The last ball has been memorably struck to the boundary (of which more below) and the season is finally over. It has not been the easiest of summers - the combination of the weather and Covid-19 has at times driven us to distraction - but the last few weeks have brought more than their fair share of excitement and success, and it has finished as a year we can look back on with a lot of satisfaction.
Our 1st XI had spent much of the season narrowly behind Tilford in the race for the I'Anson Division 1 title, and it was deeply frustrating when their scheduled match against the leaders fell victim to the weather on 7 August. However hopes were raised the following weekend, when after a good win against Farncombe, news filtered through that Tilford had lost to Frensham. Sadly, however, the following Saturday results were reversed: we followed in Tilford's footsteps by suffering our only defeat of the season at Frensham, whilst Tilford won. A comfortable victory against Grayshott in the last game of the season was academic, and we finished where we had spent most of the summer, in second place in the Division 1 table. Many congratulations to Tilford, who have now won twice in 2 years.
The disappointment had to be quickly put behind us as on 5 September we faced Frensham again, this time in the Stevens Cup Final at Tongham. On a blisteringly hot afternoon (a rare thing indeed this summer) a good crowd was treated to a pulsating contest. Batting first, we got off to a rocky start as both Rob Parrott and Alan Cope fell cheaply. However Tom Vickers and Will Melhuish steadied the ship, Will batting through most of the innings for an excellent 60 from 49 balls, with good support from Alex Bertola and Ronny Harrison, before he fell late on giving Ben Stefanik the opportunity for a spectacular late cameo of 18 from just 6 deliveries. The consensus was that our total of 149 from our 20 overs was, if anything, a little better than par.
In reply, Frensham got off to a flying start, with George Breddy hitting the ball to all parts, well supported by Jack Richards and (after Richards fell to the ever-economical Simon Mansell) Jordan Frost; after 10 overs, Blackheath seemed to be staring down the barrel with more than 70 runs already on the board and just one wicket down. However, things then started to go wrong for the batting side when Breddy was well caught by Will Melhuish off Vickers. Exceptional fielding - even by our own high standards - kept the run rate down and Ben Stefanik then came on to take a couple of vital wickets. With scoreboard pressure mounting, it was left to Will Melhuish to deliver the killing blows, dismissing first Jordan Frost (pictured above) and then Jack Blythe and Hally Baldock (the latter thanks to a brilliant running catch by Rob Parrott inches inside the boundary). Frensham were left with a mountain to climb in the final over and finished 12 runs short, with Melhuish taking 3 for 10 - unsurprisingly he also picked up the man of the match award.
The Stevens Cup was not the only knockout trophy for which Blackheath were in contention towards the end of the season. Thanks to a closely-fought win over Chiddingfold in a play-off, on 22 August our women's Softball Stars were involved in the inaugural I'Anson Women's Finals Day, jointly hosted by Farncombe and Farncombe Wanderers.
Drawn against a very strong Fernhurst team in the first semi-final, the Stars got off to a great start, thanks to some brilliant hitting, especially from Rachel Dann. Though we could not sustain the pace to the end of the innings, our eventual total of 293 was a very respectable one. In reply, Fernhurst struggled to break the shackles of some good tight bowling, but nevertheless remained in touch with the asking rate. The tension mounted until, with 5 needed from the last 3 balls, the Fernhurst skipper struck the ball powerfully towards the midwicket boundary where it was brilliantly stopped by Ems Welland, but sadly with a foot just over the line - Fernhurst then won off the last ball.
The Stars were left wondering what might have been, particularly as Fernhurst then proceeded to beat Farncombe in the final by nearly 100 runs, whilst in the third place play-off, Blackheath beat Grayswood by an even greater margin, after running up the astonishing total of 376 (see picture below). Nevertheless it was a good end to what has been a really encouraging first league season for our women's teams.
Though neither of our men's 2nd and 3rd XIs was in contention for silverware, both teams ended the season strongly. The 2nd XI had drifted a little too close to the relegation zone for comfort following defeats to Tongham and Dogmersfield, and their match on 21 August against Tilford (the only other 2nd XI in Division 2) consequently assumed some significance. Fortunately, the team was well up to the task. A decent batting display, in which all the batsmen got starts without any of them going on to make a big score, saw us post 161 in a shortened game of 40 overs. After Hugh French was bowled by Rob Weston with the first ball of the Tilford reply, Tilford were never really in the hunt and were eventually dismissed for 110 - Weston finishing with 3 for 6 from 6.5 overs, a reminder of what the 1st XI have been missing this season. A further comfortable victory against Witley on the last day of the season (Tom Melhuish 80; Simon Mansell 4-29) saw the team finish in 7th place in I'Anson Division 2, with 6 victories as against 7 defeats.
The 3rd XI, meanwhile, had the outside chance of a promotion spot if other results went their way. They were not helped by the cancellation of their game against strugglers Bramley on 7 August, but did their best with a thumping 10 wicket win against Liphook & Ripsey (Will Gossage 47 n.o., Rob Greenway 31 n.o.), an 8 wicket win against Churt (Antony Coombes 5-28; Rob Greenway 66 n.o., Archie Jones 38 n.o.) and an almost equally comfortable 41 run victory over Shalford (Antony Coombes 60; Freddie Hay 52). The three victories would have been enough to secure promotion if both Tilford and Liphook and Ripsley had lost on the final day - Tilford did, but sadly Liphook and Ripsley did not, leaving us tantalisingly adrift in 3rd place in I'Anson Division 6.
The junior leagues mostly finished in July, although a few friendlies have been played since then. All the squads acquitted themselves well and the U9, U12 and U13 boys all won their divisions. In the case of the U13s in particular, this was no mean feat, as the division in question was the Surrey Junior Invitational League, featuring the strongest U13 sides in the county. In the end they lost only one match all season, the final of the U13s County Cup in which they were narrowly defeated by Esher - certainly no disgrace as Esher went on to win the National U13 competition. No fewer than four of our U13s are now in the Surrey squad and great things are expected of them next year, as more of them become involved in senior matches.
Away from league cricket, it has has been another highly enjoyable season both on Sundays and in another excellent cricket week. The latter began with a rather dull draw against the Cricket Society, albeit featuring a magnificent 134 n.o. from Ronny Harrison. However, that match was followed by a couple of tremendous games - a tense low scoring match against Grasshoppers in which we came out on top largely thanks to some excellent bowling and fielding from some of our teenagers, and an even better game against Kenya Kongonis, in which after a valiant attempt to chase down our total of 224, their last batsman perished from the final ball of the match. Our game against Jack Frost sadly had to be abandoned in the face of persistent rain and the MCC were this year too strong for us, but the beer and wine flowed freely on all 5 days. Many thanks to the various families who provided the suppers and to Kate Bendy and her team who excelled themselves with some magnificent teas (the only ones of the summer).
Hot on the heels of cricket week, on 11 August, came the first ever men's Hundred match played at Blackheath - between the Under 26s captained by Will Melhuish and the Over 26s captained by Alex Bertola. Astonishingly, despite being arranged for a weekday in mid-August, so many were keen to play that we could not accommodate everyone, even playing a 12 a side game. The match was a lot of fun, finishing in a victory for the Under 26s, thanks partly to their greater mobility in the field, and partly to one or two slightly overambitious shots from the Over 26s top order ...
As for Sundays, several of our scheduled fixtures in the latter part of the season were lost either to the weather, or to the opposition being unable to raise a team, or (in one case) to a clash with the Stevens Cup Final. However, the games that were played were all thoroughly enjoyable, and the season finished with a couple of tremendous contests.
The first of these was an unlikely victory against Ripley on 12 September, thanks to a late middle order rally driven by Rob Greenway, Ronny Harrison and Tom Vickers. The second - our very last game of the season on 19 September - was an even more remarkable match against Blackheath Kent, who posted a formidable 209 from their allotted 30 overs. With half our innings gone, our prospects looked bleak in the face of a frightening required rate, but Vickers (who this time had opened the innings) was not giving up. With valiant - and occasionally suicidal - support from a series of lower order batsmen, he kept going until 15 were required for victory from the last over of the summer, then 12 from the last 3 balls. A misfield gifted us a boundary from the fourth ball, and there was nothing the fielders could do about the fifth, leaving 4 to win from the final ball of the season. Struck down the ground, the ball just eluded the grasp of one fielder who somehow managed to flick it just beyond the despairing dive of another as it trickled over the boundary. Vickers 147 n.o. and a wonderful end to the summer.
There are still one or two scorecards missing from play-cricket, so the end of season stats are not yet available, but will be prepared in good time for the awards dinner, which has now been rescheduled for Saturday 9 October. Tickets can be purchased at this link and are likely to sell out - so early booking is advised.