Report by Daniel Mortlock:
In recent seasons our matches against Milton have tended to have a bit of niggle, which is maybe not so remarkable in itself - hell, junior league cricket is important! - but the fact that this has sometimes begun even before the match has started is, when you think about it, quite an achievement. The main reason has been alleged team strengthening, in particular when Milton II was able to call on first team players with relegation on the line in 2013. Thankfully, there could be no talk of such things today as it was the first match of the season and nobody could be regarded as a "firsts" or "seconds" player on the basis of previous matches . . . or so we thought. Hilariously, when one of our batsmen (Cam, since you asked) hit several dismissive boundaries, one of the Milton players suggested he maybe should be playing in the Romsey firsts, to which Andy's response was that we don't even have one team, let alone two. Indeed, we took to the field today with "nine and a half" players, the "half" coming about because new recruit Michael Askins had a broken finger and wouldn't be able to bat and would only be able to field one-handed.
And so when we were invited to bat first, it was easy to imagine a few early wickets with the new ball resulting in a miserable collapse and an early trip to the pub. With this grim possibility in mind openers Cam Petrie and Richard Rex were told that "it would be absolutely fine if we're 20/0 after 10 overs". The risk was that we'd spend the next hour watching a boring block-fest, so the fact that Cam took a big swipe at his first ball, mis-hitting a lofted drive into a fortunately vacant area of the field, suggested that he was going to take the batting instructions under advisement at most. The "20/0" target was achieved in the fourth over, after which Cam and Richard went from strength to strength. Cam played some lovely lofted shots over mid-wicket and Richard essayed a series of delicately-hit cuts that skipped over the hard surface and between - or, rather absurdly often, through - the boundary fielders. What was a handy opening partnership was rapidly turning into a monster that eventually yielded 149 runs from 25 overs, at which point Cam was bowled for 89 (off 74 balls). (The fact this was his third league 89 in the last year is a quite remarkable achievement, although both he and us would have loved him to go all the way to three figures.)
The wicket slowed our scoring somehwat - only 38 runs came from overs 20 to 30, and Richard got himself into a curious rut in which he managed 15 singles and no other scores in a 31-ball sequence - but we had enough overs left to re-accelerate, which we duly did. Dom Summers (25 off 29 balls) played his first innings of any sort for eight months and was just getting his eye in before his innings ended in the comedy village cricket moment of the day. An expansive drive went straight up in the air, giving the cover fielder plenty of time to wobble around uncertainly underneath it, allowing most of us spectators to feel confident that the chance would be dropped . . . which it duly was. But then Richard called Dom through for a second run on the misfield, a risky option that they probably would have gotten away with but for some mid-pitch negotation that, in the end, saw Dom run out as comfortably as he should have been caught in the first place.
Not that it mattered in the bigger scheme of things, as Rod Dennis came in and played a bullying innings of 25* off 19 balls, while Richard exhausted himself running cheeky twos before perishing for 77 (off 108 balls) with one over to go. Our total was an already healthy 230/3, but things went rather beserk in the final over, as Milton rather bizarrely called on their wicket-keeper to keep things tight, a task in which he was singularly unsuccessful. Andy Owen faced the whole over, hitting 4 2 4 2 2 4 2, or 20* off 7 balls, the "7" coming about due to a head-high full toss that was decisively no-balled by both umpires (although, for the record, it's only the standing umpire that's supposed to make this call these days). Add in a wide for good measure and we went to lunch having scored 252/3, a fabulous effort, especially with today's below strength and out of practice batting line-up.
Several of our number were caught making rather cocky comments that implied that they thought the match was won, but one only need look back a year to see that was what Ashdon thought when they began the 2015 season with an equally-impressive 256/6 that we promptly chased down relative comfort. And a repeat seemed all too plausible when the Milton top order handled our bowling with ease, defending good balls solidly and calmly hitting anything short to the boundary. Add in some throwing meltdowns - the missing fielder meant we often had nobody backing up, and a we gifted the opposition a total of about 10 runs in overthrows - and it was all too easy to imagine our batsmen's good work being undone.
Our only early successes came through our slow bowlers, Faruk Kara (1/56) and Catherine Owen (1/32) both deceiving good batsmen with flight (helped, apparently, by coming Spitfire-style out of the setting sun). But by the time Milton had made it to 130/2 at the end of the 25th over it was far from clear that our 252 was going to be enough. Michael Askins (0/25 off 6 overs) was sufficiently economical that the pressure began to build, but it was somehow all too predictable that the match was decided during Andy Owen's implausibly dramatic spell of 2/45. First he bowled Milton's best batsman with a lovely out-swinger, and then another dangerous-looking player found his hard, flat drive intercepted by Faruk Kara in the unaccustomed position of long-off. Faruk had come in a few steps, only to realise too late that he should have stayed put on the line; he stuck a hand up to intercept the ball, which then bounced into his shoulder, back onto his arm and, eventually into his hand. With two new batsmen in and the required run rate now pushing double figures the pressure induced the new batsmen to try tip and run, a largely effective strategy, even it led to two two runs outs, first when Andy kicked the ball into the stumps, and then when wicket-keeper Cam calmly lobbed the ball to bowler Andy after the batsman had correctly refused his partner's call.
By this stage the game was ours, and it was just a case of applying the last rites, a process that seemed to take forever, through a combination of Cam repeatedly going through his seven-step glove-replacement ritual, the opposition 'keeper running off to get sunglasses with three overs to go, and a pointlessly prolonged ball search with just one over left to be bowled. Sanity eventually prevailed and Daniel Mortlock (3/33) was hence presented with a replacement ball that was far superior to the CCA-sanctioned version, and promptly harvested two wickets thanks to bounce and seam, vital cricketing phenomena which the game had been denied for the previous 79 overs.
We thus completed a comfortable win which, pleasingly, felt like a real team effort. Indeed, it's arguable that the real difference between the teams wasn't the batting or the bowling, but the fielding: we repeatedly saw our ones and twos turn into fours as the Milton boundary fielders were done by the inevitable bad bounces (the outfield is used for football during the winter), whereas we repeatedly managed to get something in the way, Richard Rex, Dom Summers, Catherine Owen and Rod Dennis all doing superb service in this regard. Following the tradition established last year, the two teams' attempts for a post-match pint seemed to be largely defeated by confusion and obligations - it was pushing 7:30pm by the time the last ball was bowled - but maybe we'll all finally get this right when we meet again in July.