Geoff Hales has attended almost every match in Remnants' three-decade history, and it always feels like something's missing if he's not umpiring, patrolling at short mid-wicket, or working himself into a state of high tension on the boundary line. And yet it was most decidedly a good thing that he was otherwise occupied today. Even before match-time things started to go wrong, with two of the named eleven dropping out with illness/injury during the day - although by sheer luck it turned out that Mike Sneyd was already known to be available and Sarah Pelham turned up at the Selwyn Ground on the off chance that she might be needed. So we were at least able to field a full team, even if it took a little while to assemble due to the inevitable wrong turns in the confusing warren of streets south of Barton Road.
It was at this point that things really began to go wrong. Having won the toss we elected to bat first, only to be faced with some tight bowling, a very lively pitch, and a vicious gale blowing across the ground. The result of this was a collapse to 10/3 after 4 (eight-ball) overs which soon became 20/5 after 6 overs. There were all sorts of nervous comments about whether we'd passed our lowest ever total, and that's certainly what Geoff would have been thinking had he been there. It wasn't just the batting that was going wrong either, as the umpiring was a tad erratic as well. Jon Steele (4 off 7 balls) was probably unlucky - and certainly too visibly unhappy - to be given out LBW despite having gotten a Jon-sized stride forward; and then George Speller (2 off 7 balls) was briefly reprieved when the full toss that hit the stumps six inches below bail-height was initially called as a "no ball" on the grounds that it had passed him above waist height. The general sense that this was physically impossible (at least for any bowler faster than Phil Watson) and George himself eventually found a proactive solution when he decided to walk. The extra irony here was that several genuine beamers later in the innings went uncalled; were Geoff present he could have pointed people to his umpiring notes.
At around this stage Selwyn took their foot off the pedal (or maybe it was just that their openers had completed their spells) and we even managed to hit a few boundaries. Mike Sneyd (13 off 26 balls) had survived most of the carnage, but the pressure eventually told as he holed out to mid-off; and Kiran Sakhamuri (13 off 11 balls), who was the only batsman to look really comfortable, perished in a similar fashion when he slashed at a wide one. At 37/6 off 9 overs the mission now was simply to bat out our allotment with the hope of pushing up towards triple figures, and we went surprisingly close as Ben Armitage (19 off 21 balls, including a huge six) found allies in Anthony Haynes (3 off 22 balls on Remnants debut) and an increasingly regular supply of wides. Still, the wickets continued to fall, and when we started the final over nine-down it was about even money whether we'd avoid the indignity of being bowled out. Russell Woolf (5 off 6 balls) and Sarah Pelham (0* off 7 balls) seemed to have managed this when they ran a comfortable two off the final delivery . . . until the return held up in the wind and Russ called for an ambitious "underthrow", only to be run out a few feet short of his ground.
It might have seemed rather optimistic to seriously attempt to defend 74, it being our lowest first innings total since scoring 72/6 against Coton way back in 1997. Although if Jon had pointed his shiny new iPhone at the match report for that game he'd have found that we actually managed to win by 3 runs, which would presumably have given everyone a glimmer of hope today. The fantasy of repeating this miracle become ever so slightly plausible when George Speller (2/11), Kiran Sakhamuri (2/10) and Daniel Mortlock (2/10) produced three of the more unplayable spells in the club's history, sending ball after ball past the outside edges of a succession of tentatively-dangled bats. Combined with some great fielding (desperate dives from Jon Steele and Tom Serby, and a team run out involving Kiran, 'keeper Rob Havey, and Jon) we were somehow making a game of it. Indeed, we might even have been winning when Selwyn, having been reduced to 46/7 after 11 overs, found themselves needing 29 runs with just 3 wickets in hand. Could this be the greatest Remnants comeback victory this century?
In short: no. The problem was that we'd run out of quick bowlers (combined figures: 6 overs, 0 maidens, 6/31) and, as we'd found out an hour earlier, the slow stuff was much easier to hit. But just how easy was a bit of a revelation: when Selwyn's number 9 had come in wearing an old T-shirt and baggy tracksuit bottoms it seemed he was yet another lamb to the slaughter; but 14 balls later he'd smashed an undefeated 23 (the highest score of the game) to see his side home with 20 balls to spare.
Over the post-match tea the Selwyn lads claimed they'd had things all under control, with their batting line-up juggled to perfection to ensure a close finish. However even their obviously "proper" batsmen had struggled to lay bat on ball, and there were several occasions where we were within a few inches of taking one more vital wicket. But maybe it's just as well we didn't - whilst it was good Geoff didn't get to see today's batting debacle, imagine if he'd missed what would have been one of his club's greatest ever triumphs?