Report by Daniel Mortlock:
This season seems to be going south for Romsey, both metaphorically (as we're currently in the dreaded relegation zone) and literally (as, once again, we found ourselves trekking well beyond the Cambridgeshire border and into Essex). This is rather annoying not only in principle - given that we're playing in a Cambridgeshire Cricket Association league we might reasonably expect to be playing in the county - but also in practice - we seem to be spending more and more of our Saturdays trying to find our way along the little country lanes that criss-cross the Cambridgeshire-Essex border. Today was no exception on that score, with very few people finding the ground first time - although the search was at least rather well rewarded, as Ashdon's Waltons Park ground (being used by Helions Bumpstead because of some allegedly more important civic event being held on their ground) was absolutely stunning. Nestled in amongst rolling hills, it was overlooked by a magnificent manor house - it was tempting to imagine some retired '70s rock god sitting back in his living for an afternoon of cricket-watching.
Unfortunately, what our hypothetical rock star would have seen wouldn't have been too inspirational, at least initially. The pitch, which had taken a fair bit of rain overnight, was true but paceless; our opening "attack" was tight but unpenetrative; and the Helions openers were understandably conservative - the ground was presumably new to them as well. The overall result was that not much of note happened for the first hour - Helions were presumably the happier team with a drinks score of 77/1, but what the game really needed was a kick up the arse.
And, thankfully, it got it, both in the form of some wickets, courtesy of Ferdi Rex (1/26), Daniel Mortlock (1/42) and Girish Lakhwani (2/29 and the pick of the bowlers), and some big hitting by one K. Chilton. Even though he only seemed to have one basic shot (an across-the-line flick/pull), he could play it of just about any delivery and with real power - he hit a total of 5 fours and 3 sixes despite our largely successful attempts to deny him the strike. That this tactic was so effective was a lovely demonstration that cricket, despite its focus on individual battles, is a team game - even though no one of our bowlers managed to keep Chilton quiet, we found an alternative solution to the problem that relied on the whole team cutting off twos and getting to the ball quickly. Indeed, it was a good fielding effort overall, with Ferdi and Richard Rex fantastic in the deep, Nick Clarke, Rod Dennis and Faruk Kara making lots of critical stops closer in, and Daniel taking a couple of good catches in the deep.
Add in a fabulous spell of death bowling by Tony Malik (3/5, although it would have been 4/5 if a fairly easy catch had been held off his final delivery) and we really were in control of the game. Despite the stand-out individual performance of the first innings coming from a Helions batsman, it was a pretty happy Romsey unit who went to tea needing 174 to win.
That sense of optimism remained even when our chase started slowly, although Nick Clarke (5 off 9 balls) was understandably furious with himself for pulling a half-tracker straight into the hands of the square-leg fielder. That left us 7/1 in the fifth over . . .
. . . and there we stayed for about an hour as the ground was soaked by 20-30 minutes of solid rain. The result was 22 bored and frustrated cricketers: there were impromptu games of bowls; there was some very half-hearted fielding practice; there was the technological miracle of watching the on-going Ashes test on Nick's iPad, the crystal-clear picture coming through the mobile phone network; and there were several unenthusiastic sorties to check on the state of the pitch. The general verdict was that we were just half an hour away from the game being called off - while it would have been maddening to have been robbed of a wining position, the pitch did seem pretty water-logged. But then, to the surprise of just about everyone, it was deemed playable at 6pm, and so we resumed with lots of sawdust and an agreement to halt play if the ball did anything too crazy.
As it turned out the ball bounced fairly true, if a bit slow and low; and the bowlers were coming in off just a few paces anyway, so they didn't seem to be slipping too much in their delivery strides. The big change was that the batsmen could barely move their feet without slipping, and similarly struggled to set off for runs. And it was in these conditions that Rod Dennis and Daniel Mortlock compiled the stodgiest of partnerships in a season that has, unfortunately, been defined by stodgy partnerships. Between them they hit just 7 fours, although the real problem was the inability of the striker to set off for quick singles - we must have missed out on some 20 runs because of this. Still, keeping wickets in hand was clearly important, and the target was small enough that a drinks score of 70-odd/1 was just fine. What wasn't just fine, however, was that neither Rod nor Daniel managed to accelerate after drinks - indeed, our scoring rate slowed down slightly. At the start of the 29th over we needed 88 runs from 72 balls, and now it was our innings that needed a kick up the arse . . . which it got when Daniel (27 off 72 balls) and Rod (43 off 93 balls) were bowled in consecutive overs.
That meant we had two fresh batsmen - Ferdi Rex and Ev Fox - at the crease and, most importantly, they weren't hampered by the memory of how slippery the crease had been, because the reality was that it was fairly okay now. The other critical thing was that the now high required rate forced them to hit out from ball one - and when they did this successfully their confidence (and Ferdi's in particular) soared. Their outstanding partnership of 76 runs took just 51 balls - by contrast, Rod and Daniel's 79-run partnership occupied 144 balls. By the time Ev (26 off 26 balls) got a thin edge to the 'keeper (immediately walking, as you might expect a fellow 'keeper would) we had an all but won game, with just 10 runs needed from 13 balls. It could still go wrong, of course . . . but not with Ferdi motoring, and he smashed 2 6 2 off the first three balls of the penultimate over, resulting in a huge cheer, both for the victory and for Ferdi's match-winning innings of 52* off 30 balls (with 4 fours and 2 glorious sixes).
Even though we didn't finish 'til after 8pm, it was well worth it - for once we managed to defy both the weather and our own limitations to complete a deserved victory. It wasn't, however, enough to lift us out of the relegation zone, although our improved league average of 9.62 puts us within striking distance of Milton (10.17), Little Shelford (10.58), Helions Bumpstead (10.64) Harlton (11.00) and Burrough Green (11.17).