Reflections First X1 Bua Kit Premier League 2021

Emotion recollected in Tranquillity, Part 2.

Third Man

The first game in the Bua Kit Premier League between The Hills and Malahide was a great occasion because it constituted the restarting of 50 overs games after the one-year hiatus which was caused by the Covid pandemic. The day was gloriously sunny, The Vineyard was in its usual pristine condition and there was a palpable sense of excitement as The Hills won the toss and opted to field first. Two Malahide wickets were taken early on, but that was as good as it got for The Hills. By the end of Malahide’s innings, there were two centurions, (Matthew Ford, 109 runs, and Callum Riches, 140), and it had amassed the huge score of 334 runs for the loss of 7 wickets.

Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin (29), Mark Donegan (28) and Andrew Kavanagh (29) played some beautiful shots, but scoreboard pressure told, and wickets fell at regular intervals. The Hills’ final total was 147, and its innings ended in the 31st over. On this occasion, Malahide batted, bowled, and fielded better than The Hills. For The Hills, positives were in short supply, but in every walk of life, it is possible to have a bad day at the office. There was then a fortnight for the players to get back to first principles, reflect and return refreshed for the game against Phoenix in the Phoenix Park on 31 July.

With both teams having lost their opening games in the BuaKit Premier League, the spectre of relegation was going to loom large for whichever team lost this game.  Tomás Rooney-Murphy, Captain of the Hills, won the toss and opted to field first.  The Hills’ opening bowlers, Rooney-Murphy, and Dylan Blignaut, bowled with fire and accuracy, and Phoenix had only accumulated 9 runs by the 6th over when the first wicket (Mc Donough) fell to a brilliant run-out by Cian Nulty. The two young Hills’ bowlers, Nulty and McGrane, complemented the opening pair brilliantly, and each of them took 2 wickets. Rooney-Murphy took 3 wickets, and the other wickets fell to Blignaut and Sameer Dutt. The Hills’ fielding was a considerable improvement on the previous game, and Extras were restricted to 16 runs (11 wides, 2 no balls, 1 bye and 2 leg byes).

To the certainties of death and taxes, can be added the facility of sports’ teams to induce all forms of stress and anxiety in their supporters as players contrive to make what appear to be straightforward tasks very difficult. It appeared that the required runs would be scored without too much difficulty, but wickets began to fall with frightening regularity, and with 5 runs required, Jonathan Tall, who had left the field due to an injury during the first innings, was obliged to limp to the centre as The Hills sought to achieve the required target. He faced 4 balls, and with a combination of forward defensive pushes and a deft flick, ensured that the onus would be on the imperturbable Dylan Blignaut to finish the game, which he did with considerable aplomb by scoring 4 runs. Despite this victory, The Hills’ batting continued to give cause for concern. Blignaut (37*) batted superbly, and there were contributions from McLaughlin-Gavin and Commons, but the Extras conceded by Phoenix (39) were the top score of the day. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and the 20 points opened The Hills’ account in the League.

The title of one of Edna O’Brien’s novels is “August is a Wicked Month” and this was a particularly apposite comment on the inclement weather which bedevilled the Hills’ fixtures during the month. On 7 August, torrential rain in North County Dublin caused the postponement of the game against Merrion. The following week in another rain-affected game, The Hills scored 175 runs for 7, and had YMCA on 105 runs for 6 when the umpires decided that bad light had rendered further play impossible. On 21 August, The Hills had Leinster 69 for 5 in Rathmines when there was a rainstorm of biblical proportions, and the game was abandoned.

The series of abandonments and the decision to end the league season on 4 September meant that there was a glut of fixtures on the last week in August and the first week in September. On 26 August, The Hills played Merrion in a 20 overs per side game, and it is one of those unfortunate ironies that over the past number of years, the Hills First X1 has reserved its worst performance of the season for its games against Merrion CC. The Hills won the toss and decided to bat first. The accepted wisdom regarding the optimal way to play T20 games is that it is essential to accumulate runs during the first six overs when the fielding restrictions favour the batting side. Alas from a Hills’ perspective this did not occur, and by the end of the sixth over, the home side had only scored 23 runs and lost 1 wicket in the process. For the duration of The Hills’ innings, there were cameos and brief flourishes, and the most productive partnership (42 runs) was between Andrew Kavanagh (19) and Dylan Blignaut (25). The statistics for the innings reveal the extent of the Hills’ batting woes. The Hills ended on 102 runs which was appreciably below the number required to trouble a highly talented Merrion batting side.

When defending a low score, the tone is set by the early overs but by the end of the Power Play, Merrion had scored 45 runs and lost no wicket. The seventh over produced 14 runs, and at this stage, the game was over as a contest. The Merrion batsmen gave an object lesson in chasing a low score, by blocking the good ball, and hitting the bad ball for either 4 or 6. The game ended in the 16th over, with Merrion scoring 103 runs for the loss of 2 wickets. Given the congested nature of the Hills’ programme, this was not an opportune time for recriminations, but to concentrate on redressing the balance with strong performances against Pembroke, Leinster, YMCA, and Clontarf.

The Hills travelled to Sydney Parade to play Pembroke in a vital league game with another defeat making the prospect of relegation from the Premier League a live possibility. Pembroke won the toss and opted to bat first, but the Hills’ opening bowlers, Dylan Blignaut and Tomás Rooney-Murphy bowled with great accuracy and fire to maintain constant pressure on the Pembroke batsmen. By the end of the seventh over, Blignaut had taken two wickets, the first wicket falling to a smart catch by Murray Commins at first slip, the second wicket to a catch behind the wicket by Mark Dwyer. Pembroke wickets fell at regular intervals, but the Lawson brothers, Theo (73*) and Paul (26) stood firm and ensured that Pembroke ended on the competitive total of 192 runs. The Hills’ spinners, Sameer Dutt (1 wicket for 19 runs in 10 overs) and Jonathan Tall (2 wickets for 39 runs in 10 overs), bowled very well, and their bowling was complemented by a superb performance in the field, with eight catches being taken.

Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin scored a well-deserved half-century (53 runs), and Murray Commins showed the form which had remained latent up to this juncture for The Hills CC. He batted until the 44th over and scored a brilliant 79 runs to bring the target within manageable proportions. Twists and turns of fate are one of the constants in the lives of supporters, and with three successive LBW decisions, the brows of the six Hills’ supporters had become progressively more furrowed. There was then a stumping, and it appeared that The Hills were going to be on the wrong side of another close game with Pembroke. The cousins, Tomás Rooney-Murphy and Cian Nulty maintained their composure in this highly pressurised situation, and Cian’s three fours ensured that the required runs were obtained without any further alarms. This was a fine performance by the Hills’ players, with bowling, fielding, and batting being a vast improvement on the efforts in the previous game.

The flurry of re-fixed games continued unabated as The Hills visited Leinster CC for a 20 overs per side game. Due to pressures of work, The Hills had three changes from the team which had beaten Pembroke on Saturday. Lorcan Woodhouse came into the team, Andrew Kavanagh took the wicket-keeping slot, and there was a first-team debut for Sam Smyth. Saturday’s victory had lifted the relegation pressures on The Hills, but this was not the situation for a Leinster team which up to that point had failed to win any game in the BUAKIT Premier League.

Leinster won the toss and opted to bat first. It was evident that the fear of relegation had produced a highly motivated team, and by the end of the 6th over, Leinster had accumulated 56 runs for the loss of a single wicket. The introduction of Jonathan Tall, the left arm spinner, induced a slowing of the run-rate initially, and then he took the prized wicket of Joey Carroll, last Saturday’s centurion, and former Hills’ player. At the other end, the first ball which Sam Smyth bowled in Premier League cricket dismantled the stumps of Bilal Azhar (38) who had been batting brilliantly. According to one of The Hills’ statisticians, this was the first occasion that a debutant has taken a wicket with the first ball that he bowled in Senior cricket. A variety of Leinster cricketers got starts, but none of them went on to make a significant contribution to the score, and Leinster’s final total was 156 runs 8 wickets.

A target of 157 runs to win was very challenging, and there was the ever-present fear of deteriorating light. The Hills’ opening pair, Cormac McLoughlin (21) and Bhavesh Lakhotia, had accumulated 36 runs when Bhavesh had to retire injured due to a hamstring strain. Bhavesh’s injury brough the in-form Murray Commins to the crease, and he proceeded to bat brilliantly. With Dylan Blignaut as his partner, this pair had added 42 runs to the score when Dylan was run-out due to confusion in the first instance regarding an LBW appeal. 20 more runs were added when Andrew Kavanagh became the second run-out victim of the evening. With the pressure mounting and the light deteriorating, Murray Commins (51*) and Cian Nulty (18) displayed superb game management skills by ensuring that The Hills remained ahead on the DLS score. The 16th over was the pivotal one which effectively decided the result as 23 runs were scored (3 sixes, 2 singles, and 3 no balls) off Saqib Bahadur. Cian Nulty’s wicket fell when the score was 138 runs. This left Tomás Rooney-Murphy and Murray Commins to negotiate whatever overs were going to be allowed. After the third ball of the 18th over, the umpires decided that it was no longer possible to continue, and this decision produced lengthy and heated discussions while the light deteriorated even further. In the end, this was a magnificent batting performance by The Hills CC. Murray Commins batted superbly; there were valuable innings from Dylan Blignaut (24), Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin (21), Cian Nulty (18), and Bhavesh Lakhotia (16*), and a challenging target was achieved under adverse conditions.

The Hills’ players had no time to rest on their laurels after Monday’s win at Rathmines, and they welcomed YMCA to The Vineyard on Tuesday evening. A combination of work pressures and injury meant that The Hills made four changes from the team which beat Leinster with Sameer Dutt, Athar Farooqi, Will Archer and Mark Donegan replacing Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin, Lorcan Woodhouse, Cian Nulty and Bhavesh Lakhotia. YMCA won the toss and opted to bat first. It is a convention in 20 overs cricket that it is essential to score heavily during the 6 Power Play overs, and Rory Anders implemented this requirement to its fullest extent. In a fearsome attack on The Hills’ opening bowlers, he managed to lose 1 ball, score 2 sixes, 5 fours, have a strike rate of 194.12% and by the time his wicket was taken by Sameer Dutt, he had added 33 runs to the YMCA score. At the end of the Power Play, YMCA had scored 54 runs for the loss of 1 wicket. From the 5th over onwards, the spin twins, Sameer Dutt and Jonathan Tall managed to put a brake on the scoring rate, and YMCA wickets began to fall at regular intervals. Vipul Kashyap (24), Roy Maltby (19) and Michael O’Reilly (14) made valuable contributions to the YMCA score, and at the end of the first innings, YMCA had accumulated 139 runs for the loss of 9 wickets.

The Hills’ reply had the worst possible start, with a wicket falling to a run out on the third ball of the first over. Tomás Rooney-Murphy sacrificed his wicket when there was a mix-up between himself and Murray Commins regarding a quick single. This brought Mark Donegan to the crease, and he played some beautiful shots, but when the score was on 16, he was deceived by a quicker ball from Cillian McDonnell.  There was a stand of 36 runs between Murray Commins and Dylan Blignaut (9), but Dylan’s wicket fell to a catch behind the wicket by JJ Cassidy off the bowling of Rory Anders. The next stand was for 51 runs between Murray Commins and Will Archer (17), but the required rate was rising all the time, and there was an element of panic setting in. Murray Commins (55) who had batted brilliantly for the third successive day was out when the score was 106; he was followed immediately by Athar Farooqi who was dismissed first ball, and Will Archer was clean bowled by Rory Anders 2 runs later. At the start of the 17th over, 32 runs were required off 4 overs with 4 wickets in hand. The next partnership between Sameer Dutt and Sam Smyth added 5 runs when Sam having batted with great maturity was out to a catch on the boundary. With 2 overs remaining, 25 runs were required, and it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that the home team was going to come up short, but Killian Everard and Sameer did not entertain such negative thoughts. In the 19th over, Sameer hit 2 fours, 1 six and this over yielded a total of 17 runs to leave The Hills needing 8 runs to win. Killian took a single off the first ball, Sameer hit a four off the next ball, and then he hit a single. With 2 runs required off 3 balls, there was tremendous pressure on Killian, and the next ball was a dot. With great aplomb, he played a beautiful cover drive which sped to the boundary, and The Hills had won a tremendous game amid scenes of great euphoria.

In recent years, Clontarf CC has had the Indian sign over The Hills, but with three wins in a row, it was a confident Hills’ First X1 which welcomed Clontarf to The Vineyard on Saturday last. Depending on other results, it was possible that the winners of this game would be playing against Merrion in the final of the BUAKIT Premier League on Saturday, 11 September.

Clontarf won the toss and opted to bat first. Dylan Blignaut and Tomás Rooney-Murphy, bowled with great accuracy, and the first Clontarf wicket (P. J Moor) fell in the 6th over when the score was only 22 runs. Worse was to follow for Clontarf when the ever-reliable Eoghan Delany was out for a 2-ball duck, caught by Mark Donegan off the bowling of Dylan Blignaut. Clontarf wickets continue to fall regularly, and with the score at 38 runs for 4, it appeared that The Hills would be chasing a low score, but Fionn Hand (38) and David Delany (39) had other ideas and shared a partnership of 72 runs. In the 32nd over with the score on 110, Hand was out, stumped by Mark Donegan, off the bowling of Jonathan Tall. Robert Forrest’s wicket was taken in the same over, caught and bowled by Tall, and The Hills had taken back control of the game. Clontarf’s last four wickets only added 21 runs to the score, and its final score was 131 runs.

With a score of 131 to chase, it was only necessary for The Hills to bat sensibly, but this is easier said than done. When Murray Commins, the in-form batsman of recent games was out for a duck, and he was followed by Bhavesh Lakhotia (2) thoughts of a facile victory for the Hills, evaporated. Mark Donegan (15) and Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin (35) steadied matters to a certain extent, but Mark was out when the score was 41, and Cormac departed at 55 runs. The Hills’ innings now resembled that of Clontarf with 4 wickets down for not many runs, and the bowling side in the ascendancy. Initially, Dylan Blignaut and Andrew Kavanagh weathered the storm, and gradually attacking shots began to be played. Dylan’s final score was 59*, and Andrew scored a hard-fought 17*. The target score was achieved in the 38th over, and The Hills had won four games in a row to end the season on a high note.

The Hills’ First X1 did not bring any silverware to The Vineyard this season, but its record of 3 wins out of 5 in the T20 competition and 5 wins out of 7 in the BUAKIT Premier League was testimony to a wonderful level of consistency. Tomás Rooney-Murphy, the captain, has led by example and engendered a fine spirit in the team. At different times throughout the season, different players have stepped up to the plate with the bat, and in characteristic Fingal fashion, the bowling and fielding performances have been at a high level in most of the games. With young cricketers developing nicely on the First X1 and successes at youth level, the future at The Vineyard is very bright.

Last Words for 2021 Season

For players and supporters, it is a privilege to play or attend games at The Vineyard, and it is important to recognise the role which many people play in ensuring that the facilities at the ground are among the finest in the country. We thank the Chairperson, the other officers, and the Executive committee members for their commitment and dedication to The Hills CC. There are often references to ground staff and bar staff, but these are misnomers. The people who work on the grounds and behind the bar are volunteers who give freely of their time, energy, and expertise for the good of the club, and we are greatly indebted to them. We thank the other sub-committees such as Communications, the House Committee, Catering, Youth Cricket, Men’s, and Ladies Cricket for their vital contributions to the success of the club. We thank the players, scorers, and management teams for their wholehearted endeavours for The Hills CC, and lastly, we recognise with gratitude the wonderful sense of camaraderie and support which are ever-present features of The Hills CC. Until next season, and with every good wish for a safe and healthy close season, it’s onwards and upwards.

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