For the final match of the Remnants season we had nice, if not actually glorious, weather (something which, disappointingly, has been lacking some seven times this year) and we also had an opposition (something which, disgracefully, has been lacking some four times this year). And even if the opposition was just ourselves, what the teams might have lacked in surprise value they more than made up for in numbers, it being a mammoth thirteen-a-side affair. Whereas only two days earlier the field was all gaps in the six-a-side tournament, today it was a struggle not to have fielders in front of each other, both sides opting for one or more slips for lack of better ideas.
Daniel Mortlock's Captain's Selection (not that he had any say about the make-up of the team) took to the field first and set about restricting Russell Woolf's Secretary's Choice, which they did with diabolical ease.
The Choice were just 44/3 after 9 (eight-ball) overs as The Selection's bowlers, despite being largely limited to one-over spells, were all immaculate in line and length, while the fielding was as sharp as it's been all year. Paul Jordan (0/1), Chris McNeill (1/5), Faruk Kara (2/3), Andrew Lea (0/8), Tom Jordan (0/10), Rob Harvey (0/14), John Picton (0/20 in his first Remnants game since 1999) and Nick Clarke (1/13) proved nigh on impossible to get away, and gave up just 7 boundaries between then.
But my personal highlights were the rarely seen leg-spin of Dave Williams (0/2), who also chucked in some wrong-uns to completely bamboozle the batsmen, and Bryan Lea, who not only earned a rare second over but, by nabbing 2/5 with his in-duckers, took his season's haul to 8 wickets at 9.12. This, in turn, was sufficient to squeeze past the absent Joe White (11 wickets at 9.18) to top the bowling averages, albeit by such a small margin that even one extra run on Bryan's ledger would have seen Joe triumphant (and by a greater margin).
Dave Williams also starred in the field, taking a great boundary line catch to dismiss Olly Harris (20) and then running out a surprised Stas Shabala (22) when he hurled the ball 70 yards to the 'keeper despite the frantic calls for it to go to the ``bowler's end, bowler's end!'' Other notable efforts included Rob Harvey's diving saves at point, young Joe Harvey, in his first Remnants game, patrolling the square boundary, and less young Geoff Hales, in his 382nd Remnants game, rock-solid at long-on in his first on-field appearance since his hip operation in April.
It wasn't all one-way traffic, though, and John Richer (14), along with Olly and Stas, helped The Choice double their score in their final 5 overs. Their eventual total of 87/7 was hardly imposing, but at least it wasn't embarrassing.
For once there hadn't been much faffing about between deliveries, and so, unlike in the season's first Remnants vs. Remnants game, we had time for the traditional club photograph, kindly taken by Nicky Mellish -- although she really should have been in it herself, having made her Remnants playing debut, as well as being our number one supporter. And as if there weren't enough Remnants on the field, we also had a few more drop by, with Matt Hughes and Richard Rex popping by 'cos they were in the vicinity and Ev Fox coming all the way from Doha to see the game.
Back on the field, the slow scoring continued, The Choice's bowlers exploiting the packed field and low bounce every bit as well as their Selection counterparts. Colin Anderson (0/5), Alec Armstrong (0/7, including the game's only maiden), Les Collings (0/5), Mike Francis (1/6) Adrian Mellish (0/15) and Stas Shabala (0/7) all had a great time of it, even if Stas must have been a little miffed to have an LBW decision given and then retracted when the batsman, understandably given that he'd been hit on the thigh, refused to budge.
This incident seemed to induce the dose of mayhem that the game sorely needed, and later that same over John Gull produced one of the most athletic pieces of fielding in the club's admittedly rather unathletic history. Chris McNeill (15 off 27 balls) had latched onto a pull shot, the sort where you know it's a boundary from the moment the ball leaves the bat. Certainly it bounced across the grass like a Dambusters bomb along the Rhine -- but then, from stage right, John came hurtling into a view, a fired up Messerschmit desperate to spoil the party. With the ball just feet from the boundary he launched into a full length dive, aquaplaning over the wet gress, his arm outstretched, his head cherry red from the atmospheric friction like the underside of the Space Shuttle (or maybe it was just his hair). And yet the ball was hit just a little too well, evading his superhero efforts, flying past him and . . . into the the hands of John Richer, who hadn't even had to move and had calmly made a long barrier safe in the knowledge that his namesake's exertions weren't going to affect the trajectory of the ball.
John (Gull) was then given a bowl and, in keeping with the wild enthusiasms of his fielding, tore in off a dozen paces to deliver an over of exuberant full tosses -- not that any of them were called, leaving him with the sort of figures (0/6) that hide the mad genius at work and show decisively that this game is about way more than the numbers.
And maybe John's bowling did have the desired effect in the end, both batsmen losing their wickets in the next few overs as Andy Owen completed a sharp stumping and Paul Henderson, playing for the first time since moving to America in 2003, took a stunning diving catch at shortish mid-wicket. And with these wickets the game was won and lost, albeit not exactly in the way one might expect -- as The Selection's monster middle-order finally got a go. Dave Green (13 off 14 balls) not only played his signature late cuts and pulls, but essayed a glorious off drive off a rather surprised Russell Woolf (1/22); Dave Williams (24 from 16 balls) cemented his place at the top of the batting averages with an explosive innings that included 4 consectuve boundaries; Nick Clarke (13* from 4 balls) did about as much damage as possible from half an over; and Paul Jordan (13* off 14 balls) finished the match with a classical cut for four.
That not only brought the curtain down on the Remnants season, but on Daniel Mortlock's two-year tenure as captain -- and I have it on good authority that he quite liked showing captain-elect Russell Woolf who was boss one last time before being relegated to ``fine leg both ends'' in 2008. Daniel finished the year as he began it (by forgetting to bring a pair of socks to the ground) but at least had the compensation of not having to congratulate opposition captains on their fine victory quite as often this year.
Once everyone had their post-match beers (the pre-match beers having run out), Geoff silenced the assembled throng to thank Daniel and Russ for their on-field leadership during the season, Sally Hales for her immaculate scoring (which now includes the batsmen's dot balls), Andy Owen for getting things done (particularly Monday's six-a-side tournament, which he announced had made GBP 620 for charity), and Dave Norman for giving us such a good home at which to play our cricket. But of course the biggest thank you was to Geoff himself, without whom Remnants wouldn't be -- well, just wouldn't be. (Although hopefully he won't take our token of appreciation -- a book of Wisden obituaries -- the wrong way.)
With the beer having been drunk and the Sun having set it was time for us vulnerable cricketers to escape the cold and the dark, and to seek refuge in the warmth of The Tandoori Palace. The meal was as good as always (even if Sally, like Arthur Dent, still can't get a cup of tea there), but there seemed to be general air of melancholy that this season really had ended too soon -- the record number of cancelled games has meant that only one player managed as many matches as there were weeks in the season, and even some of the regulars hadn't actually seen each other 'til tonight. Still, there's no changing the tilt of the earth's axis (as far as I know), so that's it until the annual dinner in November, And as I type this across the road from where The Last Of The Proms is taking place, it only remains to say ``I hope we'll meet again some sunny day''.