Romsey Town and Coton came together on this most glorious of days to play out one of the friendliest of league matches in living memory. While it was hard-fought all the way, most members of both teams knew each other well enough (both from previous league encounters and Remnants vs. Coton friendlies) that there was none of the grumbling about wide calls or LBWs that occurs most weeks, and it was simply a case of trying to score more runs than the opposition.
Romsey had the first opportunity to do that when Coton captain (and ex-Romsey player) George Speller invited us to bat. Despite a few hiccups, Nick Clarke (29 off 41 balls) and Rod Dennis (66 off 89 balls) picked up where they left off last week. Most of the hiccups were due to George's superb opening spell (7 overs, 4 maidens, 0/10) as he served up an undigestable combination of yorkers and outswingers. However there was also the occasional slower ball, the first of which was quite atrocious, being a slow waist-high full toss that just had to be deposited over the mid-wicket boundary. Except Nick just wasn't in his groove today, and he only succeeded in bunting the ball straight to mid-off where the fielder took the simplest of catches . . . before fumbling the ball and letting it fall to the ground. "Good cricket all round" it was not.
After the fiery opening, most of our innings became a war of attrition. Coton's primary aim was, it seemed, not to take wickets, but to keep scoring to an absolute minimum. This was achived by bowling slow, non-turning balls on the stumps: they were easy enough to keep out with a tame forward defensive, whereas playing any sort of cross-bat attacking shot was to risk being bowled if the ball kept low. Our one saving grace was that there were enough loose balls to keep the scoreboard ticking over in occasional boundaries. Rod and Jon Steele (35 off 50 balls) took the score along to 129/1, which was certainly a superb platform, but for the fact it had taken us 29 overs to get there. We were fast running out of time to get the 200+ we wanted.
The Romsey innings then entered it's third distinct phase when Rod and Jon were dismissed in quick succession. That left our middle order with 10 overs to slog and scamper runs any way they could, safe in the knowledge that wickets didn't really matter any more. Roy Page (17 off 19 balls) and Dave Williams (25 off 20 balls) moved us up through the gears, and then Andy Owen (15 off 9 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (16* off 8 balls) sent us into overdrive. We scored 90 runs from our final 10 overs (whereas our first 90 took up 22 overs), and finished up on a decidedly imposing 222/6.
Our defense of this total was possibly the most tactical we've ever mounted - given our knowledge of the Coton line-up, we were able to change our bowling style according to whether there were grafters or hitters at the crease. We managed this perfectly to begin with, keeping Coton to just 21/1 from 11 overs as Daniel Mortlock (a first spell of 6 overs, 0 maidens, 0/12) and Andy Owen (a first spell of 4 overs, 2 maidens 0/2) enacted an even more successful restriction policy than the Coton bowlers had earlier in the day. Already the required run rate was up to 6.97 an over, although we weren't home yet, not least because we only had two of our regular bowlers in the team. (Adie was twelfth man today; Marcelino was off in South Africa; Rog was still not fit after tearing his intercostals in the NCI game; and Russ, who would have loved this situation given his current form, was working.)
First cab off our experimental rank was Paul Jordan (1/18), who has bowled for Romsey in previous seasons (most notably taking 6/34 against Cambridge Jesters in 2008) but who was also injured coming into today's game. He started well, taking a wicket with his second ball, but his tricep flared up again after just 3 overs. Next to get a go was Dave Williams, despite the fact he had never even bowled in the league (at least for Romsey) before. But Dave was superb, mixing low darts with floaty leg-spinners to great effect; he finished up with 2/49, both wickets being sharp stumpings by 'keeper Malcolm Creek. And at the other end Nick Clarke, who was also yet to bowl for Romsey in a league match, was a revelation, emulating the Coton bowlers by giving the batsmen no width and no pace. He finished up with a creditable 0/38 off his 7 overs, as he and Dave compiled their first ever bowling partnership (in contrast to their regular unions opening the batting for Remnants). The success of this bowling combination also relied on some superb work in the field, with Roy Page and Nick excellent close-in, Andy Owen taking two good catches, and Richard Rex, Rod Dennis, Jon Steele and Arnie Garside all tireless and committed in the outer, as demonstrated by a succession of grazed knees and bloodied whites. During this middle part of the game Coton were scoring at about 4 an over, but it just wasn't enough, and the required run rate had soared to 9.49 an over by the time Dave and Nick had finished their spells.
It was at this point, with about a dozen overs remaining, that George Speller, by far the most destructive batsmen on either team, finally came in. It seemed too late for him to be able to make an impact on the game, but most of have seen what he can do batting for Remnants (or Coton) mid-week, and we knew we weren't home yet. Sure enough, the ball was suddenly flying to the boundary with worrying regularity, and our fielding started to wilt under the pressure with silly overthrows, lax backing up, and lazy footwork when hands were to be preferred. Coton went from 117/5 after 30 overs to 155/6 in the 34th - they'd scored 38 runs from just 22 balls, and had some real momentum for the first time all day. Our one success in this period came when George drove his partner to take two to Nick Clarke, fielding in the deep, asserting "There's always two there - he can't throw!" Now whilst that's not an unreasonable claim, it's the wrong guy to make it about, and Nick sacrificed his already sore shoulder to hurl the ball back to the bowler, Andy Owen, who duly ran out George's unlucky partner with a few feet to spare. But, even more importantly, Andy bowled George next ball, after which the match finally felt won.
For the last few overs it was a mopping up operation, with Andy Owen (3/32) and Daniel Mortlock (1/41) finishing what they started with a few bonus wickets, while the Coton tail-enders struck a few lusty blows in the ultimately doomed pursuit of a fith batting point. After a final scampered second run - that should have resulted in a run out, but for one last fumble for the day - the weary members of both teams trudged off in the direction of the bar . . .
. . . where they were met with the devestating news that there was no more Carlsberg on tap, and they were going to have to drink bottles of San Miguel instead. Still, even they went down pretty well in the evening sunshine, and it was over an hour before the last stayers went home to request all their sore spots be massaged with various oils and lotions.