After two consecutive wash-outs, Romsey's first challenge today was simply to get onto the field - and whilst it was fairly grey and windy for most of the day, it was also sunny for much of the time, and completely clear of rain. Having passed that hurdle, our next problem was trying to remember how to play cricket - most of us hadn't faced, delivered or fielded a ball since being thrashed by Fen Ditton back in July. One look at the green, sloping pitch (combined with the conditions) was enough to convince us that we'd be better off bowling first, although that would require winning the toss . . . which we did not. There was still hope for a good 30 seconds after that as the Wilbrahams captain was sufficiently undecided about the best course of action that he consulted his players before, annoyingly, making the correct decision.
Sure enough, batting turned out to be nightmarishly hard, with the Wilbrahams attack bowling with pace and getting big movement. Both Rod Dennis (12 off 67 balls) and Nick Clarke (3 off 13 balls) were having a hard enough time surviving, let alone scoring, and even an inside past the stumps was best seen not as a close shave but as a scoring opportunity. Certainly Nick thought so, and started off for a run, but Rod at the other end wasn't sure where the ball had gone; the result was that both of them came about half-way down the pitch and then, having been caught in a web of indecision, stood mid-pitch with shoulders slumped as the Wilbrahams fielders completed the most farcical of run outs. Not that the drama had played itself out yet: whilst there was no question that we'd lost our first wicket, it wasn't immediately obvious who was out. Rod started to head off, and had just about made it from the ground when the umpires conferred to establish that it was Nick, who'd been closest to the broken wicket, who had to go. There was some argument that it was the batsmen's choice who was out, but Geoff Hales (who'd kindly agreed to umpire the match) was adamant - and, predictably, correct: Law 29.2 (c) states that "If there is no batsman in either ground, then each ground belongs to whichever of the batsmen is nearer to it, or, if the batsmen are level, to whichever was nearer to it immediately prior to their drawing level."
Most of the middle order battled hard to survive, as evidenced by the fact that Roy Page, Ev Fox, Daniel Mortlock, Richard Rex and Andy Owen all lasted more than 20 balls; but the difficulty in scoring was equally well illustrated by the fact that only Jon Steele (11 off 19 balls) was able to join Rod in the exclusive "double figures" club. Andy Owen (9* off 24 balls) presumably would have made it as well, given a few more balls to face, but he ran out of partners as we lost our final wicket with the score at a paltry 92, and with an over still to come.
A fringe benefit for Andy was that he managed to win the batting award once again. This time it was also by a record margin, Andy's 380 runs at 95.00 being a massive 56.33 per dismissal ahead of second-placed Nick Clarke's 348 runs at 38.67. Russell Woolf (13 wickets at 13.77) could still have been pipped for the bowling award if he got smashed around the park today, but once he dropped out of the game (as he was still feeling the after effects of a dodgy post-cricket curry on Wednesday) his victory was all but decided. If Daniel Mortlock could take 8/3, 9/17 or 10/30 (or better) or if Andy Owen could take 10/3 (or better) then we'd have a miracle upset for the bowling award - although, more importantly, that would presumably mean that one of them would have led us to an astonishing come-from-behind win.
Both Daniel and Andy got their chance to perform a miracle straight away, as they opened the bowling togther; however neither made significant inroads in their opening spells of 0/14 and 0/3 respectively. Andy decided that the problem was that they were bowling from the wrong ends, and so a switch was effected by giving Olly Rex (0/12) an over. This would have worked immediately, if serendipitouly, had Daniel been able to hold a fairly simple chance of Olly's bowling - that the catch wasn't held seemed to sum up our day. But then the actual plan did work: Ev Fox completed lightning-fast stumpings off Andy (1/18 in the end) and Daniel (4/31 in the end), and then Daniel bowled three of the Wilbrahams middle order. Within a few overs the match had become a 50/50 proposition, and then when Marcelino Gopal (3/30) bowled three more batsmen in his first two overs we were clearly winning. We'd taken 4/6 and 6/26 to have Wilbrahams reeling at 60/8. Suddenly it was their players who were looking skyward in the hope that the darkening clouds might bring rain, whereas we felt we were just two wickets away from the most miraculous defense in club history (although it turns out we managed a marginally more implausible victory by successfully defending 91 against Abington in 1993).
We certainly had all the momentum, although there was still the problem that our total was so low that a few big hits would be enough to take the match away from us again. And, maddeningly, that's just what we got as I. Cooke (who'd already starred with the ball for Wilbrahams, taking 2/12 off his 10 overs earlier in the day) chanced his arm to smack a six, a four and a two in one over, thus almost halving the target in the space of 3 balls. We now resorted to putting the field out for him and allowing a single, so as to attack his less swashbuckling partner, P. Collins. This slightly negative tactic seemed to have paid off when Olly Rex got him to pop the ball straight to Andy Owen at silly mid-on . . . but, maddeningly, Olly had over-stepped - our one front foot no ball of the day.
Collins had the strike at the start of the 27th over of the innings, and Andy had come back on to bowl his final over with us still needing 2 wickets and Wilbrahams now needing just 4 runs. After a couple of calmly blocked balls, Andy induced an edge which flew to Jon Steele at slip . . . but he couldn't quite hang on to the low, difficult chance. With the ball now out of Jon's reach, non-striker Cooke saw the chance to steal a vital run, and came racing down the pitch . . . by which point Roy Page had the ball in his hand and was lining up to throw at the bowler's stumps. Cooke was sent back by his partner, but by now the ball was on its way; Andy intuited that Roy's aim was good and let it pass him uninterrupted, and the ball broke the stumps with the batsman a foot or two short of his ground.
Wilbrahams still needed 4 more runs to win, but we now just required one more wicket, and Andy had two more balls to get it. It would have been nice to have been bowling at the number eleven, but given that Collins had just scored just 2 runs from 21 balls at this point he didn't seem likely to be too much danger either. Andy sent down another full ball just outside off stump and, to everyone's surprise but the batsman's (who'd presumably premeditated the shot), Collins smashed a huge cover drive that went all the way to the boundary. The delighted Wilbrahams squad rushed out onto the ground, and even though we were disappointed to have lost such a tight game, the main feeling seemed to be that we'd done brilliantly to have gone so close to defending such a meagre total.
The early finish also meant more drinking time, as members of both teams lounged about in the evening sun discussed the topsy-turvy game and the various possible orderings of the league table. For us it's the same old thing: we've finished with a league average of 12.67 and are condemnded to remain in our customary fifth place - none of the lower teams can catch us, and none of the higher teams can fall that far. Wilbrahams are still second, but both Fulbourn and Fen Ditton can challenge them in the next few weeks, especially once word came in that Fulbourn beat league-leaders Waterbeach today. There were also interesting developments in the battle to avoid relegation, with Coton going down to bottom-placed Balsham. Coton, like Romsey, have played their final game for the season and will probably be safe, although if Weston Colville can beat NCI in either of their final two fixtures that could change.
The only disadvantage of the early finish was that most people had their fill of beer at the ground, and only Andy, Daniel and Jon (escorted by Elaine) made it to Mickey Flynn's for some pool, and nobody lasted all the way to the curry house. However there will be two more opportunities for the Romsey faithful to reconvene before season 2010 is properly over: an afternoon matche against touring side Flyford Flavell at Fitzwilliam College on Saturday, August 28 and a final game against the Romsey Old Boys on Saturday, September 11.