Report by Daniel Mortlock:
This was the mystery game of the season, not in terms of opposition (which was always NCI III), but venue. For several months the fixture list had insisted on "to be arranged", which finally morphed into "King's & Selwyn College" a few weeks ago . . . only for a mix-up on dates to see the location finally settle on "Histon (pitch two)". So that meant a trip into the unknown, both in terms of finding the ground and, once there, working out how to get it up and running. By the time we found the stumps, wheeled out the comical scoreboard and generally set up camp it was closer to 2pm than the appointed start time of 1:30pm, and the game started a good 20 minutes late.
On a classic baking August Saturday, and being back to a full-strength batting line-up, we were as desperate and bat first as we had been to bowl first last week. Weirdly, there were rumours going around that NCI wanted to put us in, although surely the only plausible explanation for this was that it was some sort of sophisticated double bluff, intended to put doubt in our minds and possibly induce us to bowl if we won the toss. If so, we were having none of it, and Andy had no hesitation in sentencing NCI to field during the hottest part of the day. And it really was a punishment, not least because NCI spent their time in the field moving in slow motion, and it took them fully three hours to get through 40 overs - even modern Test teams manage more than 13 overs per hour. As annoying as this was for our evening plans, the main victims were the NCI fielders, a couple of whom wilted in the heat - we should have agreed to do drinks at 15 and 30 overs, but instead just had the canonical half-way break. The result was an awkward and belated rest break three overs before the end of the innings when one of the NCI fielders had to be helped off the pitch in search of a sugary drink - all we could offer was water and Diet Coke.
The story was pretty much the same cricket-wise, although there was some movement and sharp bounce early on, and honours were even with the score at 34/0 after 10 overs. It was great that openers James McNamara and Richard Rex had seen off the new ball, but we needed a total of well over 200 to feel safe on what was a road-like pitch surrounded by a lightning-fast outfield. (Parker's Piece it was not.) Egged on by cries to run harder, James and Richard increased the scoring rate most effectively, as 54 runs came from the next 10 overs and 88 from the 10 after that. By this stage we were completely dominant as the NCI bowling had become erratic and the fielders rather demoralised, not least because (as the more observant of you may have noticed) there was no sign of a wicket falling. In the end James and Richard weren't separated until the first ball of 38th over, by which time they'd put on 232 from 223 balls, the biggest partnership in club history. Richard was thus clapped from the ground having made 87 from 121 balls with, curiously, just 7 boundaries. Most importantly, it relegated Olly Rex to third place in The Rex Factor, his top score of 81 languishing behind both Richard's total today and Ferdi's top league score of 118*.
Rather appropriately, it was Ferdi who was sent out to replace Richard - Robin had been due to go in at number three, but there was a late order switch due to Ferdi's hitting power - with the express aim of "pushing us over the top" in the manner of Spinal Tap "going up to eleven". He duly smacked his first ball over the covers . . . except it was really more to the cover fielder, who held a tricky chance. We'd thus managed to follow our best ever partnership with our (equal) worst, of 0 off 1 ball. Even more bizarrely, the bowler was on a hat trick, which he nearly achieved as James got a thick edge to his next ball, which rather fortunately ballooned over the slips. After that, though, we did manage a near-perfect finish as Robin Eddington carressed 9* off his 4 balls while James zoomed past triple figures for the sixth time - remember, no other Romsey player has more than two tons to their name - eventually finishing up on a superb 118* off 114 balls with 17 fours, equal with Ferdi as the fifth highest Romsey innings. This was also significant for the batting award, which is now a two-horse race between James (326 runs at 81.50, but needing to bat once more to qualify) and Richard (384 runs at 54.86), with Cam Petrie (303 runs at 33.67) surely too far behind. Our final total was a monstrous 262/2, our sixth highest ever, and surely enough to win even in such batsmen-friendly conditions.
Not that it was going to be easy, mind, as the pitch was still like a road when we had to bowl on it and the outfield, if anything, seemed even faster. Before we'd even really settled into the task the score was 40/0 after 7 not particularly bad overs, and while nobody was seriously worried about losing, there was a general sense of discontent with lots of heated debates about fielding positions and who should be bowling. Openers Daniel Mortlock (2/32) and Ben Carroll (0/31 on Romsey debut) were, truth be told, probably bowling a bit quicker than was optimal for the conditions; and it was certainly true that anything short was punished mercilessly. But then they both managed something nobody else had achieved all day - (consecutive) maiden overs - and after 14 scoreless deliveries the pressure finally told, as the more assured of the NCI openers went for a rather wild swipe and was bowled off the inside edge.
That success notwithstanding, it was clear that we needed to take the pace off the ball, and it was during the period that Faruk Kara (3/35) and Robin Eddington (1/18) were bowling in tandem that we decisively wrested control of the game. Both gave little away in line or (more crucially) length; and we backed them up brilliantly in the field with Tim Cannings, Markus Bernhardt and Rexes Richard and Ferdi making some superb stops. Even better, we held most of the catches that came our way: other than a couple of valiant but ultimately unsuccessful diving efforts by Ferdi and Ben, we snaffled everything, with Markus, Faruk, 'keeper Andy Owen and Tim (twice) all making good takes. The best for entertainment value was Tim's first catch, when a wild drive sailed towards him at mid-off; he seemed to have all the time in the world to set himself, but at the last minute he realised the ball was being blown over his head, and even had time to utter a dismayed "Shiiittt!" before rather fortuitously grabbing the ball with his outstretched hand.
We closed things out with Ferdi Rex (1/39) bowling some big turning offies and Daniel coming back on to rush through the final few overs before sunset. (He also got a late wicket to keep him in the race, also two-horse, for the bowling award, his 20 wickets having cost 12.55 a piece where Andy has 20 at 10.25, with the as-yet-unqualified Robin a slight chance with 10 wickets at 13.10.) There was a brief moment when it seemed we'd be able to keep NCI to 152 (100 more than the mythical 52 from last week's maddening one-wicket loss to the same team), after which the two teams embarked on the hilariously pointless task of fighting over an extra batting point. Despite the fact that neither Romsey nor NCI are in any danger of relegation or promotion, we were as determined to keep them in the 150s as they were to get to 160. They managed that off the penultimate delivery, but we were obviously the happier team with a 102-run victory (our twelfth largest) under our belts.
There were vague plans of a drink or even a meal afterwards, but we didn't get off the field 'til 7:50pm, and by the time we'd put everything back it was comfortably after 8pm. So a team night out will have to wait for another time.