A man-of-the match performance by the U11s indomitable captain, Saxon Earley, helped Great Melton to a first-ever victory in a County final. Other than the girls who have won the Lady Taverners U13s Softball Tournament (twice) and the Norfolk Indoor League, it has been 8 defeats in Alliance or E.C.B. county finals in the last 7 years but it was finally ‘9th time lucky’ as Melton overcame Swardeston by 2 runs in dramatic finale to an enthralling match. Saxon scored 31 not out in just 4 overs as Melton’s last pair put on 39 runs to overhaul Swardeston and his superb batting, astute captaincy and assured wicketkeeping, that included a catch and a stumping, earned him the man-of-the-match award from adjudicator, NCB Development Officer, Kevin Denmark. Saxon’s efforts got Melton over the line but it was a brilliant performance by the whole team against a much more experienced Swardeston side.
Without Beth Harmer who was on County duty with Norfolk U13s, Manager Clive Gristwood added Olly Leinster to the team that defeated Vauxhall Mallards in the semi-final, with Ben Johnson ‘9th man’. Melton won the toss and elected to field first and, although Zak Taylor got Swardeston off to an assured start with an unbeaten 25, his partner, Charlie Grisley was dismissed twice, bowled by James Bridges and stumped by Earley off Lohit Kannan. Second pair Ezra Khan (17) and Elliott Fox (10) added 33 runs but Khan was bowled by Charlie Green and then by Jack Gorman who caught and bowled Fox with his next delivery to leave Swardeston 61-5 when the match was briefly halted for rain. On the resumption Edward Taylor (13) and Ben Blowers (7) added a further 22 to the score but Melton continued to pick up wickets. Taylor was run out by Lohit while Mark Attfield caught and bowled Blowers who was also caught on the boundary by Bridges off the bowling of Leinster. Tom Bailey (12 not out), one of only two Swardeston batsmen not to lose his wicket, and Joe Beadman (10) pushed the Swardeston score up to 318 with a partnership of 35 but with Earley holding a good low catch off Green to dismiss Beadman, Melton had earned themselves 9 wickets which meant 54 runs were deducted from the Swardeston total, leaving Melton needing to score 265 to win, at about 4 an over.
All the bowlers did well with Green (2-15) and Gorman (2-21) picking up 2 wickets apiece. Kannan (1-22), Bridges (1-29), Attfield (1-15) and Leinster (1-5), helped by some rather rash shots by the Swardeston batsmen, finished with a wicket each while Sam Johnson only conceded 11 from his 2 overs of left-arm spin.
If Melton learned anything from their opponents it was the importance of valuing your wicket and the strategy was to bat cautiously against a very good attack, try to get as many runs as possible without taking chances and losing wickets, leaving Melton’s ‘finishers’ Earley and Gorman to do the rest. First pair Green (6) and Attfield (9) got the innings off to a good start with 15 without loss and, although the innings got a little bogged down in the middle as Kannan (1) and Bridges (4) and Johnson (1) and Leinster (6) added only 18 in 8 overs, the batsmen defended stubbornly against some accurate bowling. Melton were helped by a couple of dropped catches and it left Melton’s last pair to score 32 for victory, a tall order but possible. Eight off the first over ensured they were up with the rate but there was only 6 off the second then, when Gorman was stumped and 8 runs were deducted, it looked all over for Melton. At 255-1 with an over remaining, Melton needed 16 runs to win.
Saxon then danced down the wicket to despatch a ‘no ball’ full toss over mid-wicket for 4 – 6 runs scored. The next ball also went to the boundary before a dot ball and 2 twos meant Melton were one run ahead with 2 balls remaining. The first, wide of the stumps, was left alone by Saxon who played the next through gulley. The batsmen trotted through for a single and there was jubilation in the Melton camp as boys, managers, coaches and parents celebrated a terrific victory. Saxon was engulfed by his team-mates as a disappointed Swardeston side and their manager Tony Bailey carried out their inquest on the pitch. The boys never-say-die spirit – epitomised by their captain – had carried them through and, with an unbeaten record and victories over Swardeston (twice), Fakenham and Vauxhall Mallards in the competition, Kevin Denmark, Alliance Chairman Peter Thomas and the Swardeston Manager all agreed Melton deserved their moment of glory.
Well done to everybody – supporters, parents, squad members, coaches, Clive the Manager and especially to the team of Saxon Earley, Charlie Green, Sam Johnson, James Bridges, Lohit Kannan, Jack Gorman, Mark Attfield, Olly Leinster and Ben Johnson who made it a proud moment for the club.