmen runs by moving quickly and making sure they got something behind the ball.
At drinks Audlebury were in all sorts of trouble at 51/6, and we had hopes of keeping them to double-figures, but their seventh wicket pair of A Bower and P Marsh dug in, gradually building the total and getting their team back into the game. Despite the tricky nature of the pitch they didn't give even one chance until, in the third last over of the innings, Russell Woolf (2/13) lured one of them down the track. That the final four wickets fell in 14 balls showed just how important Bower and Marsh's 71-run partnership was, and we were probably only marginally favourites as we headed off to tea.
If Audleybury could bowl tightly we were going to have just dig in and graft the way their batsmen had but, in short, we just weren't up to the task -- or even apparently that up for it, as our very strong batting line-up was punished for the simple crime of playing cross-bat shots at straight balls. Given that we needed people primarily to stay in, probably the best indicator of how well someone batted today was the number of balls faced -- and, of the top seven, only Andy Page (6 off 34 balls) lasted more than 16 deliveries. Of the rest John Gull (11 off 14 balls) dominated what little early scoring there was, but soon 13/1 became 16/5, then 25/6, and then 36/7.
And yet our target was sufficiently small that, even going to drinks at 49/7, it was still true that all we needed to do to win was avoid losing further wickets. Moreover -- and rather spookily -- we'd won our previous three games by 3 wickets, so maybe it was fated that we'd extend the run to four. And, what's more, at least one of our eighth wicket pair of Andy Owen and Daniel Mortlock had been at the crease when the winning runs were struck in all three games and, most relevantly, had nurdled their way to victory in a similar situation against Thriplow two weeks ago. For a little while it seemed they might be able to pull of an implausible rescue mission, but the bowling was just too tight, Andy (26 off 85 balls) getting bogged down to the extent that he played out 38 consecutive dot balls at one point, and Daniel (6 off 23 balls) becoming the seventeenth of an eventual eighteen batsmen to be bowled today.
Rog Shelley (5 off 39 balls) then joined Andy for the day's second-biggest partnership (31 off 14 overs), surviving not only the return of Audleybury's opening bowler (10 overs, 4 maidens, 4/10), but also the rather more dangerous assault of their erratic in-swing merchant. Having started with a tight first spell of 0/9, he lost the plot second-time round, serving up three chest-high full tosses in one over. He was taken off for his own safety, as one more errant delivery might have been sufficient for Andy to march down the pitch and take out the day's frustrations there and then. Fortunately the match didn't end in such fireworks, although Russell Woolf (0* off 3 balls) almost matched Andy in the intimidation stakes, as he came out sporting a most impressive groinal protuberence that finally had the opposition quivering with fear in a way that our pathetic batting display never quite managed.
Losing by 45 runs despite having the opposition 50/6 means that today's debacle unfortunately nestles nicely alongside our implosion against Thriplow and our previous loss to Audleybury in the ``stupid losses'' file for the season. It also means our league average is back to 11.00, comfortably below Babraham II (12.88, although that probably would have been reduced to about 12 if their game against the all-conquering Thurlow today hadn't conveniently been washed out), Elmdon (13.67) and Audley End & Littlebury (14.09). If we'd won today our average would have been 12.18 (and Audley End & Littlebury's would have been down to 12.73) and probably even beating Abington II in two weeks' time would have been enough to have saved us for another year. But instead we're going to have to win that game and beat second-placed Camden III, as well as hoping that other results go our way.