At 6pm this evening Remnants out-numbered Girton eleven to zero. Having made the journey out to Girton for a rare away match, it seemed something had gone very wrong: there was no opposition; the square was roped off; and no pitch had been cut. A few phonecalls revealed that the fixture had vanished into the aether somewhere along the line -- none of the Girton players knew anything about it -- so it looked like Phil Watson's final game for Remnants was going to be over before it had begun. But then we got our first miracle of the day: Phil got hold of Girton captain Tony Thornton and, after a few minutes negotiating, the word went out that they'd get a team together and play would start at 6:30pm sharp.
At 6:30pm this evening Girton out-numbered Remnants eleven to nine. Where they had brilliantly organised a team-gathering telethon, cut the pitch, and provided all the necessary equipment for a cricket match, we'd been dragging our heels, and the game was delayed for five minutes not because of the understandable late arrivals of home players dragged from their tea like superheroes receiving The Call, but because some Remnants were still getting changed.
At 6:35pm it was finally eleven-all and we had a game of cricket to play. Or, as it seemed, to sacrifice on the altar of rank full-tosses, leg-side long-hops, mis-fields, and crazy overthrows. Our time in the field was an almost complete shambles, with the Girton batsmen -- from first-teamers and part-timers -- scoring with riduculous ease. It was certainly tough trying to stop the ball on what is a very bumpy ground, and the batsmen had the home advantage of knowing they could always take two to an outfielder, but that only goes someway to explaining our impotence. On the bowling front, probably the less said the better -- only Daniel Mortlock (0/10) went for less than a run a ball, although Tom Jordan (1/26) came back well after an early attack of the yips, and Les Collings (1/26) was dead unlucky when, after bowling one of the most dangerous batsmen first up, a (difficult) chance was dropped of the next ball. On the fielding front, Rob Harvey was gutsy behind the stumps, dealing with the erratic bounce from the pitch (not to mention the erratic line from our attack), and Dave Williams and Tom Jordan both put in good efforts in the outer, the latter taking one ball in the throat when it leapt up at him for no apparent reason.
The problem was that the wild outfield and bumpy wicket normally cancel out, with sub-hundred totals regularly defended as the batsmen struggle to feel at ease; instead Girton had finished on 150/6, the second highest total we've conceded so far this season, and surely enough to win today.
Our already weak self-belief received another blow when we lost a wicket in the first over of our innings, but at least John Gull (17* off 24 at this stage) and Rupert Brown (an exquisite 20 off 19, leading to suggestions that he is our very own David Gower) kept us in the hunt.
The next wicket saw some rare pathos enter the macho world of Cambridge mid-week friendlies, when Phil Watson went out to bat and was met with an orgy of ``we're not worthy''-style bowing from his Girton ex-teammates. After a few false shots he seemed to get into his rhythm, only to have his Remnants career ended by -- yep, you guessed it -- some crap calling and the softest of run outs. Phil shrugged, as is his way, and headed back to the pavilion; there he was greeted by more adulation, this time in the form of a rather shapeless Remnants guard of honour. All this ceremony was soon rendered somewhat moot, however, when His Furriness revealed that he could actually play in tomorrow's Remnants game, thus making a mockery of our emotional outburst and this paragraph in particular.
Meanwhile, back on the field, we'd suffered a collapse, losing three quick wickets to be in dire straits at 56/4 in the eighth over. With 95 runs needed off 60 balls and most of the regular batsmen back in the hutch, it really came down to whether John Gull, now motoring, could stay in, and whether he could get some support in with the bargain.
On the second point Paul Jordan (22* off 25 balls) performed admirably, combining a few big hits with some clever singles to rotate the strike. And John, for his part, went on the rampage like few Remnants (himself included) before or since. He must have been a nightmare to bowl to by this stage -- he was in, high on a heady cocktail of adrenaline, instinct and talent as he set about twatting (Dave's word) every ball as hard as he could. There was no real sign of placement or strategy -- it simply seemed that the ball would either go to an outfielder (in which case the batsmen would amble a single) or to the boundary (in which case we'd all cheer from the clubhouse). The idea that every ball was hit might sound like a bit of an exaggeration and would imply that, roughly, John would have been alternating between ones and fours; and yet that ties in quite neatly with the fact that his last 68 runs came off just 36 deliveries. By game's end he'd made 85* off 60 balls and hit a dozen boundaries; discounting ringer Dave Norman's century against FAS in 2003 it was the highest Remnants score this century and, in case you haven't worked it out yet, took us to what ended up being an almost comfortable victory.
John and Paul were clapped from the field having put on 95 runs in 58 balls, and somehow we'd managed to overhaul a huge total right in the middle of a season defined by our failure to chase far more manageable targets. Indeed, it was almost bizarre to play out a victory after such a poor performance in the field when we've had so many good team efforts go unrewarded. Still, I think we felt the same way all Argentinians felt on that day back in '86 when Diego Maradona single-handedly defeated England on their behalf: happy, lucky, thankful and awe-struck in about equal measure.