Report by Daniel Mortlock:
One of the treats of the Romsey cricket season in recent years has been our (near-)annual trip to Parker's Piece to play NCI. While we wouldn't want to play there every week - the wicket has been neglected and is erratic at best - there's something about playing on the ground of Hobbs and having a steady stream of spectators (and inadvertent pitch invaders) that makes for a memorable day. It's been particularly sweet when we've finished our season in town, as was the case in 2012 and 2015, although it would be churlish to complain about starting there this year. Except it turns out that the Piece was "needed" for a football match (or something else similiarly unimportant), which meant that we were instead going to have to hoof it out to Elsworth to play what was nominally a Junior 3 South league fixture. This wasn't a problem, but somehow just didn't have the X-factor to it, even if it was quite nice driving through the verdant fields to get to what is, in absolute terms, a lovely place to play cricket.
Even though we didn't get our (or, presumably, NCI's) venue of choice, our other main wish was granted, as we won the toss and so could bowl first, ensuring that we'd have a full eleven in the field (as Jeff Beaumont had to leave early). We started our season brilliantly, as a combination of immaculate bowling and superb fielding meant that the NCI batsmen were barely able to score a run. The main quantifiable result of this was absurd figures for our opening pair: Robin Eddington's spell of 8 overs, 6 maidens, 0/8 ended with a sequence of 34 consecutive dot balls; and Daniel Mortlock somehow ended up being even more economical, finishing with 6.3 overs, 3 maidens 1/5. Both spells were among our top twenty most economical ever, although both were also cut short by the new CCA rule limiting bowlers to 8 overs per game. Still, despite this intense scoreboard pressure, the NCI top order refused to buckle, and with the score at 64/2 after 26 overs a nasty target of 140-odd seemed all too possible.
Here our change bowlers came to the party by managing to do what our openers couldn't: take wickets. Chris Clarkson (2/27) opened his Romsey account thanks to a sharp catch by Cam Petrie at short-cover, before getting his second wicket with the ball of the day, a straightening in-swinger which cut away off the pitch to hit the befuddled batsman's off stump. Then Faruk Kara (4/21) continued his purple patch from last year - he ended the season with spells of 3/35, 4/59 and 4/36 - by taking 4/21 and killing off any chance NCI had of making a decent total. The wickets included the opposition's most comfortable-looking batsman beautifully caught by Richard Rex just inside the long-on boundary - although Faruk had already had him dropped twice by an increasingly-frustrated Cam on the half-drive. Add in nice spells by Jeff Beaumont (0/17) and Karan Gupta (1/17, the wicket coming off a beautiful slower ball that was mis-hit and well caught by Jeff) and it was now Romsey all the way. In the end we managed to stop NCI batting out their 40 overs when an outside edge deflected off 'keeper Andy Owen's gloves, only for Nathan Wright to complete the sharpest of juggling catches at first slip.
Our clear ascendancy was enhanced further over the tea break when word reached us that "they only had two bowlers", although the memory of last year's crazy NCI-Romsey match ensured that we didn't get overly presumptious. Still, the runs came quickly, first from Jeff Beaumont (13 off 17 balls) and then from Cam Petrie, who smashed 7 imperious boundaries on his way to 46 off 39 balls - although it would have been 50* off 39 balls if he hadn't picked out the opposition's best fielder with another big drive. The scoring slowed after Cam's dismissal, but by this stage we only needed another 18 runs, which were duly knocked off by Michael Askins (26* off 40 balls) and Robin Eddington (3* off 9 balls), albeit not before they combined for what was generally agreed to be the worst piece of cricket any of us had ever seen. Robin hit a drive towards the mid-on fielder, who was so deep that there would have been a comfortable single even if the shot hadn't been mistimed so badly that the ball pulled up some 20 yards short. Still, that meant that Robin and Michael should have been able to complete the run even before the fielder reached the ball . . . and yet, for some reason, both batsmen just stood where they were and watched the verdant grass grow fractionally longer under the ball while the slow-moving fielder made his way towards it. Possibly spurred into action by the rabid calls from the pavilion, Michael started to run, only for Robin to send him back, at which point Michael slipped over and found himself scrabbling to make his ground, even though the fielder still hadn't thrown the ball at this point. But then Robin belatedly realised there really had been a comfortable single there, and finally made the positive call we all wanted - which would have been fine but for the fact that there really wasn't a run any more, and a half-way decent throw would have seen Michael comfortably run out at the 'keeper's end. Fortunately, the throw was only about two-fifths decent, and while it was sufficient to induce Michael to make a desperate dive to make his ground, the eventual result was that we were one run closer to victory.
And our victory was completed soon enough, the winning runs coming mid-way through the 19th over (making it our eighth quicket run chase). It was nice not to have to worry about making drinks, but even nicer to have them bought for us by Cam at the loca pub (The Poacher), in tacit acknowledgement that he should really have gotten his fifty. It was too cold to settle in for a session, but it was still a very pleasing way to start the year before we start our run of home games at Trinity in a week's time.