(Most of) the 1st XI after clinching the I'Anson league title
Stumps have been drawn for the last time, the Indian summer of the first half of September seems long gone and autumn has well and truly arrived. As the whites are packed away for another year, we can look back with a lot of satisfaction on what has been a great season for the club both on and off the pitch.
First, many congratulations to Will Melhuish and his team for securing the I’Anson Division 1 title. After narrowly missing out last year, our 1st XI were on any objective view comfortably the best side in the I’Anson League this season, and their success was richly deserved. Save for a loss at Grayswood early in the season and a blip on the final Saturday against Grayshott when the title was already secured, the team went undefeated all summer.
As regards the batting, newcomers Tom Flavell and Matt Jackson strengthened what was already a formidable line-up. Skipper Will Melhuish led from the front in every sense, both as opener and as the leading run scorer in Division 1, while Harry Bardon, Pete Melhuish and Tom Vickers also scored heavily. In Ian Souness we also had the league’s leading wicket taker by some margin: 43 wickets at an astonishing average of 6.26. Ian was at times unplayable – not least at Elstead in the game which clinched the title. He was well supported by the other bowlers, especially Danny Harrison and Steve Brennand, who each picked up 19 wickets at a little over 20. And in the field, we kept up the high standards we have got used to over the past few years.
Equally deserving of congratulations are Colin Parrott’s 3rd XI, who after several previous near-misses, this year secured promotion from I’Anson Division 6 with a comprehensive win against promotion rivals Milford on the last day of the season. The 3rd XI has for a while had a good blend of youth and experience, and they combined to great effect this summer. Amongst the batsmen, 15-year-old Freddie Alexander stood out, finishing the year as both top run scorer and top of the averages. However, not far behind were a couple of old hands in Keith Hemshall and Freddie’s dad Jeff, whilst newcomer Ranald Schultz livened things up with some spectacular innings. Amongst the bowlers, Anthony “Brindle” Coombes once again finished as our top wicket-taker – his haul of 19 wickets included a brilliant 6 for 14 against Midhurst. But there were also some excellent performances from the younger generation, including in particular Toby Webb and Will Nash.
Although the 2nd XI could not quite complete the set by achieving promotion from I’Anson Division 3, they too had a good season, ultimately finishing fourth. The squad benefited from our all-round strength in depth this year, as a couple of players who in 2022 were 1st XI regulars dropped down for most of this summer and made a big difference. Ronny Harrison finished as the team’s top run scorer, including 125 not out against Wood Street Village, whilst Josh Cummings was our top wicket-taker with 20 wickets at an average of just 11.35, whilst also contributing a very useful 248 runs. However, the 2nd XI stalwarts of recent years also did well – especially skipper Simon Mansell whose darts proved as effective as ever, and Ben Lawrence who scored a fine hundred against Frimley. The team also picked up a handy new wicket-keeper in Steve Cozens, who joined his son Elliot in the side.
We also enjoyed another good run in the National Village Cup this year, the highlight undoubtedly being a thrilling win at Valley End, thanks to some late heroics from 18-year-old Archie Jones: see report. After comfortably seeing off Addington 1743 CC in the Surrey regional final, in the first round of the national stages we were unfortunate that the rain came down after we had scored a formidable 275 from our 40 overs at Leeds & Broomfield, the champions of Kent. We sadly lost the replay a week later, but it is an indication of our growing strength in the competition that Leeds & Broomfield subsequently went all the way to the final at Lords.
In twenty-over cricket, we were knocked out early in the Stevens Cup, but enjoyed more success with our first season in the Surrey Slam, where we finished top of our regional group. In our first match of the knock-out phase we were amassing a big total in the first innings against Cranleigh when, once again, the rain came down – unfortunately we then had to concede the fixture as we could not raise a team for the replay date. However, the decision to play more T20 games was definitely a popular one and things bode well for next season.
Though Sunday friendly cricket generally is sadly in decline, it continues to thrive here at Blackheath. As in recent past seasons, we played against a wide variety of clubs, some far stronger than others, including several teams we had not played before. Our Sunday skippers – Tom Vickers, Ronny Harrison and Danny Harrison – are now old hands at skilfully managing these games to make sure that everyone gets involved and that the matches are competitive, and all of them generally succeeded well with both these objectives, whilst simultaneously also ensuring that we generally won! Highlights of the season included a fine victory in a closely-fought match against the Flashmen, thanks to a magnificent undefeated hundred from Tom Vickers, and maiden hundreds in Blackheath senior cricket from two 15-year-olds, Rob Greenway (against Old Dorkinians) and Freddie Alexander (against Bramley). Our top Sunday wicket-taker was 14-year-old Sam Behn, who had a superb season in both junior and senior cricket.
A signature sweep shot from Tom Flavell in cricket week
Finally, our cricket week was another very enjoyable one. The game against Grasshoppers fell victim to the weather, but the other 4 games were all good competitive contests; we finished with 2 wins and 2 defeats. The pick of the games was probably the match against Kenya Kongonis on the Wednesday. Our total of 234, largely thanks to a superb 121 from Tom Flavell, always looked challenging but achievable and the Kongonis remained in the hunt throughout. With all results still possible, the penultimate scheduled over of the game, bowled by Ian Souness, was a truly remarkable one: after the first two balls were hit for 6, the next three took the last three Kongonis wickets. If anyone knows of another instance of a hat-trick to win a match in the history of the club, please let us know!
The women had another good season, finishing second in their Division of the I’Anson women’s softball league and making it through to Finals Day, where they lost out to Grayshott Chargers in the semi-final. It has been great to see several new players coming through this season, as well as the commitment of long-standing members, especially skipper Helen Mansell, who continued playing despite a broken wrist, and Louise Nash, who was delighted to finish with the best batting average in her family!
Highlights of the season included a hat-trick from Vic Alexander in the match against Grayshott, and a couple of spectacular catches: a brilliant one-handed catch from Lucy Halliday on the boundary of a ball that was going for 6, and Evette Burton casually plucking the ball from the air as it flew past her at silly mid-on. The women’s season finished on a high note in early September with a mixed club match (including several children) in memory of Andy Stefanik, which also raised over £500 for Sarcoma UK.
Discussions are already ongoing about next year, as we are keen to develop our women’s section further, possibly with a hard-ball as well as a soft-ball team, and to attract new members. There are also ongoing discussions about playing at least some women’s games to Blackheath instead of Grafham – watch this space.
Junior cricket at Blackheath continues to flourish. Demand for places remains very high: this year we had over 350 boys and girls at U15 and below, and there are still waiting lists for most squads. Inevitably this places heavy demands on our facilities, as well as on our coaching and administrative resources. By splitting home games and training sessions between Blackheath and Grafham, and thanks to parent volunteers supplementing our professional coaching team, we managed to cope. However, we will be looking for more parental assistance with various things next year to ensure the wheels continue to run smoothly.
On the field, our boys’ squads are stronger than they have ever been and we now count ourselves amongst the top clubs for boys’ cricket in the county. Leading the way this year were our U15s, who for the third year running won the Surrey Tier 1 league at their age group, in the process winning nearly every match. With one or two former regulars often unavailable this year either through injury or on Surrey duty, it was particularly pleasing to see other boys stepping up, notably Max Lester who amassed a remarkable 413 runs at an average of over 50 (including a century against Dorking), and Oscar Gilliam who took 18 wickets at an average of just 13, as well as contributing very handy runs in the late middle order, without being dismissed all season. Not far behind were our U14s, who finished a creditable fourth in the Surrey Tier 1 league. Though a small squad, they include some real stars of the future.
In general, results in the younger age groups were more mixed. The U13s, who moved up to Tier 1 this year, were generally competitive against strong opposition. Although they won only a couple of league matches, they are a large and enthusiastic squad who have a lot of promise. The U11s had a tough start to the season with a series of defeats in games they could easily have won, but came back strongly towards the end finishing mid-table in their Tier 1 division; they are a highly talented squad and expectations for next year are running high. The U12 and U10 boys both struggled in their respective leagues, though they notched up a few good wins and improved steadily over the course of the season. Meanwhile, the U9 boys’ hardball team had a tremendous season from start to finish, losing only to the all-conquering Esher Eagles and finishing second in Tier 1.
The younger boys’ softball divisions and the girls’ divisions are generally less competitive affairs where results are secondary to participation and enjoyment, though there is talent in abundance in these age groups. Amongst the girls, it was great to see the enthusiasm for hard-ball cricket in the older squads. The U13 girls’ hardball team in particular had a lot of fun in the course of one or two remarkable games: their nail-biting last ball win at Guildford after a see-saw match will live long in the memory. We are keen to ensure that this enthusiasm is channelled into further progress next season, including (we hope) participation by some of the older girls in a proposed women’s hard-ball league as well as their soft-ball competition.
Many thanks to everyone involved in running the junior section this year, including not only the coaching team but also the many parents who helped out in so many ways. Particular thanks to the parent administrators who shouldered a significant burden, especially with the weather affecting so many matches. Volunteers are critical to all the club’s operations, and (as almost always happens in volunteer-run organisations) all too often too much falls on too few people. Over the coming months we will be looking at ways to ensure that the burdens are more evenly shared next year.
Off the field
Detailed reports on our off-the-field activities this year (and in particular our finances) will be given at the AGM in November. However, it is already clear that this has been a much better year for the club financially than last. Aside from greater efficiencies in some areas and increased income in others, we also had a highly successful fundraising ball in June, which went a long way to paying off the debt which the club had to incur last year through circumstances beyond our control. A huge thankyou is due to everyone on the ball committee, but especially to James Denton, Nikki West and Anne-Marie Greenway, who shouldered much of the burden and brought a degree of professionalism to the organisation rarely if ever before seen at the club. It is tremendous that we are able to call on such talents, and we are hugely grateful.
The Baz-Ball on 24 June
Finally, two other big thankyous ...
First, our catering operation this year was run by Vicky Cadelina, who in addition to providing regular Saturday suppers throughout the season, also produced superb cricket teas on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. We were one of only a handful of clubs in the I’Anson League to provide Saturday teas, and it was greatly appreciated both by our own players and by our opponents. We think it is an important tradition to maintain in village cricket, and we hope that next season the league may reconsider its decision not to expect clubs to provide them. We are extremely grateful to Vicky for her tireless efforts.
Second, a huge thankyou is due to everyone on the club committee for all their various contributions in different ways throughout the year, whether in relation to our grounds and facilities, our finances, our administration or the many other things that have to be done to keep the show on the road. Running a large and busy club like this one is these days a massive operation, and we are very fortunate indeed to have such a dedicated team of volunteers, without whom we could not possibly have enjoyed the success we have this year. Long may it continue.