Report by Daniel Mortlock:
The view from London this afternoon was dismal: it was cold and rainy there, and the real raindrops were reflected by virtual equivalents on the BBC's weather forecast for Cambridge. With Dave AWOL playing for the Cambridgeshire Over Fifties there was no way of getting direct ground information from him, so it was time for a grassroots effort, in the form of a group e-mail to everyone else who was playing. The replies came back thick and fast: "had no rain at all"; "barely a hint of rain in the centre of town today"; "it does not 'look like rain' right now"; "prospects are better than your message suggests"; "it is OK here"; "very little rain". It was hard not to have felt a little foolish making such pessimistic suggestions from so far away, but it was a relief to board the train to Cambridge safe in the knowledge that conditions would be good for cricket at the other end.
Conditions were not good for cricket at the other end. In fact, they weren't good for very much at all other than sitting by the fireplace in a nice cosy pub. At the nominal start time of 6pm everyone was standing around the pavilion looking out at the steadily increasing rain - well, everyone bar Dave Williams who'd headed back home to pick up his forgotten shoe. The rest of us reluctantly headed out to move the covers into a place, which was not just miserable but near impossible, as one cover has a wrecked wheel, so it was like trying to manoeuvre a half-tonne shopping trolley. Still, putting the covers on had the same effect as leaving the house with an umbrella, and soon the rain had slowed to a merely grim drizzle, of the sort that even professionals would play through if already out on the ground.
We thus got going at 6:24pm (a fact that can be stated with confidence thanks to Russ's immaculate scoring), the game wisely reduce to 10 eight-ball overs per side. Having lost the toss, we were of course asked to field in the rain, which we did about as well as could be hoped. About the only good thing was that we headed out with a named wicket-keeper for the first time all year, Marcus Baker making his debut for club in some style, in particular by making a number of superb leg-side takes. Of course, the fact that he had to keep doing this implies that that we struggled with our line - this was partly due to the wet ball, but the main issue was that Fen Ditton had at least one left-hander at the crease for the entire innings. We averaged more than one wide per over, most of which were deserving of the label, although there were a few ludicrous calls that came about after a batsman moved inside the line, only for the ball to pass through the space they'd just vacated. Deaglan Bartlett (1/13) and Naveen Chouksey (0/16) both bowled well, but the star was Saad Shoukat, whose 2 overs, delivered in blue tracksuit bottoms and gripless trainers, included several huge wides, an intimidating bouncer that was immediately followed by a yorker that bowled the possibly terrified batsman, what looked like a sliding tackle after he (inevitably) slipped in his delivery stride, and eventual match-best figures of 3/14. It's not too surprising that all our wickets were bowled: a few good stops notwithstanding, we fielded like a bunch of cold and miserable guys who didn't really want to be out there - which, to be fair, is probably what we were.
Our target of an even 100 in 10 overs felt about par, a sense that was confirmed as our end-of-over totals hovered about this mathematically pleasing rate: 11 off 1 over; 30 off 3 overs; 47 off 5 overs; 87 off 9 overs. Our innings started in fairly farcical fashion as Fen Ditton's opening bowler started off with four near-identical long hops that were only barely inside the return crease. the first were called as wides; the third of which probably should have been; and the fourth would have been, but for the fact that Pete Ames, in trying to be positive, managed to reach out and toe-end it, simultaneously breaking his new new bat and presenting the absurdly fortunate bowler with a simple catch. (The bowler then switched to around the wicket, which proved much more successful - at least on the occasions he didn't slam into the umpire on his way in.) At the other end of the luck spectrum was Marcus Baker, whose first shot for Remnants was a mis-hit drive that was also caught by the bowler - but there'd already been a no ball call, and so he could bat on. Marcus made the most of his reprieve, racing to 20* off 11 balls with two big sixes, and he looked set to get his third when he latched onto another big pull shot, safe in the knowledge there was only one fielder on the leg-side boundary . . . and that even then there was surely no chance that they'd be able to maintain their footing and hold onto the now slippery ball . . . except that one fielder was Fen Ditton captain Adam Wilson, who of course calmly held what seemed likely to be a critical catch.
And when surviving opener Chris Badger was forced to retire on 30* (off 31 balls, to go with 53* retired off 44 balls last night) an over later the smart money was on Fen Ditton. Deaglan Bartlett (9* off 8 balls) and Stephen Bidwell (3* off 7 balls) at least kept us in touch, and we started the final over needing 13 to win off 8 balls. This already seemed likely to be a challenge with two new batsmen and an increasingly puddingy pitch, but immediately increased in difficulty when it becamse clear Adam was going to bowl himself at full pace. Of course one way to look at this was as an opportunity, as it meant that if we could complete our chase it really would be an earned victory. We watched from side-on as Deaglan faced up to the first ball, only for him to not even attempt a stroke - mysterious at first until it became clear it was a big leg-side wide (worth two runs tonight), with the batsmen completing a run as a bonus. The next three balls appeared essentially identical, the ball spearing down leg side each time and the batsmen having no real chance to score off them . . . but with the critical difference that there were no more wide calls. So that meant half the over was gone and with it any chance Deaglan and Steve to have a crack at some final over heroics. We managed a few more singles in the better second half of the over, but the damage was already done and we ended up 3 short of Fen Ditton's total. While we couldn't really argue that we particularly deserved to win the game - it really was almost perfectly balanced all the way through, and a tie might have been the poetic result - it was a maddening way to lose.
Still, it was a victory for the determination of boths sides to "get the game on" (the ECB's catchy slogan that is surely as effective as showing games on free-to-air television), and even those who'd have rather been at the pub eventually got their wish, as Dave arrived at the ground just in time to open the bar up. The early finish induced by the ultra-short format also meant there was time to get some Fleabag-style M&S pre-mixed G'n'Ts for the train back to London. This was a slow enough journey to discover that, sadly, we've finished the week where we started it: with our equal worst ever start to a season, even if 2 wins from 8 games is a marginal improvement on 1 from 6.