Having finally got a home game at Fortress Trinity after a couple of uninspiring away matches, we were lucky enough to win the toss today, and had no hesitation in batting first. Rod Dennis and Nick Clarke headed out to the true-looking Trinity pitch, but immediately found themselves faced with a swinging ball and some decidedly lively bounce as the Weston Colville bowlers made a good start to the game. There were plenty of "plays and misses" in these first few overs, but soon the ball softened up and it quickly became clear that the opposition were short of regulars, as four different bowlers were used in four overs at one point. They were also short of players, starting with just ten men - or boys, in the case of several promising under thirteens who'd been conscripted into senior service - and that dropped to nine later in the innings when one of the youngsters left the field in a state of mild exhaustion.
The result of all this was that our batsmen had a field day like never before. Rod, who hadn't batted at all this season, took the opportunity to carefully play himself in, whereas Nick, with a 75 and a 48 already under his belt this year, flew out of the blocks, scoring at more than a run a ball from the start. The Romsey support crew (which included our scorer, Nicky Mellish, and fully qualified umpire Geoff Hales) briefly acknowledged Nick's fifty and the hundred opening stand, but it was the promise of our first league century since 2005 that had everyone really excited. Nicky refused to add up her namesake's score lest it jinx him, but Adie, doing the opposition's book, had no such reservations, and gleefully reported Nick's progress through the nineties. Then there was one more big pull, and Nick had made it to triple figures - both teams applauded his efforts, and Rod attempted to give his batting partner a hug, but Nick was more focussed on continuing to make hay while the sun (literally) shone. He connected with a few more big shots, but the slightly erratic running made it clear his legs were tiring, and it was no surprise when he was dismissed a few overs later (albeit when a perfectly respectable straight drive was spectacularly caught by the young bowler). Nick thus received a third round of applause as he trudged from the ground having scored 113 off just 95 balls, some 21 of which he hit for four. It was the second highest score ever made for Romsey (beaten only by Andy Owen's 128 against Gransden in 1992); and, possibly more importantly, Nick and Rod had compiled our highest ever partnership: 184 runs off 168 balls.
With a dozen overs remaining we were eying up a total of 250+, but it was hard not to fear that a few more wickets might rob us of our momentum. Fortunately, new batsman Jon Steele combined with Rod every bit as well and Nick had earlier: Rod took over the main scoring role, allowing Jon to play himself in before he, too, started hitting boundaries seemingly at will. Rod was now well past fifty, and it suddenly became clear that he'd probably have enough time to get a century of his own. It was certainly clear to the man himself, who utilised a break in play to demand his current total from the scorers, and then spent most of the next half hour requesting semaphore communication about how many more he needed to get to triple figures. This can't have pleased the WC fielders (!) greatly, and Nick's reaction was "Get on with it, you great tart!"; but it was understandable given that Rod had never made a century in any form of cricket whatsoever. The free-flowing strokeplay dried up as the innings drew to a close, and we played out more dot balls than at any time since those first few difficult overs. It was only a big four off the penultimate delivery of the innings that took Rod to 99* with one ball remaining. Jon readied himself in a sprinter's starting pose at the bowler's end, which was just as well, as Rod could only manage a defensive stroke straight to a close-in fielder. With his head start and long strides Jon had completed his part of the bargain in a flash, whereas Rod had been on the back foot, and was only just getting up to speed as the fielder gathered the ball and made to throw . . . but there was a fumble, and Rod had made it, proceeding to celebrate his long-awaited century by galloping around the field for the next few minutes, clearly a very happy man. Rod had finished undefeated on 100* (off 110 balls, with 14 fours and 2 sixes), having put on a further 93 runs with Jon, who had made an excellent 45* (off 36 balls with 7 fours) that almost went unnoticed. Between them they'd taken us to the dizzy heights of 277/1, our highest ever league total (beating the 266/9 we'd made on the tiny Newton ground in 2001).
Not that our efforts were good news for everyone - Roy Page had been padded up for the entire 40 overs desperate to make some runs of his own, and the Weston Colville fielders would presumably have much rather been at home watching the FA Cup final than retrieving the ball from across the boundary again and again. It was almost cruel to keep pushing for more and more runs, but then again it's been extremely rare for Romsey to have been in this position, whereas we've endured similarly merciless batting on more than one occasion (e.g., Babraham's 338/3 in 2003 and Thurlow's 285/1 in 2007, to name but two of depressingly many instances).
Moreover, it quickly became clear that we needed a seriously big total to defend when Weston Colville's captain, 'keeper, change bowler and opening batsman Paul Mayfield came out and promptly smashed the first ball of the innings to the boundary. He did this rather a lot during the next hour, and while Andy Owen (1/17) managed to bowl the other opener, Mayfield had led Weston Colville to a rather scary 107/2 after 16 overs. Our field was scattered, the bowlers looked impotent, catches were going down and the nightmare of Bayer Crop Science's monster chase in 2003 had reared its ugly head. That said, a rational assessment would have revealed that, despite a healthy scoring rate of 6.69 an over, Weston actually needed to score even faster for the remaining 24 overs. Needless to say, they could not - and when Andy wrapped his hands tightly around one of Mayfield's lofted shots we'd as good as won.
From then on it was a case of trying to kill the game off as quickly as possible. Adrian Mellish (1/19) took a wicket with his first ball (thanks to a stunning low catch by Andy at silly point) after which it was the Russell Woolf show. He'd come in for a bit of tap from the top order, and his figures were a rather expensive 1/31 after his first 5 overs. But, once he'd gotten rid of the danger man, Russ ran through the inexperienced middle order, deceiving batsman after batsman with his, er, deceptive length and flight. Andy took another good outfield catch (his third for the day); 'keeper Malcolm Creek held a thin edge; and several more batsmen were bowled as they attempted ill-advised slogs. One batsman's confusion was illustrated perfectly when he pulled away as Russ started to bowl, complaining he was going over the wicket, rather than around as promised - it was only after some careful explaining he finally accepted that Russ was indeed bowling "left arm 'round" and, thus satisfied, was promptly bowled two balls later. Russ began his final over having already taken six wickets, and so he had six deliveries to take his (and Romsey's) first ever seven-for and ensure the scoresheet was even pinker still. Weston Colville's remaining experienced batsman was lured off strike after five balls, leaving Russ in a position not unlike Rod's earlier in the day: he had one chance to make history. Russ dropped the ball "on the spot" one more time, the young batsman played down the wrong line, and the off bail was gently flicked to the ground. Russ thus completed a remarkable spell of 10 overs, 3 maidens, 7/41 (which included sub-spells of 3/0, 4/1, 5/3 and 6/9), the second best bowling figures ever recorded for Romsey Town.
Russ's seventh wicket also completed Romsey Town's second biggest runs victory (at the time everyone assumed it was the greatest), bested only by our 154 run demolition of Gransden back in 1992. Needless to say a few drinks were had after the game, with plenty to relive but also a tricky question to answer: who'd have been the hypothetical man of the match? Nick got us going first and Rod's was probably the biggest personal achievement, whereas Russ was working in the context of an already almost overwhelming advantage. However one killer argument is that this was most decidedly a batsman's game today, played on the truest of pitches: take Russ out of the equation and the other bowlers' figures were 57 overs, 3 maidens, 3/376, so Russ's average was just a twentieth of the other bowlers, and his strike rate thirteen times better. If only he could play next week . . .