Epic scenes where witnessed at Scotch on a glorious Sunday afternoon as the A-Team came back from the dead to narrowly defeat a plucky Old Xavier outfit to march into their fourth Grand Final in as many years. Over on Melville Oval, the Celebrities dream season came to crashing halt in their disappointing semi final loss to Old Haileybury.
As the clock struck 12, Sam Shearer won the toss on a glorious early autumn afternoon and elected to bat on the usually placid Meares Oval deck. Despite most of the batsmen getting starts, a regular fall of wickets prevented the Scotchies from getting any kind of momentum in their innings, and similarly to last years Grand Final against the same opponent, the Scotchies stumbled their way to a sub par 136 all out, not even managing to bat out the full allotment of 40 overs. For the worried old scotch supporters, it looked like Old Xavs had yet again rained on the Old Scotch parade when it mattered most. Other than Tim Hosking with 41 not out and Matt Mitchell with a promising yet unfulfilled 22, no other batsmen made a score of substance.
To resurrect what had been a glorious season, but now was on life support, the Scotchies were going have to bowl and field exceptionally well. When a Old Xaverian has a sniff of victory in a big match against Old Scotch, it is in his DNA to know exactly what to do. The only thing that evened up the contest was a very slow outfield by Meares standards, which meant that the match could be turned into an arm wrestle as boundaries were going to be hard to come by.
The angular Will Fraser-Smith got the early breakthrough, and hope sprang eternal. A couple of inexplicable run outs soon followed, including the big wicket of Old Xavs skipper James Forrest, and a wave of belief suddenly enveloped both the Scotchie players and supporters alike. But, we are talking Old Xavier here. Giving up is not in their DNA, nor was their self belief dented as they almost predictably rallied with Thomas Ashby digging in courageously with the redoubtable Olly Hicks, and over by over, Old Xavs grabbed the ascendancy. Their run rate was such, it appeared the Semi Final was headed for an early finish.
Only 50 runs needed, not much more than 3 an over run rate required, plenty of wickets in hand and two very well set batsmen at the crease. To say that the A-Teams prospects looked bleak was an understatement. Shoulders drooped. Heads were down. Another great season looked headed for the scrap heap. Old Xavier were doing it easily and their travelling band of supporters were cheering on every run as they looked set to record yet another famous win at Scotch. The two sets of supporters sat circa 100 meters apart, yet the respective moods could not have been more stark. The Xavs boys were understandably cock-a-hoop, and the Scotchie camp looked funereal.
Old Scotch needed a miracle.
The Old Xavs boys were now 3/95, 41 needed for victory and momentum in their corner, until an innocuous Nick Shearer delivery was skied by Hicks over square leg, but well short of the man running in from the deep midwicket boundary. Will Fraser-Smith ran back with the flight and with his teammate running at him. Both watching the balls flight. Fraser-Smith put in a late dive, and somehow the ball stuck in his hands, also narrowly avoiding a collision with his oncoming teammate. A huge breakthrough, but with six wickets in hand, Old Xavs were still very much in the box seat. However, it was obvious that the wicket changed the mood in both camps. Suddenly the Scotchies players and supporters believed again, and the Old Xavs camp were on edge after looking like winners.
Cricket is a funny game, and so it proved as panic set into the Old Xav's line up. Wickets started falling and the run rate started mounting. Finally the huge wicket of Ashby, who had been heroic for the Xavs, with a determined 59 guiding his team within sight of victory. From being dead and nearly buried, in half an hour, the Old Scotch boys inexplicably found themselves with only one wicket to take, but defending a slender 18 run lead. Surely there could not be a late twist to enable the Old Xaverians a freakish win from here?
What happened next needs retelling, as it will go down in Old Scotch Cricket Club folklore. The Old Xavs batsman smacked a delivery high in the direction of long on. Ollie McLeish was walking in from beyond the long on boundary, so far back was he. McLeish started sprinting in, but never really looked like making ground on the fast falling ball. Now, I preface this by saying that Ollie McLeish is a lovely guy and a fine cricketer, but with all due respects to the young lad, no one could have believed what he did next. McLeish closed in on the ball and put in a late lunge and held onto a memorable tumbling catch. A great catch in anyone's language, but, 1/ I have never seen Ollie hold onto anything so challenging at training, and 2/ in a high pressure situation, even the best would be feeling the pressure of that responsibility to produce a clutch, match winning act. Ollie McLeish held onto what may be the finest catch he will ever take, as delirious team mates engulfed him as they piled in soccer style in scenes that will live on in the memory of all those who were there.
With that, the A-Team march on into their fourth grand final in four years as they look to cap off a fabulous season. In the Grand Final they will meet Old Melbournians on the Main Oval at Scotch. It will be a difficult assignment as Old Melbournians are the only team to record a win over the Old Scotch boys this summer, and they will bring a large crowd of supporters with them. We must not be outnumbered in a home grand final.
As for the Celebrities, their golden summer came to a crashing halt in the semi final at Melville Oval at Scotch, as they disappointed with the bat, being dismissed for a sub par 127, with only veteran Mark "G-Spot" Griffiths coming out of the wreckage with his dignity intact with a fighting 67 as the talented youngsters fell around him. Talismanic skipper John "The Mexican" Stavris whipped himself into a frenzy and grabbed three inspirational wickets and effected a run out, but it was to no avail, as Old Haileybury raced to the target for the loss of only 5 wickets to turn the tables after a recent heavy defeat at the hands of The Celebrities only a matter of weeks ago. The disappointing loss cannot wash away what has been a wonderful season for the Celebrities boys, as a whole string of young players fresh out of Scotch integrated themselves into the team and produced some dazzling performances that is merely a snap shot of the potential of the line up in the coming years.
Back to the main event, this Sunday is a huge Grand Final, and we need every Scotchie supporter young and old to come support the lads as they seek to write a new page in Old Scotch history. Show us your best William Wallace Highland spirit and come on down and support the boys in their quest for Old Scotch immortality.