An away trip known to us after last year, but in drastically different conditions, we rolled up in the scorching heat and did some early team-building exercises with a football on Great Horwood’s unique ground with its characteristic slope and ridge on one side. Colin lost the toss as has become his standard for this year, so we found ourselves batting first again. For the first time in a long while we were entering a match without our standard opening pair, so Colin and Ryan took the job.

Colin played some good shots through the off-side and it was immediately obvious that the outfield was an absolute belter, giving full value for runs as the ball skimmed away in the sun. What also became obvious soon after was that the Horwood opening bowler Wardington was able to make the best use of a pitch with bounce that, although it could not be reasonably described as variable, was variable to the usual bounce of a standard cricket ball on a standard pitch. Ryan was first to fall to one which kept a bit low, and Timmy “Stobart” Lane was next in. Our cause was not helped when Colin played around another full straight ball from Wardington and was also bowled, but Barry and LimmyTane batted sensibly for a time, watching the ball carefully and learning the pitch. Barry looked in imperious form, playing some excellent attacking shots through the covers and flicked off his legs to the short boundary at fine leg.

Tim eventually tried to pull a ball that wasn’t quite there, or kept low, depending on your point of view, and departed for 6. Ian was next in, telling all and sundry about his carefully laid plans to get forward to everything to cover the low bounce. This he did with expertise for about 4 overs, playing some nice drives, before going back to a quicker ball from left arm spinner Paul Wilson and chopping on his stumps for 16. Thus it was that we found ourselves in a familiar position of 60-odd for 4. Runs had been coming thick and fast (over four an over) but the wickets column was beginning to look a little worrying. Fortunately Mongo had a good day, forging an excellent 81 run partnership with Barry. Some swipes over cover and past the bowler were not perfectly timed but were enough to carry him to 47, an innings that included a sweetly smashed six over the bowlers head. In the meantime Barry batted intelligently in support at the other end, pushing the singles and sweating like a philanthropist in a POW camp as he brought up an excellent 50.

After our second set of drinks on 30 overs (much needed in the weather accurately described by Ian in the scorebook as “way more than temperate”) Barry holed out to long on for 61, and our lower order used up some deliveries in pushing us on to 169. Stewie in particular was having to over-ride his natural instinct to go on the back foot and he took 16 balls to get off the mark but scored 7 runs which would prove to be important in the long run, and vitally kept the Horwood fielders out in the heat for as long as possible. Duncan’s 13 not out was also a worthy contribution, although Will Harvester and both Summersbees failed to score, all three being bowled to leave us all out for 169, including 9 wickets falling due to the stumps getting castled.

So it was that we started our bowling with a total that we felt was perhaps inadequate but had the potential to at least make a game of it. Ryan took the new cherry and bowled a fine first over, but pulled up early again with a hamstring problem, leaving him hobbling away at gully for a second consecutive week. At the other end, Duncan, seemingly freed from any injury worries with some physio-recommended pink tape running from his lower stomach to his knee, bowled his customary lines, not giving much away and being unlucky not to snare a wicket at gully as Ryan couldn’t quite cling on to a low chance.

Barry replaced Ryan and snared two LBWs very early on before we were met with comfortably Horwood’s biggest partnership of the match, Neil Taylor and Gary Lee pushing the singles and sneaking plenty of leg byes throughout their long stay at the crease. Heads began to drop as the four an over they required became a steady procession and we looked a bit out of ideas. Ian dropped one chance at cover, failing to take it on the run but that aside there was very little opportunity to prise the batsmen out. Colin turned to Mongo who had bowled well last week, and he bowled tightly until his 4th over where a short one got pulled straight to Timmy at mid-wicket. This was the break we really needed and when Will forced the other member of the partnership to dolly straight up in the air for Stewie there was a small sniff, although the four-an-over still installed Horwood as very strong favourites, not least because of our lack of wicket-taking.

Duncan came back after a fruitless spell from Grant and Timmy performed miracles at short cover again as he dived low and grabbed on a to tough chance to leave Horwood 5 down. From there Robby Taylor kept things ticking nicely along for Horwood and it was with 6 overs to go that we worked out they needed around 25 for victory. Grant and Will were the bowlers of choice for this tightest of occasions, and Will really grabbed the bull by the horns as he bowled tightly, giving the batsmen no room to free their arms, despite one brain melt where a no ball full toss got despatched for four.

Ultimately Horwood were left needing 11 off 2 overs, and Grant produced a fantastic tight over, giving nothing away, and even giving a sneaky single to the slightly weaker batsman off the last ball, leaving 9 off the last 6. Although of course we have past form in such circumstances it remained to be seen how Will would cope with the tense state of affairs. The answer was – brilliantly – as the first two balls were stroked in the air to Colin at mid-off and he gratefully snaffled both of them. The second led to some minor argy-bargy over whether the batsmen had crossed and some choice words were exchanged, predictably involving Barry and Ryan.

As it was the runs required crept to 8 off 2 balls, and we had the field set back ready in anticipation. The squirt over cover didn’t quite make it to the boundary, however, so it was 6 off the last ball which Wilson could only hit to long-off for 1, and we somehow sneaked a victory by four runs. The final ball was a bit of an anti-climax after the adrenaline-fuelled excitement of the previous few overs, but we were very happy to have beaten a very good Great Horwood side having delivered a slightly below-par performance. Our crippled team shook hands with Horwood and despite some looks we departed the field to Duncan and Mongo’s favourite – showers – before hitting the road for the long journey back home.

Champagne Moment went to Timmy’s awesome diving catch, and a nom went to Mongo for his six.
Pig’s Ear went, predictably to Grant. This time for his newly displayed tattoo. Timmy booting his cigarette lighter underneath the pavillion also got a nomination, as did Ian for an incident at the end of the game which you’ll have to ask him about!
Man of the Match went to Barry for his 61 and 2-21. Mongo’s 47 also got nominated and Will’s 4-19 off 6 overs at the death would probably have won on most other days.