Reflections on League Cup Campaign – First X1 2021

“Emotion recollected in Tranquillity” (William Wordsworth)

Third Man

In another Covid-dominated year, Executive members, players, and supporters had to cope with a range of imponderables. Initially, it was thought that the 2021 season would be a replica of the 2020 season with only T20 games being played, and that there would be no relegation from the Premier League. An earlier that anticipated relaxation of the Covid restrictions meant that it was back to the drawing board for the administrators. It was decided that the cricket programme in Leinster would be a T20 League Cup competition, played in groups of 4 on a home and away basis, and a 50 overs league which would consist of 7 games, with teams only playing each other once. At the end of the league programme, it was intended to have a final between the teams which finished first and second, and the last team in the league would be relegated. The information regarding relegation caused clubs to re-appraise their plans for the season, and quarantine restrictions for people from many countries added another dimension to the planning difficulties.

The Hills’ First X1 had a new-look about it. Due to injury, it appeared that the great Naseer Shaukat would be unavailable for a considerable period; the equally great Luke Clinton was winding down his First team career due in part to his wonderful commitment to youth cricket at The Hills CC, and Devender Ranolia and Bhavesh Lakhotia had departed to fresh fields at Observatory Lane. On the positive side, Dylan Blignaut joined the club as our overseas player; Sameer Dutt came to the club via Clontarf, and in a brilliant coup by our Executive, Murray Commins was recruited when it was discovered that he was ineligible to play in the NCU due to visa issues.

For the League Cup campaign, the Hills was drawn in a group with North County, Dublin University, and Phoenix, with the opening game of the season being against our neighbours, North County on 7 June 2021.  The overwhelming emotion at the belated start of the season was a sense of unbridled joy. The outfield looked brilliant; the pitch was superb, and the officials implemented the Covid procedures with great efficiency and good humour. The Hills’ bowling quintet of Tomás Rooney-Murphy, Dylan Blignaut, Killian Everard, Levon Shields, and Sameer Dutt, looked to be a very competent unit, and the batsmen, Mark Donegan, Levon Shields, and Dylan Blignaut did all that was required to win the game.

The second game of the season was against Phoenix CC at the Phoenix Park. Phoenix had been very active during the close-season and had recruited George Dockrell and Tyrone Kane. Conor Shiel had transferred from North County, and during the previous season, they had acquired the services of Aaron Cawley and Jamie Grassi. The Hills won the toss and opted to field first, and there was an immediate crisis when Tomás Rooney-Murphy pulled up with what appeared to be a groin strain. The evergreen Luke Clinton stepped into the breach, and in a brilliant spell, bowled 4 overs, 1 maiden, and took 1 wicket for 7 rows. This performance rendered talk of an imminent retirement very premature. Over the years, spin bowling has been the bane of Fingal cricketers, but on this occasion, it was its salvation because Sameer Dutt took the all-important wicket of Kane thanks to a very smart catch by Mark Donegan, and Sameer followed this up with a catch off his own bowling to take the wicket of James Maginnis. Killian Everard took the wicket of Aaron Cawley, caught by Luke Clinton, and Phoenix had collapsed from 125 runs in the 17th over to 137 runs for 6 wickets. The Hills’ reply to the Phoenix total was measured and calm.  Levon Shields continued his rich vein of form and with Murray Commins brought the score up to 70 runs when he was out on the last ball of the 8th over. Mark Donegan (37*) and Murray Commins (37*) batted superbly, and the required target was achieved in the 17th over.

The next game was against Dublin University, a team which according to Sanil Gupta, its captain, was the strongest one to represent the college in years. Trinity won the toss and opted to field first. Due to a combination of poor shot selection and superb fielding, 7 of the Hills’ batsmen were out to catches. The final total of 131 runs was deemed to be about 30 runs short of a par score but given the vagaries of cricket it is never wise to pontificate on such matters until the end of the second innings. When a team is defending a small score, it is imperative that wickets are taken early so that the chasing side is put under pressure. Unfortunately, from a Hills’ perspective this did not occur. The first Trinity wicket (Hogan) fell to a run-out when the score was 23 runs. This brought Nicolaas Pretorius, the former Hills’ player to the crease, and just as former players invariably score the winning goal when they return to a club, Nicolaas anchored the Trinity innings. In partnership with David Cosgrave, he put on 65 runs before Cosgrave (39) was bowled by Luke Clinton. Three Trinity batsmen in a row were adjudged LBW, and this set up an exciting finale, but Nicolaas (54*) stood firm and with Jack Atkinson ensured that Trinity reached the required target. On this occasion, the batting, bowling, and fielding displays of The Hills were well-below the standards which had been achieved in the previous two games but in any event, there was an immediate opportunity to avenge this defeat when The Hills played Trinity at College Park on the following Saturday.

The Hills won the toss and opted to field first, and this decision was more than justified by a combination of incisive bowling and good fielding. At the end of the power play, Trinity’s score was 14 runs for the loss of 2 wickets. A period of consolidation for Trinity followed, and Nicolaas Pretorius (45*) continued his one-man crusade against his former club, during which he played some wonderful shots. Unfortunately for Trinity, wickets fell with great regularity at the other end, and its final score was 96 for the loss of 5 wickets.

The Hills’ bowlers were superb with the Captain, Tomás Rooney -Murphy leading the way with 4 hostile overs, during which he took 1 wicket and conceded only 11 runs. Dylan Blignaut bowled 4 overs for 15 runs and took 1 wicket. Sameer Dutt’s figures were 3 overs for 14 and 1 wicket, while Killian Everard continued to improve, and took 1 wicket for 18 runs in his 4 over spell. This bowling performance was complemented by good ground fielding and some fine catches. The Trinity cognoscenti were not too downhearted with their team’s score, and informed the visiting spectators, all five of them, that scores in the 90s were winning totals in College Park.

In reply, the first Hills’ wicket (Cormack McLoughlin-Gavin) fell when the score 21, and the next wicket (Andrew Kavanagh) did not fall until the score was 39. Mark Donegan and Dylan Blignaut (9) brought the score up to 63, and it appeared that the target was going to be achieved with consummate ease, but it never wise to count chickens before they are hatched. Wickets continued to fall, but if Mark Donegan was at the crease, there was no necessity for panic despite the run-rate increasing. When the wily veteran, Conor Hoey, took his 300th wicket for Trinity, and Mark Donegan (43) was out to a catch by D. Hogan off the bowling of Streek in the 19th over, Trinity had high hopes of completing the double over The Hills. In the last over, 7 runs were required for victory and Will Archer played an amazing shot which eluded the wicketkeeper and went for 4 runs. Archer was out on the second last ball of the game, and Luke Clinton faced the last ball with one run needed for victory. Luke charged the ball, and it went past the bat and the keeper, so the winning run was a bye.

The previous week, Trinity College had taken 7 catches; in this game, they dropped two straightforward catches, and in the words of the cliché, “catches win matches.” For The Hills, it was a relief to get over the line today. The team’s bowling and fielding continued to impress, but the batting was still brittle.

The penultimate game of the League Cup campaign was a top of the table clash at The Inch against North County. In what cricket commentators refer to as “seam-friendly bowling conditions”, Eddie Richardson, North County’s Captain, won the toss and not unexpectedly decided that his team would field first. Mark Donegan (34) continued his impressive form, and there were cameos by Andrew Kavanagh (23) and Will Archer (18), but a score of 130 runs appeared to be well-short of being a competitive total. The bowling honours for North County were taken by Richardson with 5 wickets for 20 runs in 4 overs while Andrew Sheridan took 2 wickets, and there was a wicket each for Abdul Ghaffar, John Mooney, and Cian Mulvaney.

Local derbies are notoriously difficult to predict, and the Hills’ opening bowlers, Dylan Blignaut and Tomás Rooney-Murphy set about showing that the visitors were not going to lie down without a fight. By the eighth over, North County had lost 4 wickets with only 34 runs on the scoreboard, and the visiting supporters dared to hope. Amidst the carnage, Niall McGovern batted in an imperturbable fashion and his innings provided the foundation for the onslaught which John Mooney launched on the Hills’ bowlers. Mc Govern (37) and Mooney (53*) brought the North County score up to 120 runs when McGovern was clean bowled by the returning Blignaut, but it was too little, too late for The Hills. The remaining runs when knocked off with consummate ease by Mooney and Sludds, and North County reached the target in the 18th over.

For The Hills CC, this was a disappointing performance. There was no lack of effort; the bowling is competent, but the batting unit did not reach anything like the standard of which it is capable. This defeat ended The Hills’ hopes of reaching the play-off stages of the League Cup, and the game on the following Saturday against Phoenix would only be for pride. As it happened, this game did not take place due to inclement weather, so the record for the League Cup campaign was 5 games played, 3 wins and 2 losses.

It was evident where the difficulties lay. The leading batsman, Mark Donegan scored 182 runs at an average of 45.5 runs per game, whereas no other batsman managed to score 100 runs. Dylan Blignaut scored 99 runs in 5 games, and Levon Shields was the next highest with 94 runs in the 3 games that he played. Unfortunately, Levon’s season was ended after 3 games because of a collision with a sightscreen. Regarding the bowling, nine bowlers were used. The most successful were Dylan Blignaut (6 wickets), Tomás Rooney-Murphy (5), Sameer Dutt and Killian Everard (4) and Luke Clinton (3). Mark Donegan took 4 catches, and there were 2 catches for Andrew Kavanagh, Tomás Rooney-Murphy and Levon Shields.

A review of this part of the season would have been “a lot done, more to do”. There was a good spirit among the players, the captaincy of Tomás Rooney-Murphy was very positive, a total of 15 players had been involved in the games with some of the younger players showing great promise and there was a perception that some of our batsmen such as Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin and Murray Commins would sparkle as soon as the 50 overs league commence. Until the next exciting instalment, its onwards and upwards.

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