Today was absolutely magnificent: the sun blazed in the clearest of skies, and it was almost bright enough to induce a squint from anyone looking in a vaguely westward direction. Dave Norman said that he'd nearly had to call the game off "'cos it was too hot" but in the end he kept everyone nicely hydrated with a fairly steady flow of lagers throughout the evening.
Dave also got promoted to the Remnants eleven after a no-show, although sadly this decision was made too late for him to take up his rightful place high up the batting order. And for a while it seemed we'd need a monster innings from him just to post a half-decent target: we'd struggled to just 24/2 after 9 (six-ball) overs as the Academicals presented us with some niggly slow bowling which our top order struggled to do much more than dead-bat (understandable at least in Faruk Kara's case, as he was actually using a dead bat).
Daniel Mortlock then came in with a point to prove: not that could hit the ball any better than those who'd gone before - and his many plays and misses outside off-stump revealed that he couldn't - but that there were lots of runs that we'd been missing. Having repeatedly grumbled about this he was honour-bound to scamper crazy singles, push for ambitious second runs, steal leg-byes and run on misfields . . . all of which he did, to the point that he even took his jumper off for the first time all season.
And, while both Daniel (30 off 27 balls) and Rob Harvey (15 off 25 balls) were run out during this period, their dismissals were an irrelevance from the team perspective: we'd scored more runs than we otherwise would have and had plenty of batting still to come. The only significant casualty of all this was Phil Hastings's hamstring - and even he admitted that this apparently annual ritual was particularly surprising as i) he wasn't accelerating that hard when it popped and ii) it wasn't the hamstring he'd injured previously. Still, with Daniel now back out on the field as his runner, Phil was free to concentrate on his shots and he promptly played some of the best the day. With good support from Andy Owen (7* off 5 balls) Phil took himself to 38* (off 28 balls) and Remnants to the unexpectedly respectable total of 121/4. Having scored at almost 11 an over for the second half of our innings we had all the momentum and were surely favourites at the changeover.
Certainly we dominated the early part of the Academicals' innings, primarily through the efforts of Naveen Chouskey (3/10), who delivered another fiery opening spell. He repeatedly sent the ball past the bat and into 'keeper Ev Fox's waiting gloves; and when, in his final over, one of the Academicals did finally connect with a big drive, Naveen showed him who was boss by bowling him next ball. That brought the Academicals' best player, Crusader (i.e., University seconds player) Sam Browne to the crease. He'd kept immaculately through our innings and looked like he might be the sort of batsman who could win the game off his own bat. We never got the chance to find out as Naveen promptly bowled him first ball - it felt like that was the match won, even if Naveen did bottle his hat trick delivery by spearing the ball down outside leg-stump.
While Naveen was wreaking havoc from the southern end of the ground, Amit Gupta (0/17) and Andy Owen (2/17) kept things nice and tight at the other end, Andy becoming the 13th Remnant to take 100 wickets for the club, an event which got a warm round of applause from the rest of the team. Given all this success, it's no surprise that the Academicals were in big trouble at 39/4 after 10 overs. Even if we'd been in worse shape at the same stage of our innings, surely their lower order couldn't score 83 runs from 60 balls? Well actually they probably could, as we were suddenly faced with turncoat Remnants Ferdi and Olly Rex, the former fresh from his one man stand that secured a tie for St John's College's Long Vacation XI against us last week, and the latter with a number of single-handed victories already under his belt. Sure enough, they started hitting boundaries and running aggressively while we suddenly found it much harder going, not least because we were briefly down to nine men after Rob Harvey split his webbing going for a catch and Dave Norman went off to apply first aid. Ollie Hastings (1/28) and Daniel Mortlock (0/24) both bowled pretty well during this period, but took some stick; fortunately our outfielders held fast, with Naveen, Amit and Rob all chasing tirelessly and Dave Green holding onto the only catch of the match.
In the end it came down to the final over: with the Acadecmcals needing 12 to win and Dave Norman (3/18) with the ball in his hand we were favourites, but one big leg-side boundary would have been enough to swing it their way. Olly tried valiantly to do just that, but maybe got trapped into trying to hit the ball a bit too hard. With one ball left they needed a four to tie or a six to win, so Dave was halted mid run-up as the fielders - even the now immobile Phil - were scattered to the boundary. Dave sent down the final ball and it squirted off the inside edge into the wide open spaces at fine leg - Ollie Hastings was the nearest fielder, but he was at point, some 50 metres away. He sprinted after the ball, catching up with it just inside the boundary line. He then kept his head and calmly sent in an accurate throw to Ev, who completed a very welcome run out to give us a victory by two precious runs.
There was a big sigh of relief from all of us as we just managed to prevent yet another loss at the hands of our own - but we can also be confident that Ferdi (25) and Olly (37*) will win plenty of games for us if they keep batting with the untethered aggression we saw today. For our part it was one of those nice team efforts where just about everyone could think back to some critical contribution in the preceding few hours. And with the ground still bathed in the last glow of this lovely day, what better way to end it than by sitting around the bar, secure in the knowledge that it'll be miserable again next week . . .