Report by Daniel Mortlock:
In any league everyone always looks forward to the top-of-the-table clash; and, similarly, there's a certain fascination about relegation battles between those teams who've been struggling. But mid-table against mid-table? Hard to get too excited, perhaps. Still, that's what we had today, with fourth-placed Bassingbourn up against fifth-placed Romsey Town. Neither team had any real chance of promotion; and, while relegation remains a slight danger of both, it would take a pretty cruel set of coincidences for either team to go down from here. That just left pride to play for, especially for us, since our loss to Bassingbourn back in June was the only time all year we've really been seriously stuffed. And if we were going to get revenge we certainly had the team to do it, with almost a Romsey first eleven available, only the season's leading run-scorer Cam Petrie missing (although it wasn't clear how well Robin Eddington was going to be able to bat, as his hands were bandaged following a bike crash during the week).
The pitch looked very green and, possibly inspired by tails of visiting bowlers being unplayable on it, we decided to bowl first. Unfortunately, the pitch soon revealed itself to be lifeless and, while the ball didn't quite come onto the bat, there was no movement off the surface to worry the batsmen. Which made it all the more impressive that Olly Rex took 2/25 from his 8-over opening spell. He got lots of movement in the air, and troubled all the Bassingbourn top order. Add in a stunning reaction return catch and it seemed like it was going to be his day . . .
. . . although the scoreboard told a rather different story. Nobody else took any early wickets, and the batsmen kept punishing anything loose, with the result that Bassingbourn were 114/2 after 30 overs. Given that they had two set batsmen, one of whom had just smashed the ball into a nettle patch from where it was never retrieved, it seemed we'd probably bet set a target of 180-190.
This was the situation as Andy's family saw it when they arrived. Their support is, of course, always welcome, but today they also seemed to provide the magic we needed, as we took control of the game in a wonderful spell of 25 deliveries during which we conceded just 9 runs and took 6 wickets. Everything that wasn't working before suddenly clicked into place in a most implausible fashion. Daniel Mortlock (3/30) had been completely unthreatening with the old new ball, but found himself taking a wicket an over with the new old ball; Richard Rex had seen several big drives fly over his head when he'd been placed "ten yards in", but now that he had permission to "go all the way" he was able to judge a critical catch (the opposition top-scorer) to perfection; every time the batsmen had run a quick single previously we'd fumbled the ball on the bumpy ground or sent in an off-target throw, but now Ferdi Rex pounced on the ball and fired in the perfect throw to 'keeper Ev Fox, who whipped off the bails with the understandably unahppy new batsman yards short. The single moment that perhaps best summed up the insane change in our fortunes was when Faruk Kara came onto bowl - Andy and Daniel had been arguing back and forth about who should bowl from where in the closing overs of the innings, Daniel finally getting his way and Faruk replacing Andy at the end they both wanted. It could have all gone horribly wrong, but instead it went absurdly right: Faruk took wickets with his first two balls and finished up with figures of 4 overs, 1 maiden, 2/8, the most economical spell of the day. Not that things worked out badly for Andy (1/33) either: he switched to the other end and kept getting outside edges, one of which was well held by Faruk at gully, who first parried the ball into the air before calmly taking the rebound.
Even though we didn't end up bowling Bassingbourn out, we were by far the happier team heading in for tea. (Although, to be fair, both teams were pretty pleased to be presented with a superb spread that included delicious chippolatas, pizza, egg sandwiches, perfectly moist brownies and fresh fruit - to say nothing of the inspired option of providing watermelon at the drinks break.)
After an absurdly involved process of deciding on our batting order, James McNamara and Nick Clarke headed out with the mission of knocking off the target and getting everyone to the pub. We almost gave Bassingbourn the early wicket they so wanted when James hit a dolly to the point fielder . . . but he somehow managed to drop the ball about three times before it eventually hit the ground. And from there it was all Romsey: while it was never easy to bat, we were presented with sufficiently many loose balls that the score kept ticking over nicely, and by the time Nick holed out (for 46 off 53 balls) we'd already knocked off more than half the runs with 25 overs still to come.
Ferdi Rex (11 off 25 balls) was strangely subdued, at one point channelling his father with a 13-ball dot-fest, and somehow it seemed appropriate that he made way for brother Olly who'd performed so well at the start of the match. Olly and James waited out some tight overs with due patience before Olly broke free in decisive terms, overtaking James when he hit a single to tie the scores. But James then hit the winning runs which, thanks to Olly refusing to complete the single before the ball crossed the boundary, took him to a solid 32* (off 65 balls). That left Olly on 29* (off 30 balls), which was no doubt enjoyable - but it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have appreciated another 11 overs of batting.
So we'd got our hoped-for revenge and also our hoped for drink at The Hoops, where we also got to gorge ourselves on the chip butties provided by the landlord. Talk inevitably turned to the league table, with the general verdict being that just about any team could beat any other (with the possible exception of poor old Abington). Romsey, with a league average of 14.00, is still in with a tiny chance of promotion, but it would require Ashwell (on 16.77) to get thrashed in their last two games, picking up just 3 bonus points in total (i.e., not going to happen). We're also not completely safe from relegation, as NCI, on 11.15, could bring their average up to 12.82 with three more wins, while ours would drop to low as 12.80 if we only get 10 points from our last two matches. That might seem a bit pessimistic, but don't forget that at the moment we still don't have a ground for next week's game against Milton and so might have to forfeit that match. Maybe more relevant, though, is that in a fortnight's time we are playing NCI in our final game on Parker's Piece: if we win that (or it's washed out) then we're safe; if we can get 11+ points over the next two weeks we're safe; if NCI lose either of their other two games (or either is cancelled) then we're also safe. But not quite yet . . .