Report by Daniel Mortlock:
It was good news all 'round this morning, with a fine forecast and then the revelation that our opposition, second-placed Ashwell, would be fielding a sub-par team of nine players, thanks to a combination of the prosaic (weddings, etc.) and the truly unfortunate (i.e., their opening bowler having broken his leg in a charity football game). Given this information - and the disastrous results of our decision to bowl first last week - it seemed no-brainer that we'd opt to exploit our opposition's shortage of fielders to knock up a huge total. Andy duly won the toss and so . . .
. . . we once again opted to bowl first. Huh?
Still, this seemed to be an inspired decision when Daniel Mortlock (3/35) was gifted an early birthday present in his first over: the ball held up and the unfortunate batsman prodded back a return catch so gentle that he was able to mutter a resigned "Oh no!" even before the ball had been caught. And that, it was soon revealed, was a mistake: the Ashwell number three (one P. Hughes, who apparently doesn't even play for them that often) spent the next hour smashing the ball all over the place. Bad deliveries were of course dismissed with minimal fuss, but even perfectly decent balls were smacked over long-on or flicked way over the square-leg boundary.
Notice, however, the repeated use of the word "over" in the previous sentence: maybe Mr Hughes's one weakness was his preference for lofting the ball. Surely he'd at least mis-time a couple of shots, maybe giving us a chance or two? And, sure enough, he (as well as some of his partners) were kind enough to do just that. And, sure enough, we found a way to reciprocate, running under the ball, hanging back rather than diving, head-butting the ball across the boundary, etc., etc., etc. When we did finally get a second wicket - Cameron Petrie running back and sticking out one hand (Why use two when one will do?) to snaffled a mis-hit drive off the bowling of Marcelino Gopal (1/57) - it was well past drinks. And it wasn't Hughes who was out: the scorebook records that he'd scored 96 of the 120 runs we'd conceded to that point. At least Marcelino had actually found a way to keep him quiet, and it was probably in part due to the resultant frustration that he was bowled soon afterwards (for a most impressive 110, with 11 fours and 6 sixes).
For the rest of the innings we finally exerted a measure of control, Faruk Kara (1/27) in particular relishing the chance to tie down the new batsmen with his perfect length. We conceded just 39 runs from the final 10 overs of our innings (as compared to 42, 56 and 73 from the first, second and third quarters) and, while 212/5 was certainly a healthy total, it didn't seem likely to be enough given that our opposition would have just seven out-fielders.
And, while it's possible that those fielders may have been highly-tuned athletes at the start of the match, they'd now be weighed-down by Marcelino and Natalia's enormous and irresistable tea. We had everything from savoury meatballs to crusty baguettes, with mountains of cakes and even fresh melon and pineapple for those with a healthier approach to gluttony. Those of us in the middle and lower order tucked in, gambling that they'd have sufficient time to digest - and even nap - before they'd be called upon again in the middle.
That policy seemed likely to be justified when the Ashwell openers were revealed to be rather inaccurate, repeatedly spearing the ball down the leg-side. Nick Clarke exploited this to the full, hitting a six and a four from his first 4 legitimate deliveries . . . only to then slap a rather tame cut shot to one of the few fielders. Nick's score of 10 off 5 balls was as unfulfilled as it looks, and he was thus condemned to spend the rest of the innings ruing the runs he might have made and letting everyone know how much he hates this game.
After that, progress was pretty easy as Rod Dennis (60 off 89 balls) and Cameron Petrie (54 off 48 balls) exploited the erratic bowling and field placings that were primarily composed of gaps. They eventually compiled a 120-run partnership in just 17 overs, although the scoring rate would have been even higher if they'd been a bit more enterprising in the running between wickets - at one point the level of indecision was such that they almost managed a run out (which would have been quite an achievement, given the difficulty of even finding a fielder). Still, even when the runs did occasionally dry up there was always sundries to keep the scoreboard ticking over, with a remarkable total of 35 wides by innings' end. The star here was one bowler by the name of Parry, who came on and sent down a remarkable 16-ball over that included 9 wides and, just for variety, a no ball as well. It must have been pretty demoralising - and we should know, having seen what was then our sixth highest league score of 240/7 effortlessly overhauled when we had just nine in the field a few years ago.
After that, though, Ashwell settled on a much more effective combination of leg-spin and medium pace that suddenly proved much more challenging. After a mid-innings wobble there was a little pressure: we were now 183/4, with an injured Robin Eddington and an out-of-practice Olly Rex at the crease. It was hard to banish thoughts of a repeat of what Robert Ludlum would have called The Bumpstead Debacle, and anyone who dared suggest we had a won game was quickly shushed. Whereas, in fact, that's exactly what we had: Robin (28* off 26 balls) and Olly (18* off 9 balls) quickly finished things off, and in the end we had almost a quarter of our overs left when the winning runs were hit.
Ashwell had been both valiant and good-humoured, perhaps bouyed by the prospect of a second lunch, which members of both teams - and a few visitors - were delighted to enjoy.