With the evenings drawing in, it was always going to be tight to fit in the three matches of the Herts League T20 finals day at The Meadow, however, the floodlights were not eventually required as Northchurch provided the energy to illuminate a final played in gathering gloom.
For a chance at adding the cup to their division three pennant, the hosts had earlier dispatched Langleybury in a potential banana skin of a semi-final, made all the more slippery by the ten o’clock start after the club’s presentation evening.
George Liveing (24) and Steve McGiffin (25*) were the main contributors to a straightforward run chase, after Northchurch had restricted the fellow plucky villagers to 84 on a very dewy field which gave great value for shots. Chief tormentors with the ball were Charles Fidler (two for 11), Oliver Johnson (two for 18) and slow man Tom Garraway (nought for seven), all from spells of four overs.
The second semi-final provided the best match of the day as Old Elizabethans came from behind to win in thrilling style. Datchworth had batted first and, mainly thanks to 79 from captain Tom Bennett, posted a better-than-run-a-ball 125. Old Elizabethans struggled to keep up with the rate and looked for all money like they would finish short until number six, Charlie Busby, came to the crease and nailed an unbeaten 48 from half as many balls to see the Barnett side home.
And so to the final which, in spite of the rain, had all the ingredients for a great game. Old Elizabethans play in a division higher than Northchurch and had a vocal cohort of travelling fans, along with momentum from their first game. Northchurch had the home advantage and would take confidence from having beaten their opposition twice in the league in 2016. It was difficult to find anything to decide between the two sides.
Tom Vila, standing in for a very poorly Lee Johnson who had led the team so brilliantly to the final, elected to bowl first after winning the toss; it looked certain that the whole game would be played in the rain and it would surely be preferable to field in the better of the conditions.
Old Elizabethans raced to 45 from five overs, with consecutive sixes from Patwary giving Northchurch some early cause for concern. However, an over of spin from Garraway slowed the run rate before the skipper came on to remove the big hitter with his very first ball.
From there, Northchurch seized the initiative. Thanks to exceptional fielding, in support of some very tight bowling, Old Elizabethans failed to get another partnership going and lost wickets steadily throughout the innings.
Fidler was excellent, especially in his second spell and finished with fine figures of one for 18, with 13 dot balls, from his four overs. A change of ends worked for David Vila, who knocked middle stump out of the ground to remove Charlie Scutt with the third ball of his second spell.
Tom Vila came back for one over in the middle of the innings and enjoyed immediate success coming around the wicket to the left handed hero of the semi-final, Busby, whose off stump cartwheeled spectacularly in the direction of the pavilion.
Garraway had the tough job of controlling things with his off-breaks when OE’s were looking to accelerate but managed to sneak in 12 dot balls and made scoring sufficiently tough to draw two run-outs, one coming from an explosive direct hit by McGiffin.
Ollie Johnson came on to bowl three overs at the death and, with a spell of two for six, demonstrated why he had collected the John Lay bowling trophy the previous evening.
Taking the momentum into the second half, Northchurch felt that the 112 needed to win would be achievable with sensible batting, though the weather had the potential to force the tempo of the innings. Ten overs would constitute a game, with the run rate the only consideration should it be rained off after that.
The openers made a solid start and were up with the rate against the off-spin of OE’s captain Nav Akhtar and the skiddy left armers of Busby. Liveing latched onto anything short and Hobley rotated well.
The run rate slowed after two wickets in consecutive overs from Dom Goring, who found a bit of zip on an increasingly damp pitch. Northchurch found themselves behind at the halfway point, in worsening conditions and with fielders starting to slip. Coming off at this point would mean a win for the visitors but the umpires were excellent in keeping the game on.
A stroke of luck for Garraway, who survived a cacophonous appeal for caught behind, provided the impetus for him to kick on and he played with characteristic freedom to get a partnership going again. When Hobley was bowled by the returning Busby for a well compiled run-a-ball 30 that would earn him the MoM award, Northchurch still required 36 from 40 balls.
After his very successful season in the UK, it was perhaps fitting that Steven McGiffin was the last man to take guard in 2017. In spite of the wet, cold and dark, he played himself in with easy style before joining in the fun with Garraway to end the match with 13 balls to spare.
The winning runs sparked cheers from the brave Northchurch supporters, who were by now huddled together on the veranda, and sent them scurrying into the warmth of the pavilion to watch the presentation of a very well earned trophy.
As Summer shook hands with Autumn in the closing stages of a brilliant day, it felt like just the right time to be drawing a line under another magnificent season of cricket at The Meadow.
Updated 16:26 - 8 Sep 2017 by Thomas Vila