Waking up to a grey and drizzly morning, it was hard not to think that once again the weather would give us all yet another free Saturday afternoon to waste traipsing around B&Q. And that was the case for plenty of Cambridgeshire's cricketers, including Fitzwilliam College groundsman Dave Norman, who was thus freed up to service our needs, even bringing out the heavy roller during the tea interval (the existence of which, of course, implies that we did get a game).
Whilst the Fitz wicket looked reasonably hard and true, it had been used earlier in the week, so the Cottenham captain had no hesitation in putting us in when he won the toss. And sure enough we struggled throughout our innings, losing a wicket every time we started to build up some momentum. Possibly the harshest example of this phenomenon was when Roy Page (13 off 21 balls) smacked a couple of lofted cover drives between the fielders, only for the off-field prediction that ``He'll have to be careful playing that shot or he'll pick out a fielder eventually'' to immediately come true the very next ball. And Jon Steele (11 off 16 balls) was also looking good, having punished Cottenham's young wrist-spinner for pitching short a couple of times, only for the bowler to get his revenge with a perfectly pitched leggie that turned and clipped the top of off-stump.
That left us in big trouble at 41/4, but we at least had Andy Owen to hold down one end, which he did in his watertight way, eventually compiling 26 from 70 deliveries. More importantly, Marcelino Gopal was the perfect ally at the other end, smacking a few boundaries with mis-hits before announcing that his timing was back with a huge six that, despite going at least as far vertically as it did horizontally, sailed way over the longest boundary on the ground. He and Andy put on 57 off 13 overs, easily the biggest partnership of the match for either side, and we were calculating totals in the 160-170 range until Marcelino was caught off a top edge for a brutal 38 (off just 33 balls). After that, though, it was a battle to avoid being bowled out, which last pair Daniel Mortlock (14* off 21 balls) and Adrian Mellish (2* off 8 balls) managed, albeit without greatly adding to our eventual total of just 132/9.
During the tea interval Andy headed off to his cousin's wedding, which gave Daniel the chance to run things for only the second time in 83 games as vice-captain, although it also meant we were missing our best cricketer, who would have been either keeping wicket or opening the bowling as required. Roy Page did a good job in the former role while Marcelino (1/36) and Daniel (2/34) each managed a wicket in their opening spells. Still, they were unable to prevent the Cottenham top order progressing along at a decent rate of around four an over and, with such a small total to defend, we had to try our other options sooner, rather than later. The most obvious was Tom Jordan who, having been told in no uncertain terms that he was going to take a five-for today, was all set up to top the Cottenham's spinner's efforts from earlier in the day. This didn't seem quite so likely when his first over included three front-foot no balls (the sort of indiscipline that Andy would never have allowed), but then he got through the remaining opener's defenses and the critical breach had been made.
In our previous games this year the fall of the second or third wicket has been the signal for a collapse, with the Junior 3 sides having much longer tails than those in the division above, and so it was no surprise that Tom's beautifully-flighted leggies were simply too good for the Cottenham middle order. With Andy now back on the field (thus replacing the highly energetic Richard Rex, who'd kindly substituted for a few overs when he'd come by to watch), the Romsey machine had finally slipped into top gear, our tight bowling backed up by superbly aggressive fielding. With drinks due there was a chance we'd lose our momentum, but fortunately the Cottenham lads hadn't got that sorted out, so Tom got another over and another wicket, taking his figures to 5/18 from his first 6.1 overs and leaving the opposition tottering at 72/7.
It felt like all we had to do now was to mop up the tail, but nobody had noticed that several of Cottenham's better cricketers were yet to make an appearance, and we met with stern resistence from their lower order. We still managed to beat the bat and get a few edges (the inside version just missing the stumps and the outside variety flying between 'keeper and slip), but otherwise the batsmen were ever alert for the bad balls and so they kept their total ticking over, ever closer and closer to ours. We tried everything, as evidenced by the last five overs being delivered by five different bowlers, but it was somehow symbolic of how close we'd gone when the winning runs came from an inside edge that flew past the stumps and made it all the way to the boundary.
The real pity of it was that it was one of our best ever efforts in the field, and Tom's should-have-been-match-winning spell of 5/40 wouldn't have been possible without the great catches taken by Dave Clark (another good effort at slip, albeit not quite as dramatic as his fast-reaction effort against Cambridge Jesters), Andy Owen (a skier and then a leading edge held off consecutive balls just after he'd changed out of his suit) and Marcelino Gopal (a superb full-length diving effort coming in from mid-on). Marcelino's dive left him bleeding, with an impressive red stain spreading over his knee as the game went on, but this was really representative of the efforts everyone was putting in, as the likes of Jon Steele, James Wood and Rod Dennis were all tireless in the outer and Adrian Mellish, Paul Jordan and, er, Rod Dennis again made some great stops closer in. It was a fantastic feeling being part of such a great team effort and if we could have -- as we should have -- just gotten 20 or 30 runs more then today would surely have been up there with last year's Abington game as one of Romsey's greatest ever victories.