Batting first, Old Scotch were in deep trouble almost immediately when this season's batting star, Tim Hosking, was adjudged caught behind for 8 and the score on 16. Hosking was clearly disappointed, intimating to team mates that he had simply hit the ground with the toe of his bat rather than touching the ball. Worse was to follow, as first Shearer was out first ball LBW for a golden duck - "I was plumb" - a philosophical Shearer later opined, and similarly to Hosking, skipper Tom Murray was adjudged caught behind after a fresh air shot where no contact between bat and ball occurred. Two bad decisions out of the first three wickets to fall, and the Scotchies were 3 for 16 and the premiership dream already looked in tatters.
Standing at the other end through all this carnage was bespectacled opener Will "Billy" Elliott, who despite being a former Premier 1sts opener and an Old Scotch premiership hero, was coming back to the game after an absence of some years. Having been devoid of confidence and touch, Elliott found himself in a desperate partnership to save the game with Sam "Junior" Murray who was entering the Grand Final on a high after his match winning heroics with the bat in the semi final triumph over Old Trinity. The Semi Final was a return to form for Sam Murray who had been off the boil in the month leading into the finals after a stellar season with the bat.
Murray and Elliott batted solidly advancing the score to 3 for 71 in the last over before drinks, when the watchful Elliott edged Cormie to first slip to depart for a priceless 27. Drinks were taken immediately, and while 4 for 71 was a precarious score at the half way mark, it was infinitely more palatable compared to when it was 3 for 16. Still, much hard work needed to be done to post a respectable score. One thing that was immediately obvious, was the lush, slow outfield that saw many well struck shots only post 2, rather than a boundary.
Explosive all-rounder Seb Armstrong joined Junior Murray at the crease, but their union was short lived as Murray edged behind soon after for an excellent 40. On this slow outfield, it was worth circa 70 on Meares Oval. Tim Bate joined Armstrong and the task was simple - at 5 for 79 off 22 overs, batting out the full 40 overs was a priority. Sadly, in his anxiety to get things moving, Bate called Armstrong through for a single that retrospectively was never there. Armstrong hesitated for a moment as Bate kept coming, and sportingly, Armstrong chose to sacrifice himself and was run out by a considerable distance. For the Scotchie cause, this was an unmitigated disaster. Armstrong batted beautifully in the semi final victory, and he was the man Old Scotch most needed to fire in this hour of need, but there he was trooping off the field with his head bowed down as the Old Mentonians mobbed each other as they sensed they had gained the ascendancy.
Tim Bate is a sublimely talented top order batsman with all the shots in the text book. The mental aspect of the game has frequently let Bate down, leading to the youngster lacking the confidence in his own obvious ability. With only the two all-rounders Reeve and Hays to come, how would Bate cope with being the last recognized batsman? After being culpable in the demise of Armstrong, the concern amongst many was that the guilt would overwhelm Bate and he could lose concentration. However, Bate displayed a steely resolve that belied his laconic boyish persona. You could see determination etched onto Bate's face, mentally preparing himself to bat out the remaining 18 overs.
Alisdair Reeves joined Bate. Reeva is an attractive stroke player when on song, and all his team mates were hoping that today he would catch fire. Sadly, Reeves was also caught behind, and the score had crashed to 7 for 87. With Will Hays the last of those that can be relied upon with the bat, it was obvious to all that the Bate/Hays partnership was the last hope to post a total that was remotely respectable. The loss of either would likely see the innings fold for not much more than 100 - and at Old Mentone's home patch, the Scotchies would simply become road kill in the Grand Final.
Hays, much like Bate was battling his own personal demons. Hays is a talented batsman that would bat inmost teams top six, but frequently slated to come in at numbers 7, 8 or 9, Hays simply had been denied the opportunity to bat this season due to the top order starring and rarely losing more than 4 wickets on any given week. Throw in the fact that by the man's own admission, Hays had a sub standard Semi Final versus Old Trinity. Knowing all this in advance, it really did appear that only a miracle could save the Scotchies from the abyss.
Something approaching a miracle is exactly what happened. Will Hays attacked the bowling with gusto and the watchful Bate provided staunch support. With each passing over, the pair gained in confidence, and in spite of the slow outfield, they scored at a respectable rate. The Bate/Hays union produced the match defining partnership that yielded a priceless 61, advancing the score from a depressing 7 for 87 to a far more respectable 8 for 148. Will Hays was dismissed in a blaze of glory in the last over, caught on the boundary as he looked to smash a six. Hays 38 was a magnificent counter punching innings that went a long way towards winning the premiership. On a faster outfield, it would easily have been closer to 80. Summerfield holed out almost immediately, and Bate unselfishly ran himself out going for an impossible second run off the last ball of the innings to be dismissed for a heroic 26- an innings worth far more than the number indicates. The score finished on 150, not a huge score on the surface, but due to the slow outfield, comparable to a score of around 200 on a faster surface.
The boys knew that to beat Old Mentonians on their home ground to claim the premiership, they would have to bowl and field better than they had at any stage during the season. The man of the moment, Will Hays, got the Scotchies off to the perfect start, tilting Old Mentonians opener Walker's middle stump with the score on 5. Seb Armstrong joined in, ensnaring Sketchley caught behind by Murray with the score on 13. Did Sketchley hit it? Armstrong was convinced he did. A couple of his team mates in slip cordon later that night expressed their doubts and rationalised that they had received two awful decisions when the Scotchies batted, and this was one back the other way.
Old Mentonians were not going to lie down. They well understood that one good partnership would win them the game. And that is exactly what Cormie and Russo set about doing. Both batsmen adroitly worked the singles and set the scoreboard ticking over with a minimum of fuss and risk. It seemed almost no time that they had advanced the score to 2 for 45 in little more than 11 overs. At this rate, they would coast to victory inside 30 overs. Somebody needed to do something incredible, as both batsmen did not even look like making a mistake. That act of genius duly arrived in the shape of Tim Bate. Gary Bennett had been brought into the attack, and after some tight bowling, the Old Mentone batsmen decided to chance their luck on a sharp single to Tim Bate at cover. Picking up the ball cleanly from a bunted driver, Bate in one action rifled in a low, flat trajectory throw that Tom Murray did well to take and whip off the bails in one motion with the dangerous Cormie only 5 or 6 inches out of his ground - at most. This was a seismic match turning moment engineered by the brilliance of Tim Bate, who was understandably engulfed by overjoyed team mates.
As brilliant as that was, pandemonium broke out when two balls later Gary Bennett trapped the new batsman LBW for a duck. As the Scotchies converged for celebration mid pitch, Gary Bennett in a mad dash ran straight past his celebrating team mates who did not notice him run all the way over to the boundary's edge in front of the pavilion as he pumped his arm skyward in triumph. It was mad, it was bizarre, it was hilarious. It was Gary Bennett at his pumped up best! The score was now 4 for 45, and the Scotchies could smell blood in the water as they noticeably lifted. Sam Shearer removed Litchfield caught behind to Murray with the score now 5 for 54 and the predatory Old Scotch fielders circling in for the kill. The explosive Russo was still there, and the opportunity to remove him looked to have been squandered when Bennett found the edge of his bat only for Hosking to put down the low chance at first slip. It mattered not, as Bennett produced the perfect response by bowling Russo very next ball to send his team mates into a delirium. They went completely mad when Bennett had Seeary caught by Sam Murray at third slip - after the ball had bobbled up from a catching attempt from a team mate, only for the ball to gently lob into the safe hands of Junior Murray. 7 for 61, and Old Mentone's resistance was crumbling as there had been a massive shift in momentum in the match and the Scotchies were swarming.
Everything was going like a dream, until Gary Bennett who had 3 for 12 off 6.3 overs suddenly aborted a delivery just prior to release holding up a hand of apology to the batsman. A concerned Tom Murray ran over to Bennett, and the two were locked in serious conversation, when Bennett yet again made his way back to his mark. Had he strained a leg muscle? Bennett heroically ran in again, but this time pulled up lame even before he got to the umpire, threw the ball to one of his team mates. Murray ran over yet again to consult with his star fast bowler - but this time, there was no pretence of any heroics, Bennett hobbled off with his Grand Final over. Suddenly, a worried pall descended over the Scotch camp, had the Old Mentonians had more wickets in hand - this injury could have proved to be a decisive moment in the contest. Ben Summerfield stepped up to complete Bennett's over and the game lulled momentarily until the drinks break.
Straight after the resumption, Summerfield removed Stevens and it was now 8 for 88 - surely the Scotchies were home? Knowing what Batee and Hays had conjured up, the players remained completely focussed on ensuring that Old Mentonian's could not pull off a similar heist. They need not have worried.
Coming back for his second spell, the inspired Hays removed Tunbridge via an excellent catch by Elliott - 9 for 91. The denouement eventually came when Summerfield banged one in short to Hudson who swatted the ball high in the direction of that man Hays who running with the flight of the ball took a wonderful catch, precipitating a mad charge from his delighted team mates who all mobbed him.
Old Scotch cricket club - Premiers 2016...it was now a reality!
As the boys reached for refreshments and emotional hugs were exchanged, I could not help but narrow down who was my choice for Man of the Match. Gary Bennett was brilliant, bowling himself to a stand still to capture 3 for 12 to rip the heart out of the Old Mentone middle order. Benny Summerfield and Sam Shearer also bowled beautifully. Will Elliott came good on the biggest day of all with his 27 which steadied the ship considerably after the early disasters. Who could forget Tim Bate's gutsy innings and brilliant run out of danger man Cormie? Or Sam Murray's wonderful 40 - the top score of the game? But there was one man who edged them all. A man who by his own estimation had bowled badly in the semi final, but today, everything he touched turned to solid gold. Ladies and Gentleman, I offer you Will Hays. A blistering 38 when the innings was poised on a knife edge. A miserly 2 for 10 with the ball including the opening break through...and finally, the magnificent finger tip catch running with the flight of the ball. Will Hays played probably the game of his life.
Old Scotch Cricket Club have scaled the mountain - and each and every one of the lads who took to the field performed their role to perfection. Those on the sidelines, from the injured Cam Melville who deserved to be a premiership player, to the ever present support cast of Stava, Schneilo, Foskey, Braddlesnake, Disco, Timmy Shearer, Billy McNaughton, Rick Cowboy Western..and anybody else I have forgotten, the boys couldn't have got this far without you.
As a post script, I simply have to give a special mention to Tim Bate. For so long a conundrum as to why his undeniable talent has not been matched by performance, a lesser man would have crumbled under the pressure of being the last recognized batsman to see the innings through after accidentally running out the in form Seb Armstrong. But not Timmy Bate. Bater showed an inner toughness and devotion to the cause to bat all the way through and ensure in his own words that he could "make up for my mistake in running Seb out by batting for him and batting to the end". That is maturity. That is guts. That is heroic. Tim Bate - Premiership Hero...before I collapsed into a dreamless slumber brought on by nearly 40 hours without sleep, that was what was running through my mind over and over...Tim Bate, Premiership Hero. What a feel good story!