Report by Cam Petrie:
The mid-summer drive into the rolling hills of South Cambridgeshire is always a treat, not least as it gives us the opportunity to get all pastoral spotting signs of successful harvests being reaped and farms that appear to be breeding crows, and also to bypass mysterious places like Shingay cum Wendy, Abington Piggots and Litlington.
Unfortunately, the post-match discussion after our home victory over Bassingbourn last week gave us early indications that this week's away game against Steeple Morden had a good chance of being "another one of those days" - which is a feeling we have been having all too often this season. Our home fixture against Steeple Morden hadn't happened as they couldn't get a team out, but with only five players available a full week out, it was clear that it would be Romsey doing the scrabbling this time. However, although that number slipped to four mid-week, by Friday evening Andy could happily text "We have 11", including a one-off appearance of the now semi-mythical James McNamara, a brief return from renovation duties from Robin Eddington, as well as the reappearance of Romsey old hands Rog Shelly and Jeff Beaumont, and a Romsey debut for Stefan van Erden. We were certainly not lacking in experience, and things were looking up, but only four of the team had played more than four games this season (for Romsey and/or in some cases at all), which was not ideal.
We had been reliably informed that the Steeple Morden ground was "quite small", and this was enhanced by the off centre pitch which meant that although both straight boundary's were short, one was clearly shorter than the other, and only about 25 metres from the stumps. This combined with the rain-starved grass and hard ground suggested that boundaries were going to be relatively easy to come by. Added to that, the pitch was extremely green, so Andy opted to bowl on winning the toss, wanting to have a good look at what it would do before batting.
Jeff (4 overs, 0/21) started with a nice maiden, but he and Robin (4 overs, 0/32) soon saw what a bit of pace combined with edges and or full tosses would lead to, as the Steeple Morden openers raced to a lightening 53/0 off eight overs. It was clear from the off that the pitch was a spicy proposition, as balls either took off or scooted through off a decent length, but the frustration of edges zooming to the boundary and full tosses effectively being four-balls was palpable. A bowling change was in order, and although Faruk (8 overs, 1/36) was belted for a huge six, he soon drew a drive to Cam Petrie at short cover, with the catch being preceded by a very audible cry of "cock" from the Steeple Morden captain. Things got better as James (8 overs, 2/38) came on from the other end and had the other opener LBW with his first ball. The surprises off the pitch continued as Faruk appeared to be bowling leg spin at times, and James had one rear off the crease so sharply that Andy had to go to full stretch above his head to grab it.
Steeple Morden's top order were solid, however, and the two new bats kept the scoring rate up with the constant trickle of loose balls resulting in boundaries, including one that ricocheted off the pavilion roof and into the trees beyond. James soon had a second LBW, however, and despite claims from the batsman that he had hit it, the decision of the umpire remained unchanged. Unfortunately, the resultant chuntering from the pavilion may have had an impact as Andy was soon denied a caught behind off their number 4 from a very audible edge. While such things are not unexpected, this particular non-dismissal was galling, as Steeple Morden built the second half of their innings around the survivor.
There was at least some light relief. One of the many boundaries through the leg side saw the ball disappear into summer vegetation, and Nathan and Dave Clark headed off in pursuit. This required negotiation of the thigh-high rail ringing the ground, and although Dave managed to get a leg over, he failed with the other on several attempts and was momentarily marooned neither here nor there before finally managing to generate the required momentum. By this stage Nathan had of course found the ball, and on being faced with a fresh encounter with the rail, Dave assessed the situation and offered a Grand National-esque refusal, before trundling around to the gap in the rail.
With Faruk and James bowled out, Catherine Owen (8 overs, 2/34) and Rog (8 overs, 4/20) were brought on to see if they could tighten the screws, and initial signs were good, as only 11 runs came off their first 6 (combined) overs. Unfortunately we grassed two catchable catches, but the inevitable soon followed as the Steeple Morden batsmen tried to attack, and hit Catherine for two boundaries before Rog started a collapse by getting one through the gate. The new bat initially stayed firm and his well-set partner kept on, but the 35th and 36th overs saw the dam burst. Catherine's flight and (leg?) spin drew the new bat out of his crease and Cam completed a sharp stumping. Next ball, the new-new bat got an inside edge that was caught behind by Cam before he had the bails off again, but neither catch nor stumping were given. While Cam was denied, Catherine was not, as she managed to bowl her quarry with the next ball. Not to be outdone, Rog had an even more eventful over, bowling a wide ball that drew a nudge to point and a great catch by Faruk, followed by a ball that got big on Cam and deflected for a bye single, another one that didn't get off the deck and shot past Cam's feet for four byes, one that was hammered for four, and then one that bowled the set batsman. Steeple Morden had just lost 3/1 and 4/10 (and for that matter, 5/22). Rog wasn't done yet, as in his next over he had one pitch outside leg and then turn to kiss the top of leg stump giving him his 12th four-for for Romsey (second on the all time list behind only Andy), and extending the collapse to 6/27. Unfortunately we couldn't close it out with the tenth wicket, and they finished on 192/9 off their full 40 overs.
Steeple Morden continued the local tradition of fine teas - their neighbors are Bassingbourn - with an array of homemade sausage rolls, scones, bacon, brie and cranberry sandwiches and cakes. There was a lot of left-overs on the Romsey table, however, as many of us were nervous about weighing ourselves down in advance of what was likely to be a challenging chase. Still, our top order of Cam, James and Robin are respectively 10th, 1st and 4th in the Romsey all time batting averages, so in theory it should be no problem . . . But - as Rik from the Young Ones once said: "In theory Mike, in theory."
Both Cam (2 off 8 balls) and James (17 off 33 balls) started diligently, defending everything on the stumps and pushing the loose balls around to get things rolling, but the pitch soon showed its colours. Cam managed to control one snorter with a deft dab, but he had another kiss his glove on its way through to the keeper, and he immediately walked. Robin (3 off 23 balls) came in to join James, and continued the vigilance, but the bowling was tight and making excellent use of the pitch. All was well and James started to try and loosen the screws with some crisp boundaries, but unfortunately the red mist descended and James lofted one high to mid-wicket and was caught. Soon after Robin played on while attempting a pull shot, and all of a sudden we were on our knees at 30/3 in the 11th over.
New bats Nathan Wright and Jeff Beaumont (19 off 15 balls) set about consolidating with diligent defense that saw two consecutive maidens, brought us at 31/3 after 13 overs, and a bowling change. That we were 51/4 after 14 overs demonstrated that Steeple Morden may not have a lot of bowling options, but also that the pitch still had a role to play. The first over from their first change bowler's produced a sequence of 4 6 + 4 4 W, as Jeff let rip at a sequence of full-tosses and half trackers (including a huge six to cow) before falling to one that barely got off the ground and shot through to hit middle stump. Unfortunately Steeple Morden's third and fourth bowlers were more economical, and Nathan was joined by debutant Stefan van Erden and then Andy Owen, who managed to keep the score ticking before Stefan was caught and Andy was run out by a crunching straight drive from Nathan that was deflected onto the stumps - and although the umpire wasn't confident in giving Andy out, he walked anyway.
At 81/6 it looked as though we were done, but Catherine (13 off 30 balls) joined Nathan for a "make or break" partnership. The "make" came in the form of 53 runs off six overs, as they set about punishing the sixth Steeple Morden bowler who bowled a 19-ball first over and an 11-ball second, and went for 32 wide and no-ball rich runs. They also hit the fifth Steeple Morden bowler around before the "break" occurred when Nathan was fatally trapped LBW for an outstanding 34 off 64 balls. Although we were 134/7 with 10 overs to go, the 60-odd runs we needed were beyond reach, as Catherine was eventually bowled, and Dave Clark (with an epic 22-ball 4 not out), Faruk and Rog got us into the 38th over and to 155 before we were all out. Although Nathan was our top-scorer off the bat, the true top-scorer was Stepple Morden's sundries - which came to a terrifying/impressive/sobering 50 runs - meaning that we only hit 105.
Overall it was a very odd game, but in the end we were simply outplayed. Other than Rog, none of our bowlers were truly economical, and we ended up bowling too many full tosses, and almost all of them went for four. Our fielding wasn't bad, but we did drop catches and it took us a little while to get properly defensive to ensure that we sacrificed ones to save boundaries, though plenty of those got through. In contrast, three Steeple Morden bowlers used their 8-over allocation and went for less than 20 runs, and their fielding was excellent, with many boundaries saved by speedy outfielders. We were certainly unlucky not to be given the two caught behinds, and one of those was probably critical. Rog was very unlucky not to get a 5-for, and both Faruk and Catherine had the unusual pleasure of bowling both leg spin and off spin because of crazy bounce off the pitch/seam, but in the end, Steeple Morden made more of the pitch than we did.
To our credit, we showed excellent sportsmanship while batting by walking when we thought we were out, but the fact that our top order weren't able to stay in for long made the chase more or a challenge than it needed to be. Nathan and Catherine were outstanding, and had Nathan not perished, they might have done it, but the real kicker is that over halfway through the season, there is still only one Romsey batsman who has scored more than 120 runs, and this is at least partly because he has had more chances to bat that everyone else. To have a chance of winning matches, we clearly need to have a few more big/long innings and to link those up with extended partnerships.