The stumps have been drawn for the last time, the end of season pitch renovations completed and the trophies handed out. Although a few die-hard youngsters are still to be found in the nets at weekends in defiance of the weather and the football season, for the rest of us the kit has been packed away and we're left to reflect on the highs and lows of another cricketing year at Blackheath.
For the 1st XI, second place in I'Anson Division 1 was a decent result, but it's difficult to escape the feeling that this was one that got away.
Our batting was as strong as ever: Harry Bardon and Pete Melhuish led the way with well over 700 runs each, Steve Brennand and Will Melhuish were not far behind, and several others including Tom Vickers and Ronny Harrison regularly made useful contributions. In our overseas player, Ian Souness, we had comfortably the best bowler in the league, who made devastating use of this summer’s dry pitches, finishing with a remarkable tally of 59 wickets. He was well supported by our other bowlers; in particular, Rob Weston added real pace and Alex Bertola rediscovered some of his best bowling form. And our fielding was generally excellent – it must be a long time since the team took so many great catches in a season. Despite all this, it was not to be; ultimately, we paid for our failure to close out a small number of critical games – victory in any one of which would probably have secured us the title. But that's cricket.
The 1st XI following their final match
A special word for our 1st XI skipper, Alex Bertola, who is standing down after 4 years in charge. Under his captaincy we have won the Stevens Cup twice, the I’Anson title once, and never come lower than second in Division 1. He has set a tremendous example both on and off the field, and is universally popular both at Blackheath and amongst our opponents. He will be a tough act to follow, but fortunately in Will Melhuish we have a highly capable heir apparent.
For the 2nd XI it was a difficult season, and sadly we were relegated from Division 2 on the final Saturday. Availability issues took their toll throughout the summer, something the team could ill afford as we faced other clubs’ 1st XIs week after week. Nevertheless, we were always competitive and never let our heads go down, for which much credit is due to the captaincy of Simon Mansell, who held things together with admirable stoicism. One suspects that Division 3 cricket will be a more enjoyable experience for the team next year, and will give us an opportunity to regroup.
In general, the individual statistics of the 2nd XI reflected the struggles of the team as a whole, but one exception was the batting of 14-year-old Rob Greenway, who in just 7 innings managed a remarkable 473 runs at an average of nearly 80, the best in the whole division. Rob is surely destined for 1st XI cricket next year, but it’s good to report that there are plenty of other young players in the pipeline, some of whom will certainly be strengthening the team in 2023.
The 3rd XI also flirted with relegation for much of the summer, however some late wins culminating in a comprehensive victory over Tilford on the final Saturday meant that they ultimately finished comfortably in the top half of Division 6. The team was, as ever, a blend of youth and experience judiciously managed by skipper Colin Parrott. The batting was underpinned by the older generation, with Jeff Alexander and Pete Rooken-Smith reliable contributors and newcomer Keith Hemshall scoring heavily in the half-dozen games that he played. The bowling relied more on the younger generation, with Will Nash and Toby Webb both doing well, although the season’s top wicket-taker was once again Anthony “Brindle” Coombes. As with the 2nd XI, we can look forward to more of our talented youngsters coming through next year, when with a little luck we will be pushing for promotion.
Sundays this year saw the usual mixture of highly competitive games against strong opposition (including in the National Village Knock-out) and lower-key friendly matches against a variety of clubs, some old friends and some new this season. It has to be said that overall the standard of Sunday opposition was probably lower this year than it has been for a while. Though it remains an important part of what we do at Blackheath, nationally Sunday cricket seems to be in decline and this year several opponents – including one or two strong clubs – let us down at a late stage, as they were unable to raise teams. Nevertheless, we played a good number of enjoyable friendlies, with all the captains (Tom Vickers, Ronny Harrison and in the latter part of the season Danny Harrison) managing things expertly to ensure that everyone got a decent game and, where possible, that it was also a fairly even contest.
At the time of writing the Sunday statistics remain incomplete, as frustratingly several scorecards never found their way onto play-cricket and have not yet been traced. However, stand out players were Tom Vickers (who scored two centuries), Will Nash (the top wicket-taker on Sundays) and Archie Jones (who managed a rare all-bowled hat-trick against Woodpeckers, amongst other notable performances). It was also particularly pleasing to see a good number of U14s and their dads getting involved in Sunday cricket. A special mention here for Freddie Alexander, who never knowingly turned down the opportunity for a game and ended up a key member of the team.
Archie Jones leads the Sunday XI from the field following his hat-trick against Woodpeckers
For the first time in a while, this year’s Cricket Week was uninterrupted by the weather. Of the five games, three were a little one-sided (our victory over the Cricket Society and our defeats to Grasshoppers and Jack Frost), but the other two games were thrillers. As has become customary, the Kenya Kongonis game was a tremendous match: with all results possible into the final over, Kongonis ultimately came up just 4 runs short. And the game against Old Cranleighans was even better, as with Blackheath needing just one to win and nine wickets down, a quite brilliant run out meant the game finished in a tie. The catering during the week was as splendid as ever – many thanks to the various chefs as well as to Kate Bendy and her team.
Quite a few of last year’s women’s squad were not available this year for a variety of different reasons, and although some of the gaps were filled by enthusiastic new recruits and a few of our older girls also stepped up, this left us well short of the numbers we had hoped. As a result, our attempt to run two teams throughout the season proved a bit of a stretch and we ended up having to concede several games.
That said, in the games we played we enjoyed a good run of success, and we finished second in Women’s Group B, losing only to the all-conquering Farncombe Fernettes. As last season, Rachel Dann took a starring role in several of games, but Gracie Connor also did brilliantly and Sky Ellis showed great promise – we hope she will ensure that the family tradition of Blackheath cricketers continues for a good few years after her dad finally hangs up his boots. Huge thanks to women’s captain Helen Mansell and to her deputy Sue Stefanik for keeping the show on the road.
For our older boys’ squads, this was something of a vintage year. For the second year running, our U14s won their age group in Tier 1 of the Surrey Junior Cricket Championship against some of the strongest clubs in the county, despite several of our key players often being unavailable. Even more pleasingly, our U13s – newly promoted from Tier 2 this year – came within a whisker of achieving the same feat, finishing level on points with Horsley & Send and missing out on the Tier 1 age group title only by virtue of the head to head result. Our U12 A-team meanwhile romped home to the Tier 2 title, without losing a game all season. For a village club such Blackheath, these are remarkable results, and a tremendous testament to the coaches, parent assistants and the boys themselves.
Whilst the younger boys’ and the girls’ squads did not enjoy such spectacular success in competitive matches, there is now a wealth of talent at all levels in the club which augurs well for the future. A big debt of thanks is due to all those who help run the junior section, including not just the coaches, squad managers, administrators, umpires and scorers, but also those who prepare the numerous junior pitches and help look after our two grounds, and those who help with the many tasks on Friday nights at Blackheath, such as the bar, BBQ and traffic marshalling. It’s an enormous team effort, but a very worthwhile one.
Sky Ellis on the Friday evening BBQ
Finally, a word of thanks to everyone on the committee for all their work behind the scenes throughout what has been another very busy year. The committee will be working on plans for 2023 throughout the coming months, and we hope to be in a position to share some of these at the AGM in late November.
AWARD WINNERS 2022
The Longacre Cup
Awarded for the best performance by a current Blackheath junior in an adult match
Robert Greenway, for 96 not out for 2nd XI v Farncombe
The Humphry Cup (WGH Trophy)
Awarded for the best bowling performance in any single match
Ian Souness, for 7-35 for 1st XI against Tilford
The Cope Cup
Awarded for the best batting performance in any single match
Harry Bardon, for 143 not out for 1st XI v Headley
The Alan Ward Man of the Match Tankard
Awarded for the best all-round individual performance in any single match
Alex Bertola, for 70 and 3 for 34 v Kenya Kongonis
The John Smith Tankard
Awarded for an outstanding sporting achievement
Archie Jones, for his all-bowled hat-trick against Woodpeckers
The Roy Lonsdale Trophy
Awarded to the Sunday XI player of the year
The Mansell Tankard
Awarded to the 3rd XI player of the year
The Robinson Cup
Awarded to the 2nd XI player of the year
The Alan Hall Cup
Awarded to the 1st XI player of the year
The Harrison Cup
Awarded to the most improved player in the men’s section
The John Macdonald Cup
Awarded to the outstanding player under 21 who has not yet won a senior club award
The Nash Cup
Awarded for the best catch of the season
The Chairman’s Cup
Awarded to the best batsman of the season, in all XIs
The Francis Hayes Cup
Awarded to the best bowler of the season, in all XIs
The Billie Hockley Cup
Awarded to the women’s player of the year
The Eyers Cup
Awarded to the most improved women’s player of the year
The President’s Cup
Awarded to the Blackheath member who has made a special contribution off the field over the course of the season