Today we had an away match against Milton, not only in the sense that we were some ten miles away from "home" (wherever that is), but also in the sense that we were some ten miles away from Milton. If we'd been playing in Milton itself then we might actually have had a few supporters to boost morale, but it was no surprise that few of them could be convinced to head out along the A14 to the outskirts of Fenstanton. Once there it was a case of driving back and forth along the Low Road to St Ives until, one by one, we noticed a little gate that led to a track that led to a field that surrounded a clearing that was roughly in the shape of a cricket ground. When the sun was shining on the surrounding fields of allergens it was a pleasant place for some village cricket, but for most of the day a howling wind whipped across the ground, and squadrons of grey clouds brought near-horizontal rain at regular intervals.
Only one such storm actually stopped play, however, and that was after precisely zero balls: the Milton opening bowler began with a wide and then the heavens opened, forcing us to ponder our technically infinite run rate from the safety of the clubhouse. That state of affairs didn't last too long, however, and we came back out to find the under-prepared pitch providing the bowlers with trampoline-like bounce that made batting difficult at best and painful at worst. We slumped to 6/2 (not that either wicket could be blamed on the bounce) and there were captain-to-captain suggestions that the pitch was "unsafe", not to mention captain-to-team prayers that more rain would come and finish the game there and then. But the track calmed down as it dried out and the sun came out, leaving Jon Steele and Andy Owen to try and rebuild the innings. And this they did, grinding their way to 11* off 38 and 54 balls, respectively, as they played out the Milton opening bowlers (one of whom returned incredible figures of 6 overs, 5 maidens, 2/1 in what was his first spell for the club). Even so, 22/2 off 15 overs was still a rather grim score, not that it stopped Marcelino from making rash predictions about "getting at least a hundred" that induced a lot of superstitious shhhing from everyone else in the clubhouse.
And yet Lino had seen the future, for we were slowly but surely clawing our way back into the game. Jon Steele hit a succession of boundaries off the first change bowlers, and suddenly we were clapping his half-century . . . and whilst it was a pity we were clapping him back to the pavilion a minute later, the key thing was that his vital 51 (off 70 balls, with 8 fours) had shown everyone else what could be done. Andy then took over the chief run-scoring duties, finding a superb ally in Richard Rex, who stayed with him 'til the end of the innings, accumulating an undefeated 27 (off 47 balls) in the process. We had long since passed Lino's target of 100 and there were now all sorts of wild predictions of "160" and "170" and the like. But they kept having to be revised as Andy smashed more and more boundaries and Milton conceded more and more overthrows and byes. In the end Andy and Richard put on 103 runs in 14.2 overs, and we finished on 197/4, our highest league total since the heady "New Romsey" days of July 2006. As for Andy, he unfortunately ran out time to score a century, but was no doubt happy with his final score of 85* (off 114 balls, with 12 fours and a six), his highest innings since 1994.
Our time in the field started in the ideal fashion, when Andy continued his "good day at the office" with a superb catch standing up to Daniel Mortlock (2/22) in the first over. After that, Marcelino Gopal (0/32) and Rog Shelley (1/27) kept things nice and tight as we watched the required run rate head up past six, then seven, then eight an over. Although maybe we were peering off to the scoreboard a bit too much, at least if Daniel's attempt to walk back to his boundary position after just one ball of his own over is anything to go by. With the pitch now playing pretty easily, a key to our ascendancy was the fielding: Rod Dennis made endless sharp stops at short cover; Nick Clarke prowled around mid-wicket with the sort of intent you'd expect of an ex-RAF man; and Adrian Mellish was indefatigable in the deep. And when Adrian combined with Russell Woolf to effect a sharp run out, it seemed we'd just hammered the final nail into Milton's coffin: they were now 100/4 after 32 overs, and needed the small matter of 98 runs from 48 balls.
And no, they didn't get them - that would have been absurd, even for Romsey - but when the new batsmen started hitting out, we responded with a bowling meltdown of impressive proportions. We conceded 45 runs off the next 5 overs of half-trackers, and suddenly a few big hits could have really made a match of it. There was only one thing for it: Andy took of his 'keeping pads, picked up the ball, and promptly caught and bowled the more dangerous of the batsmen three deliveries later. With another wicket in his next over, he finished with figures of 2/10 to go with his two catches and near-century - as Adrian shouted from the boundary, "One more wicket and you'll probably be 'man of the match'!"
Sadly there's no such prize on offer, but there was the far more satisfying award of an actual victory. And, maybe even better, our best batting performance for three years, despite being 6/2 on a treacherous pitch. It really called for a few drinks; but, with the opposition heading back to Milton to meet up with the rest of their club, it was left to Andy, Daniel, Richard and Jon (163 runs for once out and 4/32 between them) to bop along to "the nuttiest sound around" as the sun set over the A14.