For most of today it seemed we were going to be playing cricket in hellish conditions: temperatures of up to 30 degrees combined with 100% humidity and twenty-foot high flames of burning sulphur. Okay, so maybe only ten-foot flames, but it was certainly horribly close until about 4pm, when a violent thunderstorm seemed to have saved us not only from the distressing possibility of the older Remnants expiring in the heat, but also from the rather more desireable possibility of playing any cricket at all. Two hours is a long time in East Anglia, though, and by game-time conditions were almost ideal for Remnants and Hart-McLeod to continue their annual rivalry. As usual, the opposition were led by Graham Hart who, despite having been Remnants captain for two years, has given no quarter to his old club, and the arrival of a few suspiciously athletic young guys with coffins big enough to accommodate our entire club kit was a worrying sight as we headed out into the field.
Such negative thoughts were only reinforced when Hart-McLeod's big American opener cut his first ball for four and then hit a six over extra-cover to take the score to 10/0 at the end of the first over. From there on, however, it was Remnants all the way; incredibly, it would transpire that Hart-McLeod had already scored 14% of their eventual total from those first six balls (or, if you like, 8% from the one shot). Paul Jordan (2/17) and Rupert Brown (2/7) made the initial breakthroughs, getting into their own little game of one-upmanship, and then Tom Jordan (1/22) removed danger-man and sometime Remnant Martin Law (although he was possibly still stunned by the helpful suggestion, made by his partner as if to a novice who's only ever played baseball, ``to try and get onto that front foot, mate''). Particularly nice to watch was the interplay between Tom and 'keeper Rob Harvey, even if Rob was so busy with the ``well bowled'' routine that he'd already thrown the ball back to the bowler when he should have been stumping the batsman. Rob's response to the resultant ribbing was to effect stumping attempts at every possible opportunity thereafter, the main result of which was even more teasing from the merciless fielders about just how far inside the crease the increasingly bemused batsmen were.
Our good bowling would have been pretty pointless if we hadn't also fielded well and, in the end, it was at least as much down to superb fielding that Hart-McLeod found it nigh-on impossible to score. Everyone seemed hungry for the ball, the throws came in straight away (even if not actually straight), and there were even people backing up. Phil Hastings was brilliant anywhere from silly mid-off to the long boundary; John Richer took a two-star catch off his captain's bowling despite the fact that he'd been roundly abused for fielding in the wrong spot (``What in god's name are you doing over there?'') when in fact he'd simply been punctual moving into position for the new over; John Gull also managed a two-star catch as well as going within a whisker of a pro-style direct-hit run out from point; Andrew Lea, having reluctantly been banished to the shorter of the square boundaries, repeatedly kept the batsmen to one; and Dave Williams prowled the covers with superb aggression, instinctively pushing in closer whenever the batsmen got desperate for a cheap single.
The one slight hiccup in our domination occured when the aforementioned Real Cricketers came together with the score on 40-odd/6: suddenly there was proper footwork, decisive calling and a few cracking backfoot drives when the slower bowlers pitched short. But their youth and class (if selection for the Durham academy is anything to go by, which is surely is) proved no match for mid-week guile and mix'n'match bowling, Daniel Mortlock (2/15) snaring one with a change of pace and Les Collings (2/9) bowling the other with his 24-yard faster ball. That left us an over to claim the final wicket, but in the end Messrs Hart and McLeod saved their firm's good name by playing out the innings and even scampering the cheekiest of byes off the final delivery.
The resultant target of 74 was too low even for the Remnants class of '06 to lose to, and the only real problem it presented was what to do with five opening batsmen, none of whom had gotten a bowl. In the end the season's three most prolific batsmen were left to cool their heels while Phil Hastings and John Richer were afforded the rare opportunity of batting correctly in a twenty-over game. Whereas usually getting out for fifteen whilst attemping to increase the run rate would be for the best of the team, today Phil and John could simply defend any vaguely dangerous balls and score only when safe to do so.
All of which was probably just as well when one of the above-mentioned Real Cricketers, now 'keeping, stood back some fifteen yards from the stumps and the other, now bowling, started sending down 70 mph yorkers. Fortunately his line was a little off -- otherwise we might have struggled even to chase today's puny target -- but it's largely to his credit that we scored just 37 runs off our first 10 overs. On the other hand, it's largely to John and Phil's credit that we were still none-for; and when, inevitably, the part-timers came on, it was bish-bash-bosh, and the chase was concluded with maximum speed and minimum fuss. John finished up on 40 not out off 60 balls; Phil made 28 not out off 31 balls; and we still had five overs and ten wickets left when the winning runs were hit.
After that it was time for tennis ball cricket with the Hart-McLeod support crew, beer-drinking with the Hart-McLeod players, and football-watching with anyone who could make the TV work. Tonight was the first of the semi-finals, and the Italians, for the second time in the World Cup, won with a (literally) last-minute goal . . . although they must have been slightly disappointed to have scored rather elegantly in open play rather than by deliberately falling over in the box to induce a dubious penalty as they had against Australia.