Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Having paid our dues by bowling first on some pretty decent batting tracks this season, it seemed only fair that we'd get to do so again today on Harlton's notoriously difficult track. (Although our hosts informed us that today we were lucky to be playing on neither "Death" nor "Son Of Death", the two pitches on one side of the square.) But no: we lost the toss and were immediately inserted, meaning that most of our number had nothing better to do than swap stories about life-saving operations while watching our top order try and avoid the sort of impacts that might require one.
Such pessimistic talk of dogged survival was quickly put aside when Cam Petrie (13 off 17 balls) smashed the third ball of our innings straight back over the bowler's head for six. And then Nick Clarke (17 off 25 balls) got into his groove, hitting three controlled boundaries in the space of ten balls to take us to a most promising 31/0 after 6 overs. It felt as if we were about to take the game away from Harlton . . .
. . . whereas we instead lost 3 wickets for 4 runs, thanks largely to some superb catching. Rod Dennis (18 off 52 balls) and Romsey dubutante Pete Stubbs (34 off 33 balls) set about rebuilding, defending the good deliveries and punishing the bad ones, repeatedly sending the ball into the fields that surround the ground. Just after drinks we were at an eminently respectable 92/3, the perfect platform for posting what would surely be a near impregnable 150+ total. But some more good catches (one of which Harlton adjuged their Angry Wasp Moment Of The Match, as described more fully in their match report) saw the Romsey lower order fold, as we lost 6/16 in 10 rather depressing overs. Our last wicket pair of Faruk Kara (1 off 16 balls) and Dave Clark (3* off 5 balls) set about trying to get us at least to 120 (i.e., a 3rd batting point) but, despite the kind donation of a number of big wides, we fell 2 runs short even of that unambitious target.
From the first overs of our defense (both maidens with more misses than hits) it was clear that our total was at least going to be competitive, and Andy very quickly brought in the field to try and exploit the edges and pop-ups that we were sure to get. Daniel Mortlock (2/17) certainly got plenty out of the pitch, with the ball hitting the batsman more often than their bats and a couple of balls leaping off a length and flying over both batsman and 'keeper. But it was Faruk Kara (1/44) who made the early breakthrough, although his off spin was probably just a little slower than the ideal pace for the pitch, and any balls that dropped short were effectively punished. We hence turned Tom Stubbs (brother of Peter) who, being a Romsey first-timer and "not having bowled for a year", was a rather unknown quantity. A wild beamer in his first over suggested the rust might be a bit much to shift but after that he found the perfect line for his away-swinging "tempters". Just before drinks he and Daniel both induced a series of edges, two of which were well held by 'keeper Andy Owen and one of which was nicely pouched by Dave Clark at slip.
But it was the fourth edge in this period that was possibly the critical - and certainly the most contentious - moment of the game. The new Harlton batsmen, Cotton, played at a full, wide ball from Tom and snicked the ball to second slip, where Faruk Kara made a superb grab low-down. To Faruk - and those of us who had a good view - this was an obvious catch, the ball having come from the top/outside edge of the bat. But the bat itself had hit the ground, and so it was also maybe understandable that the batsman thought it was a bump ball. With the players in disagreement it fell to the standing umpire to decide, and he also went with the latter interpretation of events. There was disbelief from us, but no amount of re-stating "But I saw it come off the edge!" constituted new evidence - if only someone had been filming that delivery on the phone - and so we had to just carry on.
It was thus particular galling that The batsman in question then hit a few solid boundaries, punishing some leg-side looseners from new bowler Andy Owen (3/18, despite limping in on one leg). Andy did get him eventually when he popped up a catch to Pete Stubbs at silly mid-on (who held onto the chance at the third attempt), but it was perhaps revealing that the batsman seemed determined to hang around, apparently attempting to try the "bump ball" defense a second time. But, having been given fairly explicit directions, he did eventually head back to the pavilion - as did a pair of his team-mates as Pete and Andy took two more wickets in quick succession.
The game was now, for possibly the first time since the first drinks break in our innings, evenly poised: Harlton were 83/7 and needed 36 runs with just 3 wickets in hand. Indeed, we would have been winning but for the fact that Harlton's lower included several solid batsmen with plenty of league experience, who were likely to wait patiently for the bad balls that are inevitable in junior league cricket. Their young wicket-keeper withstood the combination of pressure fielding and inscrutably eccentric banter (much of which focussed on the semantic distinction between "the channel" and "the corridor of uncertainty"), and by the time he eventually played a loose shot swiping at a straight ball from Andy, just 12 were needed. After this a few aerial shots flew just past our fielders' out-stretched hands, but it was perhaps appropriate that the winning runs came from a difficult half chance that deflected off Nick Clarke's out-stretched forearm - the one obvious difference between the two sides today was that Harlton had held all their catches, whereas we'd missed half a dozen (difficult) chances.
It was a great effort to have gone so close to defending 118; but it was also depressing to have made such a crap total in the first place, especially given that we couldn't really blame the difficult wicket for any of our dismissals. With the game taking less than 70 overs there was plenty of time to repair to the Horse & Hounds for a post-match pint - it was nice to see most members of both teams out in the beer garden, talking nonsense and hearing tales of the local youth, who not only have been having clandestine nocturnal liasons in the cricket club house (one of the least romantic places on the planet) but have developed a unique approach to the act which involves large amounts of white paint.