So far this season it's all been a bit predictable for Romsey Town: with the exception of a first-up aberration against NCI, we've beaten the teams below us in the table and lost to the teams above us. Up until last week we were smack-bang in the middle of the table - fifth out of nine - and we seemed to be exceeding only in our mediocrity. But then some convenient results in our week off saw us move up to fourth, going past Fen Ditton (who we lost to back in June). Today we were up against Fulbourn, above us in third place and the one team we'd not yet played this year. The venue for the match was Trinity, and it was also our final home game for 2010. Whilst three defeats here meant we clearly couldn't call it our fortess anymore, we'd also managed three wins (in addition to a wash-out), so victory today would at least put our home record back in the black for the season.
As always, our intention was to bat first in the baking heat, but the coin landed the wrong way up, and the Fulbourn captain decided, unsurprisingly, that he'd let us run around the dry ground under the midday sun. But his choice looked like back-firing almost immediately as we almost got off to a perfect start: two balls after one opener was bowled for 4, the other was called through for a crazy run, only for Daniel Mortlock to field the ball off his own bowling and throw down the stumps with, to our eyes, the batsman a yard short of his ground. The umpire saw it differently, however, and it seemed like just a few minutes later Fulbourn's score was suddenly a very healthy 49/1 after 11 overs. It was all too easy to see the repreived batsman leading his team to some huge score, leaving us with nothing more than an evening of grumbling into pints about what might have been.
But during the next ten overs we steadily reduced Fulbourn's scoring rate, as first-change bowlers Russell Woolf (1/23) and Olly Rex (1/26) tied up the batsmen with superb flight and length, respectively. Even more importantly, we got a few wickets: Nick Clarke took a pair of blinding reaction catches at silly mid-off; and Roy Page latched onto a one-hander at gully. The ground fielding wasn't quite so good, but it didn't seem to matter that much: by the time Russ and Olly had finished their spells Fulbourn was 95/3 off 23 overs, no more than mediocre given that any total under 200 has been chaseable on this ground.
A few balls later, however, 200+ was suddenly on the cards again, as Marcelino Gopal (3/41) started his spell with some wild full tosses that saw him concede 12 runs from his first 5 balls. Another full bunger followed, but this one was at least straight; the batsman didn't time his shot and hit the ball back down the pitch . . . where a delighted Lino took a great diving catch. From there on Lino - and Romsey - never looked back. Even though we didn't take another wicket 'til the 35th over, Fulbourn were just 144/4 at this stage and must have known that they were seriously short of runs. After that the predictable happened: a flurry of wickets as the increasingly desperate batsmen tried to hit straight balls from Andy Owen (2/34) and Daniel Mortlock (also 2/34) and paid the rather predictable price. The end result was that we'd constrained a strong (if not, it seems, full-strength) batting line-up to 171/9 and had gone half-way to winning the match.
Bouyed by Lino and Natalia's superb tea (out were the tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches; in were hand-made samosas, delicious Polish meatballs and authentic spring rolls), we set about making short work of our target in a manner that can only be described as . . . disastrous. After 11 overs we'd been reduced to - or, really, had reduced ourselves to - 34/4 as a succession of poor aerial shots were caught by Fulbourn's excellent fielders. And it could easily have been worse when Jon Steele flicked the ball straight to square-leg - Jon was already walking back to the pavilion when the ball spilled out of the fielder's hands, and it was only thanks to non-striker Andy Owen's crazed shouting that Jon remade his ground. Jon's luck - and the drama - continued a little later when there was a huge appeal for caught behind, followed by the same shared expressions of disbelief we'd essayed earlier in the day when the umpire gave a "not out" decision. However in this case a consensus seemed to have been reached after some discussion: the distinctive "nick" was actually the ball clipping the off-stump (albeit not hard enough to dislodge the bail) on its way through to the 'keeper.
After that things calmed down as Jon (50 off 63 balls) and Andy (41 off 69 balls) set about rebuilding our innings. With the Fulbourn bowlers finding the same variable bounce with which we'd troubled their batsmen there were plenty of plays and misses; but, again like the Fulbourn batsmen before us, we kept on getting full value for even the most innocuous of shots, as anything that pierced the inner ring sped across the dry grass to the boundary. And, more importantly, Jon in particular batted brilliantly - he defended most of the time, but when he attacked it was absolutely decisive. After 26 overs we'd reached 108/4: with 64 needed from 84 balls with 6 wickets in hand we were surely . . .
. . . about to lose a wicket. Yes indeed, although not in the way we usually do (e.g., swiping at and missing a straight ball). Instead, Jon launched a huge drive towards wide long-on, only to see that there was a fielder there; however he'd crept in from the boundary and the ball seemed to be going over his head. At the last second he fell back and, according to some witnesses, closed his eyes as he braced for impact. But he also left one arm outstretched, and in just the right place for the ball to slam into his hand. There was no way it could stick . . . except it had! Still, surely his fall had carried him back over the line . . . but as he got up he looked around to check, and indeed he'd stayed inside the field of play and completed the most amazing of catches.
Marcelino Gopal (34 off 31 balls) now came to the crease and, in a mirror of his spell with the ball, at least initially, looked like he would get out in the expected way as he swung at - and missed - a number of deliveries early in his innings. But the misses became fewer and fewer, and the big shots started to connect to such a degree that, at one point, he smashed five boundaries in the space of three overs. By this stage the Romsey supporters (of which there were pleasingly many) were feeling the tension - and living out Lino's every shot, clapping the boundaries enthusiastically but going ballistic with praise on the few occasions he played a textbook forward defensive. Whatever effect it might have had on our heart-rates, Lino's onslaught ended any worries we had about the run rate: at the end of the 35th over we were on 159/5: with just 13 needed from 30 balls with 5 wickets in hand we were surely . . .
. . . about to suffer our second collapse of the day. Andy and Lino were dismissed in consecutive overs as we lost 3 wickets for 2 runs. That left new batsmen Daniel Mortlock and Winker Watson with the task of nurdling (or smashing) the last few runs we needed to complete our victory. After a couple of tight overs the equation was now a much nastier 8 needed off 12 balls with 2 wickets remaining; even worse, the penultimate over was to be delivered by Fulbourn's opening bowler, who had taken 5/32 to this point.
The tension was quite extrordinary, as revealed when the umpire made a lateish call of "no ball" as Daniel went to cut at a ball outside off-stump. The bowler wasn't happy, but Fulbourn wicket-keeper went beserk with rage, demanding to know "How the fuck can you make that call?!?" But when the batsman suggested it was possibly because the bowler had over-stepped, the 'keeper was horrified at his misinterpretation - he'd thought it had been a wide call (which, if it had been made, would have been more than sufficiently ridiculous as to justify such a reaction). And, rather nicely, the now shamed 'keeper ended the situation nicely be telling everyone "I'm mad, me!" before squatting down to receive the next delivery.
The no ball was a vital extra run for us, and when we got a couple of lucky twos (as the ball just happened to have gone to Fulbourn's only weak fielder), we were within a single shot of victory. The last ball of the penultimate over was sent down and Daniel unsuccessfully tried to cut away high full-toss . . . but it was too high: another no ball. But maybe this one wasn't such a good thing: the match's most successful bowler now had one last throw of the dice. He tried a slower ball . . . but it was a bit too slow and was whacked way over mid-on to end the game in a pleasingly decisive fashion. A very relieved Daniel (9* off 14 balls) and Winker (0* off 2 balls) received generous handshakes from Fulbourn and Romsey players alike as everyone headed to the bar (mainly because there were left-overs from tea still there).
Even though it wasn't the end of the season, the drinking continued way past dark, and security camera footage from Mickey Flynn's would have revealed Andy, Russ, Daniel, Lino and Jon all still sinking balls and beers at an approximately equal rate 'til midnight . . .