U9s through to ESCL Cup Final
By Ben Abel
Thrilling win by the Grasshoppers hands Merstham their first defeat in almost two seasons
Report by Match Manager Brian Odendaal:
Knock-out stage cup competitions – a topic prevalent in the press these days. It's win or lose, do or die, stay in the competition or go home (but let’s not think about that, Mr Southgate). No complex permutations or calculations, no thoughts of perhaps just easing off the throttle a little, as a loss might actually work in your favour (but hope that it doesn’t come back and bite you later). No prizes for second place.
With all of that in mind the mighty U9s had it all to play for today in the ESCL Cup semi-final. A favourable draw of a home game, but with the complication of a new ground for the team, having been promoted to O&LCC’s lovely Grub Street ground up at the British Legion in Limpsfield.
After the team was selected by central U9 management earlier in the week, the ESCL coaching staff debated long during the last few days about batting pairs, fielding combinations and the right time to release some of the powerful strike bowling force that is emerging within our year group. Coaches spread across 3 continents this week, struggling with jet-lag, flight cancellations and cultures who don’t even know what cricket is, spent time thinking and discussing permutations, strategy and motivation. This all came together at 09.30 am this morning, against the visiting Merstham team who, as we found out last week in a league match against them, are formidable opponents. They have not lost a game in 2 years, and maintained that record last week with a win that kept them top of the league. It was time for revenge and there is no better way to get that than in a knock-out competition.
Captain Abel lost the toss and the Merstham team, with their large travelling fan base who clearly had their tails up, asked us to bat. Kearns (top scoring with 28) and Blackborough set the tone up front – however this was not just about some massive shots over the boundary but also sneaky (yet sensible) running. Every pair communicated very clearly with each other, and had to contend with tight bowling from Merstham – frustrating at times with some of the big hitters unable to find the space to unleash the bat as normal. However, the team adapted and a flow of steady singles using simple cricket shots ensued – something that we will work on more, but it is good to see the batsman having to start being a little creative with their shots. Posting a score of 309/8 with this approach was a really mature and gutsy effort.
Following the break and tea provided by Mr and Mrs Kelvin (thank you), we had one last team talk – primarily to focus the team and let them digest biscuits and crisps, but also to leave the Merstham opening batsmen, who had been rather presumptuous and walked out to the middle before the umpires and fielders had done so (one must do things properly on the cricket field!), contemplating how quick the opening bowler from O&LCC might be. The team talk focused on one thing – intelligent cricket. Engagement, concentration and awareness. And boy, were these delivered in spades over the next 20 overs. For once I am not going to mention just a few individual players or certain specific events; this is because every player in the side: Harmer, Newland, Kelvin, Hague, Kearns, Abel, Record, De-Vere Hunt, Peachy and Blackborough demonstrated what we have been after all season – high energy, but thinking before just throwing the ball at the stumps, sliding to cut off certain boundaries, catches being held, bowling sensibly and motivating fellow players. Superb. Limiting what is probably the best batting side in the league to 290/8 runs was a great effort. A win by 19 runs, and a place in the final - fantastic. The Merstham coach was gracious in defeat, and very vocal about the quality of cricket and the spirit it was played in. Well done boys and looking forward to the final.
Feels like we have done our bit, now it’s over to the national side playing a different sport, to deliver an uplifting performance next week.