U9 Hardball team complete an unbeaten season with 23 run victory over Old Whits
By Ben Abel
8 wins from 8 as boys hold nerve to edge out a strong Old Whits side
The final match of the season and an unbeaten record in the NEC hardball league to defend - no pressure then!
On a baking hot afternoon skipper George Abel won the toss and decided to bat first reasoning that it would be better bowling in the cooler conditions later on.
Hugo De Vere Hunt and Leo Bines opened up against two overs from Surrey star Dheer Ray and another equally accurate if less speedy bowler. Unsurprisingly Old Whits had us on the back foot early on with a wicket bowled in each of the first two overs. Hugo and Leo did really well to keep their heads and from 190-2 put on another 21 runs with a boundary each and well run singles and byes. A wicket off the last ball of the pair (not uncommon for us this season!) pegged us back, but we had survived a tough opening spell and were in positive territory on 206-3.
Harry Record came out second pair in his second game alongside our 20th hardball debutant Pablo Portillo. Old Whits had their tails up after the wicket the previous ball and brought in a slip and a short mid off for their leg spinner. They'd obviously not been keeping an eye on the ESCL this season, hailing as they do from the North of the county. First ball of the pair pushed the field back nicely as Harry walloped it over mid wicket for six! His and the team's second six of the hardball season. Pablo provided great support (much more than his abdominal protector which kept finding its way down his leg whenever he ran!) scoring two boundaries of his own. With the field pushed back there were lots of singles to be taken, which the boys duly did and we would have had our first hardball 50 partnership but for one moment of madness when Harry decided to try and get back on strike with a second run and was comfortably short of his ground. Never mind and it shouldn't detract from a wonderful partnership with the pressure well and truly on as we closed the pair on 250 - 4 after 8 overs.
It is very understandable at U9s but we'll do even better as a team when we recognise that batting in pairs is a partnership, it doesn't matter who faces as long as the partnership is picking up runs.
Third pair Eddie Hemingway and Fraser Adams-Leach faced some accurate bowling that was hard to get away although Eddie hit one very nice boundary and both boys played straight and looked to defend the straight balls which was great to see. A little unfortunate to lose a wicket to a run out in the last over when Fraser was possibly not expecting the ball to be thrown to his end and wasn't running his bat in when the throw hit the stumps. Another lesson for the whole team to be aware of next season, you may not be running to the danger end but if you don't get in to your ground as fast as you can both ends can become danger ends!
The penultimate pair saw George Abel and James Wiseman looking to progress us from 256 - 5 after 12 overs. Mention has been made before about James' unselfish approach to batting and whilst he was disappointed to only face eight balls he hit four singles and a bye in those eight balls which rotated the strike brilliantly. George facing more of the strike than usual also ran and called really well. The pair put the fielders under pressure and managed two two's and a three as well as seven singles and two byes. George saved his best batting performance of the season to the last game, using his feet to the spinner, waiting for the ball and not trying to hit it too hard he scored six boundaries in a personal total of 34 off 16 balls, only falling to the last ball of the pair (again!) as he was undone by a fast seaming delivery that got through his defences. 288 - 7 with one pair to go.
Luke Hague and Harry Ejje came in to bat knowing they would have one more over from Dheer at some point plus one from the other opening bowler and one from the other Old Whits pace machine Rehan Kaludewa. Eight singles and four byes was testament to the mature approach taken by both boys as they looked to get forward and defend as well as rotate the strike, pick up singles and prevent the bowler from exerting too much pressure. With both boys also hitting the boundary we could afford to lose a couple of wickets as we finished on 300 - 9 off our twenty overs achieving the 300 mark for the third match in succession - just! Top scorers with net scores after wickets lost of 18, 14 and 28 were Harry Record, Pablo and George.
Despite losing nine wickets this was our best batting performance of the season against arguably the best bowling attack in the league (besides ours of course!). Old Whits only gave us 18 from wides and no balls, but we ran byes well and picked up a total of 40 extras as well as 114 runs off the bat, our highest score of the season. We didn't give any catching chances, had one unlucky wicket bowled off the pad, one hit wicket standing too deep in the crease (another point for several of the team to take forward next season) and two avoidable run outs. The other five wickets were all excellent deliveries from the Old Whits bowlers.
With the daylight hours getting shorter we sent our team into tea before the innings was complete so we were able to negate the opposition slow over rate and be back on the field at 7:30pm.
We only took seven Old Whits wickets, we also gave them twenty eight in wides and no balls, so that amounts to a twenty two run disadvantage that we had to make up somehow. In winning by twenty three runs that became a forty five run swing. What was the difference between the two teams? Our superior fielding made up that forty five runs. All the boys concentrated well, made good decisions and showed great athleticism in their fielding. Particular instances that spring to mind include James sprinting back from mid on to slide and cut off the ball just inside the boundary at long off saving two runs and Leo making a great stop at mid off and having the presence of mind to run the ball to the stumps to run out the non-striker who had backed up too far.
For the first time this season we had one wicketkeeper for the whole innings which we will need to do from U11 onwards anyway. Harry Ejje kept wicket fantastically making up ten of those forty five runs on his own by conceding ten fewer byes than the opposition and almost pulling off an amazing one handed diving catch low to his right.
Hugo opened the bowling and gained immediate revenge over the player who had earlier bowled him out by bowling the same player out with the first ball of the innings on his way to figures of two for twelve off three overs. Initial nerves caused Pablo to bowl a couple of no balls but he responded with a beautiful yorker that was wonderfully celebrated by the whole team congratulating Pablo on his debut hardball wicket. With Hugo striking again in his next over Old Whits were a run behind where we had been at the same stage on 205 -3 after 4 overs.
Between the 3rd and 4th wickets falling we had to wait 57 balls with Old Whits pushing onto 255 and still only one run behind us after 11.5 overs, then Luke struck with the last ball of the pair bowling an obdurate batsman behind his legs to give us an edge. Before then James had bowled some beautiful leg spinners, Fraser had bowled with good accuracy and was unfortunate to be on the end of some harsh wide calls from the opposition umpire who gave as his reason that this batsman was smaller and so the metaphorical wide line needed to be moved in. Perhaps the batsman could have moved his feet? Harry Record also bowled a tidy spell going for just five runs off two overs.
Probably the crucial over that gave us just a little breathing space was the 13th over bowled by Eddie. Two wickets in successive balls put him on a hat-trick, but the next ball was met with a sound defensive bat and the champagne was back on ice. These two batsmen showed what a great over that was from Eddie as they picked up 21 runs without loss off the next three overs bowled by three of our best bowlers in George, Eddie and Hugo. Brought on to try and push home our advantage George promptly bowled his first wide or no ball of the season! He got over the shock pretty quickly soon getting his line and length back on track but the only Holy Grailers this innings were to be Leo and Luke.
With four overs to go Old Whits were now twenty four runs behind where we had been at the same stage, but by no means out of it and six off the 17th over left them needing ten an over to win. With Dheer batting the Old Whits section of the crowd were hoping for something special but Leo and George held their nerve. With both batsmen looking to play aggressively the boys bowled an excellent line and length with no wides or no balls bowled in the last four overs as we shut the door on the Old Whits challenge and ran out ultimately convincing winners by 23 runs although it felt closer and more tense than the margin of victory suggests. Top bowlers were Hugo with 2 for 12 and Eddie with 2 for 11, with Harry and Leo the most miserly bowlers conceding just five and six runs respectively.
After the end of match formalities the boys enjoyed a victory lap of honour and my heartfelt congratulations on a great season. Going unbeaten in the NEC hardball league in their first season, winning all eight games against some high class opponents, particularly Old Whits, Banstead and Reigate (two of whom we had to play home and away) was a great team effort.
Thank you to Pip who scored for the umpteenth time this season and to Ro who took over the tea rota so that Pip could score. On the hottest day of the year, Ro even managed to keep ice lollies frozen which both teams enjoyed after the end of the match as a season ending supplement to their usual tea between innings.
As ever, thanks to parents for encouraging from the sidelines, for helping with warm ups and for the closing up the ground. It's been a memorable season of cricket for the U9s played out in glorious weather. Will be hard to top that next year!