The Romsey season is now very much into its traditional endgame: scrabbling for the bonus points (and the occasional win) needed to keep us from relegation. If the rest of the season was rained off we'd be okay, as we're currently in seventh place above the wretched Fenstanton (who've gone from losing all their early-season matches to forfeiting more often than not) and perennial rivals NCI (whose record is just that little bit worse than ours). We play NCI next week in what is obviously our most important match, but bracketing that are games against likely premiers Fen Ditton and, today, third-placed Cambridge St Giles II. A win against either team is, of course, our primary aim, but it's also important to be pragmatic and, if a win's out of reach, to make sure we get as many bonus points as we can.
To that end it was probably okay that we lost the toss and were asked to bowl first as, if we were to lose, there are usually one or two more bonus points to be acquired in an unsuccessful chase than in a failed defense, at least against a strong team. The logic is that, when bowling first, there's always 40 overs available to get as many wickets as possible (unless all ten have been taken anyway) and also 40 overs to bat (unless the chasing team wins or is bowled out). But if a team sets a sub-par target that gets overhauled then there's a decent chance of getting only 30-odd overs to take wickets, not to mention the fact that the chasing team might know they don't need to take any risks, thus decreasing the chance of getting lots of wickets. (Conversely, any team batting first is likely to take risks towards the end of its innings, often gifting the opposition wickets in the search for late runs.) This theory is backed up by the data, too: over the last decade it's clear that both we and our opposition have secured more bonus points in failed chases than in failed defenses:
Our time in the field began pretty well: openers Daniel Mortlock (1/36) and Jeff Beaumont (1/53) were both tight enough to prevent the St Giles top order scoring freely, and we certainly weren't losing with the score at 37/1 after 10 overs. But maybe it was more relevant that, once again, we hadn't made any serious inroads into the opposition's top order, and the fact that they had wickets in hand proved to be far more relevant to subsequent developments than their initially low scoring rate. The next hour was dominated by St Giles's accomplished middle order batsmen, who seemed ridiculously comfortable with our bowling and kept coming down the track and smacking the ball to - or over - the short boundaries.
The only bowler to consistently resist their efforts was Olly Rex (1/35), who repeatedly induced false shots and edges, none of which went to fielders. Andy Owen (2/67) did see an edge go to hand - or at least tummy - when Dave Clark held onto a blinder a slip, the perfect response to earlier having the ball lobbed into his face by Andy after taking a return. Andy generated a few other chances, but it's sadly revealing that they were all right on - or some way over - the previously mentioned boundaries. One of these chances was taken, at least, when Richard Rex came around from long-on to intercept a vicious flat straight-drive which was probably already over the boundary when he plucked it out of the air, somehow keeping his feet inside the line. Indeed, Rexes Richard, Olly and Ferdi were the stars in the outfield, as they repeatedly ran their legs off to intercept hard-hit shots within inches of the boundary, saving tens of runs in the process. Of course the fact they had so much work to do in such positions is revealing in itself, although they would have had even more to do but for the brilliant efforts closer in by Andy, Roy Page and Romsey first-timer Paul Hirst, all of whom priortised saving runs over preventing bruises. Paul (0/11) also had a brief spell with the ball, although it was noteworthy mainly for the incredibly loud effort-grunt he made upon delivery - it decreased in volume as he found his rhythm and speed, although a sequence of rapid bowling changes meant he was robbed of a chance to demonstrate that he could bowl in silence. Sadly, such moments of light relief were few and far between, and for the most part it was a case of merely hoping that the audacious batsmen would eventually miscue one of their big shots, but it never happened. St Giles hit 102 runs (30 of which came from 5 sixes) from their last 10 overs, taking them to the depressingly imposing total of 247/5.
The promised rain did arrive at tea, but it was just a shower and not even close to saving our bacon. So we spent our break talking about chasing strategies, which centred on the idea of playing big innings, rather than slogging from the first ball. Paul, slated to go in first drop, seemed to be setting himself to do just that as he eschewed the platters of pate sandwiches and Scotch eggs in favour of his own bottomless porta-trough full of left-over pasta. Our top-order was also bolstered by the surprise return of Alex Cook, winner of the Romsey batting award back in '04, who lasted played for us in September 2005 before heading back to his native Australia, seemingly for good. But he managed to get back to Cambridge on a sabbatical, arriving a few weeks ago, just in time for the last few matches of the cricket season.
Paul and Alex got their opportunities almost straight away, as the "pie in the sky" dream of batting long turned out to be miles to high as St Giles's torturously slow in-swing merchant reduced us to 24/3 in the 7th over. After this disastrous start Paul Hirst and Richard Rex dug in and got us back into the game, Richard solid and defiant for 25 (off 58 balls) and Paul increasingly able to assert himself on his way to a superb Romsey debut innings of 91 (off 94 balls, with 15 fours). They stayed together past drinks, eventually putting on a 110-run partnership before both being bowled in successive overs.
Paul and Richard had guaranteed us respectability, but despite their great efforts the lower order were faced with the gargantuan task of scoring 114 runs from the last 70 balls of the innings. Which isn't that far from what Olly, with help from Ev, managed against Camden a few weeks back. And Olly, coming in at number 6 today, continued where he left off, hitting his first ball for four and then swatting a dismissive six . . . before calling for one of the crazier attempted second runs in Romsey history, thus running himself out for a brilliant, if unfulfilled, 15 (off 11 balls).
By now the win really was gone, and the only meaningful aim was to get our fifth batting point by making it to 200. Ferdi Rex (a superb 22 off 18 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (17* off 19 balls) did at least manage this, and we even managed to bat out our 40 overs; but, really, there was no escaping the fact that St Giles were just too good for us today.
Afterwards about half of both teams headed off to The Black Horse for beers - and even a flirtation with buying dinner. Andy initially baulked at the GBP 8.95 for "bread and butter" until it was realised that it also came with an entire baked Camambert. In the end the only one who ate was Paul, who still hadn't finished his seemingly bottomless pasta, while the rest of us stuck to more traditional post-match faire (i.e., beer). It was also nice that both teams shared the same table, in contrast to the "together alone" policy that seems all too common, which set the stage for an impromptu compliment-fest, as we suggested St Giles were worthy of promotion (possibly in the hope that they wouldn't be around to thump us next year) and they insisted that we shouldn't be facing demotion. But facing demotion we are: today's loss has reduced our league average to 10.36, just 0.14 above second-last placed NCI's 10.23. Really, though, today's result hasn't changed much, and if anything just emphasizes the fact that next Saturday's match against NCI is a pretty close to a "winner takes all" affair.