Although we finished top of the league, the Taranaki Cricket Association saw fit, in its infinite wisdom, to introduce a play-off system – half way through the season – to determine the Championship.
On Saturday, we played Fitzroy at home in the semi-final of the competition. Fitzroy batted first and put up some initial resistance as we struggled to make inroads. However, with perseverance, we managed to restrict them to 148-8 off their allotted 45 hours. I bowled 5 overs at the death, taking 1 for 9 runs off my first four overs (including a brilliant stumping from our ‘keeper Adam Yates), but was milked for 10 runs from the final over of the game as we tried to restrict boundaries. We reached the target for the loss of only one wicket in 25 overs, both Jeff and Robbie posting unbeaten 50 – Robbie hitting 4,4 and 6 off consecutive balls to bring up his 50 and our 150, and ending the game.
Although it was blustery on Saturday, it was relatively warm. Sunday was a much cooler and damper affair, with two big rain showers during the match. Playing at home again in the Final, we faced Merrilands, who we had lost narrowly to 4 weeks previously. I dropped two catches and I have the bruises to prove it. Fielding at short cover all day, I had an absolute rocket that would have drilled a whole right through me had I not got my hands to it. Unfortunately, it smacked the palm of my left hand hard as I struggled to take the speed of it and spilled out. Two balls later, the same player gave another chance – difficult, but gettable – and I dived to my right. Again, it hit the palm of my hand – the right this time – and popped out again. I was gutted. It was a key point of the game. At that point, they were about 130 for 1 off 30 overs. Fortunately, the whole side fielded well and although we dropped another catch (not me this time), we restricted them to 196 for 8 off their 45 overs. At one point, they looked like they were going to score 250, so we did well to peg them back. The in-depth strength of our batting line-up showed again as we cruised to 200 for 3 off 35 overs, Jeff hitting an unbeaten 90 (after being dropped 3 times), Rory hitting a quickfire 50, and Jeff’s brother Adam hitting 26 not out alongside his brother Jeff to crown us North Taranaki 3rd Grade Champions.
The FINAL: we won the Taranaki Championship outright today, in our game against Stratford. Although we’d like to have batted, we lost the toss that morning at Pukekura Park and were bowling first. We bowled them out for under a hundred – 97 all out in 22 overs – an good performance, especially given we gave away 37 in extras – most of them being wides (I didn’t get a bowl). We knocked off the runs for the loss of 4 wickets, with their Captain getting sin-binned for 30 minutes for dissent. I didn’t even know that could happen in cricket…