Having already achieved achieved promotion (when we beat Dullingham) and won the league (when Granta V forfeited against us a fortnight ago), what was there to play for today? Actually rather a lot, as the general sense was that we really wanted to finish our successful season with a win - book-ending the year with losses just wouldn't be the same. For some of us there was also personal glory: Jon Steele (??? runs at 4?.??) and Daniel Mortlock (??? runs at 3?.??) were both in contention for the batting; and either Andy Owen (?? wickets at ?.??) or Adrian Mellish (?? wickets at ?.??) could usurp the absent Rog Shelley (22 wickets at 11.27) at the top of the bowling table.
Standing in our way was a Granta team that needed to win today to avoid relegation (provided Elsworth didn't also win) and so could be expected fight all the way to the end. Moreover they were in a position to field a stronger team than they had for much of the rest of the season as neither Granta III nor Granta IV had a game today. Some post-match detective work (or e-stalking, if you prefer) revealed that we were facing a mixed team, with today's eleven having played a total of 52 games for the fifths, 22 for the fourths (who won Junior 3B), 34 for the thirds (who were mid-table in Junior 1A) and even 3 games for the seconds (in the Tucker Gardener Premier League) this year. The result was that we were really going to have to work for a win today - there wasn't much chance of skittling them for a sub-hundred total by sending down a few straight balls.
And so it turned out: after Oliver Rex (1/17) got an early wicket, we struggled for most of our time in the field as we were faced with two batsmen who played themselves in before cutting loose. They did give a number of difficult chances but nothing stuck, as nicks to the 'keeper went into the gloves and popped out, spiralling top-edges went to hand and, er, popped out, and we got our hands into the way of some hard-hit drives but they, inevitably, popped out as well. Bruised fingers and hands were mounting at a worrying rate, and if there'd been a blood rule in force then we might have been verging on a return forfeit. That said, the most spectacular bit of fielding didn't involve any ball-inflicted injuries because there was no actual contact: a big top-edge headed towards Marcelino on the pavilion boundary and he seemed in good position to take the catch, only to bail out at the last second to get into position to save the boundary instead. But even as the rest of us were screaming "watch the spin!" the ball jagged to Lino's right like Cryuff turning past a defender, and Lino was left both facing and moving the wrong way. With the ball now just feet from the boundary he valiantly dived after the ball, scrabbling desperately to claw it back, but all to no avail . . . unless the intention was to provide amusement for the Granta team, who all had front-row seats.
After 28 overs Granta were in worryingly good shape at 129/1 and we were desperate for a wicket. Daniel Mortlock (0/32) had been very tight but equally unpenetrating; Adrian Mellish (0/42) had seen his dreams of the bowling award hit through extra-cover; Marcelino Gopal (0/26) didn't have a fairytale today; and Russell Woolf (0/34 at this stage) was horrendously unlucky as most of the dropped catches came off his bowling. So that meant it was time to resort to our usual fall-back policy: Andy Owen handed over the wicket-keeping gloves to Roy Page and marked out his run up. Daniel predicted to Jon that Andy would get both the set batsmen out and, sure enough, he did just that as Daniel and Olly took good catches to atone for their earlier drops. Andy got a couple more wickets when the Granta middle-order went in search of quick runs and he finished with deserved figures of 4/28, which also meant he vaulted past Rog to top the bowling averages with 13 wickets at just 9.31. And as if that wasn't enough Andy also got a direct hit run out to complete his contribution to a great Romsey come-back that also saw Richard Rex take two good catches (to go with some fantastic diving stops), one of which finally gave Russ (1/49) a deserved wicket. The end result of all this was that Granta had made an even 200, an imposing looking total that was about 30 more than we'd had to chase all season, but about 30 less than it might have been an hour earlier.
We all agreed that a successful run chase would have to be based on partnerships, and openers Rod Dennis (39 off 59 balls) and Nick Clarke (23 off 35 balls) duly adopted a fairly conservative approach as they built a 38 run opening partnership in 10 overs. Number three Jon Steele took up where Nick left off, but when we were just 69/1 off 18 overs Granta must have felt they had all but squeezed us out of the game. No doubt to speed this process they brought on their season's most successful wicket-taker (with an average similar to Andy's) . . . but to put it mildly, it didn't work: his one over cost 22 runs, six of which came when Rod slammed the ball into the pavilion, causing Nick to jump into Lino's lap to evade the half-pound red missile. Assuming these things scale up sensibly, one can only imagine what Nick's reaction was when, a few minutes later, the RAF Red Arrows screamed over the ground to celebrate Romsey's league victory.
Unfortunately the batsmen struggled after our fly-over, and we scored just 21/2 off the next 9 overs to, once again, be on the verge of defeat. 89 runs needed off 72 balls was certainly a stiff challenge but, critically, Jon (?? off ?? at this stage) was still in in and (hopefully) all set to start hitting boundaries at will. And that's pretty much what happened: with support from Daniel Mortlock (25 off 33 balls) Jon went to town on some rather mixed bowling, and took his score onto 89* (from 96 balls), thus winning the batting award by a country mile. Largely through Jon's clean-hitting we scored a much healthier 78 runs from the next 10 overs, and with two overs to go the scores were tied. With a dozen balls to score one run that might have been the end of any drama, but a running melt-down the previous over had brought Marcelino Gopal to the crease and, like a mythical hero from a fantasy novel, had a prophecy to fulfil:
Not only was Lino facing, but he was at the north end of the ground, so a pull shot would be heading in the right direction; the only question was whether he'd get his chance. The first ball was a little leg-side but too ful to pull, and Lino claimed he briefly thought about blocking it in the hope getting something a bit shorter . . . but sanity prevailed and he turned it round the corner for the winning run . . . although he hit it hard enough that it trickled over the boundary, so it was pretty bloody close to the perfect end of our season. (It wasn't quite so rosy for Granta, however, who ended up being relegated by just one point - if they'd taken two more wickets today they'd have been tied with Elsworth, although having lost twice to them during the season, they'd probably have needed four more wickets to avoid going down on a tie-breaker.)
With the Fitz bar closed there was only one place to go: Mickey Flynn's for some hard-earned beers and, uncharacteristically, some pitchers of spiced rum and cola (which actually rather suited the soundtrack of Salt'n'Pepa's Push It and The Spice Girls' Wannabe). After the usual suspects wiped the floor with the rest of us at eight-ball, the next stop was The Golden Curry for surprisingly early dinner, which meant the stayers could mount a a second assault on Mickey's. But all good things must pass, and being asked "tell me what you want, what you really, really want" one time too many, Russ decided what he really wanted was to go home, a sentiment with which everyone else agreed.