Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Cast your mind back to the 1970s and the Saturday night ritual of watching Doctor Who and waiting with baited breath to see whether the setting would be i) a disused quarry or ii) a futuristic research facility in which everyone had been killed or replaced by robots. In the latter scenario the first episode would inevitably consist of the Doctor and his companion wandering around the lifeless buildings in search some sort of drama to provide the regulation cliffhanger. That was the situation we found ourselves in this afternoon, as we gingerly approached the forbidding guard station at Granta Park in search of a mythical cricket pitch. We were eventually successful in finding this and, in classic Doctor Who tradition, also found signs of alien life, in the form of giant grey-green slugs . . . that were, rather more prosaically, revealed to be goose turds. Richard, helped by one of the Abington players, thus began his Saturday afternoon not with bat in hand, but holding a dustpan, that after he was finished with it was, er, no longer safe to eat off.
With the turf now visible it was possible to start making plans: some of us thought the warm conditions and hard ground would be good for batting; others argued that the divots in the pitch meant that bowling would be the better option. None of which was relevant, as Andy called incorrectly at the toss. But, for what it's worth, Abington went with the majority view and chose to bat.
The first significant moment in the match had nothing to do with the pitch, though: one of the Abington openers hit the ball straight to point fielder Rod Dennis, who fired in an accurate return to 'keeper Ev Fox to have the bails off with the very angry batsman a few feet short of his ground. Robin Eddington (0/37) then looked set to make inroads of his own as he kept sending outswingers past - or into - the outside edge. But the chances thus generated weren't held - and, given the way the increasingly-frequent aerial shots kept falling into the gaps, it looked like we were going to have to find other ways to take wickets. Which is just what Daniel Mortlock (2/32 in his first spell) and Andy Owen (2/36 in his first spell) did, bowling three batsmen before Ferdi Rex took a sharp catch at first slip to Andy. This reduced Abington to 59/5, and there seemed every chance that we'd be able to keep them to double figures . . .
. . . at least until one J. Ketteridge came to the crease, smashed his first ball for four, was beaten by the next delivery, and then saw a pair of top edges go for a two and another four. After which he kept going through the same sequence for the next hour or so. None of us - including the sympathetic Abington umpires - had seen so many balls just miss the stumps or so many uncontrolled aerial shots land in the gaps. With equally fortunate - if not so destructive - support from his partner, Ketteridge brough Abington right back into the game. With each sortie to collect the ball from the long grass it became harder and harder to remember that we still had the opposition five-down, and just a single wicket might be enough to finish them off. Not that it was all good fortune on the batsmen's part - we also made some material contributions, dropping plenty of admittedly non-trivial catches and fluffling a far easier run out chance than the one we'd taken earlier in the game.
Mid-way through the 29th over Abington's total was 159/5 - precisely 100 more than it was when their sixth-wicket pair had come together - and a 200+ total seemed to be on the cards. After yet another mis-hit we looked on forlornly as the ball zeroed in one square foot of ground that none of Ferdi (at mid-wicket), Richard (at mid-on) and Daniel (bowling) could cover. But then Ferdi put in a final burst of speed, made a belated call of "Mine!", dived full length, and wrapped both hands around the ball just inches above the ground. And, as we'd suspected, that one breakthrough was all we needed, as Daniel (4/53) and Andy (5/36) took the last 5 wickets for just 15 runs in the space of 16 deliveries, Andy completing his 7th Romsey five-for with a triple-wicket maiden.
The sudden end to the innings meant that the tea wasn't yet ready, leaving us plenty of time to mull on the fact that, despite the rather maddening hour chasing leather, we had an eminently chaseable target on what had turned out to be a fairly true wicket.
That sense was rapidly confirmed when Robin Eddington and Nick Clarke both started playing beautifully, Robin in particular connecting with some sweetly-timed drives. The natural extrapolation was that we'd romp home and head off to the pub to drink beer in the glorious afternoon sunshine; but that was suddenly less likely, if only because the clouds had closed in and there were ominous sheets of rain visible beyond the far side of the ground. Just seconds after one of the spectators confidently asserted that "It's gone around us!" the first spots of rain spattered on the scorebook; a minute later the players were scampering off the field under a torrential, if brief, downpour. It was so brief, in fact, that the rain had all but stopped before everyone had completed the epic hill-climb to the pavilion - although in the end play didn't resume for another ten minutes (perhaps because everyone would have felt a bit silly going straight back on). Whatever, the match continued uninterrupted from there on.
Robin and Nick continued apace, so much so that Ferdi was moved to suggest that "Robin must be pretty close to his fifty by now". A quick add-up revealed that he was in fact on 49, which is almost where he stayed when he bunted a drive straight to mid-off . . . except yet another chance went begging, and Robin was able to scamper through to get his half-century, the unfortunate side-effect of which was that we appeared to have stood up as one to applaud a dropped catch. This impression can't have been improved when, a few overs later, we found ourselves heartily clapping a wide - this time because it meant a century opening partnership (in 15.5 rather enjoyable overs). And even when both Nick (for 35 off 44 balls) and Robin (73 off 81 balls) were bowled in the next few overs it hardly seemed likely to affect the result.
Indeed, the most compelling on-field competition was not between two cricket teams but between two species: the geese had returned, first a four-bird reconnaisance flight and then a much larger attack squadron. Presumably outraged at having had their, er, modern art scultures removed from the exhibition space they had come seeking revenge, and promptly surrounded the isolated fine-leg fielder. He was only saved from becoming their Christmas dinner by the two sides teaming up: a rather inviting long-hop leading to a crisp pull that scattered the flock and left us to knock off the last few runs.
This was a task that Ferdi Rex seemed keen to do as rapidly as possible, repeatedly clearing his front leg and trying to smack the ball as hard as he could. It all seemed a bit risky - several aerial shots only just cleared fielders - but he'd taken us to the impregnable position of needing just 20 from 79 balls, with 8 wickets still in hand. Unfortunately, Ferdi chanced his arm once too often, being caught next ball for an exuberant 21 (off 16 balls). There was a sudden sense of unease that was only compounded next over when Rod Dennis (1 off 2 balls) was needleessly run out, having been called through for a sharp single that was also surely unnecessarily risky given the situation. Still, at least we had Andy heading out to bring calm to the situati- oh: he got a first-up snorter that hit him on the chest and then dribbled into the stumps with just enough momentum to dislodge a bail.
We were now 158/5, with two new batsmen at the crease and the Abington players as energised as we felt nervous. The bowlers were suddenly finding real movement and zip; the fielders were all prowling around cutting off singles; and the runs all but dried up as the confident shots of an hour ago became tentative prods. (There was also a series of absurdly passionate LBW appeals, most of which barely seemed to merit a polite enquiry, let alone wild screaming. The nadir here was an appeal after the batsman had come forward about a yard and been hit on the glove by a rearing delivery that, if unimpeded, would have missed the stumps by about three feet. It was thus especially annoying to later hear an Abington supporter on the phone claiming "we got a few dodgy decisions in the field" - it's hard not to imagine that he'd been fooled by the theatrics in a way that, thankfully, the umpires were not.) While we were all feeling the pressure, it was really only coming to bear directly on the two incumbent batsmen, Richard Rex and Roy Page. They survived but didn't thrive, ekeing out the occasional run and, one suspects, appreciating the reasonably regular supply of no balls. Mid-way through the 33rd over we needed just 5 more runs to win, but the tension had, if anything increased: but Richard and Roy hadn't scored for 11 and 18 balls, respectively, and in the 7 overs since Ferdi's dismissal we'd scored just 15 runs (only 4 of which had come from the bat). So just imagine how everyone felt when Richard was early on a delivery which held up a bit and the ball ball lobbed straight to the cover fielder . . .
. . . who, perhaps himself affected by the tension, he couldn't hold on. After that normal service resumed as Richard (14* off 43 balls) and Roy (4* off 28 balls) saw us home in the next over. Winning by 5 wickets with 33 balls left isn't always as comfortable as it might sound.
The two abbreviated innings did mean that there was time for just about everyone to head over to Abington proper, where got the quintessential English village experience, taking our pints from The Three Tuns across the road to watch the last few overs of Abington II's game. It would have been nice to have played there ourselves, but to get that chance we'll need to move up in the world (or at least the CCA league), which is still a possibility. Today's win has pushed our league average up to 14.30, just 0.06 behind that of third-placed Milton but, more importantly, a fairly substantial 2.26 behind second-placed Helions Bumpstead - who we just happen to be playing next week. A good win against them would see our average go up to 14.82 and theirs drop to 15.5 or so, clearly within striking distance . . .