Today was a day of firsts. It was first ever game against the Cambridge office of Mott-MacDonald, "an employee-owned management, engineering and development consultancy serving the public and private sector around the world" (at least according to their web-site). It was also our first game in almost a month, finally bringing an end to our sequence of five consecutive cancellations. And it was most certainly the first time we'd ever played with the bizarre rule that wides count for two runs but don't result in an extra ball.
It turns out that the Mott-MacDonald have taken to using this rule to avoid games running too long, the logic of which was demonstrated by today's total of twenty-odd wides (which really should have been more, but for some generous umpiring in both innings). Rather than agree this before the game, however, the first hint we had that anything was up was when a few (six-ball) overs with a wide or two seemed a bit short. We probably never would have twigged but for the fact that we'd cleverly inserted a spy behind enemy lines, in the imposing form of Nick Clarke. He'd turned up expecting to play for us, only to end up inadvertantly doing his twelfth man duty; and when he came out to bat for Mott-Mac he thought he'd better have a quiet word to us about what was going on. Once that was sorted out it seemed we could get on with some normal cricket, but it turned this was just the first of several non-canonical variants that Mott-MacDonald had adopted, which also included an umpire who seemed determine to adjudicate from somewhere in vicinity of mid-on, as well the assumption that we'd be happy for batsmen to retire upon reaching 25.
The irony of this last rule, which was eventually agreed upon, was that it ended up robbing Mott-MacDonald of a decent total when Nick, having been lucky to have survived the initial onslaught from Joe White (0/10), was cut off in full flow when he made the mistake of scoring his 25th run, and was thus obliged to leave the field. From then on we were completely in control, Ben Armitage (1/21), Matt Hughes (0/18), Tom Serby (2/7), Mike Jones (3/20) and John Moore (0/8) all stifling the batsmen with their slow bowling while the fielders steadily crept closer and closer to the bat.
The fielding itself veered between implausible slapstick and unbelieveable brilliance. The former was, inevitably, the dominant theme, and most of it seemed to revolve around some creative footwork, possibly inspired by not watching England at Euro 2008. It all started when Mike Jones positioned himself to catch a bullet at mid-on before deciding he didn't fancy it, and that it was a better idea to stick his ankle in the way in the hope of flicking the ball up for a second bite at the cherry. Needless to say that didn't work and that the bowler, Matt Hughes, was not particularly impressed. Not that Matt could complain too much, however, given that he attempted a return catch with his shin off the next ball. This led Ben Armitage to rally the team with a call of "Come on boys, let's make sure and use two feet!" although it's no surprise that nobody listened, and Tom Serby upped the ante when he tried a back-heel in his follow-through and succeeded only in deflecting the ball, that was otherwise about to smack into the non-striker's stumps, all the way to long-on, allowing the batsmen to run an easy two. And later that same over Geoff Hales, playing his first full game of the season, topped them all when he managed to step on the (stationary) ball and went down in a manner scarily reminiscent of Glenn McGrath before 2005's Ashes Test at Headingley. Fortunately Geoff was okay -- or at least his ankle was. It's not so clear about his blood pressure, as the mayhem continued unabated with Richard Rex then diving across in front of Tom to prevent him from taking what would have been a fairly straightforward return catch. This, however, was progress, as both players were at least trying to use their hands; and, sure enough, when Richard and John Moore seemed headed for a similar disaster a few balls later, Richard called an emphatic "Mine!" at the last moment, making sure of the catch just as John peeled off in the manner of a Spitfire aborting its strafing run. This success proved contagious, with Joe White and Mike Jones holding good catches in the next few overs and 'keeper Daniel Mortlock, having earlier dropped Nick when he was yet to score, atoning somewhat by completing his first ever stumping. Tom then lifted things to a new level when he he leapt into the air and got a hand to a thick outside edge whilst fully airborne; but, sadly, he couldn't quite keep his grip on the ball as he came to ground and so just failed to complete what would have been the catch of the season. Which, appropriately enough, Richard did manage as he completed our team's ascension from the absurd to the sublime by diving full-length to hold a crazily spinning top edge just inches off the ground.
After all this drama Mott-MacDonald found themselves on 114/6 with one (six-ball) over to go, but then found their innings over with the score still at 114/6 when it turned out the overs count had been wrong for most of the last hour (which was very much in keeping with the general spirit of things).
Thus we had ourselves a rather moderate target to chase, and it should have been a doddle, but the opposition had a seemingly endless supply of niggly swing bowlers who gave the batsmen no pace to hit, and were surprisingly difficult to score off. Dave Williams (14 off 21 balls) made most of the early running, but after he was well caught we were on the verge of trouble at just 34/2 after 8 overs.
Tom Serby then came in and showed everyone how it should be done, smacking 23 off 18 balls to be on the verge of collecting his 25-run pension, only to sky a ball to Nick Clarke. Not that he should have been out then, either, as Nick's radar failed to the degree that the ball hit him in the chest before bobbling away, but then Daniel Mortlock decided to finish the job by calling Tom through for what turned out to be yet another example of why you should never run on a misfield. The pity of it was that it was Daniel's innings that was in need of ending -- having "raced" to about 10 off 25 balls at this stage he was essaying exactly the sort of useless dot-fest that has lost us so many games in the past. As it was the 25-run retirement rule eventually provided a much-needed mercy-killing when he reached 28* (off an epic 43 balls), although fortunately the batting of Tom and Joe White (17 off 15 balls), along with 24 wides and byes, meant that we were now well ahead of the required rate. John Moore (5* off 2 balls) smacked an effortless boundary to get us within a shot of victory before Ben Armitage (3* off 1 ball), rather than being asked to do his usual job of delivering the hopeless final over, instead got the much more pleasurable task of hitting the winning runs.
With the sun shining and a season's-worth of silliness to relive it was the perfect evening to sit at the Fitz bar and watch the sunset, but sadly Dave was off in London playing what one rather suspects was proper cricket, and so we had to hoof it off to The Castle where they make you pay "real world" prices for your beer.