Results during our week off went in our favour and, without doing anything, we popped out of the relegation zone. Today we came up against one of the other two teams that have been struggling in the league, NCI IV, so the match mattered almost twice as much as usual to our anti-relegation campaign. Given that the conditions looked good for batting, it was rather strange that both side were keen to bowl first (the idea presumably being that the best chance of winning was to dismiss the opposition cheaply) and so when the NCI captain called correctly it meant his men were going to have to field in the heat for the next few hours.
The match thence proceeded at a snail's pace, with seemingly endless pauses between balls being bowled - and between runs being scored. After - would you believe it? - an early wicket, we crawled to 27/1 in our first 11 overs, Rod Dennis (18 off 40 balls) and Roy Page (23 off 60 balls) struggling against an NCI attack that was generating a lot of lateral movement. But they were doing the right thing by just occupying the crease, and the team reaped the reward for their determination when the change bowlers proved easier to score off. Unfortunately neither Roy or Rod were still in to do any of the reaping themselves, but Jon Steele (20 off 29 balls), Andy Owen (50 off 59 balls), Daniel Mortlock (35* off 36 balls and five dropped catches) and Marcelino Gopal (5* off 5 balls) combined to ensure we went within a shot of 200.
Our defense was led by Himanshu Agrawal (4/24) who got his first chance with the "new" ball and bowled a fantastic spell of in-duckers, dismissing most of NCI's top order. Combined with some solid support bowling by Daniel Mortlock (2/52) and Marcelino Gopal (1/39), and excellent fielding by the likes of Jon Steele, Lino, Darren Wood (despite having pulled a muscle) and Nick Clarke, we'd successfully restricted NCI to just 57/5 off 20 overs. They recovered somewhat to be 94/6 after 30 overs, but with 101 needed from 60 balls and just the tail to come the match was surely over.
We should have been able to take the last few wickets and finish the game off, but the NCI lower-order dug in and then started to combine some big shots with some hyper-aggressive running to score at worryingly close to the required rate. And we pretty much fell apart. Our field positions went to pot, as did our fielding - suddenly the batsmen were taking singles even to the close-in fielders and easy twos to the rest. Add in some misfields, misthrows, overthrows, and a ridiculous loss was becoming all too possible. Our plight was further complicated by a series of personnel changes: Rog Shelly (0/12) had to leave four overs into what looked like being a superb spell, but at least Richard Rex was on hand to ensure that we still had eleven in the field; then Roy Page took over wicket-keeping duties from Andy Owen, the idea behind the 'keeping change being to allow Andy to bowl the last few overs from one end. That plan, too, seemed to have backfired spectacularly when Andy began his spell with an atrocious beamer that scared the batsman, yorked Roy, and raced to the boundary to concede five no balls. But then Andy got his length sorted out, and proceded to take 3/19 from his 3.3 death overs, a vital contribution to add to his runs earlier in the day. And Roy snared the other wicket, completing a stumping despite the fact he was standing back: the batsman had come so far down the track that, even though the ball had nestled in Roy's armpit, he still had time to extract it and throw down the stumps. All these wickets had gone some way to slowing the scoring, and 31 needed from 8 balls surely was impossible . . . and even though a four and a two immediately followed, Andy held his nerve to bowl the NCI number eleven to finish the game off with three balls to spare.
Phew. The match had something of the vibe of our epic win against NCI at The Leys School back in 2006, although today the overall standard wasn't quite as high, with both teams' fielding wilting towards the end of the two innings. But, maybe more to the point: we'd won a game of cricket, and an important one at that. As a result our league average is up to 9.63, putting us 1.07 points clear of eighth-placed NCI IV (on 7.56) and 3.34 points clear of ninth-placed Fenstanton (on 6.29) on the league table. That gap seems big enough that we're probably already safe from getting the "wooden spoon", so it means our mission for the rest of the league season is pretty simple: stay ahead of NCI and we'll stay up.