For the first time since - well, this time last year - there was that melancholic sense of the impending end of the summer and, far worse, the winding down of the cricket season. The chorus of "See you next week!"s that usually conclude our match days was spattered with some "Hopefully I'll make it to the dinner"s - and it was pitch-black by 9pm. However what led up to the dark of night was the most stunning of pinky-blue sunsets, and what preceded the sunset was one of the more remarkable games of cricket in Remnants' 800-match history.
The story began when Granta, who'd lost the toss and been invited to field, were asked to choose between the conventional red ball and the increasingly infamous Pink Ball. The Granta captain, Brendan Larder, presented the two options to his team; their opening bowler apparently took one look at the pink ball, laughed, and said (one hopes in the style of Little Britain's Andy), "I want that one!" He promptly marked out his 20-yard run-up and disproved the prevailing theory that the pink balls are lifeless: reaching speeds of up to 70 mph, and several times sending this particular pink ball flying past the outside edges of our openers' bats. With the young leg-spinner at the other end tossing up the ball to great effect, repeatedly leaving the batsman flailing, we were looking decidedly outclassed.
We were also starting to look a bit foolish, but this had nothing to do with the superior firepower of the opposition and everything to do with some atrocious running between wickets. The main problem was a series of increasingly baffling refused runs, with plenty of shots hit into the gaps only for the batsmen to remain rooted to the spot until, eventually, there was indeed "No run there!" The nadir came when poor Keith Turner played his first ball nicely between point and cover and set off for what seemed likely to be the easiest of singles to get off the mark. But non-striker Tom Serby made a decisive "No!" call, sending Keith back . . . at which point Tom belatedly saw that the ball had passed both the fielders, and so began haring down the pitch. Keith eventually responded to this surprise assualt by attempting to make it to the other end - he probably should have just stood his ground - and was, inevitably, run out by a good few yards.
Add in the fact that Granta's first change bowlers were also too good for us and the result was that we reached the half-way point of the innings having scored a measly 36 runs. It's maybe not surprising that a humiliation was on the cards - after we won our most recent completed match against Granta it's easy to imagine that they decided to make absolutely sure there'd be no repeat performance; and, sure enough, several of today's players, such as Jack Upton, Dave Norman, and either Lewys or Rhys Hill, were of sufficient calibre to regularly play in the Tucker-Gardener Premier League or Senior 1. Given the score and the quality of the opposition, the future course of the game was pretty clear: we rally a bit to maybe finish on 90-odd; then Granta send in their "don't usually bat in serious games" players to knock the runs off batting left-handed. If Ladbroke's had repeated their famous 500-1 offer from Headingly in '81 it's doubtful any of us would have risked a fiver even in today's money.
The second half of our innings was at least an improvement, as the bowling did finally get a bit easier and our batsmen made the most of the hittable deliveries that were finally coming their way. First to accelerate was Tom who, despite the fact that he'd done his back, hit a few defiant boundaries on his way to 25 (off 36 balls). At the other end Dave Williams made superb use of the pace by repeatedly carving the ball backward of point - Granta never put in a third man and so he got full value for his cuts, eventually making a superb 62* (from 50 balls). John Young (7 off 11 balls) and Julius Rix (12 off 11 balls) provided Dave with good support and we somehow made it to the highly respectable total of 130/5. So it at least seemed we weren't going to be humiliated - and maybe we were even in the match given that it was sure to get seriously dark before the end of Granta's innings.
We certainly started well enough, with Daniel Mortlock (0/9) sending down what should have been a wicket-maiden but for the fact that the simplest of chances was dropped by Ferdi Rex (subbing for Tom). Given that such opportunities didn't seem likely to come that often against what was, presumably, a seriously classy batting line-up, it was hard not to think that it was going to be "one of those games" where we reveal why it is that we restrict our cricketing efforts to mid-week friendlies.
But over the next hour we produced some scintillating cricket as our bowlers and fielders combined for a superb team effort. It was a captain's dream as every bowling change resulted in the exact sort of deliveries the batsmen didn't want and it seemed every time a fielder was shifted the next ball would be hit straight to him. In one case the risky decision was made to form a strange cordon of short covers, at the expense of leaving the entire quadrant between 'keeper and point vacant - on any other day the result would have been a succession of outside edges flying to the boundary, but today what followed were a series of mis-timed cover drives that were duly stopped by the newly moved fielders. On another occasion the arrival of a left-handed batsman was greeted with much confusion but, critically, the decision to move the erstwhile point (to the right-hander) ten yards behind square-leg (for the left-hander). Does it even need to be said where the next shot went?
The magic all started with fiery spells delivered by Naveen Chouksey (2/20) and Olly Rex (0/15), who kept the batsmen on the backfoot and bowled no more than three loose balls between them. And the fielding was just brilliant - just about everybody did something memorable, although the particular highlights were Nick Johnson and Keith Turner making a series of lightning saves at slip and short mid-wicket, respectively, Julius Rix and Daniel Brown repatedly cutting off "certain fours" inches inside the boundary, and some typically sharp work by 'keeper Ev Fox, who stood up to the stumps for the whole innings. Ev also took a good catch, but it paled in comparison to a couple of match-changing efforts in the out-field.
The first came when Dave Norman had come into bat - after knocking the ball around a bit he'd started to hit out, and it was clear that a few overs was all it was going to need for him to take the game out of our hands. Daniel Brown (2/25) then got the muggins job of starting a new spell bowling at the best cricketer on the field. Daniel began with what might charitably be called "looseners" but were really rank long-hops which Dave duly dispatched to the mid-wicket boundary. The third ball was even shorter, so Dave, with all the time in the world, rocked back and pulled the ball high over the sqaure-leg boundary. Or, at least, it would have gone over the square-leg boundary if there wasn't that little kink just north of the pavilion, which gives the boundary fielder maybe five extra metres. Stationed right there was John Young - more often to be found at mid-on or mid-off (where he'd already taken a good catch), but pushed out to the boundary with Dave on strike. Twenty-two cricketers watched the ball reach the top of its massive arc and come screaming down towards John, who hadn't moved an inch. The ball gathered speed as it fell towards him, eventually slamming into his hands . . . where it stuck. Indeed, it looked like it might stay stuck there for the rest of the evening, as John didn't seem at all keen to relinquish the ball to the umpire - and who can blame him, having single-handedly (well, double-handedly, really) got us back into the match. He certainly knew the importance of the moment - even as we all attempted various back-pats and high-fives it was quite clear he was still shaking. (Which might explain why John fumbled a fairly routine stop later in the over - the result was an extra run to the batsmen, although it was generally agreed that he was still "in the black" by a considerable margin.)
Dave's wicket was, of course, vital to any hopes of a victory, but the surviving Granta opener was still at the crease, and now really timing his elegant drives. That he wasn't scoring with complete freedom was mainly down to Julius at long-on, who didn't miss a single hard-hit, crazily-bouncing, increasingly invisible shot as he, the batsman and Nick Johnson (1/23) played their own little three-man game. Even though Granta now needed about 45 runs from the final 3 (eight-ball) overs, it was still their game to win with a set batsman at the crease. But he didn't quite get to the pitch of his next drive, which he sent spiralling towards Ferdi at deep mid-off. The lack of light and the pressure of the situation meant would have made this chance difficult enough, even without the memory of the earlier drop (presumably) still very much in his mind. But, like John before, he held firm and achieved the most perfect redemption. Add in the fact that Ferdi had probably been our best fielder, combining excellent ground-speed, impeccable stopping technique and lightning throws - one of which resulted in a run out - and it was almost conceivable that he might be the first ever sub fielder to win a man of the match award.
However to talk about such individual accolades would be to miss the point - we were winning the match very much as a team. Granta needed an implausible-sounding 36 runs from their last 16 balls - it might have been possible with both set batsmen and good light, but they had neither. In the end they did well to keep out a series of half-paced darts from Daniel and Julius Rix (1/4) and we thus completed an implausibly comfortable 29-run victory over Cambridge's biggest cricket club, despite being completely lost two hours earlier.
Our season, as noted by Olly last week, is still very much in the red, but it was hard not to be tickled pink by tonight's effort.