TWO DAVIDS AND A GOLIATH?
Each season’s T20 final is a three-way contest between the winners of the earlier regional rounds. This year the three Reserve teams competing in the final were Ross County, Buckie and Nairn. The Links cricket field is usually the preferred venue, because of Nairn’s geographical location and because it offers a grass wicket. The local side were therefore hoping for some “home advantage”.
The contest however highlighted the different approach to Reserve cricket and team selection adopted by the three teams.
Both Nairn and Ross County make a point of providing opportunities for junior players to participate in Reserve matches throughout the season, including the T20 competition.
By contrast, the Buckie Reserve team includes no juniors and usually consists almost entirely of seasoned and experienced senior-level players (several of whom are unwilling or unavailable to play Senior matches on Saturdays and so play in the Reserves on a Sunday). Buckie were already the holders of both the Reserve Cup and the Reserve T20 shield from the 2018 season. So an element of “David versus Goliath” persists in all Reserve matches against Buckie.
Nairn v Ross County: a close-run thing
So for the first match of the day, between Ross County and Nairn, both sides fielded teams which included young players: Nairn had the Elvines father-and-son duo, and also youngsters Shane Hayward and Ben Booker-Milburn. Similarly Ross County deployed father and son Steve and Joe Embleton, and also Howard Tolliday and his daughter Nadia.
The match was extremely close and very good to watch. Nairn posted a respectable total of 116 for 3 in their 20 overs, with the main contributors being Hayward (58 not out) and Bronkhorst 33 before he was caught and bowled by Akbar.
Ross County made a good effort to chase down that total. They sent Carney in first, their strongest batsman and a player on the NoSCA Leading Players List. He scored a quick 20 before retiring as required by the LPL rules. Their other LPL player, Shah, made only 11 and was caught by Ben Milburn off Iain MacLeod’s deceptive bowling. Mooney (18) and Tolliday (0) were both out stumped, and young Joe Embleton (lbw to Magnus Neill for 14) outscored his father Steve (caught behind off MacLeod for 0).
For Nairn, Bronkhorst was by far the best bowler, taking 3 wickets for just 9 runs, while MacLeod took 3 for 24. Nairn did themselves no favours by bowling too many wides (18 altogether). As they neared the 20-over limit the Ross County score crept closer to the target set by Nairn. Amour, for the visitors, did well to stay in and register an unbeaten 16, but in the final overs he ran out of partners as Nairn held catches in the field to dismiss their opponents for a total of 113 all out. So Nairn claimed victory by the slim margin of 3 runs.
Ross County v Buckie: a brave effort
The programme required Buckie to play the losers, and then the winners, of that first match. At the start of the afternoon the weather became grey and drizzly, forcing the teams to play on the artificial wicket and making the outfield much slower.
In their game against Ross County, Buckie batted first and made a total of 126 for 6 in their 20 overs, with Wilson (28 n.o.) Creamer (45) and Fraser (17) the main scorers. Of the Ross County bowlers, Shah took 2 wickets for 13 and Belli 2 for 20.
In reply Ross County put up a brave fight. They saw their key batsman, Carney, go for only 6. But Bilal Akbar batted for almost the entire 20 overs and scored 62 while Steve Embleton got 23. Again, it was a tight match towards the end, with Ross County needing just four runs off the final few balls to win. But they fell just short, making 124 for 5 in the 20 overs and leaving Buckie the winners by just 2 runs.
Buckie v Nairn: disappointingly one-sided
This left Buckie and Nairn to battle for the T20 championship. Buckie’s opening pair of Ali and Wilson proved hard to shift, despite the best efforts of Nairn bowlers Hayward and John Sargent. In the tenth over, with 72 already on the scoreboard, Wilson was caught for 22, and two overs later Ali was bowled out by Bronkhorst for an impressive 57. The experienced Shakeel (27) and Creamer (10) pushed the Buckie total onward into three figures, though both fell victim to Alex Green’s bowling. By the end of their innings Buckie had scored 147 for 5 wickets.
In theory Nairn were in with a chance. But it didn’t happen. Green (the sole LPL player in the Nairn side) was caught early for 15 and Hayward followed in the next over for just 6. Bronkhorst managed 16 before being caught, Ben Booker-Milburn was bowled by a first-ball full toss for a golden duck, and in trying to push on, Stephen Anniss (9) was run out.
The momentum seemed to go out of the home side like a slowly-deflating balloon. The run rate was nowhere near what was needed, and it seemed unrealistic to hope that Nairn’s juniors and tail-enders could rescue the situation. In fact the match rather faded away as Sargant, Mark Elvines and MacLeod were all caught in the field while trying to hit out towards the boundaries. The home team could only manage a total of 77 runs for the loss of 8 wickets in their 20 overs.
So Buckie’s Reserves, on paper the strongest and most experienced team by a considerable margin, eventually emerged the victors over both Ross County and Nairn and retained the Reserve T20 shield. It was a long day’s cricket, for both players and spectators, and in presenting the trophy the current NoSCA President rightly also acknowledged the role played by the umpires, and expressed appreciation for the support and hospitality provided by members and friends of the Nairn club in hosting the event.
But the result did leave thoughtful onlookers wondering whether there might not be merit in reviewing the way in which all the NoSCA Reserve teams are constituted and selected in order to reflect, within each team, a reasonable balance between youth and experience, and thus to promote closer and more evenly-matched competition.