Report by Daniel Mortlock:
What a difference a year makes. The 2013 Romsey season also finished with a trip to Milton, but that time our belief that we were safe from relegation was smashed on the rocks of dubious CCA adjudications and first team ringers. Today, we really were safe - our worst possible finish was fifth out of nine, and we were still a chance to get second (and promotion). There was hence an unusually relaxed pre-match vibe that meant that most of us weren't too bothered when Andy won the toss and chose to bowl on what seemed to be a pretty decent pitch.
The initial action did, however, suggest that Andy's decision was a good one - or at least not wrong. After a few tight overs in which the batsmen's solid play was balanced by our superbly tight fielding, Olly Rex (3/20) made the first breakthrough when he got a little bit of away swing and took the ball past the bat and into the off stump. Then, later in the same over, he whizzed the ball past the batsman's pads and into 'keeper Andy Owen's pads, from where it bounced back onto the stumps just as the batsman over-balanced. A clear, if fortunate, stumping that was sufficiently unusual that the scorers recorded it down as "run out" (despite Geoff Hales repeatedly confirming to them that it was in fact a stumping). Olly started his third over with Milton on a rather horrid 3/2 after 5 overs, and so it was rather surprising to see the surviving opener go for an expansive lofted drive . . . that was well caught by a Robin Eddington, running around from mid-on.
From 3/3 things calmed down, and by the time the score had reached 20/3 after 12 overs it seemed a reasonable recovery was underway. Ferdi Rex then came on to bowl his off-spinners and, after a slightly dart-y loosener, produced a much nicer, flighted delivery second ball. Still, it was two feet outside off stump, and it was no surprise to see the batsman leave it to go through to the 'keeper . . . although surprise was exactly what everyone experienced when the ball turned in viciously, flicking the bail off the top of off stump with the the batsman frozen in a classic "leave" pose. That brought Ferdi's season record to 8 wickets at an average of 13.00, and the only player to have taken more for less, Jeff Beaumont with 10 wickets at 7.80, was on at the other end. It would have been an exciting head-to-head for the bowling award but for the fact that neither could get to the requisite 40 overs needed for qualification. Worse, Jeff (0/15) then pulled his calf muscle, and had to be helped from the ground mid-over, a rather inglorious end to a superb all-round season in which his 10 wickets (now at the higher but still fantastic average of 9.30) were complemented with 64 critical runs at 21.33.
Ferdi just went from strength to strength, though, ending his season with a spell of 4/22. This included an hilarious sequence in which he induced a false drive that went straight to Richard Rex, our most reliable outfielder, who positioned himself perfectly, monitored the ball's downward arc . . . and then took his eyes off it at the last moment, attempting an awkward crocodile-style grab that was never going to be successful. Nobody could really believe it, least of all Richard . . . but he responded in the best possible way as he caught a flat, hard-hit drive one-handed next ball. Thus re-energised, Richard then took it rather badly when Robin Eddington (3/20) induced a spiralling top edge next over and it seemed the catch wasn't going to him at point, but to Faruk Kara at gully. Amidst the cacophany of "Mine!" calls there was a demonstration of the power of inertia, as 10.5 stone Richard bounced off 14 stone Faruk, who remained sufficiently unperturbed (in both the physics and psychology senses of the word) to take the catch.
With Milton now 69/9 we did finally get a race for the bowling award, albeit with the leading eligible candidate (Andy Owen, with 15 wickets at 14.07) still behind the stumps. His nearest competitor, Daniel Mortlock (with 22 wickets at 14.23) needed to nab this final wicket for 10 runs or less to complete what would be a final ball coup. Daniel's first spell was a quite remarkable 6 overs, 4 maidens 0/2, and when he started his second spell with another maiden he was also a good chance to produce the most economical Romsey spell ever. A wrong-un beat the bat and missed off stump by about an inch . . . but that was as close to glory as he got, primarily thanks to Olly Rex who, being an observant young chap, casually asked "How many runs have you conceded today?" at the start of Daniel's eighth over. The confident answer "just two" was immediately followed by a seven-run over that meant that i) Andy got the bowling award once again (to go with victories in 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2012), ii) Daniel plummeted to 19th on the little-known "most economical bowling" table and iii) and Milton's last wicket pair put on 19 runs before Robin finally finished off their innings.
Robin then got to continue the game after the tea break by facing the first ball of our innings - or, more correctly, all three first balls: the first two deliveries were big wides that made it seem like the chase would be a doddle; the third swung away, took the outside edge of Robin's bat, and nestled itself in the 'keeper's gloves. Robin thus found himself walking after a strange three-ball golden duck, with his apparent strangle-hold on the batting award (after a magnificent season of 352 runs at 44.00) now rather more tenuous.
Suitably encouraged, the Milton opening bowlers produced superb spells that were both tight and threatening, and barely included a loose ball between them. Nick Clarke (12 off 27 balls) saw his unfulfilled season end as frustratingly as it had progressed, after which Rod Dennis embarked on one of the all-time great Romsey dot-fests. Pushing forward with bat and pad together, he managed to keep the bowlers at bay for 38 deliveries before finally scoring his first run off his 39th. A few more singles then turned this into 4* off 68 balls, by which stage our team score was a scarcely believeable 35/4 off 20 overs.
The crazy thing was that we were almost certainly winning, especially given that the Milton openers had bowled out their allotments unchanged and there were rumours that they were a bowler short. First over after drinks suggested that they were not: yet another maiden (the tenth of the innings already); so the critical moment of the game was the next over . . . the first four balls of which yielded 13 runs, finally deciding the result in our favour. Rod scored 23 runs from his next 16 balls and Ferdi Rex hit 15 off 14 balls before being bowled. Ferdi's departure meant that, as when we were in the field, there was a fight for the batting award: Olly Rex had begun the day with 199 runs at 39.80 and, if he could remain undismissed, needed 22 runs to lift his average above Robin's. When Rod was finally dismissed (for 27 off 102 balls, the highest score of the day) the Romsey total was 84/6 and Olly was on 14*, meaning he needed to tie up the scores on 88 and then hit a boundary. A 2 and 1 represented good progress, but the single gave new batsman Andy Owen the strike for the last two balls of the over. The first was carefully defended; the second was a leg-side full toss, and duly hit to the boundary. Andy (4* off 4 balls) hence finished on a highly respectable 245 runs at 40.83, leaving Olly (17* off 22 balls) with 216 runs at 43.20 - just 5 more runs would have seen the batting award heading his way . . . although it would be hard argue against Robin, who'd scored 100 runs more than anyone else this year, being the appropriate winner.
Something Romsey was too, thanks primarily to the fact that we had plenty of bowlers where Milton were, fatally, one short. Their first three bowlers had combined - and deserved - figures of 26 overs, 12 maidens, 6/39; their remaining two bowlers conceded 46 runs from their 6 overs. This also means Milton finished up mid-table, whereas we'd lifted ourselves up to third at worst . . . and even second if, for some reason, Burrough Green contrive to get just 3 (or fewer) points next week. So: plenty of positives to take away from the season and plenty to talk about at the Kingston Arms as we nursed our real ales and salad nicoise (which was thankfully sweetcorn-free).