Old Scotch Cricket Club booked themselves a berth in next Sundays MCC Club XI Grand Final after heroically holding on to win a gripping down-to-the-wire Semi Final against a brave Old Trinity at Hudson Oval in emotion charged scenes that will long be remembered by those that were there.
Earlier, Old Trinity won the toss and had no hesitation in asking the Scotchies to bat first on a surface expected to aid the seamers. So it proved, as the Scotchies were in early trouble as Will "Billy" Elliot was dismissed for 1 and the score on 4. Tim Hosking and Sam Shearer consolidated, before Hosking was dismissed for 15 and the score 34.
Shearer was next man to fall for 14 and skipper Tom Murray also fell for the same total soon after, and the Scotchies were reeling at 4 for 52. Sam "Junior" Murray and Seb "Stretch" Armstrong then proceeded to right the ship with a quality partnership worth 66, before Junior Murray fell for 34 and the score on 118. Armstrong perished for a well made 36 and with the score on 6 for 134, it seemed that a score of 160 was not out of reach. However, hopes were soon extinguished by disciplined bowling by the Old Trinity bowlers who scythed through the Old Scotch lower order to dismiss the Scotchies for 144. More importantly, the collapse left 8 deliveries to be bowled, that if used, could have hoisted the score over the 150 mark - considered a pass mark on the slow outfield of Hudson Oval.
At the change of innings, skipper Tom Murray reiterated the game plan to stifle the powerful Old Trinity batting line up, and the Scotchies rearfirmed their commitment to each other and the game plan. They were going to have to bowl and field out of their collective skins to win the game from here.
Things got off to the best possible start, when Seb Armstrong tilted back the Old Trinity opening batsman's off stump with a pearler to have the K2 Scotchies cock-a-hoop. More wickets followed and by drinks, Old Trinity looked a beaten team with the score at 5 for 58. The Scotchies were quietly confident, but they knew that Old Trinity were not done with yet, and that they would surely not lay down without a struggle.
A couple more wickets after drinks, and now 7 wickets down, Old Trinity looked to be sliding to defeat and surely it would only be a matter of time before the Scotchies could start celebrating. But, James Nitsopoulos and Seb Nicolosi dug in and got the Old Trinity innings back on track. Both batsman were savage on anything short as the Old Scotch bowlers became ragged and strayed from the game plan. Suddenly, with six overs left (36 legal deliveries) in the innings, Old Trinity needed a paltry 28 runs to win (27 runs would suffice as a tie would see Old Trinity go through), with two set batsman who had put on a partnership around 50.
The wheels seemed to fall off, as the Scotchies struggled with their line, conceding wides and precious runs as well as overthrows through lack of composure. Old Trinity were walking on air as they galloped towards the target with confidence, while the Scotchies looked a beaten team devoid of any ideas. It was like a nightmare enveloping the playing group.
Finally, with circa 12 runs to win for Old Trinity, the old war horse Gary Bennett took the ball to deliver one of the most important spells of his cricketing life. The game literally rested on the accuracy of Bennett's bowling. Should the veteran waiver in this hour of need, the dream would be over for yet another year.
Almost on cue, Bennett removed the gutsy Nitsopoulos to give the Old Scotch faithful heart. Bennett charged down the pitch towards the throng of his teammates with a manic glazed look in his eyes, exhorting his teammates to believe that all was not lost. Then Bennett removed the brave Nicolosi to have the team truly believing, as Bennett had by know whipped himself into a frenzy.
Finally, a length ball from Bennett was bunted by the nervous OT batsman to a diving Sam Shearer who held onto a good catch to send the Scotchies into a pandemonium as they swamped the heroic Bennett to celebrate an unlikely victory by 7 runs (or was it 9? Or 10?) Bennett finished with four wickets and had yet again outlined why the old timer Scotchies consider him the "the greatest".
In the setting late afternoon sun, the amazing scenes were a reminder of the stark contrasts thrown up by sporting contests. On the one side, the Scotchies embraced in joy as the reality of making it through to the grand final was sinking in. On the other side, the dejected faces of the vanguished Old Trinity players as they numbly went through the motions of congratulating their Old Scotch opponents as they contemplated what might have been was a picure of heartbreak.
Make no mistake, Old Trinity had been brave to the very last. From looking dead and buried at drinks, they picked themselves up off the canvas - as good teams do - and were desperately unlucky not to pull off a remarkable win. The fine line between victory and defeat was - and is - wafer thin, and the "what ifs" will haunt the OT boys all winter as they came within an ace of making it into the Grand Final.
Old Trinity Cricket Club - we salute you. You are a worthy opponent who gained new found respect from all with your courageous fight on the day. It may hurt now, but you can hold your heads high for leaving nothing in the tank.
For the boys from Old Scotch, we are back where we belong, in another Grand Final where we have a chance to write our names into the fabled annals of Old Scotch Cricket Club history.
Old Scotch will face Division One new comers Old Mentonians at their Keysborough headquarters this Sunday from 12:20pm.
All of you who have Old Scotch Cardinal, Gold and Blue blood must make the pilgrimage down to Keysborough to support the Old Scotch lads as they attempt to make history. It will not be easy, but with your vocal support, the boys will feel they have someone in their corner.
Grand Final week...does it get any better than this?
In the mean time...
SURROUND YOURSELF IN THE EXCITEMENT!