Last week we failed to beat our fellow relegation contenders Comberton and, as a result, found ourselves in the drop zone for the first time all year. And in there with us were our opponents today, Cambridge Jesters, who, despite having won two matches to our one, have been in last place almost all year. For this wooden spoon clash we headed off to The Leys School's rather well-hidden Latham Road ground -- although maybe Marcelino was overdoing things slightly by following up his surprise assault on the school's main campus with a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance on the far side of the playing area before finally entering the field of play.
Marcelino's late arrival, combined with a strong wind blowing down the length of the pitch, also meant that we tried the early experiment of Tom Jordan (0/17) opening the bowling into the wind. A few near-catches notwithstanding, that didn't really work, and neither could Daniel Mortlock (0/11), operating with the wind, get a breakthrough either. Lino was all set to take over, only to be twice delayed as Daniel successfully begged Andy for "just one more over". The main result of this was simply to prolong The Jesters' opening partnership, which finally ended when Lino finally got a bowl and Roy Page took a nicely-judged catch off his second delivery.
While Marcelino's first wicket was a critical breakthrough, it wasn't anywhere near as interesting as his second, which came after an excellent shorter ball jagged into the batsmen, took the inside edge, and lodged in the top of his pad. As the close-in fielders came in to retrieve the ball the batsman decided to eject it with the sort of motion one normally associates with kneeing a chav in the groin, and he then watched in disbelief as the ball dribbled into the stumps and dislodged a bail. Everyone just stood still for a second and then the batsman's shoulders slumped, and he left the field to a muted chorus of "bad luck, mate"s. Marcelino was concerned to know "Does that count as bowled?", which was a fair enough question given that both "hit wicket" and, as the batsman was out of his ground, "run out" seemed plausible scorebook entries (not that the Jesters' scorer's "?" seemed unreasonable either). Most of the rest of us were trying to think through the even more fundamental question of whether it was out at all. The general consensus seemed to be that, even though a batsman can't be caught after the ball has lodged in his pads, the ball isn't actually dead, and so he was bowled out just as if he'd played on off his pads in the "normal" way. However digging through The Laws Of Cricket reveals Law 23 1 (a) (i) "The ball becomes dead when, whether played or not, it becomes trapped between the bat and person of a batsman or between items of his clothing or equipment" which seems to make it pretty clear that we -- that is all of us, including the batsman and the umpires -- made a mistake.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of it, the match seemed to swing on this freak occurence, and a very healthy 52/1 in the 12th over became a procession of dismissals as Paul Jordan, reluctantly toiling into the wind, bowled one of the most successful -- and eventful -- spells in Romsey history. Even before we'd gone onto the field Paul had been saying that bowling was a weirdly random thing, that you can bowl well and get nothing, or bag a pile of wickets to bad strokes or amazing catches (although he wasn't quite prescient enough to predict pad-ejection as a possibility). The highlight of his spell was bowling the opposition's best batsman with a slower ball he totally failed to pick, and it was pretty good going to provide a succession of catches to 'keeper Andy Owen, John Gull, and one each to himself and son Tom. However mixed in with this were some big wides (down both sides of the pitch) and three no balls for waist-high full tosses. It was all summed up in his final over, which included three wickets, three wides and two of the no balls, the second of which scared the crap out of the youngest Jester to such a degree that he played a lame shot to the next ball to give Paul his sixth wicket. That took his figures to 6/34, the fifth best recorded for Romsey, and he still had an over to get the club's first ever seven-for. Unfortunately, the high full tosses meant he didn't get his chance, and so Adrian Mellish (1/5) got the job of finishing off the innings, which he duly did when Jon Steele held a running catch at backward square-leg (and then treated us to his version of Shoaib Akhtar's trademark "aeroplane" celebration). Given that we'd started the day completely lacklustre in the field, it was a great turn-around to take six catches, just as it was great to take 8/46 to keep our ten-man opposition to double-figures. As we headed to tea most of the team waited to clap Paul from the field, although in the end he had to content himself with being one half of a two-man formation when one of our number (who will remain anonymous to all those who are unable to access versions of this page cached before July 20, 2008) remained oblivious to goings on and beat him back to the pavilion.
Going into bat against an under-manned team with less than a hundred runs to defend it was hard to imagine even Romsey Town screwing things up, although suddenly such morbid fantasies were starting to take shape when we fell to 33/3 in the 9th over. Tom Jordan (13 off 17 balls) and Jon Steele (11 off 20 balls) had both played themselves in before giving unnecessary catches, and neither of the new batsmen, Rod Dennis and John Gull, had spent much time in the middle this year, so it was hard not to be nervous.
And yet there was no need to be: both John (20* off 25 balls) and Rod (28* off 33 balls) were imperious, smashing bad balls to the boundary and pushing singles otherwise. The only pity of their match-winning undefeated 66-run partnership was that it had to stop when the winning runs were hit -- given another 20 overs in the middle it felt like there was time for both of them to compile maiden centuries.
Really, though, it was more that the Jesters had lost than that we had won. One guide as to the overall standard of cricket today was that the Jesters' total of 98 included a contribution of 28 extras (including 12 wides and 6 no balls), 9 more than any of their batsmen. The match was like one of those snooker games in which hardly any balls are potted, but both players' scores mount through a succession of fouls. And for the Jesters things went from bad to worse towards the end -- having started a man short, they ended with just eight players on the field, as their youngest memeber had suffered a leg-strain when diving for a ball and then one of his team-mates had gone off to get the medical kit. Truly the wheels had fallen off, and it's easy to imagine they were almost as happy as us to be getting off the field at the ridiculously early time of 5:30pm. We headed off to The Panton Arms to drink the fruits of Paul's labours, and to breathe easy now that we've leapt from 8th to 6th on the league table.