If you’re in the Derby area on Sunday, there’ll be no shortage of high drama as the cream of England’s grass-roots sides duke it out for the Vitality Club T20 crown.
This year’s contenders are a tantalising mix of first-timers and competition veterans, all looking for a day in the sun – weather permitting – that will cement their status as club legends, their team photo occupying pride of place alongside clubhouse giants.
First up, Nantwich of the Cheshire County League – appearing at their inaugural finals day – take on Swardeston of the East Anglian Premier League.
Captained by Ray Doyle, who led from the front with a pair of 30s in area and quarter-final wins over Flixton and Ormskirk respectively, Nantwich’s youthful mix face twice-winners Swardeston – led by former Sussex and Hampshire batter Joe Gatting. Joe – nephew of Mike Gatting – was part of 2016’s victorious Swardeston side.
For Joe, the joys of this year’s journey have been discovering the depth of the side’s talents, and the growing feel-good factor that has produced strong team performances. “We’ve been fortunate,” he says – noting Jordan Taylor’s 59 in a 32-run quarter-final victory over Slough as a case in point.
“Each time someone’s stood up and won the game – and the most exciting thing about the competition is that team bonding and excitement and travelling for each round.”
Swardeston’s experience may make them favourites, but Ray Doyle – backed by Nantwich’s travelling army – is up for the fight. “If we play the cricket we have along the way, we’ll give anyone a game,” he says.
In the second semi-final, newcomers Hanging Heaton of the Bradford Premier League, pit their wits against Sussex Premier League winners Roffey.
The Yorkshiremen disposed of holders South Northumberland in a tense north area final finish before seeing off Bracebridge Heath in the quarters. Five wickets in 10 balls – Tom Chippendale taking 4 for 31 – secured a seemingly unlikely 18-run win against 2017’s winners, a result long-serving club secretary Andy Hunt said was “probably the best all-round performance you could see”.
“We know Roffey are going to be excellent,” he says. “But I could pick four or five genuine match-winners for us.”
Look out for opening bowler David Stiff, ex-Somerset and Kent, who showcased his batting skills against South Northumberland, smiting 60 off 18 balls. Hanging Heaton also have ex-Tykes Gary Fellows and Ismail Dawood – who took a stunning diving catch in that game – in their ranks.
At one point Roffey were chasing four trophies – including a potential first for the club game with the double of T20 and the 40-over Royal London National Club Championship trophy. Though that dream is over, their close-knit nature – the majority of the team came through the colts – gives skipper Matt Davies belief that this season is no one-off.
“We’ve all played together so long,” he says. “We’ve been in some really tough spots this year and been able to come through – everyone believes we can do something special.”
Roffey’s middle-order stalwart Paul Harrison could complete a rare cricketing double if the men from Sussex emerge on top – he played in Leicestershire’s victorious T20 Finals Day winning side against Nottinghamshire in 2006.
It’s still all up for grabs for the men, but congratulations go to Finchley Gunns, who were crowned first Vitality Women’s Club T20 winners at Newport Cricket Club.
Finchley’s 52-run victory over Hursley Park of Winchester was inspired by the batting pyrotechnics of Ireland international Cat Dalton. Her sparkling 75 – featuring 10 fours and a six – helped the youthful north Londoners post an imposing 144 for 5, in response to which tight bowling early on from Rebecca Tyson in particular restricted Hursley to 92 for 9. It was a memorable day for Dalton, who also scored 70 in the 10-wicket semi-final success over Berkswell of Coventry.
There was a similar story of batting dominance in the Plate competition, where Bernadette Forge of Bridgwater proved far too hot for final opponents Cottingham. Forge’s 114 – which followed 60 made in an eight-wicket victory over Stony Stratford – helped set up a mammoth 185 for 4. Requiring a steepling nine an over to start, Cottingham finished on 99 for 9, 85 short.
11.15am – Semi Final 1
Nantwich vs Swardeston
2.45pm – Semi Final 2
Hanging Heaton vs Roffey
6.30pm – Final
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