A round-up of recent team performances would normally begin with senior cricket, however the headlines of the past month have unquestionably been written by our U13 boys' team, surely the strongest junior squad we have ever produced.
Still unbeaten in the Surrey Junior Invitational League, on the last Sunday of June they became the first Blackheath side to reach the final of the ECB County Cup, defeating the mighty Spencer in a closely-fought semi-final at Blackheath. A strong batting performance with useful contributions from several players led by captain Rob Greenway saw us make 131 for 4 off our 20 overs. Thanks to some miserly bowling (especially from opening bowlers Sam Riddy and Jasper Arengo-Jones) Spencer were always behind the rate and were ultimately bowled out off the penultimate ball 16 runs short.
Having travelled up to Teddington to win yet another SJIL match the same afternoon, the next day the team played the County Cup Final against a formidable Esher side consisting almost entirely of Surrey players. On a tricky Esher pitch with a large outfield and facing a strong attack, our total of 93 in 20 overs, underpinned by 30s (retired) from Rob Greenway and Alfie Denton-West, at least gave the bowlers something to defend. The Esher reply got off to a rocky start thanks to an astonishing diving catch by Harry Watts off the bowling of Jasper Arengo-Jones - the picture of the celebrations above says it all! Sadly, however, despite tight Blackheath bowling and fielding, the target was ultimately chased down by Esher with a couple of overs to spare. Nevertheless, warm congratulations to the team - if they can stick together, they will be the backbone of the Blackheath 1st XI in a few years' time ...
In the meantime, the current 1st XI are not doing too badly themselves, and are still undefeated in the league mid-way through the season. Highlights have included a welcome return to top batting form of skipper Alex Bertola, whose beautifully paced partnership with Sam Ulph saw us chase down a target set by Frensham which at one point had looked out of reach. Last season's star batsman Will Melhuish has also rediscovered his touch, with an undefeated 50 against Farncombe and a brilliant hundred at Grayshott, although we were just unable to force victory there. Tilford, however, proved an altogether tougher proposition, and although we just hung on for a draw thanks to a late rearguard action from Ronny Harrison, subsequent results mean that we are currently 3 points adrift in second place in I'Anson Division 1.
Either Tilford or Frensham will also be our opponents in the Stevens Cup Final, following a comfortable victory in the semi-final over Grayswood. The Blackheath total of 169 for 3 in 16 overs was achieved largely thanks to a brutal undefeated hundred from Rob Parrott off just 40 balls. Grayswood were never really in the hunt after Iain Jackson was removed early on by Simon Mansell, who proved as hard to get away as ever.
After several early defeats, the 2nd XI were encouraged by a fine victory over Tongham (thanks to a match-winning partnership between Tom Melhuish and Ben Stefanik), and another good win against Badshot Lea (Edward Allen 5-23; Harry Giles 65). Since then, things have proved tougher, with defeats to Tilford and Dogmersfield and losing draws against Witley and Chiddingfold, leaving us near the foot of I'Anson Division 2. However, despite almost always facing other clubs' 1st XIs, the team has been strongly competitive in every match and with our considerable strength in depth over the holiday period there is every reason to think we can finish strongly and avoid any threat of relegation.
The 3rd XI, meanwhile, are not far off the promotion spots in I'Anson Division 6, although consistency is proving frustratingly hard to achieve. Crushing victories over Bramley (Matt Burch 50 n.o.) and Shalford (featuring a triple-wicket maiden from Will Nash) have been balanced by losses to Frensham and, frustratingly, to Churt, where we fell agonisingly short with victory seemingly within grasp. Once again, however, our strength in depth over the summer holidays should stand us in good stead and give us a fair chance of achieving our target of Division 5 cricket next season.
As for Sunday cricket, several of our recent games have been blighted by miserable weather, although we have generally played on stoically through the drizzle to complete matches if at all possible and have seen some good finishes as a result. All the games have been played in an excellent spirit. Tom Vickers and Ronny Harrison have both scored heavily with the bat, whilst the wickets have generally be shared around.
One Sunday match for which the sun shone brightly was the Tommy Dann memorial game against the Flashmen, one of the best games of cricket - both in terms of standard and in terms of excitement - played at Blackheath for many years. A Flashmen team boosted by the loan of Tom Vickers played a Blackheath side strengthened by one or two Cranleigh players (including former Hampshire batsman James Hamblin), but it was ultimately the Blackheath boys on both sides who starred. Tom Vickers followed up a bright 29 n.o. in the Flashmen total of 218 with 3 wickets; but it was Alex Bertola who won the game for Blackheath with a brilliant 54 n.o. as we chased down the target with 9 wickets down and just a couple of balls to spare. At the tea interval, caps were presented to the 3 Dann boys, each of whom also took the field for a while in the match.
The first half of the women's season has produced a lot of fun and plenty of good matches. With Blackheath fielding teams in both Groups of the I'Anson women's competitions, results have been mixed with wins and losses pretty much evenly balanced, but as matters stand, we are joint top of Group A and third in Group B. It's great to see a good number of our older girls playing in the women's teams, often with considerable success.
Generally, our women and girls section is in tremendous health, with membership now over 100. The girls have been growing in confidence as the season has progressed - particular credit to the U14-12 hard ball team who have come on enormously after a tough start to the season, winning both their last 2 matches against Reigate Priory and Horsley & Send respectively. The U11/10 girls' squad has also won their share of matches and are entered into a whole series of tournaments over the summer. A huge thank you to the girls' coaches and administrators, especially Lesley Cathrew, Nerys Hopkins and Helen Mansell. A big celebration of the women and girls' section is planned at the Grafham opening ceremeny, which has now been rescheduled for Sunday 25 July - further details of this to follow shortly.
As for the boys, alhough the U13s have led the way, the younger boys' teams have also generally been in good form this season. The U12A team is still unbeaten in the league and are on course to win their division - having beaten Reigate Priory in the County Cup as well, they are now looking distinctly too strong for Tier 2 cricket. The U11s and U10s have both had their share of wins as well and both squads show enormous promise for the future, as do the U9s and U8s, both of whose A teams are unbeaten. Thanks are again due to our formidable coaching team of Chris Poil, Danny Harrison, Ronny Harrison and Tom Selby, as well as the younger assistant coaches and the various parent assistants and administrators.
After this week, there is just one more week of junior weekly coaching sessions at Blackheath and Grafham, but most squads still have some matches to play and extra friendlies will also be arranged over the next month or so to make up for some of the matches lost to the weather. In addition, the Matchfit team of coaches are running a series of holiday cricket and activity camps at both grounds from the week commencing 26 July onwards: for further details, see the Matchfit website.
With cricket week coming up as well at the beginning of August (including this year a visit from the MCC), the next few weeks promise to be very busy ones at the club. Fingers crossed that the long term forecasters are right, and that we now are in store for a warm and sunny spell during the rest of July and August. It is certainly overdue!