‘I do like winning!’

T20 evening league final: Menheniot-Looe (115-5) beat St Neot (114-9) by five wickets

All sportsmen and women dream of playing in a cup final. Whether it’s Wembley, Wimbledon, Lord’s or Twickenham, the idea of a one-off winner-takes-all clash with a tangible prize at the end can inspire and terrify in equal measure.

Our run in the T20 evening league was helped by a series of abandoned matches – three conceded by opposition who couldn’t muster a team and one scuppered by the weather. We only actually played twice and found ourselves in the final by default.

With just a few hours to go until start time it wasn’t clear whether we would actually have eleven players to compete for the trophy. Skipper Bill had abandoned us on the brink of glory, and players were dropping out left, right and centre. A group conversation on Facebook surrounded the issue of who would keep wicket and whether anyone had any gloves. This did not fill me with confidence.

As it turned out, the team which took the field was the strongest I have played in all season. First team regulars Mike, Phil, Ross, Ed and Pez lent a rare air of professionalism to proceedings, and it was quite an experience to see them going about their business.

Presentation1We fielded first and St Neot got off to a flier. I came on to bowl and managed to land it on a line and length for once, but what I thought were good balls were ruthlessly dispatched. One was lofted straight back over my head and into the road, the biggest six I’ve ever conceded. I did manage to pick up a wicket, a long hop caught on the leg side boundary. After we had broken through their top order we regained some control, Ed and Pez bowling full and straight and picking up cheap wickets to restrict them to 114-9.

The trophy appeared at the interval, a dented and grubby old thing which looked like it had seen its fair share of victory parties. I risked tempting fate by picking it up and having a look at the previous winners. When Steve was bowled for a duck in the first over I thought that might be as close as we would get to it.

It’s often said that in T20 cricket you have more time than you realise, and we didn’t panic as the run rate climbed. George and Ross in particular played sensibly to keep us in the hunt. With the poor exhausted first teamers putting their feet up and squabbling over lower order batting slots, I went in at number six, determined not to waste time. I played and missed at a couple short of a length before creaming consecutive boundaries through square leg. That felt good. Then I got out.

JP swaggered to the wicket like a Cornish Viv Richards, sporting an old-school Nottinghamshire floppy white sun hat he’d picked up on a trip to Trent Bridge. James is the kind of cricketer who doesn’t need a second invitation to swing himself off his feet, and with the technically correct Ross nudging and nurdling at the other end he put the result beyond doubt with a typically belligerent knock.

The winning moment was strangely low key. There was no hastily-erected podium, no champagne, no mad dash to the pavilion to avoid the hordes of invading spectators. We posed for pictures with the trophy. The photographer told us to try to look happy. ‘I do like winning!’, Ed yelled. I think he was being ironic. It’s difficult to tell.

It was a great feeling to secure a piece of silverware, something I never thought possible at the start of the season. The tournament had been a bit of a farce, lacking the intensity of weekend games, but it’s a nice morale boost for the club and yet more valuable experience for those of us still trying to figure out our role.

photo

Back row l-r: Z. Smith, S. Blackledge, S. Fergus, J. Palmer, M. Maiden, M. Perrett, R. Ripley. Front row l-r: E. Facey, P. Shepley, M. Conbeer, G. Hyslop

The senior members of the side, perhaps more concerned with their battle for Saturday league survival, treated it as a bit of hit-and-giggle. They had all read my blog on the third team’s fielding disaster at Launceston three days earlier and eagerly mocked my flowery ‘woe is me’ self-pity. I might have gone a bit over the top, but I stand by the view that there’s no point in playing if you don’t really care. Maybe they’re all a bit too cool for me, but I’ll happily bathe in the warmth of my quiet intensity if it means I can improve my game and contribute to a few more victories.

I have scooped a handful of prizes over the years for academic and work achievements, but never for cricket. As an eight-year-old I watched Dermot Reeve lift the NatWest Trophy on the balcony at Lord’s and thought that was pretty much as good as life got. As we left Lux Park on Tuesday I took one last look at that little tin cup, and stored it away in the mental trophy cabinet to be polished up whenever things get tough.

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