Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Predicting the future, it is often said, is a mug's game. And Romsey captain Andy Owen is no mug. Yet in a casual mid-week conversation with Catherine he stuck his neck out and suggested that Romsey could make 300 today. On the face of it this was a ludicrous suggestion, given that we'd never made it past 277 in three decades of league cricket, but there was at least some reasoning behind this outlandish utterance: we had a fantastic batting line-up (e.g. six players with league centuries to their names); and our opposition, Sawston's third team, were bottom of the ladder, having suffered heavy defeats in their two completed games. Even so, this would all be rendered moot if we didn't get to bat first (since hopefully the idea wasn't that we'd be chasing 300+), and so it was decidedly convenient that we won the toss - or at least that the Sawston captain called incorrectly - and so we at least had our chance to make Andy's fantasy come true.
It was all pretty tight initially, as we nurdled our way to 18/0 after 5 overs, but then Nick Clarke went on a mini-rampage, at one stage hitting 8 boundaries from 13 balls. Nick's effortless clean hitting seemed to suggest a century (and maybe even Andy's mythical 300) was in the offing, but then he missed a straight one and had to be content with an impressive but fundamentally unfulfilled 46 (off 32 balls). Sawston wrested back some control over the next few overs, dismissing both Rod Dennis (23 off 42 balls) and Cameron Petrie (14 off 16 balls), after which the score was 86/3 in the 15th over. The scoring rate was obviously very healthy, but a few more wickets and our great start could easily count for nothing. And the two new batsmen, James McNamara and Ferdi Rex, had both hit undefeated centuries in their most recent Romsey league innings, so surely couldn't reasonably be expected to put on repeat performances today?
In short: they could. Both started off carefully (e.g., James scored 17 off his first 20 balls; Ferdi scored 10 off his first 13 balls), but once they'd got their eyes in and the change bowlers came on they went smoothly up through the gears, scoring with ever more freedom. There were certainly plenty of boundaries, but possibly even better than that was that they were able to push singles and repeated steal second runs even from the good balls. Ferdi in particular repeatedly deployed the technique of running the first run hard, turning as if to go for the second, and then only really making the necessary decision once he was five or six yards down the pitch: with a bit of momentum and such little distance to cover, it was often possible to decide whether to go for the run after the fielder had released the ball - any throw that was either slow or off-target would immiedately and correctly be exploited.
Ferdi got to his half-century from 40 balls and then repeated his diabolical gear-change from last year's Audley End game, enjoying a sequence of 4 3 4 6 1 6 6 1 1 2 4 6 (i.e., 44 runs from 12 balls), the last of which took him to his second league century. Ferdi was visibly tired by this stage, and eventually offered up a rather tame catch in the penultimate over, but both teams (and the decent number of spectators) clapped him from the ground, having made 103 from just 64 balls, with 6 fours and 6 sixes.
The only downside was that James hadn't gotten too much of the strike towards the end of the innings, and so seemed likely to miss out on the chance to reach his own milestone. Happily, though, he was also engage his own personal hyper-drive, hitting his last dozen balls for 4 1 2 . 4 2 2 4 2 4 1 2, to finish on 110* (off 82 balls, with 13 fours). James and Ferdi had put on 210 runs from 136 balls (our second highest ever partnership) and, with support from Dom Summers (3* off 6 balls, batting almost precisely like someone who hadn't played cricket for two years), had taken us to easily our highest ever league total, a scarcely believeable 308/4.
It was thus a pretty bouyant Romsey Town outfit that munched away at Faruk and Heather Kara's delicious tea, although having fielded through some similarly one-sided innings, there was also a certain sympathy for the beleagured Sawston fielders (and particular their 13-year-old bowler, who'd been brought on at the height of the mayhem and returned highly credible figures of 0/35 by the simple virtues of bowling full and straight).
Bowling full and straight was our basic plan too, and one that we were largely able to stick to. Our new regular opening spearheads of Daniel Mortlock (2/12) and Faruk Kara (3/25) immediately closed off any possibility of a competitive chase as, with the help of an energetic Dom Summers, they restricted Sawston to 41/5 off 16 overs. Dom's contribution was commitment and energy in the field, as he first ran 20 yards to try and grab a catch nobody else seemed to want and then, despite The Fear that followed that first drop, called quickly and confidently to take another skier a few overs later.
James McNamara (1/16) then continued the "full and straight" policy, before Catherine Owen (4/27) and Richard Rex (0/14) slowed things down, Catherine getting a couple of her wickets with Dambusters-style deliveries that neatly yorked the stumps on the second bounce and Richard repeatedly bewildering the batsmen with his incredible hang-time and 10 mph "faster ball". Even if it was slightly turgid stuff - the run rate never got above 3 an over - it was also joyous to be able to play with such a feeling of freedom and confidence. At one stage the score was 55/8, but then the Sawston lower order decided to put a serious price on their wickets, working their way to a second batting point and getting to within a few good hits of a third before Faruk held onto one more skier to end the game.
With that we'd won by some 206 runs, yet another all-time record for the day. A remarkable result, to be sure, although in some ways even more impressive was the spirit in which the game was played - it's one thing to keep things light when all's going well, but a test of character when being beaten. It's a test we haven't always passed as well as the Sawston players did today.
And yet there was a possibly even more remarkable fact hiding away in the day's events. Every member of the team had batted, bowled or taken a catch . . . except Andy Owen. He'd kept wicket immaculately, not letting through a single bye and going very close to making a couple of dismissals . . . but it was only the third time on record that Romsey had won without Andy making a run, taking a wicket or completing a dismissal. (The previous occasion was against Sawston last year; the other was way back in 2000.) Given the number of times Andy's rescued us by either completing a chase or taking off the pads to take vital wickets, there was something very pleasing about the fact that today he was only needed to guide and advise - oh, and to make outlandish predictions . . .