We had our chance for revenge today: NCI beat a weak Romsey team in our first match of the season, but we were close to full strength today. Once again NCI won the toss, and once again they asked us to bat; but this time we had a full top-order, and the Trinity pitch has many more runs in it than Luard Road.
Our innings began as so many have this year: with Rod Dennis (27 off 49 balls) and Nick Clarke (25 off 32 balls) compiling an excellent opening partnership. After putting on 184 against Weston Colville, 63 against Coton, 8 against The Wilbrahams and 69 against Fen Ditton, they added an even 50 today. Given that we'd been scoring our runs at almost 5 an over, it seemed Rod and Nick had set the foundations for another mammoth total . . . but, much like last week, we went close to undoing all our good work with some soft dismissals and passive batting. Where we'd scored 49/0 in the first 10 overs of our innings, we lost 4/22 in the next 10, and NCI were winning at the half-way point.
It was hard not to feel pessimistic that our collapse would continue, but today we at least managed to steady the ship through the determination of Roy Page (13 off 46 balls) and Andy Owen (15* off 19 balls at this stage). With a dozen overs to go they'd taken us to 100/4, which meant we now needed some serious acceleration to even get close to the 200-odd we wanted. After Roy was run out (the victim of a bad call for the second week in a row), Andy and Marcelino Gopal did just that, scoring brilliantly through a combination of big-hitting and aggressive running. They smashed 89 runs from just 67 balls, Andy getting his third half-century of the year, finishing on 51* (off 61 balls), and Marcelino just missing out on a fifty of his own, but still presumably pretty happy with his long-awaited return to form, as he ended up on 46* (off 38 balls). More importantly, we suddenly had a decent, if not quite unassailable, total to defend: 195/5.
It was tempting to let Andy and Marcelino continue their partnership by opening the bowling, but in the end we reverted to our standard defensive "strangulation plan". And it worked pretty perfectly: Daniel Mortlock (2/20, but 2/13 in his first spell) and Andy Owen (2/27, but 1/6 in his first spell) keeping NCI to just 16/3 after 11 overs. Maybe even more important than the tight bowling, though, was the top fielding effort, with lots of energetic chasing, selfless diving, fast throws, backing up, and even some catches. The first of these was when Roy Page back-pedalled at mid-off to take a one-hander that nobody (maybe not even Roy) thought he was going to reach, and then Andy took yet another blinder at silly-point off Paul Jordan (1/34). Coming on first change, Paul and Marcelino Gopal (2/30) both went close to each to bagging a handful of wickets, but the NCI fifth wicket pair survived for long enough to be something of a threat (even if the required run rate was up to about 9 an over). They were starting to come down the track to drive everything, hitting mostly along the ground, with the few aerial strokes being directed into the gaps. But then one of the batsmen miscued an off drive that went more up than long, and the mid-off fielder was clearly going to be able to reach it, albeit running backwards. The non-striker encouraged his partner with the words, "Don't worry, he'll drop this!" which might well have been true if it was anyone but Andy under the ball . . . but Andy it was, and he clasped both hands around the ball, keeping hold of it even as his head smacked into the ground.
Critical as this wicket was, though, the better of the two batsmen was still at the crease with 45 to his name, and we wouldn't really be able to relax until we'd dismissed him as well . . . which Adrian Mellish (2/15) did, bowling him with the fourth ball of his spell. From then on it was a mopping up operation, with the focus on bowling out NCI rather than letting them bat out their full 40 overs. At first it seemed like it was going to be a struggle to maintain our bowling intensity immediately after getting the critical wickets, but we found success instead through some less conventional tactics. For instance, Andy (correctly) told off the NCI skipper, who was umpiring at the time, for coaching his batsmen, and suggested instead that he concentrate on umpiring instead; this he did but, possibly distracted by the debate, he miscounted and allowed Andy a seventh delivery, off which the unfortunate batsman was bowled. Our next wicket came from a big pull shot that Daniel was so slow to pick up that the batsmen were turning for a third run by the time he (naughtily) stopped the ball with his foot . . . but the throw was flat, the batsmen panicked, and the bowler (Andy again) had plenty of time to collect the ball and whip off the bails. A few balls later the match ended with possibly the softest wicket of the day, the the NCI number eleven poking at a short ball from Adrian and, rather appropriately, allowing Andy to finish the game with his third - and easiest - catch of the day.
Most members of both teams stayed on to drink beer and soak in the warmth, the football fans lamenting Ghana's sad World Cup exit at the hands of Uruguay - and specifically the hands of their striker/goalkeeper Suarez - as well as enjoying the notion that Germany's 4-0 slaughter of Argentina today presumably means that England could have defeated them 1-0, given the chance . . .