Having won six league matches on the trot, it might have seemed all was well in the world of Romsey Town. There was, however, a nasty fly in the ointment of our season: our first round loss against Weston Colville. In the weeks since, they too have beaten all comers, and began today's game undefeated with a perfect league average of 20.00. For our part, we came into today's game doubly-motivated. A victory would most certainly right the wrongs of our dreadful batting performance in that first round encounter, and if we could restrict Colville to 6 bonus points (or fewer) then we'd be able to replace them as league leaders. Conversely, a loss would have given us a 0-2 record against Weston Colville and lost any claim we might have had to being the best team in the league. There was also a very different reason to do well today, which was to give our scorer Nicky Mellish some good news - sadly she's been in hospital for most of the week, but will hopefully be back to her best (and back scoring) by next Saturday.
The first step was to hope for a bit of luck with the toss so that we could give our strong batting line-up (e.g., a number nine batsman with a highest league score of 91*) every chance to have an impact on the game. Andy, despite being fully dressed, induced the opposition captain to call incorrectly, and so we had our first small victory of the day.
Our second came in the first over of the match, which lasted eleven balls and leaked 13 runs. Having been gifted such an easy start, openers Rod Dennis (33 off 55 balls) and Nick Clarke (67 off 73 balls) then made the first hour of the game their own as they compiled a truly dominating opening partnership. The only serious threat to their run-scoring was the grim drizzle which bathed the ground for most of the first hour. It can't have been much fun fielding in such conditions, and it was touch and go whether we should have gone off, although needless to say we were happy that the game continued uninterrupted. We trundled along to 125/0 after 20 overs, and at the drinks break the general talk was that we should be able to double that at least, with Nick (who'd already passed fifty) a good bet to get a century.
Unfortunately, that's not quite what we got. Instead, Nick and Rod were tied down by some good slow bowling before both got out to attacking shots in the space of 11 balls. The Colville spinners also troubled Jon Steele (13 off 27 balls), who was caught off a slow, waist-high, full-toss, only to be reprieved when an incorrect "no ball" call was made, thus repeating the same umpiring mistake that had been made (and debated at length) last week. Fortunately for our cosmic karma, if unfortunately for Jon, he was dismissed soon afterwards, and Weston Colville had taken 3/9 in the 6 overs after drinks. They had some genuine momentum, and suddenly a "Romsey collapse" seemed all too possible. But Marcelino Gopal (16 off 11 balls) and Oliver Rex (32 off 28 balls) used our strong position as leverage for playing their shots, going to town on the same slow bowlers who'd caused the top order so much discomfort, and getting us back on track in the process.
Once the total passed 200 our priorities actually flipped round: whereas we probably had enough runs (or certainly weren't going to score loads more), there was suddenly a premium on not losing wickets. Assuming we could defend our big total, the loss of more wickets would give Colville unnecessary bonus points, and so the batting became rather conservative as the innings drew to a close. Not that this prevented Daniel Mortlock (20 off 29 balls) from being bowled when he tried to late-cut the third-last ball of the innings, after which it was suddenly imperative that both Richard Rex (1* off 2 balls) and Ev Fox (1* off 1 ball) survive the remaining two. Which they did, albeit at some cost to Richard's groin when his call for a final quick single was turned down by Ev. That extra run would have taken us to 230/7, but 229/7 was most definitely good enough . . . as would have been 228/7, which might have been the correct score, given an untraceable extra no ball in the Colville scorer's otherwise immaculate book (but which was, post-match, traced to one of Olly's big sixes, which was hit off a beamer).
Whatever, we were undoubtedly the happier of the two teams as we tucked into Shayne Minnet's fabulous tea of home-made sausage rolls, breakfast baps, indulgent cakes, jam tarts and fresh fruit. The only pity of it was that we couldn't fully indulge our appetites for fear of weighing ourselves down in the field - there was still plenty of work to do to finish the job that our batsmen started so well.
But after 11 overs of Weston Colville's innings that job was just about done, as we'd restricted them to just 19/3, after which they needed more than 7 an over. This was largely due to superb opening spells from the old firm of Daniel Mortlock (an eventual 1/32) and Andy Owen (2/12), who rushed through their overs and gave the batsmen precious little width to hit at. And, on the few occasions the bowlers erred, our ground-fielding was up to the task: Marcelino Gopal made some superb stops at point; Richard Rex was energetic and dedicated at mid-off, putting his body on the line and going close to a few run outs; Jon Steele ran tirelessly around the square boundary (but somehow managed to end up with a cut finger after a seemingly innocuous pick-up); and Adrian Mellish repeatedly stopped second runs by meeting the ball aggressively rather than just waiting for it to come to him. Even more importantly, we held two catches in this period, Oliver Rex at mid-on showing that The Fear was "so 2008" and Ev Fox, wicket-keeping for the first time in six months, taking a thin edge whilst standing up to Andy.
After that initial phase of dominance the Colville fourth wicket pair made a real fight of it, playing some big drives and running well between the wickets. They stayed together past the drinks break, taking the score to a respectable 76/3 after 21 overs. Even though the required rate was now above 8 an over, we really wanted to finish things off quickly, and that meant taking wickets.
Our best bet of making a breakthrough seemed to be Marcelino Gopal, who was bowling brilliantly, having rediscovered his form from last season. He began his fifth over with a sequence of superb scoreless deliveries and he was all set to "join the dots" with the sixth . . . but the ball slipped out of his hand and the resultant full toss was well cut away . . . straight into the hands of Daniel at gully, who held the most straightforward of catches. And that slice of luck was all that was needed: for Lino it began an amazing 17-ball sequence (W . W . . . W . W 2 3 . . . . .W) in which he took 5/5. He thus finished up with his best ever Romsey figures, 5/37, as he single-handedly demolished the Colville middle order. Except that's not quite true, as two of the wickets also needed the fast hands of Ev Fox, who completed a pair of brilliant leg-side stumpings when the batsmen had briefly left their ground. At the other end Oliver Rex (0/22) bowled well before reaching his age-enforced spell limit, after which Winker Watson (2/10) claimed the final two wickets. One came about when Andy dived to his left at silly-point and plucked a full-blooded cut out of the air; the other was Ev's fourth dismissal of the day. After that we walked from the field having taken the last 7 Colville wickets for just 39 runs, thus completing our biggest runs victory since 1998, having somehow thrashed the league leaders by 114 runs.
Of course the moment we did that, we inherited that title, sitting atop of the league table for the first time since 1999. Really, though, it's essentially a three-way tie between Romsey Town (a league average of 18.38), Weston Colville II (18.13) and Dullingham II (18.00). And, maybe more to the point, we'll have to beat Dullingham next Saturday to maintain our position, so only after that match will we really know where we stand.