Report by Daniel Mortlock:
Most of us assumed that, whatever happened in today's fixture against Cam Kerala, the least enjoyable match of the season was behind us. Given also that we're clearly not going to get anywhere in the league this year, the message to our players was simple: "Go out and have fun!" Sadly, this proved increasingly difficult as the match went on and, astonishing as it sounds, it's easy to imagine a split vote on whether today's game was less pleasant than that on June 30.
The main issue at the start of the game was simply that it didn't: having won the toss and (predictably) chosen to bat, one might have thought the Cam Kerala batsmen would have been keen to get going; but instead the eleven of us and the two umpires stood around for 5-10 minutes waiting for their openers to eventually wander out. Once play did finally begin, at 1:45pm, Daniel Mortlock (0/11 in his 5-over opening spell) Stephan van Eeden (1/26 in his 5-over opening spell, despite starting with a wild full-toss that presumably left the understandably surprised batsman with a bruise on his arse) both generated plenty of chances, and then Jeff Beaumont (1/39) made a mockery of his apparent reluctance to bowl by getting a wicket first ball. With the score 37/2 and the surviving opener scoring almost exclusively in aerial mishits - we'd already dropped him twice off such shots - another wicket was surely just around the corner . . .
. . . or not: the scorebook records a 113-run 3rd wicket partnership, after which the game was probably already out of our grasp; but in this case the raw numbers barely scratch the surface of an incredibly frustrating hour's cricket. The wild swings continued, but the ball somehow always fell safe: when we put the fielders out a top edge would fall into a gap before anyone could come in far enough; and when we brought the field in the batsmen connected properly - or at least well enough to beat the field. Unfair as that felt, it's also the nature of cricket - sometimes a player just rides their luck and you can only have faith that it won't always happen that way. Rather more annoying was the drops - there were several more after the early chances already mentioned above - although none were sitters and the gale-force wind made jugding outfield catches unusually tricky. The biggest source of frustration, however, was when we were completely sure we'd actually taken the wicket we so wanted, only for the umpire to decide otherwise. There were five such occasions:
It of course has to be said here that we're neither omniscient nor infallable: with no Hawk Eye the above descriptions are just subjective accounts; a hypothetical Cam Kerala match report could, in principle, record the above as annoying instances of Romsey repeatedly making absurd appeals. How would a neutral reader have any way of deciding which story to believe? There was, however, a reasonably impartial witness in the form of Richard Saltmarsh from the CCA Additional Players' list, turning out for Romsey today for the first time. Given that he'd never previously met any of us, one could imagine him being a bit unimpressed if he felt we were making unjustified appeals, and certainly not volunteering any active support; but instead his summary, having spent most of the innings fielding close in at gully, was the wry comment "Well, looks like we're going to have to bowl 'em."
Despite the increasingly overwhelming sense of futility, we actually came back reasonably well in the final quarter of the innings, with Huw Davies (1/55) switching ends effectively and Olly Rex (2/40) doing brilliantly after being told to take one for the team by bowling into the wind with no possibility of being relieved (due to the lack of anyone else willing and able to bowl). And there was also some good fielding on show: Kshitij Sabnis was awesome in a variety of positions - perhaps he's wasted behind the stumps? - combining some great takes at slip (albeit not catches) with some good chasing and tirelessly attentive backing-up; Richard was sharp and fearless at gully; Daniel took two skiers and completed a neat run out (which would have been a great day's work if he hadn't also contributed two of the aforementioned drops); and Ev completed two officially-sanctioned stumpings, even if the first looked like it was about to be added to the above list of non-dismissals until the batsman, rather incongruously given previous events, decided to walk.
Heading out after tea to chase Cam Kerala's total of 217/7, our one hope was that two batsmen would get in and then cash in, and so openers Kshitij Sabnis (19 off 29 balls) and Martin Prowse (2 off 36 balls) began conservatively against some sharp and tight bowling. Kshitij punished the few loose balls that came his way, but it was a decidedly dot-heavy start to the innings. The only bright light were the freebies offered up by one of Cam Kerala's opening bowlers, Matthews, whose angled approach to the crease resulted in a few back foot no balls.
Pretty uncontroversial stuff, you might have thought, but these calls catalysed what evolved into a team-wide hissy fit over the next few overs. The bowler was the first to activate, claiming that it's only a no ball if the back foot breaks the return crease between the other two creases; upon being informed of his misconception he then recruited the help of his teammates in backing up his assertion, in the mistaken belief that the laws by which the game is played are decided by majority rule. The statement that he'd "bowled in a dozen games this season and not been no-balled once" was not only a failure of logic - the most obvious explanation is that most umpires, like his teammates, don't know this rule well enough to apply it confidently - but also a failure of fact, as the scorecard from our previous match against Cam Kerala reveals he bowled several no balls (although some of those were for height, and induced a similarly absurd reaction that day when he was warned and then removed from the attack). The bowler eventually seemed to accept the law, but then enlisted the mid-on and mid-off fielders as "checkers" to make sure that he wasn't being falsely called (as if it were difficult to see whether someone's foot touches a line). A subsequent call was duly confirmed by one of the checkers, who also happened to be the captain, which was a golden opportunity to put this issue to bed and maybe even offer an apology to the umpire . . . but by now the virus of misinformation had spread throughout the team, leading to open demands that the umpire be replaced, suggestions that these calls were "revenge" (for what?), and darkly-intoned, if not particular scary, threats to "check up on you by looking up this rule on the internet" - which, actually, was an excellent idea. The MCC web-site's version of Law 21(.5) states that "For a delivery to be fair in respect of the feet, in the delivery stride [. . .] the bowler's back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his/her stated mode of delivery'', while Law 7(.4) confirms that "The return creases, which are the inside edges of the crease markings, shall be at right angles to the popping crease [. . .] and shall be considered to be unlimited in length" - which is also, thanks in part to the interminable and increasingly nasty whinging about these calls, was what this game was becoming.
The absurdity of the situation was made even clearer by the fact that there were just four back foot no balls, so even if they had been incorrect the grand cost would have been 4 runs (as they didn't yield any "wickets"). Cam Kerala was completely on top either way: while we were happy not to have lost a wicket in the first 10 overs, the fact that we'd scored just 30 runs meant that the required rate was above a run a ball, and surely out of reach.
But such considerations suddenly seemed a bit less important when one of Matthews's deliveries leapt off the pitch and suprised Kshitij to the degree that he was hit square on the badge of the helmet, having had no time to react to the anomalous bounce. Despite the now fractious nature of the game, the close-in fielders immediately came into see if Kshitij was okay . . . although the bowler, having noticed that Martin had also run up the pitch to check on Kshitij, decided instead to call for the ball and whip off the bails. He seemed entirely serious in his ludicrous claim that "it doesn't matter, he is run out"; but, fortunately, the rest of his team were more interested in the real matter at hand. All were relieved that Kshitij was okay, and in fact able to continue batting; although his previously confident strokeplay now seemed less certain, and it was no surprise when he soon feathered an edge to the 'keeper (whence he immediately walked). Back in the pavilion Kshitij confessed to feeling dizzy, and Martin hence took him off to Addenbrookes, where a mild concussion was confirmed but, after a second check a few hours later, Kshitij was thankfully given the all-clear.
Back on the pitch, that first wicket became the start of a horrid collapse, as we lost 5 wickets for 3 runs as 36/0 became 39/5 - aka "game over". It was gloomily appropriate that the sky was filled with low grey clouds - it was hard not to hope that they'd also bring rain, not so much because it would allow us to escape with a draw, but because it would at least lead to a vaguely sensible finish time. Not that the new batsmen, Jeff Beaumont (21 off 14 balls) and Stephan van Eeden (22 off 29 balls) were having any of this, as they compiled the day's best (and, really, biggest) partnership, smacking 45 runs off as many balls. But once they were separated we endured a second collapse, our last 5 wickets falling for just 10 runs. Still, while getting bowled out for double figures isn't much fun, the accelerated ending at least meant some chance of getting home for dinner: our last wicket didn't fall 'til 7:21pm; and our innings of just 29.2 overs had somehow stretched out over 2 hours and 10 minutes - although it felt much, much longer.