After an overcast day the clouds finally boiled off in time for our game this evening, with the the Fitzwilliam College playing fields lit with a curiously harsh glare by 6pm. It was a bit hard to see anything from the pavilion in this light, but it was at least possible to count a full Remnants eleven in attendance, even if it bore little resemblence to the team originally selected. Wolfson College, our opposition this evening, weren't doing so well, though, and their captain sheepishly announced that they were only going to have "between eight and ten players" . . . which, predictably, turned out to mean "eight players". Bizarrely, given our struggles, we were able to provide not one, but two players: Steve Attmore (who'd turned up just to watch); and Maximus Rex (who was, for the second week in a row, dragged away from a cosy afternoon at home). With the further addition of a substitute fielder (Daniel Mortlock, then Oliver Rex, then Matt Hughes and then John Young) we were able to ensure a fully populated game of cricket.
Wolfson won the toss and, predictably given the shorter evenings, chose to bat. We responded by playing our trump card, in the form of Jeff Beaumont. In his debut Remnants season he's been outstanding with the ball, barely conceding a run and scything through several batting line-ups (including our own). The result prior to this match was 10 wickets at the obscene average of 4.20. And today wasn't much different: he beat the bat, generated lots of edges and was at one stage bowling to a field of two slips, two gullies, a point and a third man. A couple of nice drives meant his figures "blew out" to 2/16, but we were clearly on top while he was bowling. Unfortunately the Wolfson batsmen were scoring pretty well from the other end, and were going along at a run a ball, even if they weren't really in control. Daniel Mortlock (3/7) then brought things back a little, after which Matt Hughes (0/24) did a great job bamboozling the batsmen with some beautifully flighted leggies.
Maybe more importantly, Oliver Rex (1/15) came on at the other end and banished the demons of last night's already infamous final over with a sharp spell that included most of the highlights of the innings. First there was a stratospheric top-edged drive that had Olly, Ferdinand Rex, Matt Hughes and Eli Ellwood all trying to work out which one of them should go for it. Eventually Eli called for the catch and made excellent ground, getting his hands around the ball a few feet above the ground . . . but he spilled it. No matter - Olly induced a similar shot next over, the only differences being that it went even higher and that the fielders, now pushed back, all had even further to run. Eli again made the decisive call, haring in from deep mid-off, but he wasn't going to make it . . . until a full-length dive saw him catch the ball about an inch off the ground. He also ripped an inch off flesh off his now bloodied elbow, but it hardly mattered (at least to the rest of us) as we were all trippy with delight at the spectacle of it all. To add to the fun, the wicket also brough Maximus to the crease, which meant Olly had a chance to get one up on his brother. The usual left arm over approach didn't work, so he switched to right arm over . . . but when that delivery was swatted through mid-wicket for four it was back to the usual mode. And while Max was good enough to keep out his final delivery, Olly had the last laugh by running his brother out after a suicidal attempted single.
The net result of all this was that we had to score at the tiniest smidge over a run a ball to win the game. To this end, openers Martin Law (25 off 31 balls) and Ferdinand Rex (26 off 28 balls) did a very nice job, calmly rotating the strike as they took us to 55/0 in the tenth (six-ball) over. We would have been a bit more relaxed if we were a bit ahead of the rate, but with both batsmen looking nicely set, some acceleration seemed pretty likely.
Certainly more likely than what happened: an unbelievably dismal (for us) few overs in which we lost 4/4 in 21 balls. 59/4 after 13 overs was a very different story, and after two more wickets we'd slumped even further to 74/6 off 15. Particularly galling was that it was during this passage that Steve Attmore ('keeping for Wolfson) took a great one-handed catch, Maximus Rex made a number of superb stops at point and, most frustrating of all, John Young made a stunning save after having a 'mare during his time in the field earlier.
We felt doomed, as hitting 47 runs from just 36 balls in the gloom with two new batsmen at the crease was surely too much. But maybe more important was the identity of said batsmen, as in Jeff Beaumont and Oliver Rex we had exactly the sort of big-hitters we needed. And, sure enough, they both played brilliantly over the next few overs, Jeff (16 off 11 balls) and Olly (18* off 10 balls) combining nicely with a sudden spate of wides to get us back on top. And even after Jeff chanced his arm once too often and was bowled, his replacement, Eli Ellwood (6 off 8 balls) immediately picked up where Jeff had left off.
At the start of the final over we had to be favourites, with an even 6 runs needed from 6 balls, although it would have been nicer to have the now rampant Olly, rather than the new batsman, on strike. Sure enough, Eli didn't time his first two shots, hitting the ball straight to fielders. A pair of well-run twos got us back on top - just "tip and run" would be enough now. Not that Eli was ever going to opt for such an undramatic approach - he clearly wanted to finish the game with the same flourish he'd shown earlier in the field. He came a step down the track and swung through the line; there was the crack of wood on leather . . . the only problem being that the wood involved was the middle stump, which was now lying on the ground.
That left Matt Hughes with the muggins job of trying to hit two to win off his first ball. With the Wolfson bowler clearly in a groove and dark clouds now covering the ground it was impossible not think we were going to lose on the last ball for the third match in a row. The Wolfson bowler ran in and sent the ball flying down the pitch - we couldn't see the ball, but we did see Matt swing at it and we didn't hear any sound of contact. So that meant he wasn't bowled, at least, but also that he hadn't heroicly hit the ball to the boundary. Olly was already half-way to the striker's wicket, in an attempt to run a bye to the 'keeper; in the end he made it comfortably, which left Matt to beat the throw to the bowler's end - but there was a fumble and the throw never came, so we'd tied off the last ball!
But hang on - umpire Martin Law had signalled wide - the ball had been speared down leg-side, and from the opposition's reaction it looked like a pretty uncontentious call - so that meant we'd won! Indeed, such is the curious nature of cricket's Laws that we'd ended up winning comfortably, scoring the winning run off the final ball . . . yet still with a ball to spare!
Without that wide we would have come to the end of July with only 8 wins to offset 16 losses; conversely, better final balls last night and last week would have seen us verging on respectability with 11 wins and 13 losses. (To emphasize how close our last three games have been, we've scored a total of 352/21 from 359 deliveries; our three opponents have scored a total of 356/19 from 360 deliveries.) As it is, we're stuck on 9 wins vs. 15 losses, which, unfortunately, all but guarantees that our season will finish in the red. Looking into this a bit more deeply, the basic story seems to be that the batting has been consistent but that we've lacked the match-winning innings that can turn games; the bowling, with a few exceptions, just hasn't quite been good enough to stop the opposition posting big totals. John Gull (172 runs at 57.33) and Nick Clarke (218 runs at 54.50) are in a two-man race to top the batting averages, although four other players have made 200+ runs with an average of more than 25.00 as well. On the bowling front Jeff Beuamont is, as obvious from the above, leading with 12 wickets 4.83, although both Quentin Harmer (6 wickets at 9.83) and Joe White (11 wickets at 11.91) have done brilliantly, too. Unfortunately in twenty-over cricket wickets don't always win games, and it's maybe more to the point that only Jeff (3.28) and Joe (3.91) have economy rates of less than 5.20 an over, and that only six other bowlers are under 6.00. Add in a few byes and leg-byes and the implication is that we're almost always allowing teams to score at around 7 an over against us - fix that, and we'll win more often than we lose . . .