After eight months without any cricket (if you don't count a few net sessions) it was finally time to get back on the field today. The field in question was the rather nice rec in Papworth Everard, with a fair collection of kids, dogs, tennis players and other assorted wildlife, although the main attraction was clearly the day's cricket match, in which Romsey Town was set against the intriguingly-named Cambridge Jesters.
From the moment we lost the toss and were asked to field, it was a case of picking up where we left off last year, as we spent a couple of hours restricting the opposition's scoring on a low-bouncing pudding of a pitch. It was all a bit sleepy until Russell Woolf came on first change and caused all sort of trouble, as well as making things difficult for the batsmen. His nagging length was certainly too much for three of them (as figures of 3/38 would indicate), but it could have been even better if not for a comedy sequence in which Russell found himself black with rage after a regulation outfield catch went down, only to be left red-faced a ball later when he put down an equally straightfoward caught-and-bowled chance. Either way the successfully taken wickets were the important thing: the Jesters had been on top at 86/2 in the 23rd over, but from then on it was Romsey all the way.
The highlight of this phase was a sequence of great catches, Tom Jordan completing two stylish takes off thick edges (to go with bowling figures of 1/40), Daniel Mortlock snaffling a sharp caught-and bowled a few inches off the ground (to go with his bowling figures of 3/28), and then Dave Clark bringing the house (and the bowler) down with an amazing one-handed grab at slip that is already odds-on to be catch of the season. The ground fielding was mixed at best, a bumpy outfield combining with general rustiness, although Jon Steele was superb on the boundary (notwithstanding a bizarre dive that he claims was down to a pothole nobody else was able to find), Romsey first-timer Stas Shabala was energetic and reliable at mid-on, and Giovanni Giacobbe, playing his first game since 2003, did good work square of the wicket. Catherine Owen, finally playing her first legaue game for the club having turned eleven, also did a fine job in the field, although the ball only came to her half a dozen times, something which she was still grumbling about at the end of the innings. This, in turn, came five overs early when Marcelino Gopal (2/15) went through the Jesters' slightly shortened tail. Their total of 141 was probably only just sub-par on such a tricky pitch, but they must have been kicking themselves to have missed out on some 26 deliveries, especially given that their number four was still there at the end, undefeated on 53*. His success was based on the very simple principle of blocking anything full or straight and going to town anything wide or, espsecially, short; a corollary of this was that a victory would be ours if we could just do the same.
After losing an early wicket our chase seemed on track as Tom Jordan (8, including a cover drive that might well be the best shot we see all year) and Jon Steele (19) took us to 35/1, but then the wheels fell off as we engineered our first Romsey Collapse (TM) for the season, slipping to 66/6 as the Jesters' slow bowlers, backed up by some brilliant catching, left us bamboozled.
All that left us in decidedly familiar territory - just as in last season's tricky chases against Thurlow, Thriplow II, Audley End, and Camden III, Andy Owen and Daniel Mortlock found themselves trying to rebuild with yet another necessarily dull block-fest partnership in which, at least initially, run-scoring was completely secondary to defence. Their first 10 overs together yielded just 25 runs, half of which came from the awesome total of 25 wides that the Jesters delivered. Some of these calls were contentious, but for every case where the fielders were rolling their eyes there was another where the batsmen were left looking pleadingly at the umpire as the ball sailed down the leg-side. Either way, there could be no argument about the fact that the bowling was a bizarre mix, most balls being bang on middle stump and near impossible to play with the low bounce, but all of their bowlers reguarly sending the ball wide outside off or leg - indeed we could easily have won the game in byes if not for some fantastic diving by the Jesters' wicket-keeper.
Meanwhile, the required run rate had been steadily creeping up, with 51 needed off the final 10 overs. Fortunately it was just around this time that the opposition finally delivered a few loose balls of the ``within reach'' variety, and the resulting boundaries gave us the upper hand. By the time the task had been reduced to 10 needed off the last three overs, we could only really lose if we did something very silly indeed. A sequence of dot balls from the Jesters' non-Egyptian slow left-armer (who'd caused most of the trouble on his way to figures of 4/30) raised the heart-rate once again, until he finally slipped down leg-side and the ball was smashed to the boundary, to give us victory with 6 balls to spare. Andy (42*) and Daniel (32*) were duly clapped from the ground having compiled a match-winning partnership of 76* from 18.4 overs, and it was drinks all round as Romsey took the first step on the long road back to the promised land of Junior 2.