Report by Cam Petrie:
Its been a while since Romsey had a proper nail-biter, and it is perhaps significant that today's installment was against NCI III, who had unceremoniously trundled us for 37 back in May. An important difference for today's match was that we won the toss and bowled first, making use of a somewhat new-look, but no less potent, bowling attack. As should be clear from the scoreline above, this was a very even game that went right down to the wire, and could have produced all three possible results in the final over (and thankfully and no matter what, was not going to result in a super over).
At various points the two innings reached a ridiculous degree of parallellism, with the scores being more or less the same at the end of the 15th, 20th, 30th and, crucially, 39th overs (see below). The parallelism at certain points masks some key variability, and the crucial difference was that with the exception of only the last of these, Romsey was behind every time in terms of wickets. While NCI were 0/0 off 2 overs, Romsey were 15/1. By the 15th over, NCI were 48/0, while Romsey were 50/4. By the 30th over, NCI were 98/4, while Romsey were 91/7. Aside from showing that this was a close game, these statistics also hint at how each quarter of the game panned out, and give insight into how each team played.
NCI innings - overs 1-21: Having both started with maidens, Adi Vaidyanathan (0/11 off 8 overs) and Stephan van Eeden (0/20 off 4 overs) maintained a tight grip, only loosened by two high full tosses from Stephan that were clubbed to the boundary. First change bowlers AP Ricky Masters (0/24 off 6 overs) and Romsey debutant Vibhu Tewary (3/29 off 8 overs - and the latest to join Romsey via Cam Petrie's University connections) were similarly miserly, and NCI eked their way to 59 in the 17th over before a drive into the outfield drew an ambitious run and a direct hit run out from Ferdi Rex.
It wasn't until the first over after drinks that Vibhu secured our second wicket, from a mis-hit drive that was snaffled by Huw at mid-off - leaving NCI at 79/2. NCI had been playing sensible cricket, and despite our accurate bowling and quality fielding, they had bumped and scraped their way up to almost 4 runs and over, and it looked as though we could be chasing something well over 150. However, in hindsight, it was clear that this second wicket marked a major turning point of the NCI innings.
Romsey innings - overs 1-20: Romsey's start couldn't have been more different, as Cam (9 off 7 balls) and AP Jevon Harrison (19 off 16 balls) set about punishing the loose bowling that NCI started with. Cam got motoring in the second over, hitting two rank shortballs to the boundary on either side of the wicket before the next ball was pitched up and held enough in the pitch for Cam to play through his shot so early that the ball going down leg came off the back edge of his bat and was caught at slip. Jevon started hitting in the first over, and continued to hit cleanly through the line for a few more boundaries and a big six before mis-hitting a catch in the 5th over.
Our rapid start of six runs an over rapidly stalled as the realities of the tricky pitch was exposed by rapidly improving NCI bowling (i.e., the kamikaze-esque 100+ strike rate of our openers was contrasted to the much more sedate scoring rate of almost everyone who followed). Kshitij Sabnis (3 off 24 balls) and Nathan Wright (1 off 12 balls) nudged and prodded before Nathan played around one and Kshitij mis-hit another catch, leaving us 41/4 off 11 overs. The new partnership of Ferdi (43 off 48 balls) and Huw (4 off an epic 48 balls, scarily only having him just creep into the top ten of Romsey's slowest innings) set about rebuilding and got us to 70/4 at the break (when NCI had been 72/1).
NCI innings - overs 22-40: Now back to the rest of the NCI innings. Having made the vital breakthrough just after drinks, Romsey opted for a double bowling change, and Andy Owen (2/15 off 8 overs) and Ferdi (3/13 off 6 overs) (re-)exerted a stranglehold. The pitch revealed its capabilities when Ferdi tossed up his second ball, to have it pitch well outside off, encourage the well-set NCI opener to leave it, only to see it spear in and hit the top of middle. Wickets then fell regularly as attempts to rescusitate the scoring rate saw NCI bats play lofted mis-hits to - in order - Adi (off Ferdi), Andy (off Andy), Ricky (off Andy), and Andy (off Ferdi) - all forward of the wicket. Adi came on to finish off his overs and kept the pressure on before Vibhu and Ferdi took us home, with Ferdi drawing the aforementioned mis-hit to Andy, and Vibhu drawing a second catch to Adi, and then next ball taking an inside edge through to Cam at keeper, which popped out momentarily before being grasped between thumb and index finger. Unfortunately the hat-trick ball didn't come off, but we came into the hutch having kept NCI to 122/9, and barely 3 runs an over off their full 40.
Romsey innings - overs 21-40: The last 20 overs for Romsey were no less tense or exciting. Ferdi and Huw's consolidating partnership took us to then through the drinks break, and well past the half-way mark of the required score before Ferdi was finally caught. It is a "finally" because he had been dropped by either keeper or slip something like five times as the ball continued its tricks off the pitch to draw mis-hits and edges. This was no ordinary catch, however, as Ferdi belted it straight, the bowler somehow managed to get a hand to it and slowed it down suffieciently to get a very bruised finger and deflect it within reach of mid-off who took a diving catch. Thankfully Ferdi had been able to make the most of some loose bowling and full tosses in between times to hit 3 fours, and 2 modest and two monster sixes. With five wickets now down, 16 overs left and 42 runs to get (i.e., around 2.6 runs per over), familiar sinking feelings started to haunt the Romsey old-hands sitting in the pavillion. They only intensified when Stephan (1 off 6 balls) was bowled by a quality out-swinger, and Huw finally fell LBW in the thirtieth over, leaving us at 90/7. Adi (19 off 42 balls) took over the role of anchor and kept us in touch with the required run rate as Vibhu (7 off 9 balls) had a short and sweet innings that included another six. Andy (3* off 13 balls) then came in and blocked and nurdled while Adi tried to attack, and managed his own big six before he became the final victim of the tricky pitch as he lobbed one up for an easy catch.
This wicket and the two wides that followed it in the 39th over meant that we had the identical score as NCI at the same point 117/9 - with at least six balls to face, five runs needed for the draw, and six for the win. Coming in at number eleven, Ricky had taken huge swings at four balls in the 39th over and found only air, so those sinking feelings were still very much evident in the pavilion when a wide and a single saw him on strike with three balls to face, three needed for the draw, and four for the win. These feelings were clearly (and thankfully) misplaced, however, as Ricky (4* off 5 balls) smoked the first of these through mid-wicket to the boudary to give us the win with two balls and one wicket to spare.
In the changing rooms afterwards, Andy was heard muttering, "We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat." We had certainly made this a lot harder than it perhaps needed to be, bleeding too many early wickets, but this really was a team effort with bat, ball and in the field, and with the former, we showed character to rebuild, and then not wilt when the partnership between Ferdi and Huw was broken. While certainly not as tight a contest as seen the Sunday before with the England vs. New Zealand World Cup final, this was as close as things get in CCA Junior 3 West. Having had only limited success thus far this season, it was quite liberating to both be deserving of a win and then to actually achieve it. NCI were no less deserving really, and no doubt felt hard done by, as all number of possibilitied could have made this one a tie or a win to them. Now let's see how we fare next week against table leaders Haslingfield.