The Somerset Cricket Board’s ‘Finals Day’ provides club cricketers from the county with a rare opportunity to grace the same turf as some of the true greats of the game have done. And for many who are closer to the grass roots end of the spectrum, the chance to appear in a final at Somerset HQ will rank as one of the highlights of their careers. For the Bears, this was once again the perfect platform to show off what makes this club so remarkable.
With the Intermediate final scheduled last on the three-final running order, the coach for players and supporters glided into Taunton at 2.30pm only to be greeted with an outbreak of rain. Thankfully, what looked like ominous clouds soon swept through and gradually the overcast conditions were replaced with glorious late-afternoon sun. The stage was set.
After a bare-footed pre-match warm-up in the indoor school of excellence, the Bears took to the field following the completion of the Major Cup final. A pensive Mark Gunning called correctly at the toss and had no hesitation in batting, backing the ability of his team to score enough runs to build that all-important scoreboard pressure. The first two finals had resulted in modest first innings scores, so the consensus amongst the players was that anything over 120 would be tough to chase down.
Gunning put his faith in Ashwin Agrawal and Chris Bence to open the batting: the ultimate in youth and experience. A solid if unspectacular start followed, with both batsmen contributing 14 before being dismissed: Ashwin run out as he attempted to take a single to silly mid-off and Chris Bence tamely chipping one to orthodox mid-off as he tried to go over the top with an ambitious drive.
Bence’s dismissal left the Bears at 38-2 and that became 38-3 when Sam Vesey became the victim of a remarkable reflex catch by the Newton wicketkeeper. For the first time in the match, but not the last, the Bears needed to come up with some answers: enter Ross Newman and Rob Wilson. Taking the attack to the bowlers, both scored at better than a run a ball in a 64-run partnership that took the Bears into three figures before Rob departed for 21 (attempting to ‘ramp’ a 15mph delivery…). Rob, with his excellent shot placement and unflappable temperament, had provided the perfect foil for Ross, who was wielding his bat like a lightsaber, ruthlessly dispatching Newton’s increasingly short-pitched bowling to all parts of the famous old ground. The briefest of cameos from Tom Harris kept the momentum going, with Captain Gunning at the crease to congratulate Ross as he reached 50. A couple more lusty blows, Newman finishing unbeaten on a quite brilliant 60, and the Bears had achieved Gunning’s pre-match target. North Newton would require 127 to win.
In the pre-fielding huddle the skipper spoke about focus, about intensity, about staying both in the moment and positive if things didn’t go our way. And, finally, about remaining composed: when your chance comes, deep breath and take it.
The North Newton response began in relatively sedate fashion: Tom Harris’ first over definitely not a sign of things to come as only two runs were garnered. However, it was clearly just a sighter for opening batsman Josh Cook as over number two of the innings signalled his intent: double figures being taken off the hitherto untouchable Ross Newman’s first six balls. Third over and Cook’s partner, Tom Williams was in on the action and suddenly the Bears were on the ropes. When the ‘free hit’ that George Ellis had offered up was deposited ten rows back into the stands even the fanatical Bear Flat supporters were left momentarily speechless. Newton were 57 without loss and seemingly cruising: the Bears were at another crossroads.
For Newman with the bat read Shreyas Malhotra with the ball, the Omani international like all really good players had saved his best performance of the season for the final. First it was the dismissal of Williams: a tame end to an excellent knock of 29 as he top-edged a sweep to the grateful hands of Jack Mainwaring at short fine leg. The Bears had regained a foothold in the game, but Shrey wasn’t done there: a beautifully flighted delivery enticing Cook into an ill-advised and ultimately mis-cued lofted drive to that man again, Ross Newman, who took a fine catch low down at long-on. By the time he had finished, Shreyas had recorded match-defining figures of 4-0-14-2.
So, 57 for none had become 58-2 and that soon became 58-3 when Carl Clemenson had his off stump unceremoniously removed by Jay Morris. And in truth, from that point the Bears did not look back. Harris (1-15) and Ellis (1-32) both returned to take a wicket apiece: the latter removing James White in an excellent second spell and the former taking a ludicrously good caught and bowled, even if the resulting appeal was a little unnecessary…
If Shreyas had provided the much-needed initial impetus, then Jay Morris was the bowler to ensure that victory would not escape from the Bears’ collective grasp: a colossal display from a man with broad shoulders, both physically and metaphorically. His incredible spell of three wickets for just seven runs was lesson to all on how to channel pressure and deliver when it matters most.
As the Newton middle and lower order capitulated under an increasing run rate it was fittingly left to Jay to claim that all-important last wicket: a spiralling top edge caught calmly by wicketkeeper, Sam Vesey. North Newton, magnanimous in defeat, had been bowled out for 93 in the 19th over and the Bears had become champions of Somerset.
Ross was named man-of-the-match, an accolade that could have justifiably gone to him, Jay or Shrey, and the Bear Flat family was left to celebrate in Bear Flat style on the outfield as the shadows lengthened and Homer emerged from his Eagle’s Nest of a scorers’ hut.
As a player, can I just say, on behalf of my team mates, a few thank you’s: to Somerset CCC for hosting; to Matt Amner for graciously accepting an invitation to be twelfth man; to Simon Toby Porter for ‘maximising’ our potential as team coach for the day, to the actual coach and its driver for delivering us safely to and from Taunton and for allowing us to celebrate on the way back in the only way we know how; to Nathan Warren for his help in the pre-match warm-up; to the aforementioned Mike Holden for scoring and to official match photographers, Rich ‘Chucky’ Bahadoor and the Chairman himself, JC (who also contributed two bottles of Moet – it’s what he does!), to Rob Peters for organising the transport. And finally, and most importantly, a massive thank you to everyone who made the trip down to cheer us on – you were like an extra man in the field and kept us believing.
Just the Major Cup to win now… don’t rule it out.