With due respect to the hours of training that we all do to prepare for our Saturday afternoon cricket games, it seems safe to say that the sporting focus of most of us this week has been on the Olympics in Beijing, not least because of the travesty that Great Britain has done better than Australia in the medal table. One can imagine selection committees across the country revising their policies and ditching Antipodeans in favour of locals to try and ride on the wave of Team GB's success. Romsey, however, has never been known to take the conventional route, and so instead of dropping our one Aussie we included a second one in the eleven. This wasn't some last-minute ``bloke I met at the Walkabout last night'' substitution, either, but the return of the prodigal son, Neal Baker-Davis; he was a Romsey regular between '94 and '05 who'd since been living in Melbourne until moving back to Cambridge earlier this week. And even though he hadn't played even a single game during his time in The World's Most Liveable City (TM), his league record (1114 runs at 55.70 and 53 wickets 18.11) makes it more than clear the talent that we'd been missing for the past few seasons.
With the addition of gun Remnants batsmen Dave Williams and Oliver Rex to our regular top order it seemed that we finally had a line-up that could post a serious total, which we'd need if we were going to defeat second-placed Longstowe today. A win would all but guarantee us safety from relegation, a task which hasn't really changed significantly in our week off. While we were cooling our heels and watching Usain Bolt break world records last weekend, Coton dropped below us and Comberton went above us, keeping us in our customary seventh place.
We got to bat first despite losing the toss, but any fantasies we had of massive totals quickly evaporated as Longstowe's accurate bowling on a low-bouncing pitch reduced us to a horrific 11/4 in the 12th over. Rod Dennis (who played for Longstowe back in the day, and even led them to a stunning win against us back in 2000) and Marcelino Gopal then mounted a spirited come-back, taking our total to 38 before Marcelino was out LBW for 17. By this stage Rod had played himself in and now found a dynamic ally in Tom Jordan. The scoring was still necessarily slow, but neither did we seem in any great danger of losing more wickets as these two took us 107/5 in the 36th over. From there we should have been able to accelerate to 130+; but, after Longstowe's excellent 'keeper managed a sharp stumping, our innings finished with a dismal collapse of 5/12. The horror was summed up by the final delivery - needing just one more run to guarantee us another batting point Rod called for a quick single but was left stranded half-way up the pitch, and he ended up sprawled on the ground with grazed arms, a strained groin, and out.
It was an inelegant and unjust end, because Rod's 38, along with Tom's 33, had been innings-saving efforts, and both were worth half-centuries in ordinary circumstances. Between the two of them they scored 60% of our runs, and Rod's two partnerships with Lino and Tom made up an amazing 81% of our total. Now it was time for the rest of us to put in some top bowling and fielding efforts to see if we could pull off a minor miracle.
We certainly started well enough, with Marcelino Gopal (10 overs, 5 maidens, 1/9) and Daniel Mortlock (10 overs, 1 maiden, 2/16) hyper-economical and the whole team fielding brilliantly to support the bowlers. Tom Jordan and Dave Williams pounced on the numerous leg-side deflections; Rod Dennis and Neal Baker-Davis were electric on the off-side; Jon Steele and Ollie Rex both put their bodies behind the ball to stop hard-hit drives; and Dave Clark(e!) and Russell Woolf showed fast reactions closer in. At 21/0 after 13 overs Longstowe were scoring almost as slowly as us the same stage. The only difference is that they were still none-for - we really needed some wickets if we were going to compete in this game.
So we changed things around and Tom Jordan (2/33) immediately lured one of the openers miles out of his ground, leaving Andy Owen with a simple stumping. Andy took an even easier catch a few overs later after Marcelino surprised the batsman with a groin-high full-toss, ironically getting his wicket with one of only two bad balls he bowled. The Longstowe batsmen continued to find scoring predictably difficult on the soft pitch, but they batted sensibly and we bowled a few more bad balls than they did. The result was that they were closing in on victory - at 71/3 after 29 overs they had more than enough wickets (7) and balls (66) to score the 49 runs they needed.
We needed something special, and we got it in a rather unexpected way when a straight drive deflected off the non-striker's boot and into Daniel's mouth. After wiping a bit of blood away he went back to his mark and took his annoyance out by taking a wicket next ball (easily his fastest of the day). The next over Russell Woolf (1/46) induced a wayward drive which was brilliantly caught by Jon Steele on the third attempt, and when Daniel got another wicket a few balls later we were actually winning - not just on the scoreboard (which read 75/6) but also psychologically, as it was almost as if we'd had an adrenaline injection. After a few more tight overs Longstowe suddenly needed 16 off the final 12 balls, although after some big hits the equation had become 5 needed off 6 as the last over began. It was to be bowled by Andy (1/8), who'd taken off his gloves to finish the game off in the sort of pressure situation he loves, and sure enough every ball was on the money. The batsmen got a few singles, the ball twice passing frustratingly out of Rod's reach at short mid-wicket, and the match had come down to the final ball, from which Longstowe needed one to tie or two to win.
There was some fiddling of the field, and Jon suggested putting in a silly mid-off to stop the ``drop and run'', but in the end we hedged our bets, with half the fielders in the ring and the rest stopping two. Andy sent down another good-length ball on off-stump and the batsmen again tried to hit it to leg, but only toe-ended it . . . right into the gap on the off-side that Jon had wanted to fill, and so the batsmen managed a pretty easy single to tie the game.
It was a fair result for a great game of cricket, but pretty maddening from a league perspective. If we'd managed to finish the game with a dot ball we'd have had 20 points, whereas if Longstowe had won we'd have had just 5. As it was the draw meant we got 10 points (5 for the tie and 5 for the runs and wickets). Amongst other things, this reveals a clear inconsistency in the league scoring system, which effectively penalises both teams for playing an exciting match. If there's a result then there are 20 points on offer for the winner and between 0 and 10 for the loser; but in a tie there's only a guarantee of 5 points for the two teams, with each getting whatever bonus points they would have scored if they'd lost. So while there are 30 points up for grabs in all games, the fact that most losing teams only average about 6 bonus points means that, on average, the teams will split around 22 points if there's a tie as opposed to about 26 points if there's a result. Obviously ties are pretty rare - today's was Romsey's second in nearly three decades of league competition - but given that relegation or promotion can often be decided by even a fraction of a point, this can be a big deal, so it's important to get it right. Moreover, the solution is simple and obvious: in a tie both teams get 10 points for the result plus half the bonus points they would have received if they'd lost, meaning a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 30 points to be split between the two teams, just as if there'd been a decisive result. Under these rules we would have reaped 12.5 points today and Longstowe would have got 13.5, both of which feel like fairer rewards than 10 and 12, respectively.
At it stands the 10 points we did get meant our league average dropped marginally from 11.00 to 10.90, leaving us just ahead of Coton on 10.80, which at least means that we'd be okay if the rest of the season is washed out. More realisticly (and less negatively), Coton will probably end up on about 11.2 points if they manage to beat Cambridge Jesters in a fortnight. And that means we'll have to beat Comberton next week, which would lift our average to 11.73 - enough to swap places with Comberton if we can restrict them to 7 or fewer bonus points. Fortunately that extra challenge won't be necessary as today Over finished their season with a loss (to Comberton, ironically), leaving them on 11.55. So the bottom line is simple: come 1:30pm next Saturday we need to play properly and finally show the world (or at least the handful of people who read these reports) what we can do and beat Comberton to save our season.