"No good deed goes unpunished."
Constant rain towards the end of the week had everyone thinking "wash out", and that was the message that Andy got from the Fen Ditton captain on Saturday morning. But a coincidental conversation with Trinity groundsman Darren Wood had revealed that nobody was playing there today - and given their expensive covers (GBP 6000 in total!) the pitch should have been okay. A few more phonecalls and our away match against Fen Ditton had turned into an unexpected Trinity farewell game. So far so good . . . although, given that Fen Ditton beat us comfortably back in June, it might have been tempting to have taken the "no result", an option which seemed doubly tempting when we lost the toss and were invited to bat on what seemed likely to be a tricky pitch.
Rod Dennis (7 off 26 balls) and Nick Clarke (3 off 6 balls) at least opened our innings with good, aggressive intent, but within 8 overs both had perished when they'd smashed loose deliveries straight to off-side fielders, both of whom held sharp catches. After that, Richard Rex (20 off 50 balls) and Jon Steele (30 off 50 balls, and the only one of our batsmen to look comfortable all day) battoned down the hatches, making sure they didn't get out and scoring where possible. Neither task was easy. Despite the covers on the pitch, it had clearly absorbed some moisture form the air, and the ball was either stopping or leaping much more often than we would have liked. Meanwhile, the outfield was soggy enough that even perfectly timed shots were pulling up inside the boundary - a stark contrast to last week, and maybe enough to excuse a few cases in which the batsmen missed second or third runs because they thought a shot was four off the bat. We finally scored our first boundary two balls before drinks, at which point we were 59/2 off 20 overs. It was hardly dominating stuff, but by not losing any more wickets, Richard and Jon had at least given us the possibility of pushing onto 160 or 170.
Or, alternatively, to lose 4 wickets for 6 runs: we were suddenly 80/6 in the 27th over, and the challenge now was just to bat out our overs (and maybe even hope for rain to cancel the match for a second time). Andy Owen (26* off 50 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (15 off 35 balls) managed to halt the collapse (although only with some luck, the otherwise excellent Fen Ditton 'keeper dropping Daniel twice in his first four balls), but couldn't find a way to score without taking undue risks. Andy got almost half his score by pulling nipple-high full-tosses (that should have been no balls) to the boundary, and spent most of the rest of the time just trying to get forward to counteract the increasingly variable bounce. With a couple of overs to go they finally decided to "have a blast", but the gamble didn't pay off: our innings ending with a sequence of W 1 . W . | . . W . . W in which we lost our last 4 wickets for 1 run. 124 all out was a pretty hopeless score, and it was hard to imagine us defending it successfully, the difficult conditions notwithstanding.
Still, Daniel Mortlock (1/28) and Marcelino Gopal (0/20) gave it a good shot, both going close to dismissing Fen Ditton's left-handed opener with their first-ball (but Daniel's otherwise perfect yorker missed off-stump by an inch and Lino's otherwise plumb LBW pitched a fraction outside leg-stump). We also "tested" (i.e., fed) the same batsmen with a few of the shorter balls that had caused us so much trouble when batting, but these were dismissively swatted to the boundary: the half-hour tea break had been long enough for the pitch to dry, and it was now playing pretty true. And, almost as bad, the outfield had dried to the point that the batsmen were now getting full value for their shots. To add to the misery, Winker Watson then pulled his groin bowling and had to retire (both from the match and, possibly, from cricket), although at least we had Catherine Owen on hand to keep up our numbers (and, sad to say, raise our standard!) in the field.
As the innings went on we varied the bowling in the hope of making a breakthrough, which Andy Owen (1/34), Adrian Mellish (1/15) and Olly Rex (1/14) all did . . . but it was too little and too late. In response to Fen Ditton's total of seven catches and one direct hit run out, we could only manage two catches: a good reaction effort by Andy off his own bowling; and a tough running catch in the outfield by Jon Steele. But maybe the most frustrating moment of all was when Olly bowled the Fen Ditton captain with a short ball that kept low and cannoned into his stumps: he seemed highly aggrieved to have got a nasty shooter, which it was, but it was the sort of thing we'd had to deal with for most of our innings, rather than just for one ball.
Still, the fact that the winning runs came with 92 deliveries still to come made it clear that we were out-played today: Fen Ditton bowled better, fielded better and batted better. The lop-sided conditions might have turned a loss into a thrashing, but no more than that. And despite the rather miserable result (at least from our point of view), everyone seemed unanimous that it was better to have played than to have stayed home on what finished up as a gloriously sunny evening. And, given that the game finished at about 6:30pm, there was plenty of evening sun left to drink beer and provide Catherine Owen and Daniel Wood (groundsman Darren's mini-me son) with fielding practice. As they spent an energetic hour catching anything within reach and chasing everything else, we could at least cheer ourselves up with the thought that Romsey's future was in safe hands . . .