``Good afternoon, and welcome to the Fitzwilliam College Cricket for the first time today - and, indeed, for the first time this year. We should have a super match here today, as Romsey Town take on Remnants in the traditional early-season wash-out . . .'' It was miserable; it did rain a lot; it was dull; it was hard to get going; but we did play.
The first ball of the season was rather unremarkable - an easy leg-bye - but the second should be worth at least two trivia questions at the end of season dinner. John Gull played a forceful shot through mid-wicket and set off for a couple . . . until Russell Woolf (playing for Romsey) stuck out his foot and stopped the ball, and then flicked it back to Andy Owen, who completed a suitably farcical run out.
From here the innings took on a more conventional form, with Nick Clarke (46) top-scoring as so many times before, while Phil Watson (17 after two days Morris dancing) and a newly-shaven Tony Malik (11*) provided good support. The scoring rate was pretty constant, despite the steadily increasing drizzle and steadily enchroaching darkness.
And it was in these decidedly unfriendly conditions that Romsey captain Andy Owen turned one of Remnants' deadliest weapons on itself: Joe White sent down a couple of lightning fast overs in horrid conditions, bowling Nick Clarke with the final ball of an over and continuing his follow-through all the way to the pavilion as the rain went from heavy to torrential.
For a time it seemed the match would be abandoned there, but the rain lightened enough to give us a chance to maybe break an ankle on the wet ground, or at the very least to bowl badly with the sodden ball. The early Remnants highlight was the return of Tony Malik, bowling only his second spell for the club since 2003, and immediately on the spot with 1/18 from his three overs. The early Romsey highlight was simply easy run-scoring, and they appeared to be cruising to a comfortable victory at the half-way point.
But then the match turned 180 degrees after a piece of cricketing mayhem which involved no fewer than six Remnants players (seven if you count the umpire). Russell Woolf pulled a John Gull loosener to backward square, where Geoff Hales (having been ``retired'' for precisely zero games) just got a hand to the ball, stopping it from racing to the boundary, but deflecting it well out of his reach. No matter, as Tony Malik sped 'round from square leg and picked up the ball just as Daniel Mortlock completed an easy third run . . . and also just as Russ has stayed put after an even easier two. Nick then intercepted Tony's throw somewhere in the neighbourhood of point, and hurled it to the non-striker's end, where John (after a bit of a fumble) broke the stumps with a very unhappy Russ still some way short of his ground. This precipitated a spectacular collapse in which John Gull (4/20 from his well-flighted wrist spin) took four wickets for five runs in just nine balls to leave Romsey floundering on 62/6.
They managed to avoid losing any further wickets, and were somehow in with an outside shot of stealing the match when they started the last over needing 14 to win. We defended well enough for this to became 8 needed off two and, when John Gull (who else?) intercepted a full-blooded pull off the penultimate delivery, Romsey were left needing six to tie off the last ball of the match. There were, of course, requests for Phil to finish the game with an underarm, but he seemed quite happy to continue in the conventional manner - and understandably so, given that Remnants regular Paul Jordan, who had thus far scored exclusively in rather careful singles, was on strike. Phil sent down one of his ``fast'' balls, tight into leg stump, and must have rejected what his eyes were telling him as Paul rocked back and effortlessly flicked the ball high towards the square leg boundary . . . where Tony reached up in vain - yes, Les, a taller man might indeed have caught it - as the ball sailed a foot or two over his out-stretched arm and slammed into the pavilion. The Romsey faithful flooded onto the ground in an orgy of hugs and manly embraces, almost as if ``ten years of hurt'' had been ended there and then. Indeed, such was the mayhem that only a few stragglers noticed Sally Hales trying desperately to convince herself that the two totals were actually equal . . .