Report by Daniel Mortlock:
One of the many things that makes cricket such a rich sport is the playing surface. Think about the idea that the next pitch you play on might be part of a square that's been tended for centuries to make the truest of batting tracks - or that it might be in the middle of a village green that's also used for football, hence rendering 40mph trundlers unplayable. It was in this context that our hearts sank when we got a mid-week e-mail informing us that we would be prohibited from wearing spikes today. That could mean only one thing: an artificial wicket. The Rebels had adopted Netherhall School as their homeground with full knowledge of this, but apparently there'd been a mid-season "bait and switch" when the "no spikes" rule had suddenly appeared. Some players opted to switch footwear for bowling and batting duties; others just wore ordinary trainers for the whole game - which was okay given that it was a dry day and the grass was long, but it's easy to imagine some very frustrated (or even injured) players if there'd been some rain.
Anyway, enough of the playing surface - what about the players? Here the defining concept was a shortage: we had ten (thanks to Saurav recruiting his friend Parag Maru at the last minute) but the Rebels had just nine. It was hence no surprise that they opted bowl upon winning the toss, although this decision was soon vindicated on pure cricketing grounds.
The first hour of the game was, at least from a Romsey point of view (and probably also that of a hypothetical neutral observer) almost physically painful to watch. Certainly Andy, out for the second week in a row (something that's never happened previously in recorded Romsey history; see last week's report for a full list of Andy-free games), was in serious danger of having to be re-admitted to Addenbrooke's, and apparently his prose was entirely purple. The reason for this is perhaps best summed up in numbers: 28/1 off 17 overs. Batting to save a Test match one might be quite happy with this, but in a 40-over match it was an asburd scoreline. It wasn't like the batsmen were struggling to survive - the only early wicket was that of Cam Petrie, who'd made 11 off 27 balls out of a total of 14 before he got cramped off a lifter that cut back in and cramped him for room - but we were somehow incapable of finding the gaps in field settings that, inevitably given the opposition's limited numbers, consisted of little else. Richard Rex (9 off 58 balls), Dom Summers (12 off 32 balls) and Parag Maru (1 off 11 balls) were all dotted into submission - although spare a thought for Dom who'd apparently broken the shackles with a sequence of 2 1 2 1 before being run out backing up when the bowler stuck out a foot and deflected the ball onto the stumps. Conversely, the Rebels opening bowlers, M. Cullum and S. Holt, had fantasy figures of 6 overs, 3 maidens, 1/12 and 6 overs, 3 maidens, 0/7, respectively.
A few wickets either side of the drinks break saw us slump to 42/4, after which Saurav Dutta (36 off 28 balls), Kshitij Sabnis (7 off 13 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (29 off 24 balls) demonstrated what was possible if aggressive hitting was combined with sharp running. They scored off all but 23 of the 64 balls they faced, and where just 42 runs came from the first 22 overs, 74 came from the next 12. Indeed, when we reached 116/6 at the end of the 34th over we were in with a good shout of making what seemed likely to be a defensible 150 . . . at least until we lost our 3 remaining wickets for 1 run in 7 rather uninspiring deliveries.
No amount of up-beat boot-scooting music or amazing cakes could hide the fact that we'd screwed up, a verdict that was rather reinforced when we later heard that our hosts considered the par score on this wicket to be 200.
This sense was backed up as the Rebels openers scored pretty freely from the outset. Daniel Mortlock (0/14 off 4.5 overs) and Stephan van Eeden (an unlucky 0/29, half of which came from outside edges, off 8 overs) both bowled well but could neither take wickets nor stop the scoring. Saurav Dutta (0/22) didn't really find the right length for the pitch, although it briefly seemed that he'd made the vital breakthrough when a full toss was hit to Richard Rex on the leg-side boundary until we realised that the ball had been ajudged a waist-high no ball. There was a sense that, despite being a leg-spinner, Saurav's deliveries were coming off the wicket a bit too fast, so we turned to our slowest bowler, Richard Rex. His hyper-parabolic looping leg-breaks fed and bamboozled the batsmen in about equal measure - but the former was the price for the latter and it was worth paying, as it yielded our only two wickets (for 26 runs), courtesy of a stumping by 'keeper Kshitij Sabnis and a good running catch by Stephan. Richard also induced a number of false shots by the surviving opener, whose wicket we really wanted; but his mishits kept landing safe. It was a similar story when Faruk Kara (0/14) and Catherine Owen (0/13) got their turn to attempt the same thing, by which time the Rebels were within one stroke of victory. In the end we'd rolled all our dice and had come up only with fours and sixes - the Rebels hit 13 of the former and 2 of the latter, as compared to our totals of just 6 and 1. And while a couple of catches had gone down, we'd fielded pretty well, with Parag Maru, Stephan, Faruk Catherine all making lots of good stops (and Catherine repeatedly illustrating the claim by one Rebel fielder that his teammate "throws like a girl" to be factually inaccurate).
Having finished at 6pm there was plenty of time to head down Queen Edith's Way to the Queen Edith pub - who is this otherwise unheard of monarch? Most members of both teams - alongside plenty of locals, all of whom were friendly and one of whom was somehow already so drunk he required two people's help to waddle home - tried out the range of Milton Brewey beers on tap (except Daniel who, being a poncy Londoner, opted for Brewdog bottles). The main theme was drowning our sorrows, as both clubs have been struggling to field full teams all year - although it was only the Romsey supremo who was able to illustrate this fact using a complicated sequence of gestures with his crutches.