Report by Daniel Mortlock:
The Romsey pre-game routine continues to get worse as the season progresses. This week's nadir was reached on Thursday when Andy sent a desperate e-mail with the news that "We are now down to 7" and the ominous note that "If we cancel we get a fine of £20 and no points". Hardly the ideal preparation for taking on undefeated league leaders Chesterfords. In the end we headed down to Great Chesterford with ten players, two of whom were making their first appearances for Romsey Town. On the one hand there was Michael Owen, playing what might have been his first formal cricket match ever; on the other there was Dave Norman, who has played thousands of games in his career, turning out for eveyone from Granta's first team, to Cambridgeshire, to the Surrey twos. We had his services only thanks to a cancellation at Fitz - otherwise he would have been doing his job as groundsman there - but given the degree to which we were short-staffed even his presence in the side would probably only be enough to make us competitive.
Initially, though, we were anything but - although it was hard to tell if that was because we were being out-played or just plain unlucky. Certainly the opposition's score was mounting at an alarming rate - Chesterfords went to drinks on a way-too-healthy 113/1 - but on the other hand the pitch was lively and aerial mis-hits (and just plain misses) were just as common as controlled shots. Unfortunately most of these lofted balls landed just out of the fielders' reach - it was uncanny how often the wind blew the ball the "wrong" way when it would have helped if the same shot had been hit from the other end - and the few chances that went to hand went to ground immediately afterwards. It was, of course, most frustrating for the bowlers, in particular Dave Norman (0/28 from 10 overs of superb off-spin) and Daniel Mortlock (1/33 and left cursing how unfairly this bloody game of cricket is biased in favour of batsmen).
In the second half of the innings we might have expected a blow-out, but we actually did rather better. There was no acceleration in the scoring - we conceded exactly the same number of runs in the first 20 overs as in the second 20 - and took four times as many wickets to boot. The star here was Owen, whon nabbed 4/69 from 11 overs . . . which immediately raises the question: what happened to the 10-over limit on bowlers? The answer, as you've no doubt guessed, is that this was the work of multiple Owens: first came Catherine, who took 2/39 from her 7 overs; then Andy took over, grabbing 2/30 from his 4. Andy's wickets were both bowled, the result of batsmen hitting across the line in the late-innings charge, whereas Catherine's were rather more dramatic. The first came when the frustrated batsman got lured into an ill-advised charge, coming so far down the track that he didn't even bother trying to make his ground as 'keeper Roy Page completed the stumping; the second resulted from a thick edge that was superbly caught by Dave Norman, who essayed a pro-style dive/slide at point.
The constant through all this was tireless fielding as we tried to fill the gaps left by both our missing player and the fact that a couple of those present were injured and fairly immobile. Add in the bumpy outfield and the frustration of all those near-chances and it wasn't much fun. Probably the two stand-out efforts were David Sloan, who spent the whole day on one square boundary, and Michael Owen, who had to do most of the mopping up when the ball beat the bat, the 'keeper or both. A mark of his achievement is that he managed to go through the whole 40 overs without Andy shouting at him once.
That might, of course, have had something to do with the presence of the whole Owen clan watching closely from the sidelines. Add in the welcome presence of Nicky Mellish and it gave a very nice collegiate feel to the tea break. Although when it came time to sort out our batting order the truth of the situation - one short, some injured, some having to leave early - made itself apparent once again.
With our truncated batting line-up, the only way we were going to go close to our target was for some of the batsmen to settle in for the long-haul. Openers Roy Page (19 off 46 balls) and Richard Rex (15 off 34 balls) certainly started with due care, although when the score was just 6/0 after 6 overs there was a sense that we were maybe being a bit too conservative. Roy then signalled a change in intent when, out the blue, he called for the craziest of singles, which Richard managed to complete thanks only to a wayward throw. The switch had been thrown, though, and we scored 30 runs from the next 6 overs, as both batsmen started to hit out. Unfortunately, they were then out in quick succession, both getting caught going for big hits - it must have been particularly galling to be dismissed this way when we'd seen so many similar shots fall safe just a few hours earlier.
Still, this particular cloud did have a silver lining, in the imposing form of Dave Norman, our single best chance of completing this chase. He had eased his way to 9 off 16 balls when he found himself on strike to the Chesterfords' most threatening bowler with one delivery left in his spell. Dave correctly decided to play conservatively, getting in a big stride with bat and pad together. The ball swung in a bit, nicking the inside edge before slamming into the pad; there was a huge appeal for LBW which was upheld. A huge debate between players, umpires and spectators ensued: it was obviously rather pointless, as it wasn't like the opposite situation when the umpire can be accused of bias for turning down an LBW; but it was also clearly a big - and maybe the biggest - moment of the game.
That left us needing 170 run from 21 overs at 8.10 an over, so there was no choice now but to start hitting out, come what may. After drinks Andy Owen and Daniel Mortlock started to turn things around, scoring more freely in the face of some less disciplined bowling. While Andy and Daniel put on a healthy 58 runs in the 10 overs from drinks, that left us needing an implausible 104 more from the last 10 overs. If we were going to do that it was going to take something a bit out of the ordinary . . .
. . . and that's just what we got, in the form of a scarcely believable spell of bowling from one D. Lightning, who tried both leg-spin and seam up, got the yips on two separate occasions, and whose deliveries spanned the extreme range from a full-toss way over head height to a grubber which bounced about two feet in front of him and then rolled down the pitch, coming to a halt next to the bemused batsmen. Both deliveries were correctly no-balled, although the umpires seemed to get caught up in the excitement, at one point calling "wide" off a leg-side delivery that had brushed the batsman's thigh. The general sense was of cricketing mayhem, and from a disinterested spectator's point of view it was a pity that Lightning was taken off after just three overs. The problem, of course, was that those three overs had been rather expensive, leaking a total of 53 runs. But, while certainly comment-worthy, it's not record-breaking stuff - a Romsey bowler conceded 57 runs in a three-over spell back in 2006. No, what really made Lightning's spell so amazing was that only two runs came off his second over; and what took it beyond realms of belief was that he began his second over with a hat-trick! (Lightning's figures off his three overs were 0/20, 3/2 and 0/31.) The first of the wickets was the critical one of Andy (20 off 41 balls), who'd smashed a cover drive that would have flown to the boundary, but for the fact it was intercepted at head height by a brave Chesterfords fieldsman who somehow manged to cling onto the ball.
This insane flow of runs had brought us back into the game and had brought Daniel within a shot of a (first ever) century. And even though Lightning was taken off, his replacement (whose nickname was Radar, on the grounds that he sometimes lost his) started with yet another head-high pull toss, which Daniel duly pulled to the boundary to get into triple figures. It wasn't pretty and it was rather fortunate - there'd been plenty of misses and mis-hits (to say nothing of two drops, both of which were regulation), but the key thing was that we were still an outside chance to pull off an amazing heist.
With one over to go we needed 16 runs - plausible if the bowler got the yips, but unlikely given that Chesterfords had held back their hyper-economical and accurate opener. Sure enough, he proved near-impossible to get away, his final over yielding just three singles. Daniel, who'd scored 106* (off 91 balls, with 16 fours and 2 sixes), was clapped off the ground by members of both teams, but it was decidedly bitter-sweet, being soured by the fact that it was the only one of the ten Romsey league centuries that hasn't been part of a winning team effort. (The previous record for the highest score in a losing cause was Alex Cook's 95 against Whittlesford in 2004.)
More worryingly, today's result means we've just one win to show from eight league games, and we're third-last out of 18 teams, just one spot above the dreaded relegation zone. It's not all "doom and gloom", though, as a more detailed look at the standings reveals that our seven losses have all come against teams in the top ten and that seven of our remaining games will be against teams currently positioned ninth or lower. And first up of those is ninth-placed Elmdon next week - can we turn our season around?