Report by Cameron Petrie:
In hindsight, it is clear that Romsey went a long way towards replicating the first game of the season against Burrough Green when we played the return fixture at Trinity Old Field today (our last home game of the year). Before proceedings, Burrough Green were sitting one victory clear of us at the top of the table and Romsey were third, but we knew we stood an even chance against them, and also that a win would push us close or even above them in the rankings. Our loss to them at the start of the season was largely a result of Romsey not scoring enough runs when batting first, having been put in on a green wicket with a wet and bumpy outfield. Various things went wrong for us in that game, but they were mostly self-inflicted, including one crazy run out, top order batsmen getting out for low scores, and a defensive response to accurate bowling that meant that our scoring rate almost made Chris Tavare look bold. Surely our excellent form in most of our other games would help us remedy these mistakes? Yes . . . umm, er, well . . . perhaps not.
The weather had decided to taunt us during the week with overnight rain on several occasions, which compounded by the fact that the covers at Old Field had been out of action, meant that we arrived to a damp outfield and short grass sticking up on the pitch, standing tall in resistance of the morning roller. Burrough Green banked on the prediction of rain and lightning by 4pm was wrong and sent Romsey in again. What followed was an exercise in angst from the first over, and it was almost as though we had decided to give ourselves a handicap by reproducing the conditions of the first match as closely as possible.
Cameron Petrie (1 off 3 balls) proceeded to make sure that we had our "crazy run out" checked off the "replicate the last match handicap" list by opting to take a second run off a neat dab backward of point in the first over. While the throw from the fielder was surprisingly quick and accurate, and the 'keeper definitely looked a little sheepish after the bails were removed, there was simply no need to take such chances so early in the innings. (Rumour has it that Cam is not in fact going on holiday, but is being transported back to Australia for one too many running between wickets offenses and will be undergoing some corrective "sensible running" training for the remainder of the summer.) While Cameron was off collecting his thoughts on the square leg boundary, Ferdi Rex found himself striding out to bat unexpectedly at number three. This was because Richard Rex was unexpectedly AWOL at the crucial moment - our intention had been for Richard to come in to replace one of our "big scoring" openers at some point later in the afternoon, and Richard had quite reasonably decided that the start of the first over was the last best chance that he would have to visit the facilities. He reappeared to some surprise to see Ferdi join Nick Clarke to help get us off to a proper start. However, at 7/1 in the 4th over Nick (5 off 13 balls) received a peach that cut away off the seam and took the outside edge. Then, in the very next over, Ferdi (0 off 8 balls) played through an on drive but sent it straight into the hands of short mid-wicket. Within 10 minutes we were on our knees at 7/3 off 5 overs. Top order demolition - check.
Rod Dennis had enjoyed coming in lower down the order last week, and was keen to repeat the feeling, but suddenly found himself out at the crease with Richard Rex at a moment of acute pressure. For the next 15 overs Burrough Green proceeded to bowl line and length, and Richard and Rod found themselves defending balls in the channel, leaving or occasionally missing balls that were drifting away or zipping through outside off, and trying to punish loose balls. The main problem was that there weren't that many loose balls. Ergo slow scoring - check. By the 19th over we had only dragged ourselves to 29/3, and we then lost Richard (10 off 59 balls) to a lofted catch at gully. This wicket gave the Burrough Green opening bowler D. Willis the astonishing figures of 10 overs, 5 maidens, 2/9 - and he was actually unlucky not to get more as the Burrough Green captain had already grassed two chances at slip before he seized this third one. (His simultaneous joy and alleviated frustration did sadly result in him showing an acute lack of good sportsmanship when he proceeded to swear loudly and spike the ball into the ground.)
This wicket just before drinks brought our third Rex, Olly, to the crease. He'd been talking about how much he loved coming in around the 28th over, but no such luck today. Thankfully the drinks break saw a change in our fortunes, and Olly and Rod (4* off 36 balls at this stage) were able to pounce on looser bowling, moving us to 70/4 by the start of the 27th over. This was sensible batting under the circumstances and Olly and Rod built an excellent mid-innings partnership. Unfortunately Olly (21 off 30 balls) chanced his arm a little early and was bowled by Burrough Green left armer Shawani. Roy Page then came out to join Rod (20 off 50 balls), who took the chance to attack himself before he too was bowled by Shawani. Our mid-innings recovery stuttered at the critical point with 10 overs to go, as Roy and new bat Rog Shelley took some time to acclimatize themselves to which singles were actually viable. Although a few lofted shots went flying to the boundary, there were sadly too many dot balls, such that when Rog (6 off 19 balls) was caught in the 38th over we were still in double figures. It was a cruel irony that our hundredth run came from a rank no ball that sailed through well above head height. Thankfully, Andy Owen (11* off 5 balls) was given just enough time to shine at the death, as he and Roy (21* off 45 balls) teamed up to belt boundaries and set an example of how to rotate the strike to score 18 off the last two overs, and bring us to 118/7, achingly close to 120.
The superb tea (with a range of freshly baked cakes) supplied by Bettina Rex was hard to swallow sadly as we all felt that we had undersold ourselves against Burrough Green once again. We knew were going to have to pull off a bowling/fielding performance like the one that we managed against Milton earlier in the season to stand any chance of taking the requisite ten wickets, or even less likely, of making the opposition bat out their overs.
Aggression from the off was our only option, and the dynamic duo of Ferdi and Olly Rex were given the not so new, but nonetheless shine-able, ball to get things started. It is not clear what the Burrough Green openers were expecting, but they immediately found themselves surrounded by a ring of leering Romsey fielders, hungry for catches. There had been plenty of lip in the field while we were batting and this continued for the first two overs, as Ferdi and Olly zeroed in on the corridor of uncertainty, but it stopped suddenly in the third over, when the Burrough Green number one was drawn out of his crease and Andy was able to nail his first stumping of the season. The fact that Andy had already had the bails off at least four times by that point had somehow failed to convince said batsman of the need for caution with his back foot. The Burrough Green number three rang some alarm bells when he quickly swatted two shorter balls for four, but in Ferdi's next over, the other opener played one of the limpest backward defensive shots in history and managed to see the ball bounce off the face of his bat, land behind the crease and then zip through and hit the top of middle. At 13/2 we were still in with a shot at the title - just. Things continued to look good when new bat M. Batting came out and proceeded to dead-bat his first ball. Could we keep the pressure on to draw the mistake? The immediate answer was an emphatic "YES!", as the Burrough Green number three was onto an Olly Rex slower ball too early and popped up a smart caught and bowled chance - 13/3 off 5 overs - game on.
Glimpses of the pressure bowling and excellent catching that saved us against Milton continued to flit around us like ghosts at the corner of our vision. Burrough Green's number five started with a bang by playing his shots, and although we attempted to slap him into line by renewed focus on good line, he soon started to score freely. A bit of magic was required and it came in the form of a Nick Clarke blinder at short mid-off. A clearly signaled drive was hit toward Nick's left hand and he grasped it with two fingers and a thumb while apparently "going backwards faster than a Lib Dem". Although runs were flowing, wickets were still coming.
Burrough Green captain S. Batting joined his father and Battings Snr and Jnr proceeded to dead bat balls that were anywhere near the stumps, and try to hit anything short towards the boundary. The main problem for Romsey at this point was that Burrough Green had only ever needed to score three an over, and although we had taken four wickets, they had been at or above the run rate since the 9th over. When our opening bowlers began to tire they started to drop short, and loose balls were pulled or driven through our necessarily attacking field. Our boundary riders worked hard, but our tenacity started to give. Faruk Kara (0/16 off 3 overs) came on and managed to keep things tight for his first over, but then came in for some stick. Catherine Owen also bowled a tight first over before the drinks break, at which time we were holding Burrough Green at 88/4. Our last ditch attempt was to be a salvo from the dueling Owens: Catherine and Andy - with Andy bringing himself on at the northern end, and Catherine being shifted to the Adams Road end. The tactic partly worked in that Andy finally drew Batting Snr into a lofted drive that Ferdi managed to grab before banging an already sore knee into the ground, but sadly the runs kept coming. Andy had a last gasp of satisfaction by having a successful LBW shout to end on 2/5 off 4 overs, but at the start of the 27th over the scores were tied. Although we had managed three wickets at a similar point in May, twas not to be today as Batting Jnr nudged a sensible single to take Burrough Green to victory a relatively easy.
There is undoubtedly a saying that goes something like "too many dot balls while batting and short balls while bowling does not a limited overs victory make". Today we basically put a noose around our own neck in the first over, and quickly proceeded to tighten it ourselves in such a way that made it difficult to recover. To our credit, we never stopped fighting in the field - we held our catches, and didn't misfield, but having been 7/3 after 4 overs, and then 29/4 after 20, we didn't really give ourselves much of a chance.