RELIEF, pride and elation filled the lungs of every player, parent and spectator as Alfie Bunker pinched a single with seven deliveries remaining, securing Middleton’s long-awaited promotion to Division Two of the Sussex Cricket League.
Quick wickets and consistent boundary hitting was the perfect recipe for a classic encounter at Sea Lane as Middleton regained the Division 3 West title after three years of waiting.
Yet, things could’ve been so different if it wasn’t for the hard work of those behind the scenes ensuring the ground was fit for play as well as a great attitude from the match day umpires who were keen to see some cricket.
Stirlands won the toss and chose to bat, making sure Middleton would have to chase down a score to win the title.
An opening partnership of 73 between Sean Heather (25) and Stuart Hanks (39) helped the visitors establish a solid foundation to their innings. Although, a few overs later the fixture had swayed into Middleton’s hands as the visitors lost four wickets for 31 runs.
Despite an abysmal fielding display, Middleton never gave up, knowing the greater goal was within reach but after four dropped catches the young side started to show their frustration as Stirland’s Chris May smashed his way to 71 off just 64 deliveries.
Middleton’s Rob Maier showed his class by taking six wickets. He demonstrated that a calm head and years of experience can be a potent combination as the medium pace bowler tore through the Stirlands middle order during his mammoth 19-over spell.
Will Searle also picked up two wickets including the prized dismissal of ex-professional Heather.
News reached Sea Lane that the Billingshurst game had been rain affected and therefore if Middleton successfully chased down Stirland’s total, the title was theirs – within the same hour Middleton’s 2nd team had also won their league and so the pressure was truly on the 1st XI to join in the celebrations.
Just 175 runs stood between glory or a long, nail-biting trip to Billingshurst next weekend in a knock-out, winner-takes-all fixture.
Stirlands took the new-age cricket tactic of opening their innings with the spin bowling of Struan Cameron but Ben Hansford (43) and Will Burrows (14) were equal to it and started to lay the foundations for an epic run chase.
As both openers were removed and Nikolai Smith uncharacteristically chased a wide delivery it was time for the experienced players to start setting the example, but Middleton nerves were soon in tatters as the heavens opened and the players were taken from the field on three separate occasions.
After the rain delays there was a break in the clouds and Stirland’s bowlers were able to quell any form of attack as the Middleton batsmen started to get bogged down.
Towner (24) soon fell after in the quest for quick runs. Thompson (10) also lost his wicket attempting to up the run rate, this left Chris Spedding (22*) to perform before he declares his retirement at the end of the season.
The all-rounder played a mature and patient innings as he kept the scoreboard ticking while Rob Maier (19) and Brandon Hanley (22) cleared the boundary ropes.
Middleton were left needing over a run a ball with five overs left, but after some hits from captain Hanley the home side were left requiring just seven from the last nine balls.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man - Bunker then stroked what can only be described as a glorious straight drive for six, a shot any genuine batsman would be proud of, he then stole a quick single to etch Middleton’s name onto the league trophy for another year.