Report by Dave Williams:
The light was nearly as grey and cheerless as a black-and-white photo printout when you're running out of toner. You might have thought that the 15mph easterly wind from the Windsor Road end would have made things more difficult for the Coton opening left-armer coming in down the hill, but it helped him to get some late in-swing to our ever-plucky openers, Matt Samson and Tom Serby.
From the get-go Matt - with some trademark fast foot movement, both forward and back, and full straight swings of the bat - was puncturing the field for some boundaries. Matt and Tom were running keenly and well, but Tom seemed to premeditate a drive off a good length ball and chipped one to mid on (1 off 6 balls). Matt helpfully briefed me on the late in-swing before I opened my account with the first of several chunky cover drives - the Coton attack seemed to be favouring a fuller length. After Matt's usual dominance (31 off 18) it was a surprise to see him top-edge a pull off a half-tracker: sic transit gloria mundi. Ben Stone found it difficult to middle the damn thing to start off before getting his mojo working in the V, including three mighty fours in a row straight back past the bowler. His demise (15 off 14) was off the first of what would be a couple of very well taken catches by the excellent Coton keeper. Huw Davies at number 5 (5 off 10) was the second.
About this time in the innings there was an enjoyable match-within-a-match: the young blue-tracksuited Coton right-arm was bowling medium-fast, fairly full, and I managed to crack a couple in a row to the cover boundary. The not surprising riposte was a sharp short one that I tried to pull and missed, and got struck full on the right side of my chest, inducing some kindly if a tad undermining "Are you alright?"s from one of the close field. "It's not fair!" my inner complaining voice bleated to myself, "I'm scared and I don't think I'm up for this!" I tried to prepare myself mentally for the follow up, though; sure enough, the next ball was short again, head high this time, but I took it on and kept it down and watched it whistle across the deep square leg boundary - cue massive endorphin surge. Next ball: wide. Next ball: wide. The last two of his over were singles, but the next over from that end I had the satisfaction of having him taken off. Thanks, guys in the pavilion, for encouragement and goodwill, which made a difference. The middle can be a curiously solitary place to be.
Even with the second-tier bowlers now on Kaustav Dutta (22* off 24) and I were struggling to pierce the very deep-set fields - in the scorebook a long series of more fences (1s) than the Grand National shows we tried to push the score along. The final over, though, served up some whippy pace off which I managed to carve a couple of boundaries through third man before cutting straight to point for my 45 off 36. Unlucky Nathan Wright got both a hiding-to-nothing and a first-baller before Andy Owen garnered another cameo 0* off one. 133: would it be enough?
It looked that way, at least off the first few overs. Ben Stone's opening one went for a miserly single. The Coton nos. 1 and 2 seemed to be turning down relatively easy singles, which seemed to bespeak lack of confidence. Nathan Wright's second over, however, brought one of the hardest-hit sixes I have even seen on this ground: clearing the boundary at the tennis court corner by some 40 yards, it bounced and struck a white Nissan Micra (no damage - I checked later!) about 10 yards from the tennis court. Nathan's two overs had gone for 20 (Ben's three went for 18), but the mood had changed. We had been chipper and vocal; Debasish Das had covered many yards sweeping; Dave Green chased willingly and selflessly; body language had been good. Then Huw's single over got some welly (22 of them); Kaustav's first two overs of left-armers went for the same (22), turning/injuring his ankle in striving for pace. Fumbles, overthrows and harumphing were signs of a team losing its way as the run rate reached 11 an over - well above the asking.
Then came Paul's Masterstroke #1: the clean-hitting opener smashed a few more from Paul's first few deliveries before receiving applause from the pavilion for his 50: well done indeed, but the best bit was that Coton were running a "retire at 50" rule - not that we knew - hence a new arrival at the crease. The run rate plummeted like a lead Zeppelin (Keith Moon's meh idea for a band name that would never catch on LOL) as Paul's slow-slow-quick-quick-slow medley bamboozled and bedazzled. Masterstroke #2: Paul bowled one literally 6 feet outside off stump; the hapless Coton no. 3 galloped after it only to snick to the ever-alert Matt behind (if that is the right word for this particular delivery) the stumps. Debasish showed excellent control of flight and length and good attacking intent to get his wicket (two overs for 17): a sharp stumping by Matt, who notably was a bye-free zone this evening. Paul reined in the rate still further before Masterstroke #3: cleverly dropping one in four yards short of a length, he induced a full-blooded pull from the remaining opener that would hurl itself like an Exocet at Ben in front of the pavilion, who happened to be (a) the only fielder within 40 yards who (b) could also see it and (c) catch it. Well done to Paul (3 overs, two wickets for 13 - great effort) and Ben. Two overs to go, 20 runs to get: this could be close.
Over 14: Andy would usually be anyone's bowler of choice at the death - but not, as it happened, today: every shot seemed to miss the fielder. Our hearts by now, in truth, were in our boots. In Kaurav's final over (3 overs for 26) he did very well to make them work until the sixth ball to hit the winning runs. As the French say, tant pis.