Members of both Remnants and Hart-McLeod - not to mention their increasingly impressive support squad - descended on Cambridge without even giving a thought to the weather. It had been pleasant all day, and there was no reason to suppose the evening would be any different. Some may have have noted the greying sky as they came in the Fitz driveway; others might have wondered where those little spots of water on the windscreen had come from. But neither was cause for alarm.
And so it was with some disbelief that we found ourselves huddled together in the clubhouse at the scheduled start time, watching a steady drizzle fall on the ground. There was a brief hope it would pass, but soon we had to concede defeat, at least temporarily, and the covers were dragged onto the centre square, from where they entered into a delicate dance as Andy tried to instruct people how to arrange them correctly.
And then we waited.
After half an hour of this things had gotten dull - there's only so many times one can react in surprise to someone saying, "Well, I just thought we'd be absolutely fine - who'd have thought we'd have a wash-out on the cards?" Andy, though, had a different mantra, repeatedly claiming that "It's lighter over there!" It would have been lovely if this had been true . . . but, hang on a minute, the rain really was lighter now, and there was the tiniest hint of blue in the sky to the south-west. A tentative cover-removal operation began, only for the drizzle to up its game . . . but it couldn't match our determination, and by about 6:40pm the ground had been cleared and we were ready to bowl the first ball of what was now a "15 eights" match (absurd for one of the longest evenings of the year).
Atta Rehman (0/26) and Kiran Sakhamuri (1/20) kicked things off for us, both bowling well, but falling victim of the fact that one of the Hart-McLeod openers (Graham's nephew, by the name of J. Brown) was the sort of seriously classy batsman who could defend any decent balls and punish anything off-line, all while looking perfectly textbook. There didn't seem to be any real likelihood of getting him out (especially with the bowlers having to deal with a wet ball and an even wetter outfield), so we just had to hope that he made a mistake while trying to restrict him to singles. This plan worked brilliantly, so much so that Hart-McLeod's scoring rate never got significantly above a run a ball.
The heroic deeds in the field were almost too numerous to mention, with any stop a significant achievement (especially for those who didn't have spikes on) and the likes of John Richer, John Young, Joe Howarth, Michael McCann, Kiran Sakhamuri and Ewan Campbell all sustained bruises for the cause. Ewan's efforts were particularly noteworthy, given that it was first match for the club, but even better was his bowling spell. His concded just 1 run from his first over, a wonderful pressure-builder that paid off in his second when the batsmen contemplated an ambitious second run. Ordinarily it would have been hopeless, but in the conditions it was probably worth considering; however even with the fielders slipping about, it was never going to be a good idea to do the considering while half-way up the pitch. Atta got his throw on target and Ewan calmly collected the ball . . . and seemed about to do nothing more until the calls of "Take 'em off! Take 'em off!" reached his ears and he broke the wicket with danger-man Brown a few inches short of his ground.
And with that one act - shades of the Woozlers game a few weeks ago - we were on top. With Ewan (1/16), Andy Owen (1/17) and Daniel Mortlock (1/15) all pretty tight and the fielding still good we never looked in danger of a blow-out, and at the change of innings it was hard not to be extremely chuffed to have kept Hart-McLeod to double figures.
Our chasing strategy was clear: conservative batting and lots of singles, exploiting the fielders' inevitable tentativeness in gathering the now sodden ball (despite the fact it had been replaced). When the first ball was turned nicely to leg and the single refused it was perhaps not ideal; when John Richer (4 off 8 balls), by far the form batsman of the team, sent the ball down square-leg's throat a few deliveries later it was hard not to imagine the first stages of a melt-down were underway. This impression was rather reinforced as we lost two more wickets in quick succession, to be in a bit of a mess at 8/3.
But then John Young (17 off 25 balls) and Andy Owen stemmed the flow of wickets, and with Andy also herding John through for some superbly aggressive runs we were back on track. For some reason both Andy and John kept picking out Graham Hart in the field, and maybe the game's second most critical moment occured when one of Andy's trademark pulls went more vertical and horizontal and Graham positioned himself calmly under it . . . but gave Andy - and us - the life he needed.
While this was happening Atta had been instructed that he was due to come in afer Andy, and so it was something of a surprise to see him without pads on, offering to pay his match fee. Given very explicit instructions that he should pad up straight away, he responded by heading off out the Fitz driveway! This seemingly inexplicable behaviour was, it later turned out, because he wanted to have a pee in the comfort of his own home (admittedly just one house away), but it was just as well that Andy and John stayed together long enough for Atta to complete his porcelain pilgrimage and to get his kit together (which included Sal's kindly donated gloves, being used for the first time).
When Atta did finally get in we still had some work to do: at 49/4 after 7.7 overs we needed 51 runs from 49 balls. Atta's response was both brilliant and perplexing: with bat in hand he played with pure uninhibited aggression, zooming to 25 off 22 balls; but his approach to running was to initially refuse gettable second runs and then to suddenly try and call Andy through for crazy singles. Fortunately for us, there was no question who was going to win this battle of wills, and Atta's shot-making and Andy's mastery of the chase combining to put us in the seemingly unassaiable position of needing just 5 runs from 15 balls.
At which point Hart-McLeod's opening bowler promptly took 2/2 from the rest of his over, leaving a rather nervous Rob Harvey to finish the job with Andy. Which they did, albeit thanks to the thinnest of inside edges (which might otherwise have been LBW) and a handy no ball to end the game. (Andy smashed the no ball to the boundary, but sadly this didn't count, as the match was already over, meaning that he had to be content with a match-winning 42* off 53 bals, rather than a match-winning 46* off 53 balls. It's also a bit harsh on Andy that this final delivery counts on his "balls faced" ledger, but apparently them's the rules.)
Anyway, far more important than how we finished the game was simply that we'd won it at all, as tonight's victory finally brought to an end a winless sequence of six matches against Hart-McLeod, whom we last beat back in 2006. Maybe it'll be our turn for the next decade or so . . .