On a chilly afternoon more reminiscent of April than early September, Cambridge Meths travelled to the Glen Road Arena to renew age old rivalries and strive for a season crowning victory.
Following last year’s classic, Meths were clearly intent on regaining the trophy that they narrowly lost and HCC had no intention of releasing their grasp without a scrap. It was Headingley who suffered the first blow, however; Asif Mahmood adjudged to be cup-tied owing to a guest appearance for St George’s in an earlier round and therefore ineligible for the final.
In the wake of this crushing disappointment and still reeling from the loss of their number 10 batsman, third man and ninth change bowler, HCC made the call to fly in Saturday skipper and HCC stalwart, Mark “The Glue” Stelfox, from Adel as a last minute replacement to make his T20 debut in 2011. Comparisons with Rahul “The Wall” Dravid’s late season appearance for India against England rippled around the boundary if only for a moment.
Blow number two followed swiftly on as skipper Mark Noblet called incorrectly and was invited to set a total on a patchwork pitch that bore more than a passing resemblance to Coach; squidgy in the middle and displaying distinct signs of wear around the edges.
After some debate in the camp, stuart costello and Simon Ward wobbled and hobbled to the middle and in doing so formed the least mobile opening pair since Gatting and Gooch were brought together on the 1986 tour to India. With Ward (permanently disadvantaged in the speed department) and the new, streamlined Costello carrying a duff ankle, the only option was to hit and hit big. Ward began cautiously and played the perfect foil to big hitting Costello who despatched the Meths all-spin opening attack to all parts.
Following a tight start from Meth’s Aussie star, Dillon Robertson, Simon Ward departed quickly for just 2 when he was unlucky to see the ball balloon tamely off the shoulder of the bat to Naylor behind the stumps. Bad luck for HCC was soon turned on its head as the smiling assassin Kamran Nazir waltzed to the crease and immediately set about the Meths attack with an intelligent innings combining orthodox straight hitting, scampered singles and balletic skips down the pitch to launch the ball high into the ether for 3 huge maximums.
Pegleg Costello was next to depart – bravery points hard earned as he ran through the pain barrier when the boundary was out of range – clean bowled by an unplayable Butland grubber that shot through off the otherwise true strip.
HCC legend Ifti Tutu joined Kammy in the middle and immediately got his innings moving with the usual straight bat and high elbow reminiscent of Gower in his prime. Wait a minute…. Of course he didn’t! Ifti cross batted and battered every ball as if it had puked in his taxi until the madness came to an end when he surprised everyone by trying to turn one into two, running himself out for a rapid 26.
Brian Dunbar departed quickly, chipping fellow antipode Robertson straight back for a C&B and allowing skipper Noblet to take up the reigns. Kammy continued to nudge and whack as Nobby mistimed and toed everything for the first over, riding his luck like a wild stallion when Naylor shelled a simple chance behind with the infamous slogger on just 3. This proved to be a costly error as the big Lancastrian always seems to come to Meths party and take a slash in the rum punch and this year’s final was no exception; a hooked boundary was followed up with six-penneth over square leg to keep the momentum going. Kammy fell victim to a mistimed skier just as Meths looked stuck for ideas - a brilliant 44 to his name. Abid Khan and Steve Costello didn’t hang around, the long wait on the boundary apparently causing the blood supply to their brains to be cut off as both watched themselves get stumped cheaply whilst dangling their appendages for all to see.
Just as the HCC innings looked to be stuttering to a halt, Mr Not Out Frosdick joined the skipper and together they added 28 in the last 3 overs, Noblet hitting the biggest 6 of the day to very long off and Fros nearly following, falling just short of the longest boundary for a sweetly struck 4 of the final ball.
161 for 7 the grand total – HCC happy after being sent in on a dodgy looking track.
Needing more than 8 an over, Meths started well through all-rounder Robertson and his obvious class with the bat had Headingley believing that he would be a big wicket. A running mix up went unpunished as Noblet’s pea-shooter arm sent the ball to the wrong end and Ward performed an enraged truffle shuffle behind the stumps. After a tight first over from Dunbar, Ifti kept up the pressure and immediately got his reward, clean bowling Rhodes for nought with the score on just 2.
Naylor demonstrated obvious intent, swinging like a Tory MP from ball one for little reward until Dunbar and Ward combined to send him back to the hutch and bring the dangerous Dave Britton to the crease.
As the scoreboard rattled it became clear that this partnership held the key for both sides. Kammy’s one and only over disappeared to all parts and Noblet turned to Stelfox – considered by many to be too “classical” a player to succeed in the shortest form of the game – and his brand of beguiling swing. With the score on 63-2, Foxy repaid the skipper’s faith almost immediately when Robertson lofted an in-swinger high towards the off side deep. HCC held their collective breath as Dunbar and Ifti converged, ignored one another’s calls and went for the cherry. Dunbar employed years of rugby-honed technique, both flattening Ifti and grasping the catch to spark scenes of wild celebration amidst a little concern for Ifti’s health. Stelfox struck again with the very next ball and there was a distinct momentum shift towards the reigning champions.
With the big hitting Aussie gone, the pressure was all on Meths and it began to tell as a procession of wickets followed. Stelfox claimed a match winning 4 for and Abid grabbed a couple after a shaky start. The required rate climbed above 10 an over and Britton was forced to play against his natural instincts, finally edging Ifti behind for Ward to take a sharp one.
Steve Costello claimed the final wicket with his first ball, Butland edging a big turner for limping brother Stuart to pouch at slip and in doing so seal a comfortable win for HCC by 46 runs.
Man of the Match: Mark Stelfox for defying both age and belief with a brilliant 4 for 18.