Reporting by The Allrounder
Arriving at Kentstown, with the sun bleaching, the Hills 3rds kicked off their season in the GSCI Intermediate T20 Cup. As always in the early part of season, winning the toss is key. A quick surmise of a green bowler’s paradise of a wicket, and with no warm up matches allowed, confirmed this. As the coin was flipped by the home skipper, away skip, Matthew Richards, bellowed out “tails” (for Wales of course). Unfortunately, a big fat juicy melon of a head landed and I started crossing everything I could, in the hope the skip would go against his instincts and bat first. What seemed like an age for a decision to be made, resulted in the visitors, rightly being inserted to bat.
The early match score: 1-0 to Knockharley.
Openers Matthew Richards and Gavin Morgan (returning after some time away from playing), set about building the innings. Slow and steady was the order of the day as the batsman got to grips with a slow, low pitch with inconsistent bounce. A few boundaries later, including a beautiful deep extra cover lofted drive by Gavin and the half way point was reached. The Hills arrived at the brief drinks break at 10 overs with 50 runs on the board and no loss of wickets. Progress had been slow but it seemed a par score, based on how the pitch was behaving. The openers got together and agreed to kick on and drive up the run rate. But as is so often the case, a new bowler and a brief break resulted in a wicket first ball after resumption of play. Gavin clean bowled by the Knockharley skipper for 31. Youngster Lorcan Woodhouse joined Matt at the crease but his innings was to be short-lived. It did not take long for the pitch to misbehave and a ball that got stuck in the pitch was spooned for the simplest of catches at short extra cover. Lorcan giving a glaring scowl at the surface as he departed. Next up at no 4. was Mo (Muhammad Hassan). Our mean bowling, big hitting regular the last couple of years. His partnership with Matt was stopped before it got started as Matt (19) out bowled. 3 wickets in 3 overs. A partnership was needed and so it proved vital as Mo was joined by Sam Smyth, making his 3rd team debut. Between them they put on a crucial 38 run partnership. Mo’s big hitting began, including a mighty 6 over deep midwicket, drawing grasps from the crowd. Not to be outdone by his partner, Sam combined to rotate strike intelligently, mixed in with a couple of excellent shots for boundaries. His eventual dismissal for a quickfire 13, coming from being called through for a run by his partner, than not even Usain Bolt would have made. Ever so reliable Aijaz Farooqi, brought his unique blend of talent and experience to the crease. After a couple of typical crafty shots to find gaps for boundaries, he lost his batting partner. Mo out for 24 off 20, clean bowled. A priceless innings. Young Conor O Brien entered the fray with 3 overs to spare. A difficult situation for anyone, knowing runs were needed and no time to assess the pitch. He had not troubled the scorers by the time he departed. Out bowled having faced 4 balls. Next and the final partnership was a father and son combo. Ashad Farooqi joining dad in the middle. A quick discussion was had before Ashad first ball, deposited the dangerous opening bowler back over his head for a georgeous looking straight drive for 4. The bowler acknowledging not a bad ball – just a very good shot. Absolute essential runs at this stage. A couple of runs later and the final score of 118 was reached. It looked a pretty good score. Gary Woodhouse, our ever-dependable scorer and supporter, nodded his approval.
So, a defense of our 118 began. The ecomomic and deadly duo of Raja and Mo, set about the openers early. Knowing that boundaries were not going to be easy, rotation of strike was used effectively by the batsman. A similar pattern had developed with slow progress and a foundation being built as was the earlier Hills innings. Mo and Raja had bowled 3 each and kept the run rate down. The first bowling change brought instant results. Young debutant Sam Smyth picking up 2 wickets in his first over and changing the course of the match. The 1st wicket a sharp catch by Conor O Brien and a wicket maiden. His 2nd wicket picking up Knockharley’s dangerous number 3 batsman and regular top scorer as he was bowled without scoring a run. Sam’s family were watching, delighted by his impact. Now it was time to put our hosts to the sword. When you need a wicket who do you call? King of swing Jay Magee of course. He duly obliged with the first of his 3 wickets, clean bowling the young opener with a typical bamboozling in swinging delivery. The young lad appeared to have seen nothing like it. He duly followed that up shortly with another, caught by a sharp low catch by the magic man behind the stumps, Paul McGrane. Not to be outdone by the evergreen Jay, Sam picked up his 3rd wicket, as Aijaz Farooqi took a simple catch off good length bowling. It’s about this time every game, Jay usually says something like “it’s not doing much, take me off if you like”. But perseverance and faith is often a key ingredient to success and so it proved as Jay was asked to finish his allotted overs. And faith was rewarded with the last of Jay’s 3 wickets. Paul McGrane taking a remarkable catch diving low to his right, as the batsman chased a wide one and an edge was found. The next over Sam Smyth completed his 4 wicket haul as Gavin Morgan took a skyer from his gully position. Sam had 1 ball left of his 4 overs, chasing that elusive 5 wicket milestone. The tension was electric. The delivery was not. A leg side delivery ensued, but a dot ball was had. However, the job was done. 4 wickets. 1 maiden. 8 runs off his 4 overs. Top stuff from anyone and key in the middle overs. Especially from a young debutant. Off he proudly marched to do his fielding duties. Next, was our young spin twins bowling together in unison, Lorcan and Ashad. Batsman being unable to pick them as they beat the bat time and time again. Ashad eventually rewarded for excellent bowling with a wicket caught by dad Aijaz at mid-off. The openers Raja and Hassan finished things off, thankfully in an uneventful style and a great match was brought to a close. The Hills had won by 17 runs.
S.Smyth 4 overs. 8 runs. 4 wickets.
J.Magee 4 overs. 24 runs. 3 wickets.
Ashad Farooqi. 2 overs. 9 runs. 1 wicket
R.Akbar. 4 overs. 17 runs.
M.Hassan. 4 overs. 23 runs
The hosts skipper was impressed. He commented how they had a strong team this year and were hoping to do well. Playing at home on their wicket, they expected to beat most teams. But the Hills had other ideas.
Man of the Match: Sam Smyth
Only 1 person in consideration for man of the match. Young Sam batted well and excelled with ball in hand. Completely changing the course of the match in our favour. Until his introduction the match was 50/50 at best. Knockharley may even have been favourites, until he began his spell.
Last word from captain Matthew Richards: “Fantastic win and true team effort to claim victory. Every single player can take a look at the player next to them and be proud of how they played. They all contributed in some way. The batting and bowling can take credit of course, but I was most impressed with our fielding today. I said before the game, that for me fielding is more important than any other part of the game for us as a team. As it sets the standard of how we want to play. The lads all put 100% effort in. I could talk about every player in some way. But it would be wrong of me not to mention man of the match Sam Smyth. Sam was on 3rd team debut and you would never have known. He played like an old head and didn’t try to do too much, which was key. He kept his length consistent and beat the bat many times to go along with his 4 wickets. Top effort Sam and the match ball was well deserved. There won’t be many teams in our cup, who go away first game of season, on a very tricky surface, who are asked to bat first, when no warm up or friendly matches have been allowed and still win convincingly. My thanks to Knockharley for being such great hosts. Let’s continue to work hard in nets with our coaches and use this first win to drive the momentum and direction of our season. It was great to see so many young players in our 3rds team. This is the youngest 3rds team we have had in some time. Those previous young 3rds players are now playing 1st and 2nd team cricket. So, it will be great to provide a pathway for their development this season and combine that with a winning mentality.”