Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Having missed out on taking a crack at league leaders Harlton last week due to an unnecessarily wet pitch, we were particularly keen to see what the playing surface would be like for our match against second-placed Ashwell today. The pre-match pitch inspection was thus undertaken with far more care than usual today, as members of both sides had noticed some worrying divets on a good length and the general sense that, for one last time this season, it was going to cause its share of uncertainty. It certainly did for Andy when he won the toss: his instinct was to bowl, in part to get the only use of the new ball; but we once again had a strong batting line-up, and chasing had proved difficult in previous matches here. And so, to the surprise of our various supporters who arrived later and assumed that we'd been inserted, Romsey Town CC chose to bat.
The result was that our top order was pitted against some lively swing bowling of the highest quality - or, at least, the highest quality that can reasonably be expected in CCA Junior 3 South: there was no suggestion that either R. Clark or A. Griffin were in the mix to replace James Anderson in the third Ashes Test. (What's that? Oh, right, silly mistake: the third Investec Ashes Test . . .) Still, openers Cam Petrie and Nick Clarke were beaten plenty of times as the Ashwell openers got the ball to shape away at a decent pace. More importantly, though, they managed to survive this initial pressure while also (with the help of the first few of an eventual 16 wides) keeping the scoreboard ticking over. And even after Cam was bowled (for 14 off 25 balls, allowing him to dash off to rejoin the friendly he was playing simultaneously), Robin Eddington (23 off 29 balls) kept up the scoring, with the result that we were a promising 86/2 at drinks.
A promise that was immediately delivered on as Ferdi Rex went on the rampage, at one point hitting 7 fours in 8 balls. With continued support from Nick we raced to 158/2 in the 29th over, and the opposition bowling was in disarray - they'd tried five different bowlers in the six overs after drinks.
Unfortunately, Ashwell had the good sense to try a seventh bowler for the innings, and the first one who wasn't a seamer. M. Doughty immediately did what his quicker team-mates couldn't, and with one of the openers coming back to good effect we were suddenly 159/5 with two new batsmen at the crease. The rot started when Ferdi (55 off 39 balls) feathered one through to the 'keeper, and immediately walked - which was rather ironic as Nick (39 off 83 balls, his slowest Romsey innings of more than 14), out an over later, had previously been accused of not walking (for the vanilla reason that he didn't think he'd hit the ball) and so received an absurd send-off from the more, er, expressive of the Ashwell opening bowlers. (Probably just as well for him that Nick's mellowed in retirement . . .)
Back on the field, the final dozen overs of our innings were a pretty frustrating experience, as none of Rod Dennis (0 off 4 balls), Richard Rex (13 off 29 balls), Andy Owen (9 off 18 balls), Daniel Mortlock (5* off 9 balls) or Catherine Owen (0* off 2 balls) managed a strike-rate of more than 50.00. (Yes, yes, 5/9x100 = 55.56, but Daniel really scored just 1 run off 9 balls - the other 4 came from an overthrow that made it all the way to the boundary) So what seemed likely to be 240+ rapidly became 200-odd, and in the end 196/7 - a total we probably would have taken at the start of the match, but was disappointing in the end. We'd scored just 38/5 from the final 67 balls of our innings, and the game was probably 50/50 as the teams chowed down on Catherine Owen's delicious tea.
Still, we set about defending what was a decent total the right way, concentrating on being tight and accepting that the old ball and dead pitch weren't really going to yield too much excitement for the bowlers. Daniel Mortlock (0/37) bowled boringly from The Adams Road end while Ferdi Rex (1/41) was decidedly more interesting from, er, The Other End. It certainly helped that he got a second ball wicket when the ball ricocheted back of 'keeper Andy Owen's pads with the unfortunate batsman out of his ground. Andy was also instrumental in our second wicket, when Faruk Kara (2/25) induced a top-edge off the first ball of his spell and Andy dived forward to take a sharp catch. Unfortunately, though, sharp catches were in short supply: we didn't drop any sitters, but we did let a number of sharp chances go begging. The most important of these were off the surviving opener, who was a one man team for the first part of the innings: he was clapped for passing his half century while the team total on the scoreboard was still 49. The feeling was if we'd nabbed him early that the match would have been ours, but as it was he survived into the last 10 overs of the match.
Meanwhile - and much like Ashwell a few hours earlier - we'd struggled to find the right bowling combination: Robin Eddington (0/27), Catherine Owen (0/17), first-timer Khuzaimah Saeed (0/17) all came and went, after which Daniel, having bowled out his allotment, went for good - normally it's possible to catch the 19:15 to London after the match, but today's over rate had been so slow that there were still 12 overs to when he pedalled off into the sunset . . .
. . . at which point Cameron Petrie picks up the story:
The now common Andy/Cameron 'keeper-switch was made for the last dozen overs, as we set out to fight for what could still be a tight finish. The other change of personnel was that Russell Woolf came on as a substitute fielder, making his first Romsey appearance since 2013.
There was also a change in the batting tempo, as Ashwell's previously belligerent opener seemed to have been unduly affected by a calling meltdown which saw his skipper run out and, having so far scored with near complete freedom, became tentative before, almost inevitably, Andy got one through the gate in the 32nd over to remove him for a solid 77. His big hitting partner soon followed when he fell to possibly the most obvious trap ever set: Ferdi, bowling from the Adams Road end, asked Richard (at mid-on) very loudly to "just go back a few metres", and the batsmen then obliged by lofting the next ball into the breeze and straight into Richards eager clutches. The bat that flew most of the way to the boundary wasn't hurled in anger so much as disbelief, and all of a sudden we felt that our sniff of a chance had become something more.
Given that you know the score from the top of the page, the last 6 overs deserve a little elaboration to explain how things got so close. When this sixth Ashwell wicket fell in the 33rd over, they needed just 29 more runs and were clearly in the driving seat. In our favor, we had overs to spare from Ferdi, Andy and Robin. The required run rate was, however, an extremely gettable five-an-over, as demonstrated by the fact that at the end of the 36th over, Ashwell were 187/6, with the runs mostly coming from singles and occasional boundaries. A handful of those runs were galling and ultimately critical, as a ball from Ferdi burst through Cam's gloves at shoulder height and lead to two byes, another Ferdi ball pitching well within the tram lines, then turning into Cam's gloves less than 6 inches from the stumps was called a wide, and most galling of all, the Ashwell batsmen ran an overthrow when a ball that was going to hit the stumps ricocheted off the back of a lunging bat and went fine of Khuzaimah at fine leg. A very tight run out appeal was also turned down, but thankfully we didn't give in to despair and all kept focus.
With Ferdi's final over (the 35th) ending with a frustrating boundary, and Andy's next over (the 36th) seeing seven runs from ones and twos, Romsey was only just holding onto the optimism, energy and pressure that had gotten us this far. The ball was thrown to Robin to finish up at the Adams Road end, and his 37th over went for 3, while the 38th from Andy went for 2, leaving Ashwell with five runs for the win off two overs, and four wickets in hand. Team Romsey had stepped up and were simply not going to hand this game over, as what seemed like minute field adjustments had seen balls hit to fielders both in close and further out.
Few people enjoy bowling in such situations, but Robin summoned some magic for the 39th over, pushing Ashwell's left hander into his crease, beating the bat, forcing him to miss and mis-hit attempted lofted shots, and also drawing a feather fine edge to Cam that was evidently only audible behind the stumps, as the confident appeal went unheeded and the batsman remained unmoved. The wicket would have been nice, but the maiden at such a crucial moment gave us a chance of last over glory.
Andy came on for the last over and initially matched Robin with two dot balls, before the third was driven hard and straight, and beat the fielders to the boundary, drawing the scores level. It wasn't over yet, though, and the next ball was hit hard to Richard, at short mid-wicket, who seized the catch, bringing a new bat to the crease with two balls to go. Second last ball: dot, right on the money. Final ball: even better . . . but the batsman pushed his foot forward and the ball struck his toe (a missed LBW perhaps?) and looped up towards Russ at slip. The non-striker was already most of the way down the pitch before the ball bounced, and Russ couldn't gather and throw the stumps down, so our long afternoon of toil could only get us to last ball frustration (only the fourth time in club history that a match has been won off the final ball).
Romsey had every right to be disappointed with this result as a lot hadn't really gone our way today, and a tie would certainly have been a fair result. It was clear that we suffered much more with the variable bounce that seemed to disappear in the Ashwell innings when the pitch had been baked hard and the ball was soft. Several balls hit into the air fell just out of reach, or when they did go to hard, the chances were hard and not always taken. Our one moment of triumph was left for the walk off when Rod refused to shake hands with Ashwell bowler that had been so obnoxious during our innings, and also took the admirably direct approach of saying to his face what we'd all felt since the first over of the game.