Report by Daniel Mortlock:
"Who's in the team today, Andy"
"Anyone I could get - we've got ten, including Russ."
There was a brief hope that this meant Romsey legend Russell Woolf had recuperated from several life-saving operations to the degree he was feeling well enough to turn his arm over after an enforced absence of several years. But, really, it was more a case of his loyalty to Romsey being so strong that he wanted to help out any way he could; and, in the end, Russ had to make the decision to head home mid-way through the match. It was great to see Russ in the Romsey kit in what was his 172nd recorded match for the club (to go with up to a hundred games in the early years for which no records seem to have survived). Russ's departure meant we were down to nine players, though, and even more problematic was that most of our regular batsmen were missing - nobody in today's side other than Richard Rex (with 295 runs at 59.40 this season) had even made 80 runs this year! Given also that Parker's Piece is typically a batting nightmare, it was clear that our best chance of winning the game was to bowl first and roll over NCI for a low total. And so, of course, Andy called incorrectly and we were rather predictably inserted on what revealed itself to be a nasty, spongy wicket of variable bounce.
Still, our innings started well enough, with a bad ball unfussily pulled away for four in the first over, after which the score read 7/0. Forty more overs like that and we'd be in very good shape (as well as having the broken the club partnership record). But you'll be amazed to discover that's not what happened; instead we lost wickets regularly while the runs dried up to the degree that the ball didn't cross the boundary again until the 30th over. After losing two more wickets immediately after drinks we'd slumped to 42/7, a score which was even more horrific than it looks as just one more wicket meant we'd be all out. Needless to say the top order didn't have much success, and none of the dismissed batsmen passed the 10-run threshold that normally warrants a mention in dispatches. That said, it would be remiss not to record for posterity Arnie Garside's valiant attempt to break his own club record for the most protracted duck, which was his scoreless 24-ball innings against Weston Colville back in 2010. Sadly (or perhaps happily?) he fell just short today, being dismissed for 0 off his 23rd ball. That this can be stated with confidence is down to two members of the plentiful NCI support squad, who scored the whole match at the Nicky Mellish level, complete with different colours for each of the bowlers and all the batsmen's dot balls . . .
. . . of which there were a great many, especially once our last wicket pair of Andy Owen and Faruk Kara got together. Their one aim was to maximise our total, a goal that was best served by taking absolutely no risks, even if meant dead-batting ball after ball. And that is pretty much what they did, the result being some of the most turgid cricket any of us have ever seen. (Not that this seemed to prevent a steady stream of visitors and tourists stopping by to watch the game - any visiting Americans would presumably have reported back that Robin Williams was 100% correct when he described cricket as being like "baseball on valium".) In the dozen overs either side of the drinks break we scored just 6 runs, and at one point Andy and Faruk had raced to 2* off, respectively, 36 and 28 balls, as their partnership reached a scintillating 3* off 47 balls. This could have been seen as an unwitting tribute to Phil Neville's and Steve O'Keefe's extraordinary partnership for Australia vs. Sri Lanka overnight, with just 4 runs scored from 178 balls. Of course the difference there was that a draw was an option, whereas we really did need to make runs at some point.
And the acceleration did come in the end, with the score mounting to the dizzy heights of 74/7 at the start of the final over. That meant that we wanted at least 6 runs, not so much to maximise our total, but to guarantee ourselves two batting points. The result was village cricket mayhem and more entertainment than in the rest of the innings put together:
86 was obviously a sub-par total, especially given that NCI had bowled erratically and fielded badly, dropping - or completely missing - at least half a dozen fairly regulation catches. A corrollary of that was that if we could bowl and field better, aims that were far from unrealistic, we might well be able to win. Our strategy was remarkably level-headed: we set aggressive fields and just went about bowling on off-stump and a bit back of a length, trusting the pitch to do the rest. We were also aided by NCI II player Steve Taylor, who very kindly offered to act as a substitute, much to his clubmates' chagrin - and our delight, as he fielded immculately and with far more commitment than was required.
After a quiet few overs the game sprung to life as Daniel Mortlock (2/17, mostly from edges) got a pair of wickets to have NCI in even worse shape than we'd been on 9/2 after 7 overs. Suddenly, all the energy and momentum was with us; but, sadly, it dissipated through a combination of dropped catches and a denied stumping. The NCI third wicket pair then started to bat with more assurity than anyone else had managed all day, and took the total on to 52/2 as drinks approached. Indeed, the biggest imepdiment to scoring at this stage seemed to be the apparently endless supply of meanderthals wandering across the ground and refusing to deviate from their chosen course when asked politely (at least initially) to stay on the other side of the white line.
There was a brief glimmer of hope as Faruk Kara (1/19) and then and Andy Owen (4/22) got rid of the two "set" batsmen (not that anyone could really play themselves in on this pitch), but by the time the score had crept along to 78/5 in the 31st over we were surely done. We certainly should have been, but the NCI lower order had a collective meltdown, repeatedly playing unnecessary cross-bat swipes when, as Andy and Faruk had shown earlier, discipline was the key. Four wickets went down without the score progressing as Daniel, Arnie Garside and Richard Rex (twice) all took good catches in the arc between mid-wicket and square-leg. Richard then came onto bowl himself, his implausibly flighted leg-spinners mirroring the ultra-slow approach taken by one of the NCI bowlers earlier in the day. Richard found himself bowling at the player to whom he'd gifted his wicket earlier in the day (when he'd toe-ended what would have been a wide tamely to gully), and so it was only fitting that the batsman returned the favour, obligingly poking the ball to Faruk at gully and leaving Richard with dream figures of 2/4 in his first spell of the season.
That meant that, for the first time since the first over of the game, we might actually have been winning, especially with the two youngest members of the NCI team now in and 6 still needed to tie. Given that their more senior teammates had succumbed to the pressure, surely one of them would swipe across a straight ball or call for a suicidal run? There were a couple of plays and misses, and a couple of dubious runs that we perhaps should have been able to punish them for, but in the end they kept their heads. Olly Rex (0/22) came back on for one last throw of the dice, but a couple of pushes for two meant that NCI had squeaked home by one wicket.
It really was a crazy game of cricket - if it was cricket at all - with 74.4 overs (20 of which were maidens) that yielded 19 wickets and just 193 runs. Only three batsmen made it into double figures and only one bowler conceded more than 22 runs. The maddening thing from our point of view is that just two more runs last week and one more wicket today would been enough for our league average to be a healthy 16.45, within a point of both Saffron Walden (17.10) and league leaders Bassingbourn (17.42). We are instead in fourth place on 14.09, and have nothing more left to play for this season than love of the game . . .