Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Waltons Park, just outside the village of Ashdon, is as stunning as it is difficult to find, being hidden behind a wall of trees on a nondescript road that leads out of the eponymous village. As was the case when we played here previously (once against Ashdon itself and once, not that anybody remembered this detail, against Helions Bumpstead), everyone took a few wrong turns and at least one member of the side was late arriving . . .
. . . which has had a material effect, as we've always fielded first here, an arbitrary habit that was continued today. The fact that we started one short didn't matter initially, as those of us that were there fielded brilliantly, Andy Owen (first in the small shin pads and then in the big ones), Richard Rex, James McNamara and Ferdi Rex all making brilliant stops off hard-hit balls that would otherwise have raced to the boundary. Most of these shots were hit by the left-handed Ashdon opener, who looked seriously classy and capable of taking the game away from us single-handed . . . but, possibly frustrated by the fact that our fielders had turned his good shots into dots, played across the line to a lovely swinging delivery from Robin Eddington (1/17) and was bowled.
That wicket felt absolutely crucial, not least because we could then focus on a consistent line against two right-handers . . . who, frankly, didn't look up to much: they spent the next dozen overs either playing and missing or getting a steady trickle of runs through an endless supply of outside edges. It was certainly maddening for us, and must also have been pretty galling for the dismisssed batsman, who was now umpiring and so able to observe this insane good fortune at close quarters. One knock-on effect of this was some increasingly passionate "debates" about our field placings, with all sorts of baroque positions like deep slip (also used by England today at The Oval), multiple leg slips and long stops all tried at different times. Robin and Daniel Mortlock (0/24, including 4 maidens, which took his season's tally to 34, an all-time, if esoteric, club record) both kept sliding the ball past the outside edge, where it inevitably nestled in the gloves of 'keeper Ev Fox (who belied the fact that it was his first time playing cricket since last year with a series of superb takes, most of which were followed by a delicate, if futile, flick of the closest bail).
Something had to give, and in the end we finally got our deserved wickets through a double bowling change as Andy Owen (2/14, despite hobbling in with a strained hamstring) and James McNamara (3/28) combined to reduce Ashdon to 64/5. This was in no small part to continued good fielding, as Rod Dennis, Tim Cannings, Robin and James (off his own bowling) all took solid catches. Ferdi Rex (3/41) joined the wicket-fest, although also bore the brunt of the Ashdon number seven, M. Noakes, who quite sensibly decided to chance his arm, hitting four enormous sixes on his way to a rapid 44. One of these shots smashed through the trees and into the boggy ditch at one side of the ground, and we quickly decided the ball was lost and so called for a replacement . . . which was made to look rather lame when two of the opposition players went off and found it in about ten seconds, despite the handicap of not having had a good view of the trajectory. Once we got rid of Noakes (caught and bowled by Ferdi, who was predictably elated to have gotten revenge), the innings ended quickly, and we found oursevles facing a hugely sub-par target of 136 on what had seemed to be a superb batting track.
And even though we lost Richard Rex (4 off 15 balls) early on in our chase, it was absurdly easy going as James McNamara (62* off 74 balls, with 9 fours) and Robin Eddington (59* off 56 balls, with 12 beautifully carressed fours) rarely looked troubled. About the only moment of any real drama was when James briefly lost his head, slashing a ball to the gully fiedler (who spilled the difficult chance) and then lofting the next delivery towards cover and deciding to call his partner through for a run that was never there. But Ashdon couldn't take a trick, and the wild throw ended up somewhere near fine-leg, allowing the run to eventually be completed with ease. James finished the game off with a couple of dismissive boundaries in the 25th over, meaning we were in the pub - Ashdon's cosy Rose & Crown - not much after 6pm.
The main topic of conversation was Ashdon's team struggles - they've had to forfeit three matches so far this season - and the general sense that small village teams are losing out to larger regional clubs with several sides. Ashdon's forfeits mean they'll be relegated automatically, although their league average of just 7.92 would probably ensure that anyway; and while our win today lifted our league average to 15.00 and third place, we're more than 2.5 points from second and promotion. There was hence more focus on our own individual awards, which are similarly close to being decided: James qualified for the batting award today and, with 388 runs at 97.00, has double the average of his nearest competitor (Richard, also with 388 runs, but at an average of "only" 48.50); and Andy finished the day with 22 wickets at just 9.95, comfortably ahead of Robin (11 wickets at 13.45, but needing to bowl one more over to qualify) and Daniel (20 wickets at 13.75).