Pilgrims 275-9 (H H O Cheal 81, F E Taylor 60*). Haileybury Hermits 267-8 (J Satt 111, T Billings 73). Won by 8 runs.

James Vitali, the new Cricketer Cup captain, celebrated his appointment by winning the toss and electing to bat in breezy but bright conditions. Rain the previous day may have been responsible for the first hour proving to be the hardest time to bat, with seam movement from both Boothby and Woodburn testing the defences of Charlie Esson and Theo Cooke.

Esson was bowled by Boothby and replaced by Tom Atkins, who was caught as soon as Higgs came on from the Pavilion End in the eleventh over; 28 for two. Cooke and Henry Cheal proceeded carefully, while taking advantage of the odd bad ball, and it came as a surprise when Cooke was out in the 25th over with the score on 89. A good total still seemed far away at this halfway point but Haileybury lacked a genuine fifth bowler and this was ruthlessly exploited with Cheal acting as the initial executioner, assisted by Will Smibert and Fergus Hughes-Onslow.

Cheal  went on to make a fine run-a-ball 81. His departure brought Fergus Taylor to the crease who continued to exploit the breach in opposition defences with a belligerent, undefeated 60 off just 37 balls enabling the Pilgrims to post a 50-over total of 275 for nine.

Once such a total on The Upper would have been regarded as easily defendable, but no more. John Atkins’s hard and skilled work has improved the pitches immeasurably and for much of the Haileybury reply, the Pilgrims total looked as though it could be 30 runs short. After Rob Rydon had bowled Brooking in the tenth over with the score on 35, Billings joined Satt in a stand that progressively looked likely to swing the odds decisively in the visiting team’s favour.

It was a period where the pendulum of luck that oscillated throughout this match favoured Haileybury. On the few occasions that false strokes were made, the ball either found gaps in the field or offered the hardest of chances, the most notable of which was a fine diving effort by Taylor in the leg-side ring to a hard-hit pull from the left-handed Billings. However, this was a fine measured partnership that passed 150 in the 35th over, leaving just 90 runs required at a run-a-ball off the last 15 overs with nine wickets in hand. Then Billings called Satt through for a tight and (with hindsight, unnecessary) second run and Vitali’s flat, rapier-like left arm throw left him short of his ground.

One of cricket’s great beauties is in how such episodes can change matches and the Pilgrims were visibly re-energised. While Haileybury remained firmly in the driving seat, the seamers kept tight lines with Satt importantly losing the bulk of the strike. The left-handed Osman struck a full length ball from Andy Nurton straight back into the sightscreen for six to cheers from the opposition benches but Nurton is a wily fox in these tight situations. Pulling his length back just a fraction, the identical shot resulted in the rattle of a different kind of timber.

Now the Pilgrims really sensed their chance. Brown was sharply stumped by Smibert standing up to Nurton and a suppliant Rydon had his beseeching appeal for LBW against Rogers answered in the affirmative. Satt, having compiled a fine century, was now alone in his gallant quest to get Haileybury over the line but a wild swing at Cheal resulted in him ending up literally down and out as Smibert removed the bails. 252 for seven with 24 runs required off the remaining 19 balls. Overs 48 and 49 left Vitali commencing the final over with ten runs needed. He kept them down to a meagre single – the Pilgrims had won.

Key to this was the Haileybury attack. While the four main Hermits bowlers got through 40 overs for a 166 runs, their other ten overs cost 105 runs. The Pilgrims were also fortunate to be gifted 27 runs in wides and no balls (one of these a wicket-taker except for the bowler dislodging the bails in his delivery stride) with the resultant extra balls. On another day their own 13 wides and 5 run penalty for hitting the helmet would have been decisive.

This is definitely an improving side. The batting is no longer quite so dependent on Esson’s contribution, while Cheal and Taylor played really well. However, more starts of 20-plus need to be converted to bigger scores if the side is to progress deeper in the competition. The seam bowling was tight from all four especially in the critical latter stages. Vitali was especially impressive with his last five overs at a crucial time costing a mere 16 runs.

The spinners Cooke and Taylor kept calm under pressure from the Satt/ Billings axis with both managing to extract some turn from an unhelpful pitch. Enthusiasm in the field was never lacking with the ring diving and saving many a run. Mention must be made of the boundary riders who moved swiftly to everything, Cooke, Atkins and the remarkable Rydon prime amongst them. Esson’s calming influence and advice to the young captain when the battle raged highest did not go unnoticed.

As ever, the Pilgrims will find tougher challenges ahead as the competition progresses but this was a fine win against a side containing some talented players.

JCH