Today's game against Fen Ditton was yet another against which it seemed the cricketing gods had a grudge. Certainly from the Remnants point of view the day was dominated by a record five (five!) people pulling out, but thankfully a comparable number of players responded to the increasingly desperate series of e-mails asking if anyone could step in. Having an eleven was all well and good, but all of that effort would have been wasted if the miserable weather forecasts had come to pass. Fortunately what rain there was was pretty light; by the time the Remnants and Fen Ditton players had arrived at the ground, Fitz was positively glowing in the bright afternoon sun. Fen Ditton stated that they'd be retiring their batsmen at fifty (somewhat ironic, given subsequent events) but otherwise we were playing normal/proper rules. With a fairly bowler-heavy side we clearly wanted to field first (to avoid the possibility of setting a hopelessly low total) and the coin was kind enough to grant us our wish.
The match began with Naveen Chouksey (2/5) taking the new ball and making it fly, bowling considerably faster than we had ever seen before. A few deliveries were a bit leg-side (maybe not too surprising for a left-arm over bowler), but when he got his line right he was unplayable, getting the first breakthrough when a spiralling outside edge was held by Daniel Mortlock at point, and then dismissing the opposition's best batsman unaided, sending his leg stump cartwheeling. Naveen would have had eight more chances to to terrorize the opposition batsman, but he got a side-strain in his second over. And when an obvious potential replacement bowler, Mihir Chandraker, announced he'd developed some sort of heel strain it seemed our great start was all set to be squandered.
Daniel (1/11) then bowled a few overs primarily to give himself time to work out how to re-order the attack, but it was very much "place holder" stuff, the one wicket only coming about when Ferdi Rex held onto a bullet at mid-wicket. The delaying tactic did at least work, in so far as the rest of our time in the field unfolded like clockwork, not least because we had one of our best ever fielding days. Just about everyone contributed well, but the clear star was Julius Rix, who seemed to be in the way of hard-hit shots every time he was in close and then sprinting around the boundary to cut off what had seemed like a certain four when further from the bat.
And the bowling was, if anything even better. Phil Hastings (3/13) seemed to get a wicket every time he was faced with a new batsman; Olly Rex (0/3) bowled the most economical spell of the year so far and would have got a wicket but for the fact that a bottom edge cannoned onto the top of the stumps without even making the bails wobble; and then Nick Johnson, having announced that he was a bit rusty and wasn't sure about bowling, finished off the innings with a five-ball mini-spell of 2/5. Of course the fact that the innings had finished was in part because Fen Ditton were two men short, but the fact that the nine men they did have only compiled 56 between them sums up the rather one-sided nature of the innings.
Chasing 56 was, surely, going to be a doddle, although it did present the problem of how to make sure everyone got a chance to do something for the day. Nick Johnson (0 off 11 balls) and Maximus Rex (5 off 21 balls) opened up for us and, while they struggled to score, that didn't really matter given incredibly low target. What maybe mattered more was when we started losing wickets: in between Nick's and Max's dismissals Julius Rix came in at number three having been given the calming instructions that he didn't need to worry about whacking the ball immediately, as he usually does, but could afford play himself in. A slightly lame prod outside off and a thin edge later he was heading back to pavilion, perhaps having decided not to listen to Daniel's nonsense advice in the future.
Phil Hastings then came in and seemed likely to take control of the game even more decisively than he had with the ball. A couple of cleverly placed singles and then a beautifully caressed cut for four suggested his "man of the match" award was just a few overs away . . . and when he hit the ball straight to mid-on and called for the single it looked like he was going to add pressure to the fielders with his running as well as his hitting. But his old hamstring injury limited his acceleration, the Fen Ditton captain managed a rare direct hit . . . and Phil had to be content with a beautiful if unfulfilled 9 (off 7 balls).
When Rob Harvey (10 off 19 balls) soon fell victim to a stunning catch there was the first sense of real trouble brewing - the Fen Ditton players certainly knew they were in the game, the tone of their celebrations changing distinctly into the "hey boys, we can do this" key.
That brought Naveen Chouksey and Andy Bell to the crease (although the latter would have been opening if he'd been able to find a box at the first time of trying). Both seemed to be seeing the ball clearly enough, middling just about everything, but their running was a tad more, er, interesting. The initial indication of some potential theatre was when Naveen ambled what should have been the easiest of singles, only to realise almost too late that the throw was coming to his end; he made his ground (albeit without the help of running in his bat) and then, after the bowler had broken the stumps, suddenly decided to make a spectacular dive to even further safety. The first sign of trouble came a few balls later when Naveen hit the ball wide of the cover fielder and both he and Andy . . . well, just sort of ambled out of their respective creases. That would have been harmless enough - once it was clear the chance had been missed they could have just ambled back. But instead they seemed to simultaneously short-circuit, Naveen suddenly screaming "No! No!" just as Andy decided to make a break for the striker's end. He thus very efficiently stranded himself as the ball was thrown to the bowler (one Michael McCann, who made his Remnants debut last night), who calmly panicked and hurled the ball wide of the stumps, allowing Andy to scrabble back to safety. Given this amazing prologue, it can't have surprised anyone when the brief Bell-Choukey union ended in a run out, although the nature of the horror was maybe even worse than most onlookers were predicting. Andy hit a cracking drive wide of mid-off, who'd had to dive to stop the ball. Andy correctly judged there was a run there, called "Yes!" and hared off down the pitch . . . while Naveen stood rooted to the spot watching with great interest as the fielder stopped the ball, gathered it, stood up, and lobbed a return to the bowler . . . all of which gave Andy time to join Naveen in the "pop-up viewing gallery" otherwise known as the non-striker's crease. The ball was gently thrown back to the 'keeper, who broke the stumps with both batsmen safe at the other end of the pitch . . . but, unfortunately for us, cricket doesn't work like that and, given that Naveen had never left his ground, Andy had to make the increasingly popular walk back to the pavilion.
Still, we had plenty of batting still to come and, in particular, Mihir Chandraker, who immediately played some front foot defensive shots of pure class and then, right at the moment Olly was checking with Mihir's father that he had indeed made a century earlier in the season, he hit a return catch back to the bowler. We were now a scarcely believable 35/7, still 22 runs short of our target, and in serious danger of taking an unwanted second place on the lowest first innings successfully defended list. With some fifty deliveries left, the scoring rate wasn't an issue; instead it was a rare case of a limited overs game in which only runs and wickets mattered (i.e., real cricket!).
In this context our eighth wicket pair of Naveen and Ferdi Rex batted superbly, defending anything on the stumps and getting ones and twos from any loose balls. There were a few close shaves when Fen Ditton brought back their opening bowlers, the outside edge being taken or narrowly missed a few times, but in the end there just weren't enough runs to defend. Ferdi (14* off 11 balls) looked like he could have batted all night, while Naveen (11* off 19 balls), in scoring the winning runs with a boundary, successfully avoided any more of that pesky running while also nicely book-ending the match he'd begun a few hours earlier.
Phew! The horror of failing to chase 56 was avoided . . . but the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted the implication above that we once somehow failed to chase an even lower total. That was three decades ago, in our second ever match, when we somehow got bowled out for 40 in pursuit of The Free Press's unimposing 46 all out. If ever there was an historical match report waiting to be written . . .