Report by Cameron Petrie:
Today's match against Milton II gave ample proof of the dictum that "catches win matches". Romsey were short of several stalwarts (e.g., Nick Clarke getting married; Daniel Mortlock "at a conference" [It was a friend's birthday BBQ! - ed.]) and players who had made star performances earlier in the season (e.g., James McNamara and Ferdi Rex). We were also playing our latest bete noire, Milton II (who seemed to have condemned us to demotion in controversial circumstances at the end of last season), which meant that Andy was determined not put up with any funny business at any point. Nonetheless, today's Romsey team was almost entirely made up of "regulars" (in fact there was only one debutant, Luke Barnes, formerly of Wolfson College CC), but it was a team that was "new look" enough this season to make Andy unsure of what to choose when going out for the toss. Thankfully the (in-)decision was taken out of his hands when we were put into bat, which didn't seem at all bad given that Old Field was freshly-mown and the day was hot. The Milton captain seemed oblivious of the significance of Andy's request that they sign the match cards before the toss, but a quick inspection demonstrated that we were actually playing Milton II today, rather than the Milton 1.5 team that we took on last year.
Rod Dennis (14 off 58 balls) and Cameron Petrie (5 off 7 balls) got the scoreboard ticking with early singles and a solid and well-timed "forward defensive" that went straight past the bowler and demonstrated how fast the outfield was. The bowling in the initial overs was a little erratic, drawing Cam into an ill-advised attempt to cut a wide ball outside off, which held up just long enough for a fielder (who appeared to have been deliberately hidden at backward point) to lunge forward and snaffle a tricky chance. This was one of three wickets in our innings from balls that perhaps should have been left well enough alone. This early wicket nonetheless brought Robin Eddington (24 off 40 balls) to the crease; and he announced his arrival by spanking a glorious boundary through the covers. The Milton opening bowlers continued to mix erratic with excellent, and a reducing flow of runs became a veritable trickle when the Milton first change bowler came on (M. Gouda - 10 overs, 3 maidens, 1/17) and proceeded induce the first major "block-fest" of the season. Despite a few sparkling boundaries, the mounting frustration eventually brought results for Milton in consecutive overs, with Robin dragging one on from outside off from the Milton second change bowler, and then Rod being bowled next over by Gouda.
All of a sudden we were at the end of the 18th over, 56/3 and with two new batsmen at the wicket - Richard Rex (19 off 45 balls) and Luke Barnes (28 off 35 balls). The tight bowling and the run trickle continued until after drinks, and thankfully the end of Gouda's opening spell signaled a dramatic change in the Romsey innings. Luke was on strike for new bowler Maltesh's first over and proceeded to belt three boundaries (one of which elicited a loud and slightly inappropriate "WOOHOO" from the scorer). Sadly the same bowler had Luke bowled through the gate in his next over, while Richard struck a fine boundary, but was caught when the Milton spinner drew a loose-ish swipe outside off that spooned to backward point. Once again, we saw wickets fall in consecutive overs, and were now sitting at a precarious 5 for 115 off 32 overs.
Tensions were high in the pavilion as the general feeling was that we were well below a par score. We also hadn't had a chance to properly judge the quality of the new Milton bowlers, though it had been noted that the Milton spinner was "terrible". This view was at least partly vindicated when new bat Olly Rex (54 off 26 balls) belted him for consecutive boundaries. Roy Page (11 off 17 balls) decided to mix dot balls with boundaries and strike-rotation so that by the time he was bowled by said spinner, our score had leapt to 138/6 off 35.2 overs.
The Romsey finish drew us into the realms of respectability in spectacular fashion, with Andy Owen (11* off 10 balls) rotating the strike peerlessly, and Olly playing the role of demolisher. The pair put on 48 in the last 4 overs, including several glorious boundaries to cow. Our final total of 198 was still sub-par, and although it might have been helped if we had been tougher on the leg-side wides (more on that later), at tea the situation was evenly poised and the match was there for the winning.
The Romsey squad was glad to have avoided the hottest of the afternoon sun, and while enjoying Rod's tea were left mystified by the extended discussion being held on the pavilion steps by the Milton team. Were they trying to psyche us out, snub out tea, or simply trying to sort out their batting order? The likelihood that it was the latter became clear when Romsey had to wait several minutes for the Milton openers to make their way to the pitch, resulting in the first overt phase of niggle from Andy. The Milton captain seemed oblivious to the fact that there were eleven red-capped Romsey fielders standing the square with hands on hips, but Andy quickly corrected this error.
Milton's left-hand/right-hand opening combination got them off to a solid start, scoring at precisely the required run-rate for the first four overs, but then we cut off the scoring options for their big left-hander. The more tentative right-handed opener had managed to sneak in a few boundaries, but in general Milton were creeping rather than racing along and by the end of the 11th over, they were a solid and potentially threatening 0 for 49. A bowling change was required, and though he had hardly been expensive, Olly was replaced by Romsey debutant Luke Barnes.
We had started to enter that potentially innocuous but ultimately dangerous phase of the inning where the opposition is hitting one boundary an over, which is no problem when you are defending a solid total, but exactly what isn't needed when the opposition needs 5 an over to win. Things weren't being helped by the fact that any ball that strayed even remotely down the leg side was being called a wide, which ensured that any errors in line were either being punished by the bat or the umpire. Thankfully Romsey were about to demonstrate that this game was far from over.
Cam had informed Andy that "Luke is a good bat and can bowl too, so is pretty handy", but neglected to mention how "handy" Luke is in the field. Milton continued to "creep" to 0 for 60 at the end of the 13th over. The big Milton left-hander certainly looked capable of hitting big, and crunched the first ball of Luke's second over hard straight back at the bowler. Not only was Luke quick enough to get his hands up to stop a boundary, but he was also quick enough to drop and snaffle the ball before it hit the deck and the first Romsey catch was in the bag.
The Milton number three immediately showed signs of impatience, and Andy had already been thinking about another bowling change, so Catherine "two for none" Owen was brought into the attack. True to form, Catherine's second ball was lofted to Richard "hands of glue" Rex, and Romsey had its second catch - Milton were now 65/2. The Milton number four immediately proved to be more sensible, and the "creep" of earlier resumed, such that by drinks, things were exquisitely poised at 94/2.
It must be said that in addition to the two catches thus far taken, the Romsey fielding performance had been showing encouraging signs of brilliance, with Luke in particular pulling off some miraculous saves at square-leg, and everyone generally putting in the extra effort to cut off boundaries and twos. Would this robusticity [Are you sure about that choice of word? - ed.] continue into the post drinks phase?
In hindsight, it is clear that the break marked a clear turning point for the game, as it saw the first of a series of decisive changes from the Romsey captain. We needed some Andy Owen bowling magic, so it was off with the keeping gloves/pads and on with the close fielding shin guards for Andy, and on with the helmet and keeping gloves/pads for Cameron. (Truth be told, this element of the decision was quite brave given that CP leaks a lot more byes than Andy.)
Romsey were briefly treated to Owens bowling from each end as Catherine was given one last over after drinks, but she was unable to work her particular style of Owen magic again. Nonetheless, Andy immediately zeroed in on the "difficult to get away" zone. Luke was brought on for one more over at the Adams Road, but the athletic fielding and batting in the hot sun had induced a little too much muscle stiffness, and the economy of yore deserted him.
What to try next? At 123/2 off 24 overs, Milton were clearly in the driving seat, and it would easy to set a safe field that tried to simultaneously cut off singles and boundaries, but the run "creep" of the early overs had shown that Milton were perfectly capable of overhauling our modest total the slow way if need be.
Now came decisive change number two: a hyper-attacking field. The previously tentative but now freely scoring Milton opener was proving to be particularly stubborn, so when Olly Rex was brought on from the Adams Road end, Andy showed ultimate faith and brought in a ring of close fielders.
The faith was repaid, as after one loose ball, Olly zeroed in on the perfect line and the runs dried up. A swathe of dot balls followed before Olly drew the Milton opener into a shot that popped the ball within reach of Andy fielding extremely close at short cover. This could have easily gone to ground, but Andy made no mistake and held our third critical catch. Game on.
Milton captain at number five welcome to the cauldron - close catching field unchanged for the new batsman. Olly and Andy took turns at keeping Milton contained, and although Andy drew several LBW appeals it quickly became clear that we were only going to get wickets by more obvious means (more entirely appropriate niggle).
Milton's number four was still in place and had been scoring well, though Olly almost had him when he skied one into a gap at short mid-on. The pressure was clearly on and there was considerable consternation about the lack of clear calling for the catch, but thankfully we were able to shake it off, and the pressure soon worked in Romsey's favor once again. Olly was hungry for wickets and kept his line, though was perhaps lucky not to be called for a wide when he bowled the Milton captain around his legs. Olly was clearly pumped up, and his next ball was on a perfect length and right in the zone of uncertainty - drawing a faint but distinct edge and Cam held Romsey's fourth catch (with both hands - apparently "making it look like a proper wicket keeper's catch"). The batsman wasn't keen to walk, but the Milton umpire raised the fateful finger and the screws tightened just a little bit more.
The next Milton batsman was a little surprised to see the ring of fielders in close, apparently neither noticing that this field has been in place for several overs nor that this was a hat-trick ball. Although he survived this particular delivery, the reprieve was brief, and in Olly's next over he lifted a drive into the eager hands of Luke at short point, who snaffled his second and Romsey's fifth catch of the day. Olly was in dreamland with this fourth wicket (to go with his lightning half-century earlier in the day), and this decisive five over spell of 4/14 had put the initiative securely in Romsey's hands.
Andy's tenacity in the face of repeatedly denied LBW appeals and wide calls to balls barely missing the batsmen's pads was rewarded when the Milton number eight managed to mistime a leg-side shot and watched the ball dribble onto his stumps. At the end of the 34th over Milton were 170/7, with 32 needed from 6 overs. Could we keep the pressure on?
Robin came back for the final three overs from the Adams Road end and the close ring of fielders was kept in place. There was no point backing off now. Robin's first over went for a miserly two runs, though Cam was standing too deep and managed to york himself and leak three crucial byes. A still gettable 27 needed off 5 overs. Andy came in for more rough treatment with wides and a few nudges for runs to make it 21 needed off 4 overs.
This brought Robin to his ninth and Romsey's 37th over and his line and length did not waver. Three balls, three dots. The pressure was excruciating, and the Milton number nine was drawn into a straight drive that gave a faint edge, which Cam held at keeper (one handed this time - drawing comments like "do you only catch it cleanly when they nick it?"). The umpire again raised the fateful finger. Romsey had six catches and Milton were 178/8. Come on Romsey.
The cauldron clearly addled the brain of the Milton number ten, who managed to tap his first ball to the left of Luke and set off for a run, which was made suicidal when Luke dived, gathered, and then somehow managed to flick the ball to Cam at the stumps and Milton were now teetering at 178/9. Dave Clark at slip emphasised how "in the zone" we all were when, off the last ball of the over, he stopped a lightning fast edge with his foot in such a way that it bounced back and nearly hit the stumps. The 38th over, which went for 3 runs, so Milton now needed 18 off the last two overs.
The crowd of assorted Owens, Rexen, and now out Milton batsmen were almost certainly wondering what the hell was going to happen next.
The first ball of the 39th over was to the Milton number four stalwart, who stepped across his stumps, and completely blinded Cam who was almost certainly standing slack-jawed as the ball careened past his unmoving left arm for four byes. Thankfully Cam managed to stop the next ball, which was very similar, but drew a wide call. Andy was becoming not so quietly convinced that we were throwing this away, and a top edge four to square leg off the next ball seemed to emphasise the point. Visions of the finish of the Helions Bumstead match earlier in the season were almost certainly flashing through several people's minds.
Come on Romsey - not this time, not this time. But what next?
A dot ball from Robin. The next ball was a bit shorter and the Milton number four got underneath it, belting it high and straight. What nobody other than Richard Rex knew was that it was neither high nor straight enough - and Richard moved forward and patently refused to drop Romsey's seventh catch at long on.
Well-earned jubilation ensued.
Romsey held their nerve and seized a nail-biter. we undoubtedly had several moments of individual brilliance during the Milton innings, but we won as a team, refusing to give up until the final catch won the match.