There are some days where you just hold your hands up and ask: “How did we win that?”
This was one of those days.
It was a day that, for a long while, looked to be one of frustration. After the erratic climatic occurences last week, the players plead for a dry day to properly kickstart the cricket summer. It did not occur.
The drizzle began at about nine o’clock and only intensified from then, and the rain still tumbled on arrival at St Marks at 11.45.
The skies cleared soon after, however, and out onto the outfield the team trekked, inspecting the square to find it damp, yes, but far from unplayable.
With a delayed start agreed by the two teams, captain Ben Edwards lost the toss and Firle elected to bowl on a deck possessing plenty to encourage bowlers at this early stage of the season.
Boosted by the surprise availability of Ross Jefferies, it was an eleven again for Borderers. Dave House returned after his birthday gallivant to Budapest with newbie Adam Slack in tow, while fellow new recruit Ben Roberts also debuted.
Jefferies and Nick Edwards opened the batting with solidity required at the top, and the pair delivered, surviving a testing new ball spell, watching movement both through the air and off the pitch carefully.
Through almost ten overs they battled under darkening skies and N.Edwards would have been desperately disappointed to nick behind, just as the rains came.
Tom Fantom arrived at the crease, crashing a boundary through midwicket before squeezing between the slips, completing a second run and keeping running as the deluge began, the players forced off in truly biblical conditions at the end of the tenth over.
An early tea was taken, coinciding nicely with Jos Buttler’s masterclass, but while the Ageas Bowl looked positively balmy, the rain still thumped down in Tunbridge Wells. The Second XI were already back, their game cancelled due to a waterlogged surface, and it looked like similar fate may befall the fixture at St Marks.
At this point the pitch was somewhat akin to the battlefields of the Somme circa 1916, and prospects of further play looked poor with further precipitation forecast to come.
The skies eventually cleared but the pokes and prods of the pitch inspectors produced pools, and shakes of the head made it clear that a restart would not occur for a good while.
But there was appetite to get a game in – particularly, and to their complete credit, from Firle – and after leaving the pitch to dry for as long as possible, and following consultation with Jefferies and Fantom, a restart was finally scheduled, a 27-over affair.
This worked to Borderers’ detriment having set out to survive and launch later over 40 overs, and hauling themselves up to a competitive score on a tricky pitch over the 17 overs they had yet to face was always a tough proposition.
It became further so when Jefferies, so solid prior to the rain delay, was strangled down the leg-side, gloving a hook behind, gone for a promising-looking 13 in what may be his only outing of the season.
Jefferies’ departure brought captain Ben Edwards to the crease and he was not going to mess around, somewhat aggrieved by the situation Borderers found themselves in and knowing the innings needed impetus.
Two boundaries came quickly, both to short balls sitting up to be hit to the off-side but he fell soon after, and after the captain’s departure the innings never really got going.
That was not to the fault of Fantom, who gritted and grinded his way to 29 in testing conditions, perhaps benefitting from an elongated pre-match net, not truly finding his timing but doing enough to keep the Firle attack at bay.
It was on Fantom’s back that the total was clawed up to the eventual 88, and one wonders what more might have come had he not been run out, victim of a bouncing bat after grounding just short of the crease.
There was to be no final flourish as new batsmen found it tough to score against a consistent bowling corps, and thus Borderers fell short of the 100 mark for the second week in succession.
It felt short of a competitive total, considerably so, Borderers disadvantaged by their slow start and inability to build partnerships to accumulate.
And when Dos Freeman was biffed back over his head for six from the first ball of the Firle innings, already slim hopes of victory were sharply beginning to fade.
But Borderers were not going to let Firle run away with it, though, making sure if they were to win the game they would have to fight tooth-and-nail on a pitch still offering enough for the bowlers, albeit flattening in glorious evening sunshine.
An early breakthrough was key and it came from debutant Adam Slack, sharing new ball duties and taking his first wicket for Borderers as a Mark Mathieu slog settled into Dave House’s bucket hands.
That brought Karoki Lewis, so often the scourge of Borderers through the years, to the crease and the elegant right-hander set about the chase in typically calm fashion. He was the only batsman to find some degree of timing on the day, stroking four boundaries in his 20 and building a partnership that threatened to take the game away with John Suckling.
The pair simply had to be separated were Borderers to have any chance, and were via the unlikely source of a Ross Jefferies half-tracker down the leg-side, pulled straight to Nick Edwards at backward square-leg, clinging on with a two-handed thrust in front of the money-maker to rid Firle of the steadying presence of Lewis.
From there Borderers were able to slow the scoring rate with accurate, tight bowling and a constricting performance in the field, tight on the single to build dot balls and pressure, one flick-trigged kerfuffle involving three or four the sole blemish on another excellent fielding afternoon.
Jefferies and N.Edwards stodged with dibble and dobble, the former grabbing another scalp in a standout comeback performance, while Jake Lynch showed his growing qualities with a four-over burst of left-arm seam late in the day which the batsmen simply could not get away.
Slack returned to finish his allocation in frugal fashion, gloveman B.Edwards holding on to a skier to pick up Slack’s second and take Firle to 70-4.
At this point it was still very much the chasing side’s game, creeping up towards the required total in dribs and drabs.
And though B.Edwards had overs in reserve for his two most consistent and experienced bowlers, it would take something extraordinary for Firle to lose it with only seven needed from the last two overs, particularly with six wickets in hand.
What unfolded was extraordinary.
N.Edwards took the penultimate over and set about his work, ridding the visitors of the dangerous Peter Warman and finally prying Suckling from the crease LBW in successive balls, the latter’s curiously compiled 23 entirely boundary-less.
While the hat-trick ball was negotiated the next delivery was not, a triple wicket-maiden at the most crucial of times. Borderers were starting to believe.
However, with Andre Samuel (last sighted crashing 57 from about 20 balls on the Sussex square in last season’s final game) now at the crease, peculiarly low down the order, and only seven needed, it was still a match in the balance as Freeman started the final over.
Samuel could only cloth a single into the legside, leaving the true tail-enders exposed.
A Freeman exocet removed Raphael Symes while Brad Henderson could only skew to Nick Edwards, the square-leg umpire admirably insistent that the batsmen did not cross, keeping Samuel away from strike with a boundary needed for a tie.
And while the field was pushed back as far as field restrictions allowed, they were but spectators, another Freeman arrow speeding past Mike Gurney’s hopeless hack, a hat-trick to seal the unlikeliest of victories.
From the throes of defeat Borderers had, somehow, done it.