Romsey and NCI arrived at Parker's Piece with very different motivations today. For us it was a chance to end the season with a festive game in the middle of town and, while we certainly wanted to win, there was nothing more than pride at stake. For NCI, however, their entire season hung on today's results. Coming into the game they were second on the league table, and hence in line for promotion, but needed to win to avoid Fulbourn (who were playing Cambourne) overtaking them. Moreover, the NCI second team didn't have a match today, so there was some fear that they'd have a team bolstered by a few players from Senior 3. However this fear proved to be unfounded - NCI's team today was dominated by fourth eleven regulars, a refreshing change given some of our other late-season matches involving the larger Cambridgeshire clubs.
That said, it was clear that NCI would be giving it their all, and also clear that the toss would be important - whoever won would get ten overs at the opposition with a hard new ball on a nasty looking green-top. So when Andy called incorrectly it was no surprise that we were invited to bat, which was all the more annoying as regular opening partners Nick and Rod were both absent, Nick because he was on holiday and Rod because he was still making his way to the ground from Bedford.
Sure enough, the combination of the new ball, tricky wicket, good bowling and makeshift opening combo meant that we struggled for the first half of our innings. Roy Page (8 off 38 balls) and Richard Rex (28 off 79 balls) at least managed to bed down effectively, taking the shine off the ball, but they clearly found it very difficult to score. Of the first 5 runs we scored 3 were from no balls and the other 2 were the result of innings-endangering singles that were called uncertainly and run in kind. It was slow both on the scoreboard and on the field - our innings ended up taking three hours, and it felt like even more due to the lack of action. But slowly we started to free ourselves from these strictures, while keeping wickets in hand: 13/0 off 8 overs became 54/1 with one ball to go before drinks . . . although the taste of the refreshments was soured somewhat when Robin Eddington (16 off 26 balls) was dismissed to end the 20th over. (Not that Robin should feel too unhappy - even if he'd gotten a duck today he'd already done enough to win the Batting Award, his 184 runs at 46.00 putting him comfortably ahead of Nick Clarke with 207 runs at 29.57.)
The second half of the innings was considerably more dramatic, and more enjoyable - at least for us. Ferdi Rex (20 off 19 balls) was the first to break free, playing beautifully before being well held at slip. More important than the number of runs that he got was the ease with which he got them, as it seemed to give Olly Rex (49 off 32 balls) and Marcelino Gopal (21 off 16 balls) the confidence to hit out, which they did to great effect. From the boundary it seemed they simply smashed every ball they faced - sometimes to the fielder, but just as often between, over or through. In a very enjoyable half hour they took the game away from NCI, putting on 70 runs in less than 10 overs. And even when they perished to consecutive balls in the penultimate over it was still clear that they'd put Romsey Town very much ahead.
Our sense that 182 was a winning total was nicely reinforced when the NCI openers started to take big risks from ball one. Their aggressive running worked well, in so far as they repeatedly managed to complete cheeky singles just in time, but their desire to dominate the bowling was less successful. Very few coaching manuals recommend charging down the track to play a cross-batted swipe as the best way to bat on a surface of variable bounce, and today we saw why. The chief beneficiaries of this rather cavalier approach to batsmanship were Daniel Mortlock (3/22) and Girish Lakwahni (1/34), who both bowled full and straight, letting the pitch do the rest. And, sure enough, the repeated risky singles eventually proved to be too risky when Richard Rex scored with a direct hit.
Still, NCI held on, fighting their way to 74/4 in the 24th over - not much different from us at the same stage of our innings. But instead of two of their middle order batsmen putting together an explosive partnership, they collapsed, losing their last 5 wickets - they were one player short after one of the previous batsmen top-edged a ball into his face - for just 12 runs. Needless to say we were the ones having all the fun at this stage. Andy Owen limped his way to 2/14, taking his season's tally to 15 wickets at 14.67 and yet another Bowling Award (as Girish, who took 7 wickets at 9.14, had bowled only 27 of the 40 overs he'd needed to qualify). Ferdi Rex (2/14) finished things off when he induced two false drives that were caught with ridiculous nonchalance by Girish - in stark contrast to the whirl of energy that was Olly Rex, who had to dive full length to take the catch of the day (if not the season) when a drive seemed certain to fall short of him. But probably the most enjoyable dismissal of all was when Richard, Andy and Ferdi combined for a three-man relay run out after the two batsman had gotten into an argument about whether there was a third run on offer - when they were both stranded at the wrong end it seemed the argument might continue for some time, but of course one of them had to leave the field.
The up-shot of all this was that we ended up thrashing the second-placed team in the league by 96 runs - although in the act of doing so we relegated them to third, robbing them of promotion in the process. (The honour of a season in Junior 2 has gone to Cambridge St Giles, who won all their completed matches, and Fulbourn.) On a more positive note, we moved ourselves up to fourth - if we could just play like we did today all season then maybe we could realistically aim from promotion next year too . . .