The equation was pretty simple today: win and we'd go back up to Junior 3; lose and . . . well, we'd still probably go up, although it wouldn't be mathematically guaranteed. So maybe a stronger motivating factor was that a win would keep us on top of the table and on track to win the league for the first time since 1991. The first step towards this goal was to find Dullingham (which was accomplished with uncharacteristically little fuss), then to find the ground (which proved a bit trickier, as some sat-navs seemed a bit reticent on this point), and then finally to find a place to park (which was trickier still, given that the rec had been converted into a temporary camp-site overnight, and at one stage our cars were all lined up like targets along the shortest boundary). With the pitch only a marginally lighter colour than the lush green outfield (and given that we bowled out Dullingham for just 74 back in July) we were desperate to field first, and so a huge cheer went up when Andy returned from the toss with the news that that's exactly what we were going to do.
Dullingham's openers started out with a few confident shots on what, given its appearance, was a surprisingly true surface, and it seemed we might struggle to make an early breakthrough. But then came a moment of fielding brilliance. After the ball was hit into the gap between point and cover, the batsmen called for what should have been a fairly easy single; but Rod Dennis got to the ball sooner than they expected and Andy Owen, who'd noticed that the striker was still some way short of his ground, made a quick decisive call to throw to the bowler's end. Rod immediately changed his aim and hurled the ball at the stumps thirty yards away. The ball raced past the batsman like the blast from the ion cannon flashing past the rebel transports in The Empire Strikes Back and, just like it's geek equivalent, slammed into its target in the nick of time.
After that initial breach, it was one-way traffic for the next hour as Daniel Mortlock (4/23) and Rog Shelley (4/27) swapped wickets with pleasing regularity. After 15 overs Dullingham were in massive trouble at 42/5, and it seemed the only thing that could keep us from another massive victory was an annoyingly persistent swarm of wasps. But then Dullingham started to fight back, largely through the efforts of their number three, Ed Harper, who had remarkable success with the simple strategy of coming down the track to try and smash the ball over the square-leg boundary. Even though he missed more often than he hit, he was generally sufficiently far forward to remove any chance of LBW; and he hit often enough, sending five huge sixes sailing into the trees. Andy Owen (0/20), Marcelino Gopal (0/12) and Winker Watson (0/20) all tried and failed to remove him, but just when we were starting to get nervous he made the fatal mistake of playing back to Rog, and was out LBW for 59 (off just 57 balls).
From that point it was Romsey all the way as we took the last five wickets for 21 runs, Adrian Mellish (1/7) finishing the innings off when a highly promising junior player played a perfectly decent pull that was, unfortunately for him, directed straight into the hands of Daniel at backward-square. The only other catch in the innings was a fairly regulation effort by Roy Page at mid-wicket, but the lack of catches was simply because the Dullingham batsmen didn't give us any other chances. The ground-fielding was uniformly excellent: Jon (when he wasn't holding up play to deal with one of the friendlier wasps) and Rod did most of the work as they were posted on the square boundaries; Winker and Adie made some great stops at backward-square; and Roy, Andy and Nick Clarke were fantastic close-in. All in all it was a great team effort, the result of which was that we were faced with what a local supporter glumly conceded was a "highly chaseable target".
It would have been nice to have scored the runs in style, racing to an effortless ten-wicket win, but we simply weren't given the chance by the Dullingham opening bowlers, who delivered immaculately tight spells that netted combined (and deserved) figures of 20 overs, 6 maidens, 3/43. What little early scoring there was came from Nick Clarke, who hit 17 off 20 balls before falling to a perfect leg-cutter that clipped his off-stump. Otherwise we just tried to see the openers off, confident that this high standard almost certainly wouldn't be maintained for the whole 40 overs. And even though we were apparently struggling at 28/3 after 9 overs, the reality was we only needed another 86 runs with lots of batting still to come.
Our fourth wicket pair of Jon Steele and Andy Owen learnt from the more successful Dullingham batsmen, coming forward at every opportunity to negate the occasionally low bounce, and only worrying about scoring as a second priority. It was a bit dull as the scorebook filled with seemingly endless dots, but it was exactly what the situation needed. And, sure enough, once the change bowlers came on the runs started to flow, Jon, in particular, scoring freely after the drinks break. He was an outside chance to get a half-century, but in the end ran out of runs, as he hit the winning boundary to take his total to 48* (off 88 balls). Not only did he save himself £5.00 (that would have gone into the kitty if he'd made it to fifty) but by remaining not out he also ascended to the top of the batting averages, with 253 runs at 42.17 for the season. But more to the point was that he and Andy (17* off 70 balls) had kept their heads and taken us to what was really a massive victory, and with it back up to Junior 3.
This momentous achievement deserved a drink, and so most of both teams headed off to the nearest beer garden to join forces in the continuing battle against the impressively determined local wasps. The presence of our stripey winged friends notwithstanding, it was the perfect end to a near-perfect British summer's day, bathed in warm evening sunshine, with a cold beer in hand and surrounded by thatched houses and antique cars.