After last year's 1-run thriller, Guildford again thought they had the game in the bag only to be pushed right to the wire by an Esher side (magnificently led again by their charismatic skipper Ellis) who just refuse to give in.
On a boiling day at least 15 degrees hotter than the preceding year's soggy fixture, skipper Hussain won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first, despite lacking a seasoned gun batsman to hold the side together now Aditya and his alarm clock have departed for the bright lights of Wembley. He was rewarded by an excellent all-round effort that pleasingly saw contributions right down the order.
This year's standout u13 debutant, Myles Haarhoff, opened up with last year's Alex Jourdan, now a wizened and wily pro at the age of 14. The latter got off to a flyer against a disastrous opening over from one of Esher's rather more wizened pros, smacking two shoulder-high full tosses to the square leg boundary. Myles was also full of confidence following his maiden (and unbeaten) fifty the previous week, and was poised to carry on where he left off until he flicked slightly across the line at a rare straight ball.
A crusty and uneven pitch offering eccentric bounce and considerable turn might have been grounds for concern, but with a very short boundary on one side shared with an adjacent match, and a lightning outfield in all directions, we were rattling along in excess of 8 an over for most of the first 10. Despite an early let-off when he prodded a ball through cover's fingertips, Alex carried on in aggressive vein, pulling savagely and biffing the spinners and Esher's competent skipper back over their heads. Student Rahul also joined in the fun, and took full toll when very young slow left-armer Shiv was given something of a hospital pass by being asked to bowl to the short leg-side boundary. The impressive Shiv held his nerve however, continuing to spin the ball and float it up full and straight, and produced a superb moment of Proper Cricket when Oscar Cannings pushed forward to a ball on leg which turned sharply, took the edge, and was snaffled by the keeper.
Although Alex eventually fell to young Shiv for a run-a-ball 57, the revolving door between Guildford CC and the Royal Grammar School obligingly provided two more fine young efforts from debutants Ayaan Bhagat and Tom McMurray. Tom took a little while to adjust to the crazy turn and bounce, but soon picked up where his RGS team-mate Jourdan had left off. While lacking the power of the burly McMurray, Ayaan used the pace of the ball well to pick up two boundaries, and also managed a moment of butter-wouldn't-melt angelic innocence to survive a loud appeal for a catch off an inside edge.
Some useful runs from the lower order, including an aggressive cameo from Sharath, saw us to the imposing figure of 215-8 off our 35 overs, with the skipper cruelly made to pad up for nothing once again. The score looked rather less imposing as Esher raced along in reply, as the normally metronomic Haarhoff struggled to adjust back to a 22-yard pitch after a run of u13 games. Although the fast outfield and short boundary remained problematic, the opening bowlers gradually hit their straps and began to exert some pressure, with both Myles and Sharath bagging a brace each in their opening spells. With the ball rapidly worn by the parched outfield, it was soon time for Jourdan to hog the game further, causing all sorts of problems with extravagantly-turning leg breaks. Although tending to drop short a touch too often, he was unlucky to get only 1 wicket and leak as many runs as he did. Ayaan braved the end with the short leg-side boundary, and made a confident debut with the ball kept well up on an off-stump line. He was also unlucky, being one of several victims of an epidemic of nerves under high catches, seeing two chances go begging in his final over. With the ball alternately popping and scuttling keeper Gleiwitz had to wear a few on the body, although his mouth was miraculously unscathed allowing his non-stop stream-of-consciousness surreal banter to thoroughly annoy the opposition without respite.
The 18yo opener was still going well, although the heat and some professed post A-Level Bacchanalian excesses had reduced his enthusiasm for aggressive running, leading to a mix-up that thoroughly stitched up one of Esher's veterans. Rahul's opening over of darted-in off-breaks seemed to have put us well on top, bowling the dangerous Esher skipper and snaring another. But although starting slowly in support of the opener, their no 10 suddenly unleashed an array of shots of his own. Despite having only 2 wickets in hand, his Aussie never-say-die mentality was much more interested in the 8 runs an over needed from their remaining ten. Both batters began to target the short boundary, leaving us seemingly powerless to achieve the two or three quiet overs in a row that would have put the target beyond reach. Rahul lost his nerve and his line after a miserly start, Akash was tidy but didn't threaten to break the stand, and Jourdan returned for his final over only to be clattered for 13.
With the opener missed off high chances for the second or third time, heads began to drop and the fielding began to wilt, only for our fortunes to be revived by a brilliant shy at the stumps by Oscar Cannings to dislodge the adhesive Aussie. A tight over from the recalled Haarhoff left them needing 20 off the final three, but with poor young Shiv given a second hospital pass of the day and left to try and see the match over the line. With skipper Ahmed "It's easier to get the kids a game as bowlers: I'll only bowl myself in emergencies" Hussain forced to put his money where his mouth was for once, his tossed up loosener was belted to long-on where it bounced over the head of Jourdan to complete the opener's ton. After turning down an easy run next ball to shield his junior partner, Van Der Spuy went for glory over long-on again but this time found the waiting hands of Jourdan to end a second thriller in a row against Esher.
The opposition (and particularly their captain) were roundly praised for fighting to the last and making it a magnificent game.
Man of the Match (nominated by Esher): Alex Jourdan, for his 57, 1 wicket, and a Very Important Catch.