This week there's been a sense that the season has entered its concluding phase, with eight-ball overs once again becoming fashionable and a succession of return matches against our regular opposition. Today we had a chance to get our revenge against The CB XI, having suffered a dramatic, intense, heated, and somewhat frustrating loss to them during our mid-June slump. It was the first time they'd ever beaten us but, despite it being a tight game in which the final margin was just 14 runs, it was probably the least exciting of our half dozen encounters - the combination of enterprising cricket and a friendly but genuine rivalry has tended to give even the most one-sided of encounters a bit of a spark.
The CB XI batted first today, and we managed to restrict them in much the same way we did The Computer Lab the previous evening. After 10 (eight-ball) overs they'd scored just 69 runs, thanks largely to the efforts of Faruk Kara (0/13 in his now customary role as opening off-spinner), Colin Anderson (1/12 in his first spell) and Sam Dolan (1/23, despite having a couple of sitters dropped off his bowling). And even if our catching was again, er, "inconsistent", we did take a few good 'uns, John Young standing firm in the face of a well-hit drive and Chris McNeill taking one second grab in the out-field (the first grab having been off an identical shot an over earlier). The ground fielding started off well, with Pete Warner, John Gull, Mike Sneyd and Geoff Hales making what one of the opposition later referred to as "a ring of steel" (every proctologist's nightmare, one imagines) and then, again following yesterday's pattern, it all fell apart in the final five overs. When the batsmen went up a couple of gears in both the hitting and running departments, our fielding ended up in neutral or even reverse - suddenly there seemed to be misfields and overthrows more often than not.
In the middle of all this mayhem Colin Anderson came back on and, totally against the run of play, took only the club's third ever hat trick (which, combined with his first spell, made for a sequence of four wickets in seven balls - W . 1 1 W W W, since you asked). After he bowled two batsmen off consecutive balls you might have thought we'd have crowded 'round the bat or something; but, the insertion of a single slip aside, there wasn't much more than a half-hearted inward shuffle. This tactic proved to be inspired, however, when the hat trick ball was wide and the new batsman had a big swish, edging it straight to said slip. Colin was thus clapped from the ground with the season's third best figures (4/16, since you keep demanding this information), although hopefully some of the applause was also directed at the remaining CB XI opener, who had quietly carried his bat to be undefeated on 52*.
All the excitement had come towards the end of the innings was a little misleading, though, as it was our early dominace that was critical to the fact that we needed less than a run a ball. Nick Clarke seemed determined to get them all himself, blasting his way to 27 off 22 balls, and when he smashed another off drive it seemed his seventh boundary was just a second or two away . . . until the mid-off fielder leapt off the ground and got his hand to the ball, first parrying it up in the air and then keeping his composure to complete the catch with some style. Aside from ending Nick's threatening innings, this also revealed our fantasy of an easy chase to be just that: a fantasy. What we hadn't reckoned on was The CB XI's seemingly endless supply of out-swing merchants who beat - or nicked - the edges of our bats repeatedly.
After 8 overs The CB XI had reduced us to 61/7 and, presumably, they were the ones now licking their lips at the thought of a comfortable victory. Given that no total under 120 has been defended successfully in any of our games this season it would also have been a decidedly memorable one, and it was only due to the small target that there was any life left in the game at all. Despite our collapse, we still needed less than a run a ball, so there was still a hope of victory if we could eliminate the usual risky 20-over shots and, let's be honest, get a bit of luck. And that's exactly what Daniel Mortlock (42* off 32 balls) and Sam Dolan (11 off 16 balls) did, quickly eschewing aerial slogs (after a few near escapes) and instead keeping the scoreboard ticking over mainly through aggressive running - and grateful acceptance of some 17 wides. The only real glitch in their partnership was when the total displayed on the scoreboard went down at the end of one over. By the time Daniel and Sam were separated with the score on 104, we were probably favourites again, even if last man Pete Warner appeared pretty keen not to be called upon.
A couple of boundaries left us needing just 2 runs off two overs, at which point Geoff Hales took strike for the first time all year; and then two balls later he was striding from the ground having hit the winning runs with a nice dab through third man. (Not that Geoff did the actual running, mind - in a nicely poetic touch Sam had stayed on as his runner, thus getting to complete the rescue mission he and Daniel had begun half an hour earlier.)
Once again our fixture against The CB XI had lived up to unreasonable expectations, a Test match worth's of ebb and flow having been squeezed into just three hours. It was also our fourth win in a row, meaning we're 8-9 on evening games for the season (and have even achieved parity if you count the "hit and giggle" of the six-a-side tournament).