On arrival at Tugmutton Common there was little to suggest that what followed would not be the normal high scoring fixture between two evenly match sides, that we have become accustomed to. Sure the pitch looked a little juicy and there was the hint of 'take-off ramp' at each end, where rolling had created a gentle bowl, but traditionally bat had dominated ball in this end of season fixture.
Wajih obviously failed to detect any lurking demons in the pitch and had little hesitation in selecting to bat. What followed was indicative of our season. Too many of our stroke-making top order were intent on 'running before they could walk', which inevitably resulted with them falling flat on their faces.
Locksbottom did little more than put the ball in the right areas, whilst our batsmen conjured up shots that made our hosts appear world-beaters. The top order was blown away by Higgins (4-9) and Singh (2-16), as Crusaders slumped to 21-6. A recovery of sorts was achieved by a resolute Don, who played the ball on it's merits, making his way to a dogged and invaluable 19, before Danglers ran him out. The tail had a minor wag, but when Spud was bowled the scorecard told a very sorry tale, with Crusaders 65 all out.
Despite some down-beat comments from Don about early-finishes and beer matches, there was a quiet feeling that we had the bowling attack that could put them under pressure, if we could make early break throughs. It was soon apparent that there was a bit of extra bounce from the Hospital End, with Darren hitting the ramp, just short of a length and testing the agility and self-preservational instinct of Dave behind the stumps. Locksbottom were finding it equally difficult to score runs, but seemed content to survive the early barrage from Moyse and Pommie.
The initial breakthrough came courtesy of a Danglers yorker, leaving Bottom 12-1 after 7 overs. Spud replaced Pommie and immediately settled into a good rhythm. Having found the outside edge with his first ball, he again squared Smart up and this time The Don, with trouser leg at a jaunty half-mast, took a smart catch at slip. This piece of fielding athleticism set the tone for the rest of the innings - well nearly!!.
Jewel made backward point his specialist position taking a good catch off Spud and then following it with a superb effort, over his shoulder to remove the potentially dangerous Kimber off the bowling of Pommie. Spud then found a thin edge to remove Dowlen for a duck and it wasn't long before Jewel was back in the game picking up his third catch of the game when Hollands sliced a drive.
Locksbottom may have regretted dropping Lambourne down as low as 7 in the batting order and he looked far less comfortable than in previous games. From the second ball of his final over, Spud extracted a bit of turn and extra bounce, finding the edge of Lambourne's blade and there followed a sickening thud. For Spud it was sickening only because the thud did not come from leather on wicket-keeping glove, but was instead made by ball on Damon's forehead. Day was down like a sack of shite - pity his hands don't move as quick. After a lengthy delay the game resumed with substitute keeper Neil Morrison behind the stumps.
After 24 overs Locksbottom required 29 for victory with 4 wickets in hand. More importantly Wajih had played his trump cards, with Whale, Singh and Moyse bowled out. Wajih turned to Dhiraj and Jewel, whose main aim was to keep Lambourne off strike and bowl at the tail-enders. With Lambourne protecting his junior partners it became a war of attrition that Locksbottom appeared to be winning. Runs were being accumulated reasonably comfortably with Lambourne farming the strike effectively.
In the meantime Damon had been met by an ambulance crew, who by fate had decided to take in the game. His speedy treatment thereafter owes much to Bottom's Russell Snashall, whose diagnosis of Damon's injury went something like - 'he got hit on the head by the ball, but I am more worried because he has started stuttering. I was talking to him earlier and I am sure he didn't stutter'. So from the need for a simple couple of stitches, Farnborough Hospital were now on serious head trauma alert, with the Neurological experts on stand-by. If the hospital was further than 100 yards away I am sure Damon would have been appearing in an episode of Air Ambulance.
Back to the action and the turning point in the match. Jewel produced a jaffa, which bowled Lambourne through the gate and Locksbottom were 54-7. Suddenly the pressure was firmly back on Locksbottom - 12 needed for victory and two nervous batsmen at the crease. Next over Dhiraj got in on the act trapping Habgood in front to make it 54-8. Another lbw shout was upheld and Jewel had his second victim and with Locksbottom 55-9, surely victory was assured.
Less you forget we are the Crusaders - masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Baldwin, who had been watching the collapse from the non-strikers end had other ideas. Opting for attack as the best form of defence, he took advantage of some gaps in the field, as Crusaders pressed a little too hard to snare the final wicket. With two fours and a single, greeted with cheers of relief from the pavilion, Bottom needed 2 for victory. With close catchers all around, Baldwin scrambled a single from the second ball of Jewel's over to bring the scores level.
Locksbottom's number eleven was obviously a Singh in a former life. It was a moment of 'Death or Glory' for Higgins, with no thought of batting out the over and leaving the winning run to his partner. Jewel produced another fine delivery, that Higgins drove expansively at. He missed, but Jewel didn't and that was that.
65 played 65. Or was it?
Overheard were rumblings of discontent from the oppo - a Bloodgate Scandal!!
Apparently it was all too convenient that we had a replacement Wicket-keeper ready and waiting. An un-named source at Locksbottom said 'We are a bit disappointed - one minute they have got this big-headed buffon rolling about behind the stumps and all of a sudden he's thrown a bit of claret on the wicket and gone off with an 'injury'. I'd like to check his gloves for a razor blade.I am sure he winked as he left the field. Then they produce a replacement - from under a crash-helmet something like The Stig - who is world-class. It just doesn't add up.'