Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Romsey Town's slow but steady exploration of the northern parts of Essex continued today, in part because our opposition didn't have access to their magnificent home ground in front of Audley End House and so had been forced to move the game even further south to the mysterious Langley. Searching for "Langley" in Google Maps only yielded obviously wrong results (e.g., Langley, Hertfordshire) and so the Audley End skipper helpfully provided a postcode (CB11 4SB) which was duly plugged into the club's sat-navs and smart-phones. One result of this was that Nick Clarke spent an intriguing half hour arousing the suspicions of the Langley Lower Green residents as he nosed his shiny black BMW into all their lanes and driveways in what proved to be a vain attempt to find the ground. Finally a friendly local helped him out with the vital information that the cricket ground was in Langley Upper Green - although the fact that she sent off Nick with the cheery claim that "You can't miss the ground - you'll drive right through it!" cast some doubt on the reliability of the information.
Nick - and the rest of us - soon found out she was spot on, though: what passes for the Langley Upper Green high street does actually go through the cricket ground, marking off a straight line from long off to cow corner. None of us could quite believe what we were seeing: not only did this this 15-foot-wide gash in the playing area have foot-high verges on either side, but it also marked the path of the telegraph line, a pole sitting proudly at long-on. Add in a large number of strange and potentially dangerous holes in the surface and it was hard not to be suspect a rather dodgy afternoon with the ball flying everywhere off the pitch and a steady stream of players being carted off to hospital.
The pitch itself, however, was fairly true, even verging on the lifeless, and for most of the day it was a batsman's game (as, indeed, cricket is in general). We batted first and got off to a cracking start as Cameron Petrie (22 off 21 balls, mainly from textbook cuts) and Nick Clarke (36 off 55 balls) kept us scoring at around 5 an over off the Audley End opening bowlers. But they then wrested control of the game thanks a combination of good change bowling and some superb fielding in the most difficult of conditions. A couple of wickets either side of the drinks break left us on a rather dubious 105/5, and it felt we were on the verge of squandering our good start.
That we didn't was down to a fantastic partnership between Rexes Ferdi and Olly. This year they'd both broken the record for highest family score, Ferdi's 79 against Ashdon being immediately surpassed by Olly, who hit 81* a week later. So today it was like the season finale of The Rex Factor as they set about trying to outdo each other. Olly got going first with a lovely late-cut boundary off Audley End's fastest bowler, but then Ferdi started to hit with both freedom and incredible power, reaching his fifty off just 40 balls before going absolutely beserk, seemingly smashing every ball he faced either to or over the boundary. The only way it seemed likely he'd be stopped was if we ran out of balls - another feature of the ground was that it was surrounded by giant, dense and spiky hedges, and more and more balls found their way into the middle of these. Not that any of this - or the opposition's increasingly desperate bowling changes - made any difference to Ferdi, who went from 50 to 100 in an absurd 16 balls. (During the second half of his innings his scoring sequence was 4 4 2 1 2 2 4 1 6 6 4 6 6 1 2 6, a dot-free sequence of 57 from 16 balls.) When he went to triple figures he got an big hug from his brother and a huge round of applause from us (along with polite, if understandably frustrated, claps from the beleagured opposition) and then just kept going, celebrating his milestone by immediately smacking yet another big six. Unfortunately Olly got out - well caught on the boundary - in the penultimate over, but the Rex brothers' partnership of 133 runs from just 70 balls had put us in an absolutely commanding position. Our innings finished with a scampered leg bye, called in inimitable "yes yes yes yes"-style by Andy Owen (2* off 2 balls), that took us to a fabulous 250/6.
That was Romsey's fifth highest league total, although, rather scarily, it turns out it was only fourth highest in the league today: Chesterfords made 329/2 against Little Shelford; Thriplow made 367/4 against Burrough Green; and Saffron Walden made 380/3 against Harlton. Still, that didn't stop us from poring over the scorebook in disbelief, and such was Ferdi's momentum that he even got an extra run while we were munching on our sandwiches, Daniel and Rog's final add-up revealing that he'd made 118* off 64 balls, with 9 fours and 7 sixes. Not only was it the third highest score for the club, but he also broke his own record, set just last week, for the fastest recorded innings - taken together, Ferdi's currently on an unbeaten run of 170 runs from 94 balls.
Given that sort of form we perhaps should have got him to open the bowling, but instead we decided to go with the old firm of Mortlock & Owen. The idea, of course, was to keep the scoring down and quickly render the opposition's chase hopeless. And that's exactly what didn't happen: the Audley End openers, Hancock & Hackett, had seen how true and lifeless the pitch was and started hitting from ball one, taking some risks (mainly by trying to pull straight balls to square leg) but mostly just hitting through the line. Daniel's first four overs cost 43 runs and Andy retired from the attack with a sore shoulder after 13 runs were hit from one over - needless to say that wasn't quite the plan. We did then turn to Ferdi - irresistable, really - but it seemed his magic touch had deserted him as 19 runs came from his first 8 balls as Audley End raced to a scarcely believable 79/0 after 7 overs. It's safe to say that we were a little less chirpy than we had been half an hour earlier.
Emotionally it was hard not to feel that our (i.e., Ferdi's) good work had been all but undone, and those of us (Andy, Daniel, Ev, Rod and Rog) who'd played in the 2003 Bayer CropScience debacle (in which our very similar total of 247/2 was overhauled in just 30.2 overs) were surely having horrific flashbacks. That said, that day we dropped our prime torturer six (fucking) times, and it was hard not imagine the Audley End openers giving us at least a few chances - the only question was whether we'd take them.
Sure enough, a chance did arrive when Ferdi got a bit of lift and Hancock cut the ball to Olly Rex at point. It was almost poetic that the two brothers who so dominated with their batting would combine for the vital breakthrough . . . except the hard-hit ball had popped out of Olly's hands and the opposition openers were able to continue their mayhem.
Ferdi generated our next decent chance as well - after frustrating the batsmen with an impeccable over that yielded just the one run off the first five balls, the batsman was tempted to try and pull a ball that he wasn't quite sure of. The result was a huge top edge that headed out towards Richard Rex on the mid-wicket boundary. It was the sort of chance that was difficult enough in ideal conditions; with the added challenge of the road-side verge and on-coming traffic it was something of a nightmare. But, possibly spurred on by the fact that it was off his son's bowling, Richard grasped the ball as tightly as if he'd life had depended on it, and after 10 painful overs we finally had our first wicket.
Our defense then entered its second phase, as the surviving opener became relatively becalmed and we worked away at his partners. Chief labourer in this regard was Faruk Kara (2/32), whose offies not only confused the new batsmen but also gave the set man no pace to work with. The result was two well-deserved wickets, the first coming when the batsman played on and the second resulting from a false drive that looped back to the bowler in the same dreamy slow motion that Faruk eventually implemented in his successful diving catch.
Faruk's tight spell meant that we were back in the match, although the runs were still coming faster that we'd have liked. When drinks came there was some time to assess the situation: Audley End, who'd made it to 151/3, needed an even 100 from the last 20 overs, and it became increasingly clear that the match would hang on whether we could get rid of the surviving opener sooner rather than later. Girish Lakhwani (1/45) went a long way to achieving this through frustration, conceding just 26 runs from his first 7 overs (i.e., less than the team concded from its first 3), and also had several perilously close LBW shouts turned down on the grounds of what effectively amounts to "left-hander's perogative". Daniel was - somewhat reluctantly - brought back on, and it seemed was in for more of the same treatment when the surviving opener hit the first two balls of his ninth over to the boundary. It might have been tempting to try and distract the batsman with some banter (or even mental disintegration), but there was no need as, rather unusually, he seemed keen to initiate the banter with the fielders himself. His specialty was to pull away at the sight of Daniel's admittedly ill-disguised slower ball, announcing that it would have been a leggie before resuming his guard. Nick was of course more than happy to join in the fun, and came up with the suggestion that we introduce a new rule that left-handers not be allowed to bat for more than 25 overs. Unsurprisingly, the batsman didn't seem to agree, being keener to continue his big hitting, as he he smashed a full-toss from Daniel back from where it had come . . . which, in this case was Daniel's right hand.
And so in that "blink and you'll miss it" moment we finally had the other vital wicket we needed, and from the comfortable position of 181/3 in the 27th over (i.e., 70 runs needed from 80 balls with 7 wickets in hand), Audley End rapidly fell apart. Our change in fortunes was best illustrated by our rejuvinated opening attack - after an initial combined "effort" of 0/56 from 5 overs Daniel (3/69, the equal sixth most expensive spell in club history) and Andy (2/24) combined to take 5/37 from their second spells. Mostly these wickets came from straight balls that were missed, although the undoubted highlight came when the other Hackett played a perfectly good late-cut, only for Faruk, in the unacustomed position of slip, to poke out his hand and the ball to stick. Faruk's delighted disbelief was infectious and summed up our change in fortunes perfectly.
At the start of the 36th over Audley End needed 32 runs from 30 balls with just one wicket left and we needed to finish things off. And, really, there was only one man (well, boy) for the job: Ferdi Rex. His first few deliveries were a bit tentative, but on the last ball of his over he recovered the zip he'd found earlier in the day and the Audley End number eleven overbalanced as 'keeper Ev Fox whipped off the bails. The umpire's finger went up, meaning Romsey had won an amazing match by 28 runs, and Ferdi had backed up his undefeated century with a spell of 2/42. It was, by the default means of accounting, the fourth-best all-round performance in club history, and some of us even went as far as to suggest that he was a good chance of getting the man of the match award today . . .
More importantly, though, this win has also rather improved our position in the league, albeit not enough to even go close to relaxing just yet. Our new and improved league average of 10.36 places us fourth from bottom, but there is still an insane traffic jam of teams around us, just 0.92 points separating second-last-placed Milton (9.77) and six-last-placed Burrough Green (10.69). In some fuzzy sense that means we're about a 4 in 5 chance to avoid relegation, although of course this doesn't come down to rolling the dice but to what we - and these other teams - do on the field over the next few weeks. First up we have mid-table Fulbourn, followed by the big challenge of second-placed Haslingfield in a fortnight and then finally what is shaping to be a relegation play-off against Milton on August 31.