Romsey Town vs. Dullingham

13:30, Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dullingham (187/9 in 40 6-ball overs)
Romsey Town (186/7 in 40 6-ball overs)
by 1 run.

Report by Daniel Mortlock:

The village cricket equivalent of "the early bird gets the worm" should perhaps be "the early players get the beer": Andy, Catherine and Daniel arrived at Dullingham comfortably before 1pm, meaning they had time to have a decidedly unearned drink outside The King's Head while waving enthusiastically at the rest of the team cars as they came past. Faruk had time to nose his way up onto the driveway but the rest really had no option but to head straight to the ground, where there was a general standing order to assess the pitch and hence what we should do if we were to win the toss. Most considerations - certainly the hot weather and the strong batting line-up - argued for batting first, but we'd heard horror stories of the track being unplayable, Burrough Green bowled out for 28 and another match where Dullingham's rather unimposing target of 63 all-out was almost defended, Little Shelford losing 9 wickets in their eventually successful pursuit. The pitch iteslf did look and feel rather horrid, with funny little holes and a general sense of sponginess; and so with such conflicting thoughts it was inevitable that Andy was going to win the toss and have to make a hard decision . . .

The critical moment of the day: should we bat or bowl on this?

. . . which was that we would field. Something we did pretty badly initially, with catches (albeit not easy) going to ground and the ball repeatedly finding its past past or through ordinarily rock-solid fielders. Combined some real "gimme" balls and an ultra-aggressive approach by the Dullingham top-order, the total was mounting worryingly fast. By drinks any thoughts of dismissing them for 28 or 63 were starting to look a tad unrealistic, primarily because they'd already scored 106/3.

Still, there was hope as they'd been rather fortunate (a series of mis-hits landing fortuitously in the gaps, and three or four lofted shots that had been caught with the fielder on or over the boundary line) and we knew we could bowl and field a lot better than we had. For the first half of the innings it felt depressingly like the "old Romsey" of, say, a decade ago; and so it was perhaps appropriate that we responded to this in the "old Romsey" way, Andy Owen taking off the pads and trying to regain some control with the ball instead. Which is just what happened: his spell of 2/21 off 10 overs was the most economical of the entire match, and catalysed a good comeback by us. At 140/3 after 28 overs Dullingham might reasonably have expected to finish up with 220+; but instead they limped to 187/9, the final dozen overs of their innings yielding just 47 runs while we took 6 wickets. Ferdi Rex (2/32), Daniel Mortlock (2/37), Robin Eddington (2/39) and Faruk Kara (1/21) all had their bowling figures improved thanks to good catches by Tim Cannings (two good grabs at mid-off) Faruk (two catches, including a rebound effort when Ferdi couldn't quite hold onto a sharp edge at slip) Cam Petrie (a thin edge while standing up with the gloves on), Robin (a hard-hit pull on the boundary) and Ferdi (an hilariously mistimed pull that ballooned to him so slowly that he almost looked insulted to have had to catch it). And Olly Rex (0/19) hence felt a bit disgruntled not to have been brought back on, so being denied some of the action.

Rehydrated thanks to piles of crisp watermelon, our chase began rather erratically, as we kept losing a wicket every five overs or so. Just about everyone got in - or at least faced a dozen balls, which is, attmitedly, not quite the same thing - but nobody quite mastered the conditions or the bowling. And by the time Cam Petrie (7 off 11 balls), Ferdi Rex (16 off 15 balls) and Robin Eddington (27 off 43 balls) had all perished while playing aggressive shots, Richard Rex and Rod Dennis found themslves trying to work out Dullingham's canny change bowlers while needing to score at a run a ball. This, in short, didn't happen, as can accurately be inferred from the fact that Richard and Rod required 76 and 35 balls, respectively, for their scores of 31 and 17.

When both were dismissed in the 31st over we were 110/5 with 78 runs still to get and just 55 balls to get them from, with two completely fresh batsmen, Olly Rex and Tim Cannings, at the crease. Dullingham were strong favourites at this point, but Olly and Tim at least didn't let the scoreboard pressure get to them: rather than swinging wildly from ball one, they had a bit of a look to start off with, Olly scoring just a single from his first 6 balls and Tim just a single and a two from his first 5. Given that the bowling was no more than tight, this apparently was enough, and they shifted beautifully through the gears as they realised the slow donkey-dropper could be cut for two or four without risk and the fast left-armer could similarly be hit to leg with abandon. The subsequent overs yeilded 5, 10, 4, 13, 10, 9, 10 and 9 runs (i.e., 70 runs from 8 overs, completely at odds with the preceding 8 overs in which the same bowlers had concded just 21 runs) as Olly and Tim compiled easily the best partnership of the match. Whereas earlier fast scoring had involved a huge amount of risk, this was the epitome of controlled aggression, backed up by sharp running. Dullingham did their bit by providing a few bonus overthrows, and it was quite clear from the increasingly protracted field-setting discussions before each over that they felt they'd lost control of the game.

And, by the end of the 39th over, we were probably ahead on the scoreboard as well, with just 6 runs needed from the final over - at worst it was the first time we weren't obviously losing since Andy had called heads five hours earlier. Surely we could scamper six singles? Certainly if we could get bat on ball, but the bowler had changed his line, coming over the wicket first the first time in his spell, leading to a fresh final battle:

It's hard not to think that, as in 2014 we might once again end up missing out on promotion by just a couple of yards. We got 8 league points from today's game, but a tie would have seen that go up 13 and one further run would of course have meant 20 points. Our league average of 14.90 is still respectable, but second-placed Saffron Walden are now almost 2 points ahead on 16.78 - whereas if we'd won today we would have been right behind them on 16.10. On the long drive back to Cambridge it was impossible not to ponder the "what if?"s, with the temptation being to focus on the final few deliveries simply because such questions at least have definite answers; but, really, it was our poor start to the match that cost us, and if any such question should be asked it is probably "Why were we so crap for the first hour?" Perhaps everyone should have had a pre-match pint . . .