Old Eastbournians 263-6 ( A Stewart 61). Pilgrims 192 (C A R Esson 71). Lost by 71 runs.

The town of Eastbourne is liberally endowed with cricket history. It was here on The Saffrons that the venerable Archie Maclaren hand-picked and captained the only side to beat the mighty 1921 Australians and the Pilgrims travelled to the south coast with cautious optimism that they could progress through this second-round match. They will have returned home with the belief that they certainly could, and maybe should, have won in this match that was moved to Eastbourne because the School were playing on the Upper.

James Vitali called correctly and invited the home side to bat on a fine but extremely breezy morning. Rob Rydon made the early breakthrough and the second-wicket partnership of Robinson and Oliver Smith was unable to pierce the tight ring with the result that when 50 came up in the 18th over, only 32 runs had been scored off the bat. However, a plethora of wides had eased what would have been real pressure on the batting side.

With the score on 65, Vitali in his third over struck twice: Cheal taking a good swirling catch at long leg to end Robinson’s uncomfortable vigil and then beating Smith all ends up in front. The new batsmen, Stewart and Finzel, began cautiously and it was not until the 31st over that 100 came up. Limiting Eastbourne to a total of around 200 seemed a real possibility. This was a true surface, though, and the fourth-wicket pair accelerated quickly so that by the time that Finzel was run out in the 41st over, the home side were 178 for four with Brad Evans, a junior Zimbabwe international and Sussex 2nd XI player, joining the now fluent Stewart at the crease. Evans hit a quickfire 49, including three consecutive sixes in the 48th over, as Eastbourne enjoyed a profitable last ten overs to close on 263 for six.

General consensus held that this was no more than a par score for the conditions and a good collective batting performance could get Sherborne up near the target. Fergus Taylor was promoted to open alongside Ollie Calcott with obvious licence to play his natural game. He began brightly with an array of powerful shots before getting a shade early on to a short ball and pulling in the air to mid-on. Simon Walsh soon departed mistiming a pull off Ripley which, as with Taylor, had the misfortune to pick out Evans, their best fielder, who took his second good catch. Calcott had played himself in carefully and looked to be finding good touch before adjudged LBW to Chisholm and the Pilgrims were in trouble at 37 for three.

Charlie Esson’s arrival steadied Sherborne nerves as firstly with Henry Cheal and then with Tom Atkins the Pilgrims started to accumulate runs at a better rate than Eastbourne managed at a comparable stage. However, both departed just when they were getting to grips with the task and Esson was left with the lower order to accompany him. With wickets falling steadily at the other end, his fine innings ended when, having to resort to the aerial route, he fell to a well-judged catch by Robinson at deep mid-wicket.

The Pilgrims had lost by 71 runs. Scoreboard pressure is a widely used commentators’ cliché in these days of much limited-overs cricket. It can be applied by tight bowling or brilliant fielding making the batting side feel the need to take risks to keep up a respectable run-rate. Conversely, it can be eased by the gift of easy runs and the Pilgrims were guilty of giving away far too many extras and thus missing the opportunity of applying real pressure to the Eastbourne batting. Wides are an especially irritating source of easy runs as not only do the extras accumulate but the ball has to be bowled again and this resulted in the Pilgrims having to bowl the equivalent of six extra overs!

Thankfully this competition does not yet carry penalty runs for failing to complete 50 overs in a specified time. It would not be unrealistic to believe that the run chase could easily have been limited to nearer the 210 mark, thus easing the pressure on the batsmen to be constantly reviewing the run-rate and allowing the opportunity of more conservative shot selection. At least four of the top seven in the Pilgrims batting order succumbed to strokes dictated by the scoreboard.

All that said, there is every reason to have confidence in the future of this mainly very young side. Their team spirit and commitment to each other is first class. Like nearly every side in the competition, they would like a genuine strike bowler and maybe a top specialist spinner and if either of these could be found, there is no reason why they cannot challenge the very best. Esson leads what could become a potent batting line-up that needs to find consistency, the fielding remains as characteristically keen and sharp as ever and the current bowling is adequate when at full strength (Nurton’s absence was keenly felt in this game) and getting the vital basic of line right. They have a young and enthusiastic captain who hopefully will continue to encourage the best Pilgrims cricketers to play in this competition. I wish them every success.

JCH