Historian, prolific father, determined batsman and indefatigable fielder Richard Rex tells the story of Romsey's "must win" match against NCI:
A changeable August day, more reminiscent of autumn than summer, brought old rivals Romsey and NCI together on Parker's Piece for a classic relegation duel. Heavy rain on Friday had brightened still further the traditional green wicket, and had also left it pretty soft. The fact that only 215 runs in total were scored off 70 overs today reminds us why few professional players (apart from Geoffrey Boycott) regret the passing of the era of uncovered wickets. It was, in short, an ideal situation for Andy Owen to win the toss and elect to bowl first, which he did. The only difference from usual is that the opposition would also have elected to bowl first had they won the toss.
On closer acquaintance, the pitch played exactly as expected. It cut in, it cut away, and it cut up. Balls reared unexpectedly, or skimmed through low. Batting was hard and unrewarding work. Romsey's opening bowling was typically tight, with Ferdi Rex giving away only 16 runs off his first 6 overs, and Andy an even more miserly, conceding just 9 off his first 5. The only worry was that, as so often, tight bowling had brought no wickets, though Ferdi was unlucky to see a couple of high edges fall in no-man's land, while a full-blooded drive was parried at silly mid off by Andy Owen, who was characteristically annoyed to have missed what he reckoned a chance (although anyone else in the side would probably have been on a stretcher with blood pouring from their face). However, in a dramatic change of script from so many other matches this season, the change of bowling brought the breakthroughs. Rog Shelley embarked on a prolonged spell which soon brought two wickets in a single over, one superbly stumped by Ev Fox, and the other clean bowled. Meanwhile, Marcelino Gopal, playing against medical advice, bowled a decisive spell. The pitch was perfect for his nippy off-stump line, and his final figures of 10 overs, 6 maidens, 3/11 were truly remarkable - although even more amazing was that at one stage he had figures of 7 overs, 6 maidens 3/1! Catches were going to hand and, more importantly, staying there. And LBW appeals were being granted! Suffice it to say that with the score 40/4 at drinks, all we had to fear was our own record of relaxing our grip in the second 20 overs.
But the fielding remained tight, with Rod Dennis and Richard Rex patrolling the boundaries while almost everyone else spent the whole game on or around the square. Paul Hirst was sharp at mid-on, while Darren Woods pulled off a series of stunning one-handed pick-ups on the treacherous Parker's Piece turf. As Andy rang the changes in the closing ten to make sure we need use no more than four bowlers, wickets continued to fall. Having just held a swirling catch at square leg off Rog's last over, Ferdi came back to reap some rewards for good line and length. One stubborn NCI opener had held the fort grimly all this while, but now saw his middle stump knocked back. Soon afterwards, Ferdi brought the NCI innings to a close with one ball to spare, ending with figures of 9.5 overs, 1 maiden, 3/32 - almost exactly matching Rog's figures (10 overs, 1 maiden, 3/32).
Batting always looked likely to be a different story, and so it was, but only because the Romsey openers put on 74(?) for the first wicket. Reading that this stand took nearly 20 overs might make you think that we had opened with Roy and Richard, but the fact that this grinding effort was the work of the usual suspects, Nick and Rod, tells you all you need to know about how hard it was to score out there (though the Romsey cause was helped by a generous supply of no balls and wides). Rod (19 off 64 balls) was the first to go, and while Paul and Richard each put on a few runs with Nick, neither of them looked comfortable or lasted long. With three wickets down for 100, NCI were perhaps optimistic if they thought they were back in it, although they were certainly justified in hoping for a few more bowling points. But Roy and Nick saw us safely home, Nick finishing up with 56* (off 86 balls). A half-century off nearly 30 overs must stand as one of his slowest ever innings, but it was worth more than a hundred on a better wicket, and was the key difference between the two sides.
That said, Romsey bowled tighter and fielded sharper than their opponents, and emerged deserving winners from a match that, for all its importance to both sides, was played in a good spirit. With Romsey now 29 points clear of NCI, we are all but safe. But it remains mathematically possible for them to overtake us on league-points average, if they win their final game and we emerge from ours, against league-leaders Fen Ditton, with no more than one bonus point. So all we need to do next week is: score 80 runs; or take 4 wickets; or score 40 runs and take 2 wickets; or have the game rained off. Although a more positive way to look ahead is that if we win we're a reasonable chance to leap-frog past either Bassingbourn or Camden and into the dizzying heights of mid-table . . .