THE first Finals Day of the restructured I’Anson knockout competitions produced one of the best finishes seen in recent years, host team Blackheath beating Grayswood by two runs with two balls remaining to claim the Stevens Cup.
In a low-scoring final, Grayswood – the holders and current Division One leaders – appeared to be cruising at 49-2 after six of the 16 eight-ball overs when chasing the host side’s 117 all out. The spin of Mitch O’Dwyer and excellent fielding transformed the game, though, and Grayswood slumped to 83-7.
Even so, with Graham Dooling and Callan McIntyre set, and 23 wanted off the last 16 balls, Grayswood were still favourites and four byes and a boundary off the first two balls of the penultimate over seemed to seal it. But Blackheath’s fierce commitment in the field limited the damage and set the stage for a grandstand finale. Grayswood required 10 to win off the last over.
Skipper Alex Bertola had other options, but bravely shouldered the responsibility and prepared to bowl his only over of the game to the deafening strains of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘I need a Hero’. He duly obliged.
Bowling off a short run, his first ball was short and Dooling pulled it straight to Harry Giles. The next was struck down to long-on, but Rob Parrott’s raking throw and Bertola’s clean take had Henry Hind run out going for the second. A dot ball was followed by an edged four and then two byes left Grayswood wanting three off three balls.
Bertola’s sixth delivery climbed steeply on McIntyre who mis-timed his shot, skied the ball, and watched aghast as Hugh Jolly calmly took the catch before flinging his bat down in disgust (at himself). Cue pandemonium, with the Blackheath players pursuing their captain around the boundary and taking a long time to catch him.
A Blackheath victory had earlier seemed highly unlikely as, electing to bat on a wicket that gave uneven bounce, but with a concrete-like, grassless outfield to make life difficult for fielders, they subsided to 60-8. Only O’Dwer (33), batting without a helmet, held firm as Andy Gloak, Iain Jackson and Callum Kent threatened to shoot their opponents out for well under 100. Dave Handley took a brilliant one-handed catch behind the stumps to dismiss Giles off Jackson; Gloak and Kent produced pearlers to clean-bowl Bertola and Tom Melhuish, both without offering a stroke; a fired-up Grayswood closed in for the kill.
At that crucial stage, Jolly (27) was joined by Surrey U15 player Archie Freeth (24) and with some positive stroke-play, the pair added 55 face-saving runs. Kent eventually dismissed both to finish with 4-22, but the total had advanced to a competitive 117.
The combination of wily slow bowler Simon Mansell and young speedster Freeth posed early problems for Grayswood, but by the time Jackson (24) was second man out, they were nearly halfway to the target. Jackson fell to O’Dwer and the Australian’s spell of 3-22, well supported by medium-pacer Jolly, opened the game right up at 83-7.
It was still finely balanced when Bertola, who had already caught opposite number Ali Gloak, took the lead role in the final act, three wickets falling in that climactic last over.
“A game to grace any of our Finals Days,” said Keith Ellis before presenting the Stevens Cup to Alex Bertola. “Even in the last over it could have gone either way.” There were several candidates for man of the match, added the I’Anson president – the adjudicator – but it was Mitch O’Dwer who received the bat for his all-round performance.
The Pope Cup final, earlier contested by Grayshott and Dogmersfield, also went to to the last over. Grayshott, needing 146 for victory, were cruising at one stage as the second-wicket pair of Matt Jackson and skipper Nathan Phillimore took the score past 100 with plenty of overs remaining.
But Phillimore got himself out for 31 and Jackson, having batted beautifully for his 56, fell to Imran Abbas whose damaging spell of 3-17 in 16 balls changed the course of the game and earned him the man-of-the-match bat.
Grayshott eventually required 18 off the last over. A valiant effort by Ali Wheble and Danny Brown scrambled 13 runs, but it was too much to ask against opening bowler Samad Ayoubi and Grayshott closed on 141-8, just five short of victory.
Dogmersfield owed their decent total to a sound opening parnership between Imran Choudhary (26) and Jamil Ayoubi (30) who weathered testing opening spells by Kiaran Wells and Rob Gregory.
Danny Brown also bowled well, but the middle-order pair of Raja and Samad Ayoubi made valuable contributions and Dogmersfield, it proved, had just enough runs in the bank.
So, two absorbing finals and with excellent organisation by the hospitable host club, this delayed Finals Day was certainly well worth the wait.