In the last few weeks the Romsey Town season has entered familiar territory, with every match feeling like a critical encounter in our battle to avoid relegation. And today was again a kind of ``bonus round'', as victory over Coton would not only improve our prospects, but also guarantee that they wouldn't increase their league average at the same time. The match-up against Coton also promised to be an intriguing one from a cricketing point of view, as their successes this year have tended to rely largely on the efforts of star all-rounders George Speller (who, as some of you may remember, played for Romsey back in 2003), Ross Chandler and Chris Cooke. And so it was round one to us when it turned out that Chris wasn't in the team today (albeit presumably not looked over by the selectors in place of some unknown roof-tiler, the fate that befell poor old Matthew Hoggard when he was rejected in favour of Darren Pattinson for the Headingly Test this week).
Round two, however, was very much to Coton, and George in particular, as he made superb use of the new ball and strong wind to dismiss Tom Jordan (0 off 3 balls) who, in the end, probably did well to edge the ball. At the other end Roy Page (17 off 39 balls) was just starting to accelerate when he picked out George in the deep, and at 26/2 in the 11th over another miserably low total was on the cards.
But then Rod Dennis (39 off 74 balls) and Andy Owen (21 off 45 balls) compiled a superb partnership to put us in the ascendency. With the score at 89/2 after 23 overs and Rod now in top gear there was talk of reaching 200 for the first time all year.
Nope. Just when it seemed Rod and Andy's partnership had negotiated its tricky adolesence and reached maturity, the scoring dried up, with the next five overs yielding just four runs. George returned to the attack to have Andy caught behind and, with the inevitability of Vicky Pollard launching into a ``yeah-but-no-but-I-couldn't-have'' monologue, a Romsey Collapse (TM) was underway. There were, as ever, some dubious swipes at straight balls, but we even found some new methods of self-destruction: when Marcelino Gopal missed a pull shot and was hit above the box it seemed likely to be no more than annoying that some of the Coton fielders decided to appeal for an absurd LBW . . . but if you don't ask you don't get, and they got, the umpire's raised finger leaving Lino no choice but to walk back to the clubhouse in a mixture of disblief and anger.
The last ten overs of the innings were a bit of a mess, with wayward bowling and average batting combining to give the game a very village feel, although it was in the middle of all this that Jon Steele (42 off just 38 balls) played the most serene of innings, repeatedly getting to the pitch of the ball (admittedly easier for him than most of us) and playing a series of beautifully timed drives that had Coton trying desperately to keep him off strike. As a result of Jon's innings we started the last over on a not-too-embarrassing 154/9, but Daniel Mortlock (8* off 21 rather wasted deliveries) and Russell Woolf (4* off 5 deliveries) couldn't quite get the final run we needed for 160 and the security of a fourth batting point.
So that meant we were just going to have to win, which meant taking wickets and gaining access to Coton's hopefully long tail. Paul Jordan (0/10 from 5 overs) started off economically enough, while at the other end Romsey's fortunes echoed those of Marcelino Gopal, who was already fired up after his dismissal and now had to endure a few edges flying between keeper and first slip (not to mention getting his fingertips to a return chance himself). But then mention of the famed Zen Ball was made just when Andy decided to stand up to the stumps -- a little bit of swing was followed by a sharp leg-side take, the batmsan over-balancing, and finally a great stumping. Lino got another wicket to get to his usual season's figures of 2/30, leaving the match in the balance with Coton 57/3 after 19 overs.
Then it was Russell Woolf's turn to try and keep his season's pattern going, with four consecutive league three-fors coming into this game. And, once again, he kept dropping the ball on that length the batsmen hate, getting rid of both George and Coton's other most threatening batsman to be on 3/20 with 4 overs to make it an unthematic four-for. At which point Daniel Mortlock (2/13 off 8.2 ultra-economical overs) mucked things up by, according to Russell "getting through his overs so quickly that I didn't have time to rest in between mine". Still, even if Russ was thus condemned to getting "just" 3/32, it didn't matter from the team point of view, as Coton were now dead in the water at 68/6, with all the top order back in the pavilion.
At least that was the theory -- their seventh wicket pair, however, had other ideas, and dropped anchor for the best part of an hour. Even though they weren't scoring runs, our total was sufficiently small that they still only needed a run a ball, and they were slowly but surely getting their eye in. After staying together for some 70-odd balls we'd had enough, and called on the services of Tom Jordan to finish things off, which he promptly did, landing some beautiful flighted leggies to get the tidy figures of 3/7 as we bowled out Coton for just 98.
The flurry of tail-end wickets led to jibes about Tom ``Elmer Fudd'' Jordan going out ``hunting for wabbits'' and discussions about reviving Andy's patented averages scheme in which top-order wickets count for more than those of tail-enders. But really, the fact that we were spending energy on such frivolous matters was really just indicative of the fact that Romsey was so in control in the field. Uniformly immaculate bowling (e.g., only one over went for more than 6 runs) was backed up by energetic fielding, with Ollie Rex, Roy Page and Lino superb close in, while Jon Steele and Rod Dennis did great work protecting the square boundaries.
The game was also notable for the spirit it was played in -- not that there have been too many problems this year, mind, but today had the feel of two teams playing as hard as they could but sociably and honorably, as evidenced by the fact that both teams' best batsman walked upon edging the ball.
Of course it's particularly easy to be gracious in victory, and ours today means that we've leap-frogged Coton to be nestled in the middle of a bunch of six teams with between 10.25 and 14.20 points. If we could win all our remaining games then we might even be able to usurp Longstowe (second with an average of 16.00 points), but it's probably more relevant that two wins from our final five games should see us avoid relegation.