Coming into this game Remnants was on a run of five straight wins, and any sensible form guide would have had us as odds-on favourites to extend the sequence to six. However it was today's opposition, Coton, who'd inflicted our most recent defeat. Moreover, their win came despite our (minimal) home ground advantage, whereas today's fixture would be played on the notorious Coton wicket, famed throughout the county for its ability to make the ball shoot through at ankle height. Heading out for the toss was certainly an eye-opener: the square had patches of bare earth mixed in with swathes of lush green grass, and looked rather like one of those "ye olde" world maps where the continents are the wrong shape and the British Empire hadn't even got sunburnt yet. The Coton captain claimed it was playing okay, but didn't hesitate to put us in when he won what was clearly a very useful toss.
Our openers Dave Williams and Nick Clarke certainly had their work cut out for them as they had to deal with a succession of balls that pitched on a length only to scoot through to the 'keeper a few inches above the ground. Somehow they survived, and gradually started to get going, pushing the score along to an almost-respectable 48 in the 10th (six-ball) over. But then Dave (29 off 32 balls) was tempted into a wild slog that was well caught by the Coton captain, and there was a sense that all their good work might have been undone with that one false stroke.
Certainly the scoring ground to a halt as Tom Jordan (2 off 16 balls) made the mistake of trying to play steadily and conventionally when the situation demanded innovation and opportunism. To be fair, Tom would have scored 50% more if Nick hadn't refused an easy single, apparently to ensure he was on strike at the start of the next over. If so, the tactic was at least justified, as Nick (an eventual 32 off 39 balls) promptly smacked a couple of big boundaries.
It was at about this point that we made our first umpiring change, Daniel Mortlock calling out Rob Harvey to replace him at the Southern End. As they crossed Rob mentioned the fact that last time they'd swapped roles like this (in the Woozlers game) we'd lost 4/5 and that he hoped that this transfer wouldn't catalyse a similar collapse today. And, as you've no doubt inferred from the fact such an undramatic conversation has even been mentioned, that's precisely what happened, as a combination of good balls and bad running saw us slump from 69/1 to 74/5, which, as the more mathematically-minded of you will just have realised, is a collapse of - yes that's right - exactly 4/5.
At this stage it looked like we'd be setting Coton a rather unchallenging target of about 85, especially when their main strike bowler, Chris Cooke, came back on to finish us off. He certainly looked odds-on to finish off Quentin Harmer, playing his first Remnants innings, as he sent a sequence of five consecutive in-swingers curling past Quentin's bat and into his pads. Each time there was a huge appeal; each time the umpire indicated the ball might have done too much; each time there was exasperation from bowler and fielders alike; each time there was salt in the wound in the form of a cheeky leg-bye. Having seen off Chris, Quentin (9* off 15 balls) and Daniel Mortlock (14* off 13 balls, in what is becoming his trademark end-of-innings scamper-fest) then managed a few effective hoiks to cow-corner, finally lifting our total to a competitive 101/5.
Indeed, it could have been argued that we were winning, given that we successfully defended a total of 72 on this very ground a few years back. Moreover, the winning strategy was quite clear: bowl straight (which, for the benefit of the team's pedants - and they know who they are - is meant in the sense of "straight at the stumps" rather than "not bent"). Kiran Sakhamuri (0/7) and Daniel Mortlock (2/14) certainly did well enough on this score, although the critical moment had very little to do with the bowling and everything to do with Richard Rex holding onto a sharp chance when dangerman Cooke flicked the ball in his direction at mid-wicket. It was certainly a good catch, but the intensity of Richard's celebratory high-fives was still surprising . . . until it was realised that this was payback for a grudge he'd been harbouring ever since Chris had bowled him out for a duck when Coton thrashed us last year.
Personal vendettae aside, Richard's catch was probably the turning point of the match, as it gave us a chance to strangle Coton's middle order by bringing on our slowest and most "nagging" bowlers, Adrian Mellish (2/5) and Quentin Harmer (2/18). They adopted our nominal strategy perfectly, dropping the ball on off stump and letting the pitch do the rest (except on the occasions they bowled full tosses, in which case the batsmen did the rest by going for wild cross-batted slogs). Whilst their bowling was perfect for the conditions, the pressure wouldn't have been maintained without superb back-up in the field, with almost everyone making some significant stops to save runs. John Moore, Matt Hughes and Quentin were fantastic prowling around point and cover, moving quickly to prevent cheeky singles and making brave stops as the ball bounced unpredictably in their direction. Kiran was similarly lively on the single at backward square-leg, and also took a "simple" catch of the sort lots of us drop. Nick Clarke was brilliant at short mid-wicket and almost took the catch of the season when he got his hand to a full-blooded pull, but instead had to be content with making several sharp stops with the now numbed hand. Further from the bat, Dave Williams was tireless on the square boundaries - having hit Daniel on the head with an unannounced throw he was duly punished with "deep square-leg both ends" - and also effected a calm run out when he was bombarded with simultaneous calls to the throw to both bowler and 'keeper. The latter turned out to be the correct option, and the job was duly finished by glovesman Rob Harvey, who was also smooth standing back and brave standing up. His highlight was a very sharp stumping for which only one fielder appealed and which the umpire appeared to give as not out, even as the batsman, who'd effectively walked, was heading back to the pavilion.
By the time Adrian and Quentin had finished their spells the game was as good as won: Coton required more than two runs a ball and only had a few wickets in hand. The final mopping up operation was handled by leg-spinners Matt Hughes (0/5) and Tom Jordan (3/6), the latter finishing on a hat trick when he bowled the last two batsmen on consecutive balls.
Coton were thus dismissed for 58, only 10 runs more than Dave and Nick's partnership, the true worth of which was thus revealed. Invaluable as their efforts were, however, the best thing about the win was that it was truly a team effort, with everyone making critical contributions at different times. It was also our sixth win in a row, something Remnants last managed in May/June 2004, and also meant we'd squared the 2009 ledger with Coton. About half of both teams retired to the beer garden at The Plough for some serious discussions of the UK's ever-changing immigration laws, MPs' expenses, and the CCA's haphazard approach to promotion and relegation. Even non-playing captain Russell Woolf was there, although he seemed much keener on discussing the relative merits of The Plough's mouth-watering selection of main courses as he examined their menu with the same pupil-dilated enthusiasm that the rest of us might have reserved for Confessions Of A Very Naughty Schoolgirl.