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By Stephen Bush
While the final throes were categorized by high drama, the 80 overs that preceded them were mostly attritional.
The slowness of the wicket dictated the play, offering little chance for the batsmen to drive with conviction, and encouraging the military medium bowlers who were difficult to get away with the ball holding up on the sluggish surface.
Balliol’s Head was the first to go with the score on 13, and between his and his opening partner’s demise, Balliol also lost Gavin Sourgen to a needless run-out. After 11 overs, the home side were struggling on 23-3. It was the fourth-wicket partnership, between captain James Kohn and Simon Thwaite, which changed the game in Balliol’s favour.
The batsmen maintained their composure and once they had settled, bat started to dominate ball for the first time in the match. The pair took advantage of some friendly slow bowling in midinnings, accelerating after the drinks break to add 22 in the subsequent two overs, with Thwaite picking up leg-spinner John White for a majestic six over midwicket.
However just after Kohn had dispatched White for the game’s second six, Thwaite was out, and when new batsman Tim Trudgian followed soon after, Balliol were wobbling again on 123-5 after 28 overs.
Kohn continued past his fifty, but gave a return catch to opposite number White when he returned; that left matters to the tail. Alex Body, at No. 10, displayed some of the cleanest hitting of the game, including two towering sixes, to help Balliol to 197, undreamt of after their initial struggles.
The total looked a daunting one, especially after disciplined spells from Balliol’s opening bowlers, Clark and Travers Mcleod, who both maintained immaculate control of length. Harjit Bhogal was the only early wicket to fall, yorked by a quicker delivery from Clark in the fifth over.
Thereafter, Merton/Mansfield built their total sensibly, but had lost two more wickets by the halfway point, to leave them 71-3, with 127 needed from the remaining 20 overs. As in Balliol’s innings, the middle overs offered the greatest chance for acceleration, and it was the fifth wicket partnership of John White and Chris Goodman which took advantage.
Left-hander White in particular was fluent, with some punishing off-side play off front and back foot. Along with the pragmatic Goodman, he took Merton/Mansfield to 132-4 with 10 overs remaining, an achievable 66 required for victory.
The final 10 overs of the game contained more excitement than the previous 70, with the momentum ebbing and flowing dramatically right down to a last-ball finish. Merton/Mansfield looked on course when a flurry of boundaries from White took the required rate down to less than six with four overs remaining. Even when he holed out off Arjun in the penultimate over, his team looked set for the win, Goodman making good the mishap by hitting the next two balls to the boundary.
Four runs were needed off the last over, bowled by Balliol’s standout seamer Sourgen. With a new batsman at the other end, Goodman surrendered the strike with a first-ball single, which proved to be a mistake; neither Sesh, bowled first up, nor Danny Rey could get bat on ball and Sourgen held his nerve to close the game out, cleaning up Rey off the game’s last ball to deliver the win for a relieved Balliol side.