Our unbroken run of victories at Fortress Trinity was bound to come to an end today, if only because we finally had to leave the fairytale land of Cambridge college grounds to re-enter the more earthy world of village cricket. We also had to say goodbye to team stability as a combination of holidays, house-moving and what hopefully isn't swine flu saw to it that two of the season's top six run-scorers and three of the season's top six wicket-takers were unavailable today. Still, maybe it was appropriate that it was a slightly green Romsey eleven that headed out to Elsworth, as we arrived to find a decidedly green pitch waiting for us - with no fancy Trinity-style covers, the recent rain had prevented the groundsman from even cutting a strip until a few hours before match-time. This was no problem in itself, and would have been a bonus if we could have bowled first . . . but there was the small matter of the toss, which we lost, and, unsurprisingly, Elsworth invited us to bat first on what was later described as "the sort of classic sticky wicket that Geoff Boycott always claims could only be mastered with his superior technique".
Certainly it couldn't be mastered by playing big cross-batted strokes straight away: Rod Dennis (6 off 11 balls) was lucky to survive the first ball of the game when his miscued cut landed just out of the point fielder's grasp; then Nick Clarke played a similar shot to his first ball and wasn't so lucky. After a few more overs of good bowling and checked strokes we were in real trouble at 6/3, and it was hard to believe that we were the same team who'd thrashed the league leaders only two weeks earlier. Still, we once again had a long batting line-up, so all was not lost just yet. Andy Owen (22 off 61 balls) and Ev Fox (27 off 48 balls) slowly got us back into the game, putting on an invaluable 56-run partnership that recalled Andy and Jon's similar effort in the Milton game.
In that game we made it all the way to the mythical "200-odd" and it was tempting to hope for a repeat today, at least until we lost 3/15 in a few disastrous overs either side of the drinks break. Elsworth thus increased their catch tally to an impressive "six out of six", with this second trio all "caught and bowled", as the batsmen got through their shots too early. With the scoreboard (of the same "calculator" design that had so troubled Adrian in Cambourne) now reading 77/6 off 26 overs, we were in serious danger of not even making it to triple figures.
That we did make it past 100 was due to a combination of resolute batting by Daniel Mortlock (44*) and Malcolm Creek (31) and some serious good fortune, in the form of at least half a dozen dropped chances (several of which were no more difficult than those which had been taken so securely by the same fielders an hour earlier). Daniel and Malcolm started off stone-walling, but were gradually able to play their shots as the demons were exorcised from the pitch as it dried. In the end they put on 78 runs, more than doubling our total in the 14.5 overs they were togther. Unfortunately Malcolm's luck ran out when he went for a big shot off the first ball of the final over, after which we mirrored our early innings wicket-flurry with a mini-collapse of 3/5 in 6 eventful deliveries. Even though we might have given Elsworth an extra bowling point (assuming we could win) it was maybe more important that we made it to 160 off the penultimate delivery, thus giving us an extra batting point (if we were to lose).
At the change of innings the general consensus (from members of both teams) was that we'd made enough runs, and that chasing 160 would be decidedly tricky on this wicket. This opinion that was was quickly confirmed when Daniel Mortlock (with a first spell of 1/11) and Andy Owen (an even better opening spell of 6 overs, 3 maidens, 1/5), were able to make scoring all but impossible for the Elsworth top order, repeatedly seaming the ball past the bat and into 'keeper Ev Fox's perfectly-positioned gloves. And when the batsmen did connect, we fielded brilliantly to deny them runs wherever possible, Andy Page and Malcolm Creek making some great stops in the gully/point region, Winker Watson sharp at backward-square, and Roy Page and Olly Rex impenetrable at the two ends' mid-offs. As a result of this combined effort we'd restricted Elsworth to just 18/2 after 12 overs, and already the required run rate had gone up from 4.03 to 5.11 an over.
So that was 20 of the 40 overs taken care of, at least in principle; but there was some uncertainty about the other 20. Not only had the rest of the team bowled just 31.4 league overs between them all year, but it was also unclear what sort of bowling was best suited to the conditions, especially with a right/left combination at the crease. It was thus maybe predictable that things got a little messy for a while: we managed five consecutive overs from five different bowlers at one point, and the Elsworth batsmen scored at almost a run a ball during this period of the game. There was a brief sense that all our hard work was going to be quickly undone; but then everything suddenly clicked again just as it had at the start of the innings, as Winker Watson (3/22) and Adrian Mellish (3/25) got into their respective grooves. On either side of the surprisingly dramatic drinks break ("You wanker"; "Takes one to know one"; etc.) Winker and Adie won the game for us, stifling the batsmen with their tight lines as we took 6/34 in 15 immaculate overs. Of course their success relied once again on some great fielding, with Rod Dennis saving lots of runs on the square boundary, the Pages putting aside their earlier differences to make a wall on the leg-side, Olly now having to deal with a succession of hard-hit pulls at square-leg, and several catches being held. Nick Clarke took a regulation chance at silly mid-on off Adie (despite having earlier been smacked in the shins when Adie had delivered a rare half-tracker); Winker got us back to 1-3 in the "caught and bowled" competition when he ended Elsworth's impressive 13-year-old's innings; and Adie pouched a spinning top edge at leg-slip. He was particularly chuffed about this as he didn't even seem to get The Fear, although he was less pleased that Nicky (who was, happily, on the mend and at the ground) was too busy nattering to Russ to see his effort.
By the time Winker and Adie had finished their spells the game was ours: after 33 overs Elsworth were just 76/8, and now needed an implausible 12 an over. That left Andy (1/16) and Daniel (3/17) to mop up the tail, which they did, albeit with some drama. Andy went within inches of getting us back to 2-3 in League C&B but, having run back almost to mid-off to be in a position to catch the ball, his knee locked up at the vital second, leading to a rare drop and an impromptu pilates class before play could resume. Daniel's troubles began when he got no balled despite his front foot straddling the popping crease; the perceived problem was that his heel wasn't grounded, and so a lengthy debate ensued which could only be resolved post-match by looking up Law 24.5 (i) (which states that the front foot can be "grounded or raised"). Still, none of these incidents could distract from the fact that we'd defended our smallish total with surprising ease: not only did we win by a bizarrely comfortable 64 runs, but we conceded just five boundaries in 38.4 overs, 19 of which yielded just 1 run (or were maidens).
After that it was time to make use of one of the fringe benefits of village cricket: the presence of a nice old pub just across the road. Although even as we sipped our hard-earned pints there was more drama to be had, as it was revealed that one of our number had left most of his clothes in the changing room. So if you see any reports of a "Histon flasher" who "can't be named for legal reasons" in The Cambridge Evening News you'll have a fair idea who it is. The other bit of news worth looking up is the CCA Junior 4 B league table, which is still headed by Romsey Town, with a fabulous average of 18.70. Whilst we're still essentially "neck and neck" with Weston Colville (18.33), there's now quite a gap to third-placed Dullingham on 14.67. If they were to win their five remaining matches (including one against us), they'd get a total of 232 league points and hence their maximum possible final average would be 16.57. Ignoring the possibility of wash-outs, that means we need just 46 points from our final four games to ensure we're at least second, so even two more wins should guarantee us promotion back up to Juinor 3. However given that our other up-coming opponents are currently placed in the bottom two, we can presumably aspire to even greater things.