Despite the fact that we'd beaten Milton earlier in the year, captain Andy Owen clearly felt the need to inflict some psychological wounds on the opposition even before the match had begun. To that end he headed out for the toss wearing only a strange anachronstic undergarment that someone tried to describe as "short-johns". Last time he tried this, against Harlton in 2003, the tactic had the desired effect; today the predictably intimidated (or maybe just horrified) Milton captain called incorrectly at the toss, and Andy had no hesitation in batting first (and then getting dressed).
Our innings began at a cracking pace, as Rod Dennis (11 off 18 balls), Nick Clarke (24 off 23 balls), Jon Steele (15 off 23 balls) and Marcelino Gopal (an explosive 29 off just 13 balls) sent the ball flying across the boundary time and time again. Combined with a steady flow of extras (mainly in the form of waist-high full-tosses, of which there were 12 in the end) we were motoring along at more than a run a ball, reaching 107 after 15 overs.
The only problem was that we were losing wickets at a similarly crazy rate: in scoring those hundred-odd runs five batsmen had been dismissed. The Milton players seemed to think they should have had even more of us back in the hutch when a number of big appeals went unrewarded; however the fact that we ended up giving several fine caught behinds and an LBW presumably constituted strong evidence that they weren't being robbed of their just rewards. If anything we were robbing ourselves of our 40 overs by playing loose shots, at least until Andy Owen (22 off 48 balls) and Oliver Rex (a superb 40 off 48 balls) stemmed the flow of wickets as they compiled a critical partnership. The possibility of not batting out our overs reared its head again when they both got out in quick succession, leaving us 176/7 after 29 overs, but Daniel Mortlock (26* off 40 balls), Rog Shelley (10 off 24 balls) and Russell Woolf (4 off 7 balls) played calmly, if conservatively, to see us through to the penultimate over.
That left a very nervous Adrian Mellish with the task of batting out the last few deliveries, which he managed, albeit with an impressive amount of drama for such a short innings. First up was a lofted cut shot that just escaped the out-stretched hand of the point fielder and eventually brought two runs. Then there was an adventurous pull shot that somehow turned into a precision chip onto the "green" demarcated by the bowler, mid-on and mid-off, all of whom were left despairing as the ball landed in the few square feet which none of them could reach. The next ball was yet another high full-toss, which Adrian did well to pull to fine-leg, watching transfixed as the fielder held a good catch, but he should, instead, have been running up the other end as the umpire had already called "no ball". In the end he made it, and thus finished up on 3* off 5 ridiculously eventful deliveries, taking Romsey Town to 227/9 in the process.
After enjoying Denise and Catherine Owen's delicious tea it was time to head out into the field to defend our big total, a task which began well enough when Oliver Rex conquered The Fear to hold onto a skier off the bowling of Daniel Mortlock (2/28). With Milton's second wicket pair combining some insane calling and, at least initially, some dodgy slogs, it seemed another wicket would come soon enough. But the batsmen dug in, and gradually began asserting some dominance as we started to produce more and more loose balls whilst losing it completely in the field. There were on-going debates about field-placings that remained unresolved for overs at a time; there were overthrows when nobody could be bothered to back up; fielders were caught flat-footed; the ball sped past tentatively-outstretched feet; and of course there were dropped catches. By the time Milton had reached 101/1 after 23 overs and, it was hard not feel nervous that our hard-earned total was in the process of being overhauled.
It must also have been hard, an over later, for Marcelino Gopal not to feel nervous as he steadied himself under yet another lofted shot. But he held firm, and it was grins all round as we finally made a breakthrough. Someone suggested that "one wicket brings another" and indeed it did when, two balls later, Roy Page raced in from short-cover to effect a fantastic run out as the bad calling finally made itself felt. With two new batsmen in we were able to keep the scoring down over the next few overs as Rog Shelley (1/54) and Russell Woolf (0/21) kept putting the ball "on the spot". But even as the required rate pushed up past 10 an over there was still a sense that Milton were in the match, especially when they hit 17 off one particularly disastrous over. Containing the encumbent batsmen should have been possible, but what we really needed were wickets to decisively finish things off.
The way we were going to get them was for the captain to lead from the front: having exhausted himself shouting at the bowlers whenever they erred in line or length, Andy Owen took off his 'keeping paraphenalia and brought himself onto bowl, presumably to show everyone how it should be done. He adjusted his field, narrowed his eyes like Steve Waugh preparing to win another Ashes Test, and ran in . . . to deliver what was probably the worst ball of the entire innings, a looping full-toss about two feet outside leg that was smashed away by the grateful batsman. The ribbing from the rest of the team was merciless, but unfounded in the end, as the rest of Andy's spell was impeccable as he put every ball on his beloved "spot" and came away with deserved figures of 1/16 from his 6 overs.
That was one end sorted, but who was going to bowl from the other? That responsibility fell to Adrian Mellish, whose 4-over spell was actually very similar to Andy's but for the fact there was no first-up full-bunger - and that he got three times as many wickets, finishing up with 3/17 (albeit not the five-for he'd been promised by the vice-captain). One of these wickets was stand-in 'keeper Daniel Mortlock's first ever league stumping; one was a pretty straightforward "swing and a miss"; and one was the subject of yet more umpiring controversy. Unlike the earlier debates that centred around what actually happened (i.e., whether the batsman had hit the ball), the facts were at least clear: Adrian sent down a fairly loopy full-toss that hit the base of the stumps on the full, having passed the charging batsmen at around head height. But the umpire called "no ball" as it was a full-toss over waist height. At this point about three separate debates started up, with various Romsey players asserting that the decision was wrong both because Adrian was a slow bowler (and hence it should only have been a no ball if the ball was above shoulder height) and also because the ball would have passed the batsman at about stump height if he hadn't come down the track. In the end the umpire conceded his uncertainty and bowed to our conviction, and the batsman reluctantly headed back to the pavilion. It was all rather inelegant, although maybe arguing about the Laws is slightly more forgiveable when you've got them right, which we had: Law 42.6 (b) (i) states that "Any delivery, other than a slow paced one, which passes or would have passed on the full above waist height of the striker standing upright at the crease is to be deemed dangerous and unfair, whether or not it is likely to inflict physical injury on the striker" and Law 42.6 (b) (ii) gives the similar condition for slow bowlers, but with the requirement modified to be "above shoulder height".
At any rate, Andy and Adrian's spells finally killed off Milton's spirited chase, and in the end we won by 44 runs (although it didn't feel nearly that comfortable). It was our sixth league win in a row, something we haven't managed since getting promoted to Junior 2 back in 1999. Even with our silly first-up loss we're now ensconsed in the top three in the league: Weston Colville II are still undefeated (with a league average of 20.00); we're second with an average of 18.14; and Dullingham are right behind us on 18.00 (the difference at the moment being just one batting/bowling point). However after that it's daylight: Elsworth II, in fourth place, have a league average of just 12.14. So already it seems to be a three-way race for the two promotion spots, with our next match, against Weston Colville next Saturday, a critical test of our claim to a spot in Junior 3.